A few decades ago, this dream seemed impossible. We thought it was exclusively reserved for hardy adventurers or lottery winners. But things have changed. Nowadays, long-distance trips are just about within everyone’s reach. But what exactly is a round-the-world (RTW) trip? Where does the idea of doing a long-distance trip come from? Why do we decide to go? What obstacles stop us from going? At what age, with whom and for long should we go for? What do we ultimately get out of this experience? In this article, we’ll try to answer all these questions that you’re asking yourself.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover Mark Twain
According to the dictionary, a RTW trip involves travelling all around the world, in a given direction, until you return to the place that you started from. Therefore, doing a RTW trip doesn’t necessarily mean going to every country in the world, nor to every continent.
TV programmes like “Raw Travel” and “Race Across the World” have popularised an image of a traveller who sets off with a tiny budget, stays with locals and hitchhikes. You can of course do this, but at the end of the day, only a minority of travellers actually do this.
The average RTW traveller goes for a year and visits around ten countries, mainly in Asia and Latin America. They mostly travel by plane between continents. Once out there, they take local buses, eat street food, sleep in cheap accommodation and sometimes stay with locals. Rather than travelling by plane, some choose to travel by bike, in a camper van, by sailboat, in a motorhome…
Lots of travellers go away for a long period of time without necessarily doing a “real” RTW trip. You can easily go away for six months or a year just in South America, Asia or Africa and have an equally incredible experience.
During a RTW trip, you travel in a very different way. You have time to improvise, change your plans, and linger in places that you like. When you start to get off the beaten track, you may be surprised by the amount of travellers you meet who have also been away for a very long time. So there’s a real community of long-term travellers who randomly meet up every now and then throughout their RTW trip.
That light-bulb moment that makes us say, “And what if I did a RTW trip?” can appear in all sorts of ways, and it’s different for everyone. Some have lived abroad with their parents or have travelled around a lot during their childhood. Travel is in their blood. Others, however, haven’t been lucky enough to have travelling parents and therefore are eager to explore the world.
From an early age, thanks to Disney cartoons like the Jungle Book, Aladdin and Mulan, we were fascinated by distant civilisations. More recently, films like “Into the Wild” or “The Motorcycle Diaries” make us crave adventure. Programmes like “Raw Travel” and “By Any Means”, and tales from adventurers such as Mike Horn or Bear Grylls also whet our appetites. Lastly, travel bloggers and Instagrammers are a great source of inspiration.
And then, sometimes, our first trips abroad make us want to go away for even longer. Talking with friends or meeting travellers who have done a long trip themselves are also often triggers that make us set out on an adventure.
Don’t worry, you won’t be forced to do this !
We all have our personal reasons which drive us to hit the road. A RTW trip is totally worth living and here’s a quick overview of the main reasons why.
Get out of your comfort zone
When you have a stable job with friends and a family that you see regularly, you end up settling into a certain routine.
When you travel far away and for a long time, you have to get out of your comfort zone. At times, you’ll inevitably find yourself alone, lost in an unfamiliar place where you know neither the language nor the culture. You lose your bearings. The simplest actions, like finding your way around, taking a bus, or buying something to eat, can sometimes prove to be pretty difficult.
Managing to do them is like a small accomplishment. What’s more, overcoming these challenges gives us a sense of pleasure which can even become a little addictive. By getting out of your comfort zone, you find out what you’re capable of. You understand your limits and you often go beyond them.
When you ask someone how they’re doing, how often do you hear, “I’m always in a rush!”? You’re constantly living life in the fast lane. You do one thing after another: commute, work, shopping, housework, going out, holidays, without ever really taking time for yourself. When you go on a long trip, your relationship to time is totally different. There are no more constraints. If you want to, you can take the time to do a two week trek, take in a sunset or just do nothing at all.
When travelling, you don’t have to check-in with anyone: there’s no boss breathing down your neck. There are almost no time constraints and there’s nothing attaching you to a place. Every day, anything is possible. You feel a great sense of freedom as a traveller. It’s an exhilarating feeling which usually occurs after a few months, when you realise that this trip is way more than just a holiday.
You’re free to change your plan when you feel like it, maybe even skip a country on your itinerary. Social pressure, which usually makes us behave in a certain way, no longer exists. You don’t have to act how other people expect you to. Quite simply, you’re free to be yourself.
How many hours do we spend in front of a screen each day? Our eyes are constantly fixated on our computers, tablets and smartphones. We need our regular dose of notifications: email, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram… Travelling is a great way to take a break from our cyber-life and find out that the real world isn’t too bad either.
It’s nicer to watch the stars, isn’t it?
When travelling around the world, you come across people from very different cultures who share with you their understanding of the world, their values, their spirituality and their way of life. If you choose to do couchsurfing or wwoofing, you’ll be even more immersed in the local’s daily life in the countries you visit. It’s an unparalleled personal enrichment. You’ll inevitably become more open-minded and have a better understanding of the world. Exchanges with others challenge our own values and ideals.
In our everyday life, we tend to mix with people who are ultimately very similar to us. Travelling allows you to get out of your normal social context. It’s a lot easier to approach people when you know you’ll probably never see them again. Therefore, a RTW trip is a good way to meet others, and sometimes even romantically.
Tikal National Park located in the Guatemalan jungle
One life isn’t enough to see all the places in the world that you dream of visiting just by going on holiday. Doing a RTW trip lets you see the wonders of nature and those built by humans. You feel the places by using your five senses. You discover them in their cultural and geographical context. You can finally see what’s beyond the postcard. You often think that you’ve seen it all through the lens of screens, but many incredible wonders are still unknown, entirely ignored by the media. The element of surprise is still possible. It’s thrilling to play the role of the explorer and even, why not, follow the footsteps of real adventurers.
A RTW trip also gives you the opportunity to taste the specialities from the countries you go to. Food is inevitably a big talking point amongst travellers, and it’s also a great social activity. What better way is there to meet new people than exploring street markets and tasting local delicacies together?
When you go away for a few weeks on holiday, you don’t have the time to do a DiveMaster or a three week trek in Nepal. This is the type of experience that you can only take advantage of when you travel for an extended period of time.
When you live in a big city, aside from a few weekends and during holidays, you barely see nature. A RTW trip lets you marvel at places that are almost entirely intact: mountains, deserts, tropical forests, coral reefs… Simple things, like not hearing the sounds of the city, admiring a starry sky or waking up to the sound of animals, allows you to reset your mind, body and soul.
Raja Ampat, a marine paradise in Papua, Indonesia
Having time for yourself while travelling allows you to think, something you don’t necessarily take the time to do in your everyday life. It lets you take a step back, to see if the grass is really greener on the other side and to think about what you really want to do. A RTW trip might also be a way to take a break before moving on to another stage in your life.
A RTW trip can also be a way to add a new dimension to your relationship. When you live together 24/7, there are no more barriers. You experience the intimacy of each other on a daily basis. This can be unsettling, some traveller couples can’t bear it. But those who manage to find their balance during their RTW trip usually come out stronger.
Travels shape young people. A RTW trip is a great way to nurture children’s open-mindedness, tolerance, patience and curiosity. It’s also a real schooling in history, geography, economics, biology… in the open-air. And what’s more, when travelling, you spend lots of time with them, you get to know them even better and you see them grow up.
How many people dream about doing a RTW trip some day, but never actually do it? Indeed, it’s extremely easy to find excuses to postpone such a plan, sometimes indefinitely. Here are the most common excuses.
On average, a RTW trip costs $19,000 (£13,000), but this is only an average. Some RTW travellers manage to travel with a budget smaller than $8,000 (£6000), by limiting the number of plane tickets and choosing countries with a low cost of living. In some parts of the world, you can travel for less than $15 (£10) per day.
Even without having a huge salary, it’s entirely possible to put money aside by limiting all your unnecessary expenses as much as possible: living in a flat-share or with your parents, getting around by bike or on public transport, limiting your nights out to bars or restaurants, stopping smoking… It’s all a question of priority.
When you watch the news on TV, sometimes you feel that you live in a world so hostile that you should never leave your home. The Travel State Gov and Foreign Travel Advice websites are just as scaremongering. Of course, certain areas or countries should be avoided. But, in the end, there aren’t very many of them.
It is in fact a fear of the unknown. The language barrier is scary. But in reality, in most countries of the world, you can travel with just basic safety rules. Amongst the thousands of long-term travellers who set off each year, very few of them are victims of problems that genuinely endanger their physical integrity.
The world security levels for travellers
Employers don’t see a RTW trip as a sign of a lack of motivation. Quite the opposite, it’s often a positive point on a CV. Generally speaking, someone who has done a long trip shows initiative, knows how to handle stress and has a good ability to adapt. Employers like this. Most RTW travellers find work fairly quickly on their return.
You can also take sabbatical leave and be sure to return to your job when you get back. A RTW trip is also a good opportunity to mull over a new professional project, such as starting up a business or becoming self-employed.
For some people, planning a RTW trip seems impossible. Indeed, it needs a bit of organisation, but nothing too serious. Our website is there to help you. Our themed articles usually answer almost any question you’re asking yourself. Among them you could start by reading our month by month Pre-Departure To-Do List for a Round-the-World-Trip. If it wasn’t enough you can always ask your questions directly to other long term travellers on our Facebook group
Stages of culture shock
Even if you’re an open-minded person, dealing with poverty and an extremely different culture from your own can throw you off balance. Culture shock usually crops up a few weeks after arriving in a country. At first, you’re fascinated by this new culture, but after a while, some things that seemed normal to you become intolerable. You feel betrayed and this generates feelings of frustration and anxiety. Don’t worry, this is a normal process. To minimise this, really look into the countries you’re going to visit, prepare yourself mentally and don’t forget to stay in contact with your close ones.
You might have a little dose of the blues after a few weeks or months of travelling. You’ll miss your close ones and you’ll have a negative mindset about your trip. Some circumstances, such as a significant event in your family (birth, marriage, death…) or the fact that you’re very attached to your close ones, can amplify homesickness. Travelling too quickly can also be the cause, because you’ll lose your bearings. In this case, settle down for a while in a place where you feel good. Homesickness often goes away as quickly as it comes around.
For some people, their desire to travel may be seen as running away from something. Sometimes your family will use this argument, as they’re afraid to see you go so far away and for so long. The trigger that prompts you to do a RTW trip can come from a romantic break-up, the death of a close one, a firing… Travelling isn’t the silver bullet to all your problems, but it can be a great source of personal enrichment.
For single people, one of the biggest obstacles related to traveling is the fear of going alone. Many people think about finding a travel buddy before leaving, but in the end, very few do this. In fact, lots of RTW travellers, women or men, go solo. Paradoxically, the fact of travelling alone encourages you to meet others as you’re forced to reach out to them. It might sound strange to you if you haven’t travelled much yet, but when you go solo, in the end you don’t spend much time alone. And what’s more, if you’re naturally more introverted, it’s a great way to overcome your shyness.
For couples, it’s rather the opposite question: “Are we going to be able to live together 24 hours a day without losing it?”. There, we can’t guarantee you a 100% success rate. We’ve heard about couples who broke up during a RTW trip. But, it’s actually quite rare and often there were already some underlying problems before they went away. In most cases, the couple come out stronger. The fact of having shared so many incredible experiences together creates a unique bond.
Finding your balance as couple when travelling
Going away with children means no school, often for an entire school year. However, globetrotting families don’t just abandon their children’s education. In general, parents give a few hours of lessons per day during the trip. Sometimes, the teacher is even drawn by the activity and agrees to do a little remote monitoring.
If you travel on a tight budget, like most long-term travellers do, you’ll stay in some of the cheapest accommodation in the countries you visit. And cheap accommodation sometimes means a little less comfort. You won’t necessarily have a shower in your bedroom. There’ll be some bugs here and there. There might be some noise and a lack of cleanliness. If, after a while, the lack of comfort gets too much for you, think about spending a night or two in a slightly more upscale hotel. They’re still affordable in a lot of countries.
If you keep going to one amazing place after another, you might end up getting a little bored after a while. But, it really depends on the person: some people continue to be wowed until the end of their trip, others less so. To avoid this weariness, it can be useful to have an aim, a project to see through that will give purpose to your RTW trip. Travelling slowly also allows you to immerse yourself in the culture of places you go through, and you feel less like you’re ticking off one tourist attraction after another.
You’ll have lots of intense and engaging encounters. This is arguably one of the most enriching aspects of your trip. But after a while, it can get tiring to leave your new relationships and have to constantly make new ones. This is one of the reasons why travellers usually slow down their travel pace after a while.
This topic comes up very often amongst travellers. Admittedly, depending on the country you visit, the culinary richness varies a lot. In some South American countries, for example, you’ll have to get used to the famous “pollo con papas y arroz” (chicken with chips and rice) which features on a lot of menus. But travelling also gives you the opportunity to discover new flavours. Most countries are bursting with specialty dishes that are just begging to be tasted.
Another small skewer of scorpions for the road?
You’re not safe from a bout of traveller’s diarrhea. It usually happens at the start of the trip. Your body will gradually get used to day-to-day life and you should have less and less problems with this during the course of your RTW trip. The vast majority of other health problems that globetrotters face are in fact similar to those you might have at home: ear infections, toothaches, sprains… In every country, it’s quite easy to find a doctor or dentist who can treat you. Just be sure to take out good travel insurance to avoid ending up with a hefty hospital bill to pay.
Most long-term travellers attach great importance to protecting the environment. We partly go away to enjoy awe-inspiring natural wonders. But, paradoxically, travelling by plane produces lots of greenhouse gases. However, you can reduce your carbon footprint by limiting the number of flights you take and by visiting a limited number of countries, not too far from each other. When inside a continent, pick land public transport as much as possible to get around. If you really want to cut your emissions by 100%, you can opt to do a RTW tour by bike or sailboat instead.
You’re going to spend months exploring the world. Each day will bring its share of new and unexpected situations which you’ll have to cope with and find solutions for, which in turn will give you a great feeling of personal satisfaction. Depending on the person, returning to the fold and a certain routine can be easy or difficult. You’ll have changed a lot, but your close ones will have stayed the same, which can create some friction. To avoid a bout of the holiday blues, the key is to stay active. If you’re not returning to a job immediately, whilst waiting to find another one, have some plans that will keep you busy. Prepare for your return, then let time do the rest. Coming back home doesn’t have to be a big deal.
On average, RTW travellers are 27 years old. But this is only an average. Several events can push you to travel: the end of studies, a marriage, a birth, a desire to change jobs, a firing, a romantic break-up, a health problem, a retirement…
The most common case is that of young working people who, after having worked for a few years and put aside enough money, choose to temporarily put their professional life on hold so that they can discover the world. But this doesn’t ring true for every situation. In fact, there’s no such thing as a “best” time to go. If you don’t feel ready, you’ll always find a reason to delay your departure.
When should I do a RTW trip?
42% of RTW travellers go as a couple, 37% go alone, 12% go with friends and 9% go with family. Once again, there isn’t a “best” option, each has its advantages.
If you travel alone, you’ll be able to meet lots of people, because you’ll have to mix and interact with others. Your plans will be flexible and you’ll be more inclined to leave room for improvisation to make the most of opportunities on a whim.
If you travel with others, you’ll have the pleasure of having someone close to you which means that you can share your experiences with them, and talk about them again when you return home. You’ll also have the comfort of having someone you can count on if something bad happens.
On average, RTW travellers go away for one year. The length of your trip will depend first and foremost on your budget. The longer you go away for, the more money you’ll have out of pocket, without earning any at the same time. The length will also depend on the number of countries you want to visit and the amount of time you plan on spending in each one. Finally, it will be limited if you’ve taken sabbatical leave.
The length of your RTW trip isn’t set in stone. Some travellers come back earlier than expected. Others, on the contrary, choose to discard their final flight ticket and extend their trip. Sometimes, for those who manage to find a way to work whilst travelling, the trip can go on for many, many years.
A RTW trip is a good opportunity to take the time to get to know yourself. You’ll return home with a greater awareness of your strengths and an acceptance of your weaknesses. In short, you’ll know who you are and you won’t be afraid to be you.
Si vous avez envie de faire le tour du monde, vous êtes déjà sans doute relativement tolérant. Malgré tout, on a tous certains préjugés qui sont liés à notre environnement culturel. La confrontation à de nouvelles cultures ne pourra que vous rendre encore plus ouvert d’esprit.
If you want to do a RTW trip, you’re probably already quite tolerant. Despite that, we all have certain prejudices which are linked to our cultural context. Confronting new cultures can only make you more open-minded.
Having seen ways of life completely different from your own, you’ll probably come back more fearless and ready to push your limits. For example, it’s not uncommon for RTW travellers to change jobs, start up a business or become self-employed upon their return.
Learn a new language, do your DiveMaster, perfect your SEO and WordPress knowledge through a blog, become an expert in photography and videography, learn to grow food organically by wwoofing, learn about sustainable building as a volunteer, etc. During your trip you’ll have the time to learn new skills and, why not, put them to good use afterwards.
A RTW trip is a great time to do your DiveMaster
During your trip, you’ll undoubtedly have to face some tricky situations and find solutions on your own to get out of them. These experiences will make you more resourceful.
Being away from your friends and family for such a long time will make you realise how much they mean to you.
After having slept on straw mattresses, eaten street food and travelled in jam-packed buses with chickens between your legs, your comfort threshold will probably be a little lower than what it was before you left. If you had a chock-a-block wardrobe and were used to going out to ultra-trendy bars, this might all seem a bit superficial when you get back. You’ll rediscover happiness in the simplest of things and the real value of money. You might not decide to go and raise goats in Wales, but you’ll undoubtedly reflect on your consumption habits.
During your long months of travel, you’re bound to make friends with people from the countries you visit and with travellers of all nationalities. It’ll be a real joy to visit them on your future trips and to talk about your experiences together.
On your return, your friends and family will want to hear you talk about your adventures in person. Someone who has travelled always has good stories to tell. But try not to talk about them 24/7, it can get a bit tiresome for those around you in the long run 😉