Are you tired of learning how to travel the world from journalists on major media sites? I get it. You want to learn from someone who’s done it all—the solo trip, backpacking, hostels, Airbnbs, trains, planes, hitchhiking, tight budgets. Well, you found your person. I’ve done it all while traveling the world; the whole nine yards. And with my personal experience, I’m more than confident that this guide can put you on the right path.
I was hit hard my the travel bug in 2016 when I went on a three-month solo backpacking trip around Europe. On that trip, as cliché as it may sound, I found myself. Since then, I’ve committed to helping other people experience the world and discover themselves. If that’s what you’re on the mission for, you’ve landed at the right destination.
You’ll find everything you need here; no changeovers or layovers necessary. I’m excited to teach you how to travel the world and discover more about yourself while doing it. As a free bonus, download my top seven places to travel below.
1. Prepare for Your Trip
Before we even get to the fun parts of traveling, like choosing your destination, building an itinerary, and booking your travel, it’s crucial that we address what items you need to prepare to ensure for a smooth transition out of the country. If you know you want to travel the world, these are four aspects of travel you’ll need to make sure are in order.
Gather Your Passport
If you don’t have a passport yet, search for a nearby acceptance facility and apply in-person. However, the U.S. Department of State says, “Due to public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some passport application acceptance facilities still remain closed or may be providing limited service to the public.” Be sure to call your facility ahead of time.
If you already have a passport, start by checking the expiration date and compare it with your desired travel date. Your passport should be valid for at least six more months from your departure. If it’s expiring, you’ll need to renew your passport ahead of time. It typically takes about 10 to 12 weeks to process a renewal, but if you need it quicker, you can pay for expedited processing, which takes four to six weeks.
You can use a passport fee calculator to understand how much it will cost you based on your needs. But typically, a new passport book will cost around $145 and a renewal will cost about $110.
Think About a REAL ID
On October 1, 2021, it will be required to carry a REAL ID if you’re traveling domestically. A REAL ID would stand in place of your driver’s license or current identification card. Although it’s necessary for domestic travel, I still recommend having one in case you have a layover on your departure or arrival. It doesn’t hurt to get it, and it would be a true bummer if there was an issue boarding one of your flights.
You can use this interactive map to see your state’s specific REAL ID requirements. The cost of your ID will also vary depending on what state you live in. Once you apply in-person, it can take anywhere from seven to 10 business days to arrive. Be sure to account for the time it takes to go to your local DMV or licensing office, too.
Request Your Vacation Days
The number of days you can take off of work solely depends on your place of work; some people have a few days, some have a few weeks, and some are even blessed with unlimited paid time off (PTO). Whichever boat (or should I say plane for the sake of this article?) you fall in, prepare to request days off far in advance. Requesting vacation days to travel the world is much easier done months in advance than a few weeks before you plan to leave.
Ensure your manager that you’ll be able to set yourself up beforehand so your absence doesn’t change the flow of the business. You deserve to get away from work. You deserve to feel like you can go a vacation. Be sure to request your days ahead of time to make sure you can get the exact days off you want.
Open Travel Credit Card
You might be thinking, What’s the best form of payment while overseas? Glad you asked. While it’s good to have some cash on hand (in the country’s currency you’re traveling to), it can become a hassle to find an ATM and withdraw more. Plus, you’ll get hit with absurd foreign transaction fees. It’s not sustainable.
Instead, I recommend opening a travel credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees. You’ll not only save money on those nasty fees, but you’ll also earn rewards (or money back) every time you swipe your card. I personally use the Capital One Venture card. You’ll earn:
- 2x points on every single dollar
- 60,000 bonus miles (or $600 in travel) once you spend at least $3,000 on purchases within the first three
Sign Up for Global Entry
We all dread this part of traveling: long airport security lines. I mean, who looks forward to that? I know I don’t, and I hope you don’t either. I’m here to tell you there’s a way to speed that up, both airport security and customs.
When you sign up for Global Entry, you’re able to speed through long TSA lines and have expedited security screening when you come through customs on the way home. While it typically costs $100 for four years of access, if you apply for the Capital One card above, you’ll get reimbursed for your membership. Now, that’s a win-win in my book.
Follow these steps to apply:
- Create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account
- Complete your application and pay your non-refundable $100 fee (use your Capital One card!)
- After the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reviews your application, schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center
- Bring your valid passport and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card to the interview
2. Research and Choose Your Destination(s)
Alright, now that you got all the documents and paperwork out of the way, it’s on to the exciting part of planning your trip: researching the best places to visit. If you’re like me, you probably have a bucket list of destinations; but if not, that’s completely okay because I can help you out. Download a list of my favorite travel destinations below.
When you’re thinking of where you want to go, there are a few things you want to keep in mind:
- Any current travel restrictions
- Available flights
- How much traveling will cost when you arrive (food, accommodation, drinks, etc.)
- If you can go to multiple locations, such as other nearby cities to visit
- The destination’s safety
3. Book Your Travel in Advance
Okay, so you have your documents together and your dream itinerary is in the making; now it’s time to book your travel. When it comes to booking travel in advance, there’s definitely a sweet spot for how far in advance you want to do it. You don’t want to do it too far, but you also don’t want to wait too long. This happy medium also varies depending on whether you’re booking flights, trains, accommodation, restaurants, or local attractions. Here’s a rule of thumb to follow:
- Flights: Book between three weeks and four months in advance. Tuesdays are typically the cheapest day to book a flight.
- Trains: If you’re traveling by train, you can buy your tickets while you’re overseas. However, if you’re going to Europe, consider buying a Eurail pass ahead of time. A Eurail pass lets you get discounted rates and buy train passes in bulk. I highly recommend this option if you are traveling by train in Europe for an extended period of time. This is the pass I used on my solo trip, and I encourage you to do the same.
- Airbnb: Hosts can open their booking windows for up to 12 months in advance. Are you looking to book an Airbnb? Use my referral link and get up to $65 off a qualifying booking.
- Hotel: You should book at least three to four weeks in advance for the best price.
- Hostel: If you’re traveling by hostel, it’s likely you’ll want more flexibility. Itineraries tend to change on backpacking trips, and you’ll want to be able to change your trip around last minute if something new comes up. When I went on my solo trip, I booked my hostels a few months in advance but paid an extra $1 to be able to cancel at any time. If you’re looking to stay in popular hostels, you’ll want to make sure you don’t book last minute, or else they can be full or more than double the nightly rate.
- Restaurants: Some restaurants overseas book up months in advance. If you have your eye on a specific dining experience, be sure to check how far in advance they accept reservations and reserve accordingly.
- Local attractions: Depending what you want to do in the city you’re traveling to, you may need to book tickets for tourist attractions in advance. As a rule of thumb, a couple weeks would be a safe bet. However, you may be able to snag a last minute ticket if you find something new while traveling. But it’s better safe than sorry if you already know what you want to see and do.
Sometimes what you have in your mind for your trip may change depending what’s available to book. Booking your travel in advance can help shape your itinerary. If you want to do everything on your bucket list, be sure to start the booking process months in advance.
4. Purchase the Right Gear
Before you set off on your trip, it’s crucial you are equipped with the correct gear for your travel. When I’m talking about gear, I’m really referring to what bags you will bring. If you’re taking a vacation and won’t be backpacking, you’ll want to make sure you have a high-quality suitcase. If you are backpacking, you’ll need a backpack that’s the correct size and has sufficient capacity. Here are my recommendations for both situations:
- Suitcase: I recommend going with Away. It creates a variety of bags, ranging from handbags to totes and backpacks to suitcases. Save $20 off your first purchase and lock yourself in with the best suitcase on the market.
- Backpacking backpack: For men, I recommend the Osprey Aether 65 (this is what I use), and for women, I recommend the Osprey ARIEL 65.
5. Embark on Your Journey
There’s not much to this step besides sending yourself off to the airport as you get ready to embark on a journey of a lifetime. Run through your packing list, double check that you have all your clothes, triple check (really, I mean it) that you have your passport and ID, and make sure to have some cash on hand for when you land at your destination.
You can either exchange money at your local bank or use a service in the airport overseas. However, if you choose to wait until you are overseas, they will charge you a premium, so I recommend taking at least $200 worth of cash out before you leave. This will help you cover any immediate travel expenses, like taxis or buses to get to the place you’ll be staying.
5 Travel Tips From My Personal Experience
- Plan in advance: If you want to put together a trip around the world of your dreams, start planning in advance. Get an understanding of where you want to go, what you want to do, the restaurant experiences you want to have, and look into booking everything so the stars align perfectly.
- Use public transportation: Unlike the United States, most countries and cities have established public transportation, especially in Europe. It’s rare that I take a cab while overseas. I find it much more convenient and affordable to jump on the metro or subway to get to my next destination.
- Indulge: Leave your restrictions at home and indulge while you’re traveling. Eat the local food, have the 2 pm cocktails, and let loose. The worst thing is returning home wishing you were a bit more free when it came to embracing everything about the culture.
- Return home on a Saturday: If you work a Monday through Friday work week, I highly suggest returning from your trip no later than Saturday. This will give you at least one day to reset before jumping back into the swing of things on the following Monday. Trust me on this one. I’ve returned on Sunday before and had to wake up at 5 am the morning after for work, and it was terrible. I’m trying to save you from that.
- Less screen time: In the age of technology and social media, it’s easy to stick your phone in front of your face for hours on end. I encourage you to break that habit while you’re overseas. You’re visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, there’s no reason you need to stuff your face into your phone.
Benefits of Traveling the World
- You discover more about yourself: My solo backpacking trip marked the beginning of my journey of self-discovery. I learned that traveling the world isn’t just to go see beautiful destinations, but it’s also to discover more about yourself as you exist outside your comfort zone.
- Floods your life with valuable experiences: You learn a lot of life lessons while traveling. For one in particular, you learn the value of spending your money on experiences rather than tangible goods. Your travel experiences will be with you forever and provide a never-ending net benefit to your life.
- Teaches you to go with the flow: There’s really only one mindset you need to embody while traveling: going with the flow. Travel is filled with uncertainty and plans that change last minute. The quicker you embrace that the better your experience will be.
Learning how to travel will not only let you check off your bucket list items, but it will let you discover more about yourself. Using the steps outlined above, you can set yourself up for the trip of your dreams and one that gets you outside your comfort zone.
What are some of your dream destinations? Let me know in the comments below.