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On July 22, 2017, we left home to travel the world for a year…with our kids. We called it our Great Big Trip Around The World.
If you’re thinking about heading off on an around the world trip, either as a family, a couple or on your own, the planning is all the same. It all starts with an idea, a little seed planted somewhere in your brain, leading you to spend countless hours planning, budgeting and researching. We planned our family around the world trip the same way we would have if we were going alone. The only difference was dealing with schooling! Whether you’re planning a solo-backpacking trip around the world, or a family trip around the world (which can also involve backpacking), this guide will cover everything you need to know to make your dream a reality.
Our Family Gap Year story
The summer of 2007, a year after getting married, Randy and I went on a 2-month backpacking trip around Europe. As we entered the Czech Republic we met a couple in their early thirties. They had sold everything and were planning on travelling the world for 2-3 years. It was a completely new concept for us. We started talking about how much we’d love to do something similar, but by saving up rather than selling our stuff. At the time I had just finished my first year of optometry school. I was already committed to 3 more years and a LOT of debt! We quickly set the idea aside and carried on with life.
I graduated from optometry school pregnant with Calais, moved to our current home town, and settled into a job. We continued to travel after Calais was born, taking her to 7 countries and 3 continents by the time she was 3. At 6, she’d been to 13 countries on 4 continents. Her little sister, at 4, was only one country (Iceland) behind her.
We’ve never been afraid to travel with our kids, but taking them away for a year around the world hadn’t even occurred to us. The couple that initially inspired us had no kids. I didn’t think it was something people did as a family!
Not long after Kacela was born (2012) I was having coffee with a friend when she started telling me about her boss who was on a year long trip with her 9 & 11 year old kids. It was an Ah-Hah moment for me. That night I brought up the idea with Randy of taking a year off soon to travel. He immediately agreed and our little plan started to form. The planning for our family gap year began!
Planning an Around The World Trip:
Planning vs Prep
There are so many things to consider when planning a round the world trip. I’ve separated it into Planning and Prep. Planning is the fun part, all the dreaming and scheming, and it’s broken it down into the 4 main steps below. Most of the planning phase requires thinking, and talking, and making a spread sheet or two! You’re coming up with the general outline of what your trip will look like; how long it’ll be, where you’ll go and what it’ll cost. The planning stage also involves actually saving the money!!
Once you’ve got the idea sorted out, you can start actually prepping for the trip. This involves all the actual legwork of booking flights, outlining a bit of an itinerary and preparing to leave home. Ideally, you’ll have 6 months, but I understand this isn’t always possible. If you have less time, you’ll still need to get everything done, but your timeline will be a bit more condensed (obviously!!).
How to Plan Around the World Trip
(in 4 Easy Steps)
Step one, figure out your why?
The “why” will dictate where you go, what you do, and how much time you take for your travels. It might seem pretty straight forward, but dig deep! If you want to deeply experience a different culture, you might consider picking a few locations to live in for a short time. If you want to “get away from it all” it would be worth looking at more remote locations with less internet connectivity! If, like me, you’re looking to satisfy some serious wanderlust with time with your family, it really does’t matter where you go as long as you’re together.
Aside from our serious wanderlust issues and love of travel, I also wanted time. Specifically, I wanted un-interupted time with my kids. Time away from everything to really solidify our bond as a family. The girls were just babies when I started my optometry business, and I sacrificed a significant amount of time with them in their youngest years for the sake of the practice. This trip has allowed me to rebalance, sacrificing a little bit my business for the sake of my family. Many people thought we were crazy to want to travel around the world with family, but for us, it sounded fantastic!
Step two – Make a Budget and Save Some Money.
Budget is the biggest consideration if you’re planning to travel around the world with a family (or on your own!). It was the first thing I researched, as the cost would dictate whether the trip was feasible or just a pipe dream. I spent HOURS pouring over different blog posts, looking at other RTW travel budgets, figuring out the average cost per day to travel in the countries we were considering, and plotting it all out in a large excel spreadsheet.
Family travel around the world is expensive. If you’re traveling without kids there are fewer people to pay for (obviously!), and it’s easier to find cheap accommodations (things like housesitting, hostel dorm beds and couch-surfing). Thankfully, if the kids are little, they don’t cost as much as a full-grown adult. They can sleep in smaller spaces, eat less food, and often pay half price for transportation and attractions. Most of the resources I found were focused on planning a backpacking trip around the world, so the budgets were focused on solo or couple travel. I tried to balance out the variations with the kiddos, but ultimately based our budget on 4 adults, and multiplied the single person cost by 4. Realistically, although we were planning to backpack on a small budget most of the time, we still need a break from it every once in awhile.
How we came up with our budget
Budget is such a personal thing, and it’s going to be different for everyone. I have to admit though, I did a pretty good job of figuring out the cost of a round the world trip! I tracked every dollar we spent, and kept us on budget the whole year. It would be possible to do for much less than what we spent…and obviously a person could spend significantly more! I’d classify our trip as “high-end budget!” We mostly traveled like budget backpackers, but we moved quickly and had a few higher end splurges along the way.
(A Liveaboard in Raja Ampat was one of our BIG splurges!)
We took a good, hard look at our monthly spending, and cut it down everywhere we could. I was fortunate that I was just starting a (successful) business, so my income was increasing each year. As long as we didn’t increase our spending with our income, we had money we could put away for our big trip. I created a separate “travel” bank account and automatically deposited money into it each month. It was easier to have the money out of sight, so I wasn’t tempted to spend it on something else.
Step three – When to Go?
This can be a difficult decision depending on which stage of life you’re in. It may be as simple as putting a few boxes into storage, quitting a job you don’t like, and leaving. Alternatively, you might need to sell a house and all your belongings before you’re able to travel. Your job may offer a leave of absence, or you might have a maternity/paternity leave to use. There are endless scenarios, and each and every one will be a little different. Just keep in mind that there’s never the perfect time.
When we originally started talking about an extended trip I had a mountain of student debt and was just starting my own business. Our financial position left us totally incapable of going away anytime in the near future. 5-7 years seemed like a realistic time frame. With a goal in mind, we started working towards it. I asked Calais if she wanted to go on a trip around the world, to which she asked “where is the world?”, and our blog name was born. As long as the kids can remember, we’ve been talking about this trip, which at some point they renamed “Our Great Big Trip Around The World”. I think this sums it up pretty accurately!
Our initial plan was to take the girls out of Grades 2 & 4, which would have us leaving for our trip in 2019. We figured it was better for Calais to skip Grade 4, than to go a year earlier and have Kacela skip Grade 1. Both are formative schooling years, but we thought missing grade 4 would be the lesser of two evils. Then I got antsy, and decided we should move it up a year. However, life has a way of stepping in and taking control.
Our business has been growing like crazy, and we had the opportunity to bring on a new doctor as a part of our team. This would leave us with too many doctors intially, so I decided to take off a year earlier to make it work. Financially, another year to save would have been great, but we figured we’d be alright. From a business perspective, it’s by far the best decision. And from a school perspective, the kids will be skipping kindergarten and grade 2, which I think is better than having them miss either grade 1 or 4. We still had to do a bit of RTW Schooling, but we would’ve had to do a whole lot more if they were older. Everything happens for a reason!
(Sitting in a Grade 3 class in Myanmar)
Step four, where to go?
Start by going back to Step one for this. Figure out your why,what you really want to get out of the trip around the world. Make sure you choose countries you feel comfortable traveling to (mostly at least, being a bit uncomfortable is never a bad thing!), at a time of year when you want to be in that location. It’s not going to be perfect everywhere, but try your best!
How We Chose The Route for Our Family Gap Year
Our country rule right from the start was no English and no first world. The girls were still little, so we wanted countries that offered the most cultural difference from home. This would maximize the impact and increase the likelihood of them remembering things. It also provided the best opportunity for character-building experiences. Also, we weren’t going to be as financially ready as we’d hoped. Developing countries offered better value for money and still allowed us to splurge every once in awhile.
The Ultimate Timeline to Plan A Round The World Trip (Prepping to leave)
Everyone will have different amounts of time to plan a trip, some shorter and some longer. Everything before a year is really dreaming and scheming (my favourite part!!). Once your trip is 6mo to a year away, then it’s time to really get serious!
6mo to 1 year Ahead – Planning turns to Prep
The two most important things to do during this time is work your way through Steps 1-4! This is the “trip-planning” phase where you figure out where you’re going to go and what you’re going to spend. You’ll need to have a decent idea about this to start really prepping for the trip.
RTW Flight Options
The other thing to start looking into early is flights. This is the likely the largest single expense, and the cost of these can really make or break your budget. In many parts of the world, flying can be a quick and inexpensive way to travel. Thankfully, it’s often possible to find these cheap flights last minute. The long haul flights, however, can add up quickly. Flights are also one of the few areas where kids pay almost exactly the same amount as adults. There may be a small discount, but it’s usually not very much! Paying for 4 seats versus 2 is a massive cost difference. If you’re seriously considering this, you need to check out Chris’ guide to Round The World Tickets. It’s the ultimate, and jam packed with great info!
There are essentially 3 different options for choosing your round the world flights.
- RTW Ticket with One World or Star Alliance.
- RTW Ticket with a third party (such as Air Treks)
- Single segment tickets purchased independently.
Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages. I looked into each of these options extensively, and ended up choosing single segment tickets because it allowed us greater flexibility. Of all the people I know who’ve done a family trip around the world, every single one of them had plans change. Our plans changed, and I was sure glad not to have to spend time on the phone, and change fees, to change flights.
In my opinion, the RTW Tickets are great for shorter-term or fixed itinerary trips. They offer good value, and the ease of having it all done without having to scour the web for the best fare for each segment. If something needs to change, you just call and have someone else make the change for you. There are restrictions, and change fees, but if you’re able to fit a trip into these they can be good value. They’re especially good value if you have airline miles you can use towards it!
I priced out both StarAlliance and Air Treks RTW tickets for our flight. It was going to be approximately $25,000 CAD for Star Alliance, and $18,000CAD for Air Treks, but this only included the long-haul flights. We ended up spending just shy of $20,000CAD, for our family of 4, for ALL the flights. This included short haul, long haul, and a side-trip home to Canada for my cousins’s wedding. It was definitely the cheapest in the long run, although it took more of my time finding the cheapest flights and the best routes.
Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights
1. I always start by searching both Google Flights and Momondo. I find that between these two it covers almost every flight possibility between 2 locations. Recently, I’ve also been surprised by the options that Expedia has, and ended up booking a number of our long-haul RTW flights through Expedia (these will show up on the Momondo search).
2. The other thing I always check, is the departing flights from the airport I’m leaving and the arriving flights into the airport where I’m going. Smaller, budget airlines sometimes don’t show up in even the most comprehensive online search, and checking actual arriving and departing flights will ensure you don’t miss a good deal!
3. Connecting flights are often cheaper than direct flights, so if you can spare a little bit of time, take a connecting flight. This might also have the side-benefit of a long enough layover to explore a different city, or break up an extra long flight.
4. Multi-city flights can be cheaper than one-way flights. When we flew from Vancouver, Canada to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the one-way ticket was going to be $1500CAD each, flying on China Southern through Guangzhou and Urumqi. I searched a multi-city ticket with the exact same flights but a 4-day stopover in Guangzhou (flight 1 Vancouver to Guangzhou, flight 2 Guangzhou to Tashkent via Urumqi), and it ended up being $750CAD each. It was HALF the price, for exactly the same flights, just splitting it into 2 legs a few days apart. I did this same thing when traveling from Chiang Rai to Dubai, and ended up having a 5-week stop over in India!! (I got a bit side-tracked on that one!)
5. Flight prices can fluctuate greatly depending on the day of the month or week you travel. If your schedule is a bit flexible, make sure you check flight prices +/- a few days to ensure you’re flying on the cheapest day.
6 mo before Leaving – Now it’s time to kick the trip prep into high gear!
Start with the single most important thing you’ll need…your Passport! At 6 & 7, my girls already know the only thing they really need is money and their passport. Everything else is extra! Check the expiry date and ensure it’s valid for at least 6mo (better yet, a year) after you plan to return. Also, ensure you’ll have enough blank pages for all the stamps and visas you’re going to accumulate. We all had a good amount of room in our passports before our trip, but Randy still came pretty close to running out. If you think you might run out, it would be worth requesting extra pages at this time if your passport still has a lot of validity left.
Depending on your route, you may need to pre-arrange Visas for some countries. Make sure you do your research and have the most up-to-date information. This will often require mailing your Passport away, and if you require multiple Visas you’ll need to coordinate them and get your Passport back before you leave.
(Our Uzbekistan Visa was by far the most difficult, but it was worth the hassle!)
I realize that not everyone is interested in vaccinations, but if you are, this is the time to start looking into them. Many require multiple injections over a period of time, so you need to start early. My recommendation is to go to a travel clinic or travel pharmacist. They’ll have access to the most up to date information on your destinations, assess your personal risk, and be able to write prescriptions for any necessary medications.
You might already have a plan for your job, and if you do…awesome!! If not, now’s the time to start thinking about it! There’s many different options, whether you’re bringing your job on the road with you, quitting forever, or taking a leave of some kind. If you’re hoping to go back to your job after your trip, you might want to start feeling out your boss long before you actually leave.
Break the News!!
If you haven’t told your friends and family already, you should do it now! If they’re skeptical they’ll want the time to get used to the idea before you leave. If they’re excited for you, you’ll want their excitement to help push you through the hard days leading up to “take-off”. And, if you’re going to start a blog or separate social media account, now is the time! You can let your loved ones know how they can follow your travels.
3-6mo Before Leaving
You’ve likely already decided whether you’re renting or selling your house, or putting it on AirBnB. Now’s the time to take action and either find an agent, or post some ads on Kijiji or Craigslist to get the process started. Ideally, your house will rent out (or sell) at the perfect time and everything will be just right. In reality, this probably won’t happen, so be prepared just incase!!
We had 3 renters fall through in the 2-months before we left, and we actually left without the house rented out at all. Thankfully, we had an incredible property manager who managed to rent it for the entire year the weekend after we left. I highly recommend using a property manager if you’re renting, or a realtor if you’re selling. Yes, it will cost you money, but there’s SO much to do leading up to the trip this is just an extra stress you don’t need, and you can have a professional do for you. This is especially true with a rental. You’ll be out of the country and unable to deal with any rental issues in a timely fashion.
Accessing money abroad costs a surprising amount of money. Start searching for a bank, bank cards and credit cards that allow you to withdraw money at a lower rate. If you’re in the US, you’ll want to check out one of these as they’re the best banks for international travel. Ideally you’ll want to have cards on the major networks; Visa, MasterCard, Plus and Cirrus. Visa and MasterCard typically work almost everywhere, but you pay a percentage as a withdrawal fee, so it can be quite expensive. I’ve found Plus to be more widely accepted than Cirrus, and although we have a $5CAD fee every time we withdraw money, at least we can still access the money!
Charles Schwab appears to offer the best debit card on the market for withdrawing money internationally. There’s no monthly minimum required balance, no monthly fee, no foreign transaction fee and unlimited ATM rebates. It’s an VISA Debit card linked to a High Yield Investor Checking account (so you make 0.2% on ay money in the account), and it must be linked to a Schwab One Brokerage Account.
Visa and MasterCard charge an average of 2.5% foreign exchange fee on top of the bank exchange rate. In Canada, there are very few options. Roger’s Mastercard charges the 2.5% fee, but gives 3% cash back on all purchases, so the net is at least in the positive, Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite has no foreign transaction fee, but a whopping annual fee of $139. You can find a few more Canadian options at Money We Have. There are WAY more available in the US (Chase seems to be leading the way), check out The Points Guy for a comprehensive list. In Australia, the 28degree platinum MasterCard and ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures Visa card seem to be the ones with the lowest limits, but Credit Card Compare has a more comprehensive list.
If you’re from somewhere else, a quick google search of “(country name) credit card no foreign transaction fee” should result in a good starting place for you!
There are many options for travel insurance, depending on what country you live in, and even the province or state. In Alberta (Canada) we were able to set our provincial health coverage to “out of country” for up to 2 years, and we maintain coverage. This isn’t travel insurance, but it ensures we’re covered if something happens and we can get home! We topped up with World Nomad insurance. I searched a variety of options and this was the best for us. I know other family travellers specifically have found great plans through Allianz in the US, and CAA in Canada. Do your research and make sure you’ve got the coverage you need.
Online Gear Purchases
If you’re purchasing anything online, give it time to ship. If you’re ordering from Amazon in the US and have overnight shipping, this isn’t much of an issue. If you’re anywhere else and shipping can take 4-6weeks, you need to get on this early. At our 100 day mark, I had a massive post-it-note wall of things to do and purchase. We spent WAY too much money on gear, etc before our trip (especially on our electronics!), and we only sent some of it home!
If you’re wondering what you might need for gear, check out this comprehensive RTW Packing List. Some of what you need you’ll be able to find local (depending on the size of city you live in!), and some you’ll need to ship. You want to make sure you have enough time to ensure everything you have is perfect!
If you’re planning on house sitting at all, sign up for it and start contacting owners. I looked into house-sitting, but decided it was too restrictive for our trip. Others have told me that it took many (dozens) of inquiries before actually hearing back from anyone. Once you’ve had a successful house-sit, they’re easier to come by, but the first one can be a bit tricky (so I’ve been told.)
If you’re on a monthly cell phone plane, you’ll want to talk to the phone company and find out if there’s an international plan you can switch to, whether you can put the plan on hold, or if it’s going to be easiest to just buy out your plan before you leave. Your decision about how to stay connected during your trip will depend on what country you’re coming from, and whether or not you want to keep your home phone number. In the US, a number of cell phone companies offer international packages with a reasonable amount of data, calling and texting in many countries. Most Canadian companies offer a pay-per-day for international use, and we found that local SIM cards were significantly cheaper than this (almost everywhere!)
Monthly Subscriptions & Auto Payments
Now is also the time to look at all your monthly subscriptions and payments. If you have magazine subscriptions, or even your TV and internet services, you need to come up with a plan for these while you’re gone. If you’re renting your house furnished, you’ll want to leave many of these in place as they’ll just transfer over to be used by the Tennant while you’re gone. If you’re selling your house, you’ll need to cancel these before leaving. Look at every single auto-payment and monthly payment that comes out of your account, and decide whether you need to keep it, transfer it to someone else, or cancel it.
1-3 mo Before Leaving
It’s getting close now!! There’s a lot of things to do, so from now on, you just get a list. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory!
- Book initial accommodation
- Start to pack up anything you don’t need in your house
- Book necessary appointments (Dentist, OD, MD)
- Finalize Travel Insurance Options
- Start a packing list
- Start to think about what you’ll do with your vehicles; sell, store, have a friend drive? Look into vehicle insurance if you’re going to put it in storage or lend it to a friend for the year.
- Pre-book any special or popular tours
- If you have family/friends visiting, start planning with them
- Will – ensure you have a will in place, as well as a living-will (prepare for the unexpected), and make sure someone at home knows where it is.
- Give someone you trust access to your bank account in case you need it, as well as safety deposit box keys, etc.
- Make friends with your personal banker! There’s a very good chance your debit card will get “hot-carded” (put on hold) while you’re gone, and you’ll need someone at the bank who can get it working for you again in a hurry! We’ve were lucky enough to just email our banker and she got it done for us same-day.
(We had visits from multiple grandparents and friends!)
- Look into schooling requirements for kiddos
- Download curriculum and other resources
- Get approval from school for leave if required
- Have a lawyer prepare Statutory Declarations and Power of Attorneys
2 weeks – 1 month Before
- Finalize your packing list and begin packing
- Finalize and prepay for insurance – World Nomad will let you prepay and set your start date in advance. You can get it out of the way
- Complete medical appointments. Fill any needed prescriptions, contact lenses, travel meds, etc. Follow all other pre-trip steps to stay healthy during your travels.
- Make up your travel medical kit
- Gather any necessary information needed for taxes and send to accountant
- Set up mail-forwarding. Arrange who will receive your mail while you’re gone. Give them instructions regarding what to do with it.
- What are you doing with your plants? Giving them to friends/family? Leaving them for your renters (if you have them?)
- Entertainment – If you’re bringing a tablet or computer, you might want to load up some movies and audiobooks. I find audiobooks are incredible for long car, bus, and train rides. You can still look out the window and appreciate the scenery, but it provides a bit of entertainment en route. Audiobooks are especially great for kids. They require imagination as there’s no screen involved, and decrease the risk of car sickness because they can still look out the window.
- Make a water-plan. Travel requires a significant consumption of water, potentially resulting in a significant amount of plastic waste! Consider buying a filter water bottle and metal straws at a minimum.
1-2 weeks until “take-off”
- Finish packing up your house (recommendation to be out of your house a minimum of 2 days prior to leaving!)
- Call your house insurance company and change your insurance status to “vacant” or “rental” depending on your situation. Be aware that your insurance cost will change with the change in status.
- Complete packing
- Purchase VPN
- Sign-up for What’s App (if you don’t have it already)
- Get an international driver’s license if you’ll need it (only 1 year validity, so should be last minute)
- Unlock cell phone and change plan if necessary.
- Notify home owner’s insurance of any changes
- Order foreign currency (can take 1-2 weeks to arrive)
- Throw a goodbye party for family and friends. This will consolidate good-byes
- Organize pick up from the airport to your first accommodation
- Deal with your vehicle(s)
- Make any necessary last minute purchases
- Confirm flight times and baggage allowance
- Arrange a ride to the airport
- Wrap any final things up at work
- Take some time to think about your fears and anxieties, so you can acknowledge them and deal with it before you leave.
(The storage room was very well organized until the last couple days when we just started throwing things in!)
1 week before leaving
If you’re anything like me you’ll procrastinate a little bit (or a lot!!). Randy and the girls were gone for 2 weeks and came home 4 days before we left. I binge-watched SO much Netflix during those 2 weeks because I just couldn’t find the motivation to pack the house up by myself. I needed the last week to finish packing our bags, and the house, and was sure glad I got most everything else done before this.
(Our bags are packed, we’re ready to go! We swapped out the 2 day-packs for a backpack for Randy and more robust daypack, and then a small purse for myself. Kacela lost her pink bag, and Calais sent her purple bag home when she figured out she could pare down her stuff and fit it all into the backpack. We finished the year carrying 5 backpacks and a purse!)
So there you have it…a general outline for planning to travel the world. Anything you’d add? What am I missing?!
Our Great Big Trip Around the World YouTube announcement!! Feel free to binge-watch our YouTube videos 🙂
And don’t forget to Pin this for later, so you can check back again and again while you’re planning!!