When planning for a Round-the-World (RTW) trip, one tends to over-prepare, over-spend and over-stress before taking off on said journey. I cannot iterate enough that this is the main problem…PLANNING. Don’t do too much of it, because you will waste precious dollars that would be better spent on the road. I spent 18 long months preparing for my trip abroad. I spent an easy, breezy (insert sarcasm) $10k on gadgets, luggage, vaccinations, website design, new computer, camera, and GoPro accessories before my departure from Washington, DC. It is with a heavy heart that I write this article, because I am here to confess all my financial sins and here to say due to these sins, only 5.5 months into my trip, I must now work to keep my travel dreams going. Alas, this great website is not making me money (yet!!). Therefore, it is important to pick up work along the way, even though you won’t want to do it. Grab work where you can, because every penny matters. Below is a list of BIG mistakes that I have made. If you have any questions about this list as well, please send me an email, I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
1. Getting vaccinations in your home country= $3,000+
Solution: WAIT till you get to a cheaper country, i.e. Thailand and get all vaccinations at a clinic for ¼ of the price upon arrival. I feel so stupid for doing this at home.
2. Buying fancy, schmancy oversized luggage and pointless gadgets = $1500
Solution: I CANNOT stress this enough. PLEASE listen to me. Carry-on luggage is all you will want and all you will need if you’re planning long-term travel. I know this is so difficult to wrap your brain around because, you think you need all this stuff, but YOU DON’T. You need a computer, a camera, a GoPro, several packing cubes, minimal clothing and a CARRY-ON bag to pack it all in that will ideally weigh less than 10kg. Mine weighs 15kg, which is rather heavy, but airlines never check the weight, because the bag is small enough, they don’t care. Later in the article I will go into detail on this particularly sensitive issue.
Before without clothes pictured:
Now with clothes:
3. Buying flights ahead of time = emotional cost and insane financial regret
Solution: This was a huge mistake, a huge, huge mistake on my part. Do not plan anything except your first flight and your first accommodation for the first two days. THAT’S IT. I mean it, y’all! DON’T PLAN. Huge financial mistakes are in your future if you do. I will also expand on this issue below.
4. Taxicabs = Scams, ripoffs and expensive in general compared to public transport
Solution: If you only have a carry-on bag to lug around, using public transport instead of a taxicab is simple and saves you all of the dollars. Take your time…you have no commitments to be anywhere, if you’ve heeded my advice of, NO PLANNING.
5. Private rooms = Twice the cost of dorms
Solution: Look, I hate sleeping in dorms, but I do it as much as I possibly can. I will spoil myself with a private room, once every couple weeks just so I can have a very good night of sleep. I am an extremely light sleeper, so dorms are especially difficult for me. HOWEVER, for budget, RTW traveler, they are a must! Stay in the dorms as often as possible. Or, participate in Couchsurfing as much as you can. It is my favorite way to travel and worth checking out.
6. Buying tourist crap = Total waste of money
Solution: You only have a carry-on bag (let’s hope), so be mindful and smart about your purchases. You don’t need a silly knick knack to remind you of your time in a place. That’s what photos, videos and your good ole memory are for. Let go of material goods, you’ll only regret having to carry them around and then inevitably throw it away.
7. Tours = Can be very costly
Solution: Tours are a way of life to a nomadic traveler. You’ve gotta do them sometimes and they’re usually well worth the investment if RESEARCHED properly. Listen, you’re going to go on a bad tour here and there, but if you do a little bit of research, when it comes to the more expensive tours, it will save you the headache and the hit to your wallet. One of the most costly tours I did was my Halong Bay, Vietnam trip, but because I asked a lot of questions about the tour and had heard enough bad reviews about the Castaway Island tour, I made the smart decision. Yes costly, but no regrets. However, buying a ticket to Nha Trang instead of Hoi An was a huge mistake, costly both emotionally and financially since I didn’t research enough. Hoi An is considered the “Venice of Vietnam, which I did not know until after I left. Nha Trang is a beautiful beach town overrun with Russians and an unfriendly atmosphere. Big mistake on my part. Go to Hoi An. In conclusion, be choosy about expensive tours. Take the cheap ones, because the reward is usually still greater than the minimal cost. For example, I did a $15 USD trip up to the top of the island in Langkawi, Malaysia and I did a 3-island hopping day trip in Borneo, Malaysia for $40 USD. Great deals for a tour!
8. Street Food vs. Restaurants = Restaurants are always more expensive & less tasty
Solution: Do your best to eat at street stalls as much as possible. Not only is the food tastier, but it is considerably cheaper every time. Because I try and eat vegetarian 99% of the time, my options are limited at times when it comes to street food. It is just important that as a traveler you always have a snack handy so when you get hungry, you don’t make impulsive “hangry” decisions and eat at any old, convenient restaurant along the way. Restaurants are rarely as delicious and honestly, they are always twice the price as a street vendor. Stick to the streets if you can do it!
9. Malls vs. Markets = Malls are a ripoff in any country around the globe
Solution: Find an open-air market. Whatever you “need” to make your travel life more convenient can almost always be found at an open-air or secondhand market just down the street from the overpriced, posh, non-bargaining, sterile mall. Avoid at all costs.
10. Tipping = Wasted way too much money unnecessarily
Solution: This warning goes out to you service industry people the most. I spent the last couple of years in a bar in the States working and receiving tips. Bartender to bartender…we tip too much, y’all. Really now. SO, with that in mind, when you’re in another country, you need to get it out of your head that it is unfair to not overtip these people. It’s not. It’s the culture, get it, learn it, be happy that you’re not having to tip 100% of the bill. First thing you need to do is get out of that mindset. I spent the first month overtipping so much money just because I was used to doing it; not because I had to do it. Bad move on my part. The pennies are not limitless and I’m feeling the pinch now.
These lessons have hit me hard while on the go. As a relatively seasoned traveler, I went into this journey with some confidence and dare I say, cockiness? Oh silly me, for I have been humbled time and time again since my departure. My wallet has suffered the most, which has deflated my ego and long-term travel aspirations pretty quickly. My excitement prior to departure caused me to make many mistakes that I have literally paid for. Luggage and gadgets were SUCH a WASTE of money and I’m so mad at myself for buying all this crap I don’t need and have since thrown/given away along the way. I spent $400 on an Eagle Creek Switchback bag with packing cubes to fill it to the brim. Getting rid of that and switching to a North Face day bag was the best thing I could’ve done. Oh, and besides saving copious amounts of time leaving the airport, you never fear losing your luggage, because it’s always with you. It’s a nice peace of mind that you can’t replace.
For those of you taking a RTW trip soon and heading to SE Asia, I fully warn you of the pros and cons regarding the ASEAN Air Pass offered through Air Asia.
Pros: None really, unless you’ve only got 7kg of baggage total, then you can use it as carry-on and won’t be charged an additional check-in baggage fee at the counter.
Cons: All of the things. First, you will be charged additional for any check-in baggage. Secondly, when you book a flight somewhere, the flights out of that airport to follow are only limited choices, usually within the same country, therefore, you have to waste credits backtracking to Kuala Lumpur (KL) to get anywhere else, hence wasting your money and time. For example: I wanted to go from Manila to Saigon, seems easy right??? Just across the ocean a ways. NOPE. From Manila, the only flight available to me was all the way back to KL, thus using up 3 credits of my 10 credits and taking me to the place I started. This happened in several of the countries, therefore I had to buy additional plane tickets to get me where I needed to go and didn’t even get to use all my credits. Also, you have to use all the credits within 30 days of the first purchase AND you cannot purchase a ticket unless it’s at least 2 weeks out. No last minute, credit ASEAN Air Pass flights for you!
Solution: Just fly the cheap Air Asia flights. They’re all cheap. ASEAN Air Pass traps you into rushing through countries, wastes your money and has you flying to destinations you hadn’t intended just so you can use your credits. All in all, it’s a bad deal. Regular, ole Air Asia flights are almost as cheap as Ryan Air. Just stick to those. You’ll get to where you want to go and you won’t have to rush and your wallet won’t take a beating either.
And on the note of buying flights; as I mentioned before, ONLY buy your first flight. The rest of your flights will sort themselves out. You’ll be kicking yourself (as I did) for leaving a place too soon because you met amazing people and you’re not ready to part yet, you’ve not given yourself enough time to actually explore a country (i.e. Vietnam, only had 10 days, which is 20 days too few), and living by a rigorous flight schedule, which creates resentment within yourself and makes for an unhappy and cranky traveler. No fun to be around, really!
Also, if you meet someone along the way who piques your interest, whatever you do, do NOT spend a stupid amount of money trying to see this person again. You will regret the money spent and the time wasted, when there really are other beaus and belles just around the next bend. I pissed away a solid $600 doing this and I feel not only foolish about it, but also angry that I let myself spend that money so frivolously. Never go backwards…
There are so many mistakes that we all will inevitably make, but over-preparation has really been the bug that bit me in the ass the most. I could’ve easily had another $6,000 in my bank account had I read this article before I left. I hope that my mistakes will be your success. If so, when we meet on the road, please buy me a beer…for I am broke again! 😉