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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: What I wish I knew BEFORE my RTW trip

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I wish I knew BEFORE my RTW trip

It is a bit funny that I finally think I might know enough to put together a well-thought out round-the-world (RTW) trip..... now that I've already done one. The basic things I know now, and didn't before, give me a chuckle when I think about them.

In the hopes of encouraging more people to do more long-term travel and also compile a good list of helpful tools for such travel, I thought I'd write this post.

The things I know now.... that I wish I'd known before.

(1) Join Twitter and Facebook long before you go. Both are incredibly helpful for entirely different reasons. You are going to meet dozens, if not hundreds, of people all around the world. There is no good way to keep track of all their email addresses -- and you are going to want to talk to a lot of them again, if only to pick their brains on travel ideas during your trip. Facebook is the best way of keeping up with people. It is also the best and easiest way for people back home. Quick status updates on where you are. Uploading pictures you have taken. And so forth.

As to Twitter, I now realize there is a huge number of experienced travelers (at every price level of travel) that are out there as resources at a click of a mouse. Meet hundreds of travelers on Travelers' Night In. Going RTW? Try the #rtwsoon or #rtwnow hastag and meet others doing the same thing. The Twitter community is incredibly helpful on tips, suggestions, useful blogs, and other resources for your journey.

(2) The internet is everywhere. I was amazed at how relatively easy it is to get internet access almost everywhere in the world, though certainly there were a lot of spots in Africa that weren't great. I took my laptop with me because I was going to write on the trip, but I'd suggest everyone bring some laptop of little netbook with them. It makes it much easier to edit and upload photos of your trip and you can get wireless at the vast majority of places you are going to stay on your trip.

Speaking of which, here is a big pet peeve of mine. I've stayed at $200+ night hotels that charge for internet and tons of $10 a night hostels that offer free wifi. Get a clue Major Hotel Chains -- you are making plenty on your rooms -- try offering travelers free wireless when they stay at your fancy place.

(3) Stay flexible. I didn't order this tips in order of importance, but probably should have put this at the top of my list. It is inevitable that you are going to learn a lot more about what you want to do/see/experience when you get where you are going. Other people traveling are going to give you a tip about places to go (the only reason I found Cabo Polonio, Uruguay was that I was drinking on a rooftop bar with some Germans and they were going on and on about this great little beach town without electricity. I never would have had it on my route. It was one of the highlights of the trip. If you have a dead-set plan of being in place A one such and such day, then place B three days later, you are going to miss out on some great opportunities.

(4) Anywhere is a good destination. I hit 44 countries on my trip. I had interesting and good memories in all of them, even countries you would never think of as tourist destinations. While seeing some of the great sights in the world (e.g. Angkor Wat, Kilimanjaro, Manchupicchu, the Pyramids, Doubtful Sound) are wonderful and incredible and some of the best sightseeing experiences you will ever have, you are going to also find that meeting cool and interesting people, where ever you are, makes for a good destination. In most cases, the people you meet make or break your trip.

(5) Obviously, I didn't fly at all on my RTW trip, but there are some great resources out there for cheap flights. There is a good debate on whether to buy a RTW airline ticket (and tie yourself in somewhat to a more set schedule), but going back to my Twitter tip above, I sent out a request for blogs on finding cheap airfare on got an immediate reply. Go check out Fox Nomad's Guide to Airfare for a good start on how to save some money on that front.

(6) Take time to rest. I never got sick during my 16 month trip, aside from one bout of traveler's belly for about 5-6 days in Egypt. Obviously that is a large bit of luck (I also eat tons of local food and drink the water most everywhere I go), but I think part of the reason I managed to keep my health was that I took plenty of time to just chill out and rest. It helps that one of my favorite activities is simply having a drink at an outdoor cafe and reading, but a good number of the travelers that I met that got sick frequently seemed to be the ones that had a burning desire to "do something, all the time." Always running around seeing the next sight. And depleting their energy levels and making them more susceptible to illness. Take it with a grain of salt, I don't even play a doctor on TV.

(7) Skype. There is really only one great way to keep in touch with people back home and this is it Skype home page. If you don't have it, download it. If you don't use it, you are throwing away money. Free Skype to Skype computer calls anywhere in the world, including video chat. Incredibly low prices to call any mobile phone or landline from Skype. Just do it -- you won't look back.

(8) Accept that you are going to get ripped off (a lot) and robbed (hopefully not as frequently). Look, it is just going to happen. Cabbies, food vendors, people selling you anything -- they are going to rip you off. Bargain hard, be willing to walk away (the best negotiating tool, in my opinion), stand up for yourself, ask the people working at the hostel what things should cost before you go get them.... but don't let getting charged $4, instead of $1.5 for a cab ruin your day. You laugh now, reading this, but you will be SERIOUSLY pissed off. There is just something about being ripped off, no matter the money involved, that annoys the crap out of almost everyone I know, including me. Dave and I get ripped off in Egypt

As to getting robbed, it happens. It happens on trips to New York City. It happens on trips to Memphis. It happens everywhere. Don't avoid visiting countries/cities (with some exceptions, obviously) based on a fear that you are going to get robbed. Take regular precautions: take taxis if your hostel or hotel people say it isn't safe to walk around, never carry anything on you that you can't get stolen (don't carry your passport around with you), walk to the other side of the street or back in teh opposite direction if you see folks you get a bad vibe from, don't walk around with your nice SLR camera dangling around your neck, and don't walk around drunk at 3 a.m., which seems to be the one that most people fall prey to in the stories I hear.

(9) Eat the local food. You are trying out a new culture. Try the food. You might find some of your new favorites, even if the ingredients, or appearance, aren't things you normally would think you'd like. And try some street food. They normally cook it right in front of you, which actually makes it safer to eat in my book -- since you know it actually IS cooked. Who knows, you could become as addicted to dumplings, or ceviche, or droewors as I became!

(10) Try a hostel. You might think you are too old (you aren't). You might think they are too loud (they can be). You might think they aren't clean enough (it's fine). They are an interesting part of the entire long-travel experience. First, unless you are loaded -- and likely not reading my blog -- you can't stay at nice hotels every night on a long time. It just blows your money away and frankly, you can't always find them in all the place you are hopefully going to go to. If you don't want the dorm rule experience, you can usually get a single or double room in most hostels. They are great ways to meet fellow travelers -- how many people have you ever met at a Hilton or a Hyatt? Try it at least a few times, Just make sure you read the hostel/dorm rules before you go

(11) Try to not have too many expectations. Many of the countries that I never thought I'd like were some of my favorites. Some of the countries I had the highest expectations of fell short and were disappointing. Once I realized that I just needed to temper my preconceived notions and go with the flow a bit more, I tended to enjoy every location even more. It is similar to going to see the incredibly hyped new movie that just came out - how many times do you walk out disappointed?

Have fun. And just do it. Long travel is one of the greatest things I've done in my lifetime. It obviously isn't for everyone, but I think anyone with an open mind and a sense of wonder and adventure would love it. I certainly do -- and I'm ready for more next month.

Would love for folks to add their suggestions down below in the comments section. This is by now means the full list of mine -- just some stuff I jotted off. Add your tips/suggestions for everyone else. Thanks.


At August 19, 2010 at 7:32 PM , Anonymous Caz Makepeace said...

These are all great tips. Funny how when I first started facebook, twitter, wireless and skype were something you never had to think about!
I totally agree about getting the lots of rest and how beneficial it is for your health. Travel allows you to just relax into life, and that is so good for you! Stress is a silent killer.
I would also add try camping. We camped for four months through East and South AFrica. We camped in places for as little as a $1 a night and they were superb spots to pitch our tent.

At August 19, 2010 at 7:49 PM , Anonymous Sally said...

I love the tip about resting. In fact, I think I may rest a bit too much. My tips would be to email everyone you know who has ever traveled abroad/lived abroad/worked internationally/has international friends/etc. where you are going & when. It's amazing how many of my friends were able to hook me up with people to hang out with and even people to stay with while I've been traveling. Also, if you're doing any volunteering, know that you don't have to PAY to do it. There are plenty of volunteer directories (WWOOF, HelpX, etc) which can help you find volunteer gigs that you can actually do for free rather than shelling out thousands of dollars. Oh, and be prepared to have bed bugs (not fun) and bad haircuts (maybe even less fun).

At August 19, 2010 at 9:27 PM , Anonymous Malaysia Expat said...

All great advices.
For me, number three and number eleven hit the nail on the head. I find that expectations often come from anticipating and preparing a lot for something. Sometimes it's great because you can do a lot more with preparation, but more often than not you'll end up missing on the experience because you'd have planned your trip a bit too much or expect a certain thing.

Also, great comment from Sally, as usual :)

At August 19, 2010 at 9:53 PM , Blogger SoloTraveler said...

great additions, everyone!! Many thanks. Can't wait to read more from others.

At August 19, 2010 at 11:22 PM , Blogger Adventurous Kate said...

Excellent post!

Regarding sleep and rest: I completely agree with you. I find that lack of sleep depletes my health on so many different levels, most obviously exhibited when I come home from Vegas.

And of course -- Couchsurfing! Meet up with people all over the world! :-D

At August 20, 2010 at 3:36 AM , Anonymous Sherry Ott said...

Supurb list! Love #8 - sometimes that's really hard to accept. I finally learned to accept it while living in Vietnam for a year; else I would've gone mad!
The one thing I would add is try Couchsurfing!! I've been traveling for 4 years now and just this month I tried it for the first time am kicking myself for not trying it earlier!

At August 20, 2010 at 7:24 AM , Anonymous Matt said...

Great tips! It's amazing the role the internet and social media plays in the lives of all travelers and tourists, from RTW types to people like me who just get a couple of weeks a year to travel. When I first backpacked after college, none of these resources were available. I had to call (with a phone) ahead to hostels to book rooms and was very dependent on information from other travelers.

Flexibility is also key for everyone, as is experiential travel. Anyone can go to Paris, but it's how YOU interpret the city and what you do there that makes it special.

At August 20, 2010 at 8:24 AM , Anonymous Ayngelina said...

Number 1 is crucial. I got on Twitter a few months before I left but I wish it had been much earlier.

At August 20, 2010 at 5:51 PM , Anonymous LeslieTravel said...

Great tips! As a former RTW traveler I can relate. My regret would be not bringing a small netbook. I relied on Internet cafes and the connection was so slow- frustrating for a blogger! Glad you enjoyed your RTW experience :)

At August 20, 2010 at 6:00 PM , Blogger Abby said...

If you read this beforehand, would you have followed it? I'd give anything to have been on Twitter for the year before my trip, and I tell all potential expats/travelers who reach out to me via my blog to join... And none of them do! It's strange. The rest of your tips: excellent. You must've been a great traveler!

At August 20, 2010 at 6:53 PM , Anonymous Jaime said...

Great post. I am glad I am learning all this stuff before I head off to my RTW trip. I still have a year before take off. I have already started my blog & i have also already started networking with twitter. I am learning so much from the travel community it is amazing.

Im gonna keep these in mind as I prepare for my trip!

At August 21, 2010 at 10:36 AM , Anonymous Suzy Guese said...

Nice tips I think any traveler could put into place, round the world trip or 3 months abroad. While I haven't done a RTW (would love to), I would say sleep is important while traveling. I have been wearing myself thin lately, taking on too much. I think it is important to travel slower. You see more and are not prone to getting sick/being fatigued.

At August 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM , Blogger Connie said...

Great tips! I try to travel in this way as best I can and I have absolutely no regrets at all during my ongoing 2 years of continuous travel. I second the couchsurfing mention. It's a fabulous resource, not only to get a local feel for a new city/country but also to enrich your travel experiences! I made many a great friend through couchsurfing with my travels, many of whom I still stay in regular contact with!

At August 24, 2010 at 11:39 AM , Anonymous Stephanie said...

This is such a great read for me as I'm just 4 weeks away from leaving for my own RTW! I've been following a lot of your tips and trying to get myself in the mindset you describe, so hopefully my trip will go as well as yours has!

At August 25, 2010 at 11:48 AM , Blogger SoloTraveler said...

wow -- many thanks everyone. Really, really love to see comments, especially those with additional tips and ideas.

Connie and Kate -- I agree on couchsurfing. I was moving really fast on my trip (since I never flew), so it was really hard to couchsurf because of the short time lag I had in making plans before getting places. Did it once and it was great. Looking forward to doing a lot more in the future.

Thanks everyone!!

At August 26, 2010 at 11:17 PM , Blogger Andrea said...


I Stumbled Upon your blog, great to see that you made it.

I have a great photo of you smoking cigars in Panama, which I always thought was a shame you didn't have. If you want a copy let me know!

At August 26, 2010 at 11:19 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At August 29, 2010 at 7:01 PM , Anonymous Norbert said...

Wow, these are great tips. I'm in the planning process of my first RTW, so, definitely will have these in mind. Especially the "taking a rest". I have consistently traveled at a fast pace but now I'm starting to slow down a bit and give myself more time to "settle and experience" the place.

These tips are great also for non RTW trips and anyone can easily implement them.


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