about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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an unhelpful guide to planning a rtw itinerary

Sunset in Zambia

How do you plan a round-the-world itinerary?  That's always the question at the top of the Bootsnall message board for RTW travelers and everybody's got an opinion .  You should "not plan," some say, while others tell you to have a "vague notion" of where you're going, and others say that you should plan down to the nitty gritty.  You would think that, now, after planning a RTW trip and being a self-acknowledged planaholic, I would know how to plan a RTW itinerary.  You would think that, considering I get at least an email every couple of weeks asking me to review travel itineraries, I would know about the pitfalls and  the successes of a great RTW itinerary.  You would be wrong.  The truth is, I don't have any good advice for you on planning a round-the-world itinerary.

The reason: there are no rules in planning a RTW itinerary.

This is your trip.  Your travel.  Your dream.

There is no wrong answer to a RTW itinerary.  If you are a planner --- that is, the sort of person who likes to know exactly where you are going to be on every day of your trip, don't let people tell you that you're a bad RTW traveler.  (We did that in our first three months and it worked out just fine.)  If you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser, that works, too.  (We flew by the seat of our pants in most of Asia and it worked out generally great.)  Whatever you decide, it is your trip.

And, the truth that nobody really mentions is that there are as many ways to travel around the world as there are people interested in traveling RTW.  Don't believe me?  Check out some of the unique RTW combinations out there:

Gary from Everything Everywhere : 90 countries in 48 months over 6 continents.  (This includes some short stays as well.  You can check out his very impressive lists of where he has been over here .  I should really put something like this together for ourselves because I have no idea how many countries I've been to in my life.)

Audrey and Dan from Uncornered Market : 65+ countries in 48 months over 7 (!) continents.  Yeah, they're totally our role models.

Danny and Jillian from I Should Log Off : 50 countries in 22 months over 6 continents.

Michael from Go See Write : 44 countries in 16 months over 6 continents, using entirely overland transportation.

Manali and Terry from Manali and Terry : 27 countries in 12 months over 4 continents.

Dave from The Longest Way Home :  18 countries in 72 + months over 2 continents.

Keith and Amy from Green Around the Globe : 17 countries in 10 months over 4 continents.

Gillian and Jason from One Giant Step : 14 countries in 12 months over 4 continents.

The Vogel Family from Family on Bikes : 14 countries in 34 months over 2 continents, entirely on bicycles from the northernmost point in Alaska to the southernmost point of Argentina.

Me and Patrick: 13 countries in 13 months over 4 continents.  And, we spent 2-3 months in a specific region, returned home to the United States to check in on Chewy and Abby, and left to go to another region.  We never purchased a RTW ticket, instead using discretely purchased transcontinental flights when we wanted.

Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic : 9 countries in 12 months in 1 continent.  She just hit her one year traveliversary!

See that?  There is no formula, no unmissable place, no unmissable thing.  If you don't make it to Peru, don't sweat it.  If you fall in love with Thailand and spend six out of your allotted 12 months there, no worries.

No matter what you choose, your trip will be amazing because the world is amazing.

I know . . . . this is an entirely unhelpful post but it's the truth.  And, I wish someone had shared this truth with me while I was stressing about our potential RTW itinerary with maps and spreadsheets strewn across our house.  In the end, we didn't see all the places we wanted but we found wonder in places we never expected, on both our planned and unplanned spots.  As I plan our European leg, I keep this in mind.  Sure, I'd love to hit every single country in Western Europe but I'm not going to be able to see it all.

All this being said, there are a few general concepts we keep in mind when we plan our travels but they are about as far from rules as an American grocery store banana is from the miniature ripened ones plucked from the branches of an Indian banana tree (which is to say quite far).  Here they are:

  • Try to avoid high season.  Yeah, this can be tough but it's a complete hassle dealing with masses of tourists who all want to be in the same place you are.
  • Opt for places with good food.  This matters to us because food is, obviously, important to us.  We've found that three days in a city with no decent restaurant or market selection leaves us very grumpy.
  • Pick places that match your budget.  This one is pretty obvious but sometimes we get overly excited and splurge which means that our next country has to be cheaper.
  • Spend more time in a single place or single country and less time traveling.  We hate travel days and try to minimize them as much as possible.

And that's pretty much it.  Sometimes we plan like crazy and other times we arrive in a country with nothing planned.  I guess you could say that we tend to plan when we feel like and if we have time to plan.  And, when we plan, we don't stick to any hard and fast rules.

*An Unhelpful Guide to Planning a RTW Itinerary is part of the RTW Travel Planning in Retrospect Project, a weekly community project that seeks to gather insights and advice on round-the-world travel planning from those who have been in the metaphorical trenches. Stay tuned because, on Tuesday, some very fabulous travel bloggers will join in the discussion and reveal much better itinerary planning tips than mine.

travel credit cards and bank accounts

I've been writing about money a lot lately . . . about funding , budgeting , working , and saving . . . because without money, you can't travel long-term.  It's as simple as that.  So, once you accumulate all your money, what do you do with said cash?  Personally, I'm all for the Scrooge McDuck gold vault because ---- come on ---- how awesome would it be to swim through gold coins, but I don't see it as a viable option in this cash and credit card driven society.  No gold vaults for us.

Instead, we have discovered that the answer to "What's in Your (Travel) Wallet?" is Capital One.

Foreign Transaction Fees Are Bad

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's talk foreign transaction fees.  Foreign transaction fees are nasty little buggers biting at your otherwise-healthy bank account, so insidious that you don't even notice they're hanging around, until you get back home from your Caribbean vacation and are walloped with $70 of extra charges titled "foreign transaction fees."  So, say that you have a Bank of America credit card and use it to purchase a $100 item in England, in addition to the $100, you will be charged:

Bank of America's 3% foreign transaction fee:  $3.00 USD
Visa/Mastercard's 3% foreign transaction fee: $3.00 USD

Six dollars to spend $100 of your own money = ridiculousness.  And, our Bank of America card gives us a lousy exchange rate, too, meaning that we're much better off getting cash out of the ATM and using the local currency.

Unfortunately, Bank of America's ATM fees are equally bad because to take $100 out of a foreign ATM, BoA charges:

The typical external BoA ATM fee: $1.50
Local ATM's fee:  $1.50 - $3.00
Foreign ATM transaction fee:  $5.00
Foreign exchange fee:  1% of the total amount = $1.00 USD

Do you see why I say that foreign transaction fees are bad?  Unfortunately, BoA isn't alone in these ridiculous upcharges.  Check out FlyerGuide's exhaustive analysis and see where your credit card or ATM card stands.  If they are charging you anything to use your money abroad, don't use that card abroad.

Wait a second.  Let me say that again.

If your credit card or bank charges you any foreign transaction fees abroad, they are bad.  Bad.  Bad.   Bad.  Let's talk about my friend, Capital One, instead.

My Go-To Travel Credit Card:  Capital One No Hassle Miles Card

Unfortunately, Capital One doesn't know me and is not sponsoring this post, because I would totally do commercials for them.  I am much less annoying than David Spade, I promise you.  I heart Capital One.  Really.  I heart Capital One and you should, too, if you travel outside the United States.

Capital One Awesomeness:

  • No foreign transaction fees . Not one pesky little percentage point and they even reimburse us for the Visa/Mastercard fees.
  • No annual fee .
  • Visa/Mastercard are accepted almost everywhere in the world.
  • Platinum Mastercard Car Rental Protection. When we rent a car anywhere in the world excepting Ireland, Jamaica, and a few other countries, our card automatically grants us CDW insurance, meaning that we don't have to pay extra insurance and we're covered if anything happens.  This coverage turned out to be very handy when Europcar claimed that we had to pay an extra $400 for some ridiculous claimed damage that happened after we left the car rental.  Capital One and Mastercard completely handled the issue once I mailed in all of the paperwork we received and reimbursed us for the entire fee.
  • Fraud Protection. Anytime a strange fee appears on our statement (which is relatively often since we use our card in many different countries), Capital One sends us an email.  We've had our card numbers stolen  and Capital One promptly remedied the problems and sent us new cards in two days because we were leaving to go to a different country.
  • Points I Can Use on Any Airline and Many Hotel Stays: Every dollar I spend on my card earns me 10 points and I can use those points on airplane tickets, hotel stays, and a variety of other options.  100 points equals $1, meaning that if I have 60,000 Capital One points, I can purchase a $600 plane ticket.  When we use random airlines that do not give us frequent flier miles, we often pay for those tickets using our Capital One points.  We are paying for at least part of our anniversary trip using Capital One points.

Capital One Suckiness:

  • Clunky Website: Considering it is such a huge credit card company, their website feels and acts incredibly clunky.  They constantly schedule "maintenance time-outs" at 2:00 a.m. EST, which is around the same time that I'm trying to check my account when I'm abroad.  Their site looks like it was designed in 2002 and never given an upgrade and I often have problems downloading transactions into my Quicken account.
  • Card Freezes When Traveling: For the first six months, Capital One kept freezing our card because we had "strange" overseas transactions.  I called them every time and told them that I was traveling but the maximum vacation they can put in their system is for 90 days, which isn't all too helpful if you're traveling for over a year.  It's not a huge deal but can be annoying.

My Go-To Travel Checking Account:  Capital One No Hassle Miles Direct Banking

Ultimately, the vast majority of our purchases abroad are made using cash.  In most of the world, cash is king and we are always looking for ATM machines that will let us take out money.  Our preference, again, is Capital One Direct Banking.  (Hey, Capital One, are you out there?  You want to hire me?  I love you.)

Capital One Awesomeness:

  • No minimum amounts required in your account.
  • No foreign transaction fees when you take money out of the ATM.
  • Capital One never charges a fee when you take money out of any ATM.
  • Refund you $10 per month on charges of foreign ATM.
  • Great competitive exchange rates --- much better than what you see at the currency exchange places at the airport and often better than what I find on XE.com.
  • Decent website to manage and move around money.
  • Easy to schedule monthly or bi-monthly transfers of money. We never keep more than $500 to a $1000 in our Capital One account in case our ATM card is stolen and recommend that if you are traveling, that you do the same.  Every two weeks, we transfer a small amount of money into our account using automatic transfers just in case we don't have access to Internet.
  • Reward Points Tie In With Our Capital One No Hassle Miles: We get reward points on every dollar we keep in our Direct Banking account and those points tie into the same points we gt from our credit card.

Capital One Suckiness:

  • Immediate transfers of money take at least 7 days. If you don't have enough money in your account and need to transfer money quickly, you can't.  For that reason alone, we keep our Bank of America ATM card (which is where we keep more money) stashed in a very safe and secure place in our suitcases.
  • Lengthy Process to Start Up Account. It took us over 40 days to get our Capital One Direct Banking account set up.  I am not entirely sure why it took so long but it did.  If you are planning a vacation, plan well ahead to get your bank account set up.

So, tell me, what's in your (travel) wallet?

* Travel Credit Cards and Bank Accounts is a post in the RTW Travel Planning in Retrospect Project, a weekly community project that seeks to gather insights and advice on round-the-world travel planning from those who have been in the metaphorical trenches. Stay tuned because, on Tuesday, some very fabulous travel bloggers will join in the discussion and reveal what they do to save.  And, if you are a current or recently returned RTW traveler, we would love to hear your thoughts so get in touch with me if you would like to be featured via the comments or at theroadforks [at] gmail [dot] com.

travelers talk back: unusual savings tricks

After describing our unusual savings tricks last week, I was delighted by the other unique ideas other travelers suggested in the comments:

  • Erica from Nonstop World Travel (yay for travel and food): Sleeper trains "saves you money on transit and on a hotel"
  • Mike Lenzen from Traveled Earth (soon to be leaving on their RTW): Make a budget because when they spend more one month they take money off on the next month
  • Dani from Globetrotter Girls (two digital nomads with oodles of girl power): Buy items shortly before the farmers markets close because items are half off, use discount vouchers (such a good idea and one we rarely do), and consider subletting an extra room in your house
  • Jerri from DIWYY (all about Doing It While You're Young . . . travel, that is): Share one car per household
  • Theodora from Travels With a Nine Year Old (if you think you can't travel with kids, this single mom with kid will show you how): Choose your battles - realize that it might make more sense to work than spending hours hand-washing laundry

And, then, our panel of current RTW travelers blew me away with some of the coolest savings tricks I have ever read:

Warren and Betsy Talbot from Married With Luggage
Throw a Reverse Birthday Party

When Betsy turned 39 she hosted a party at our house showcasing 39 of her "treasured items" and invited her closest friends.  Each item had a tag telling the story of how she had acquired the item and the memory associated with it.  Guests were then allowed to “shop” through the boutique in our living room and write their names on the back of the tags if they wanted the item.  If no one else wanted the item, it was theirs for a donation.  If more than one name was on the tag, we had a “style off” where each person had to model the items in a distinctive way that would earn them the most votes from the crowd.  The winner of the vote got to keep the item.  The end result was we were able to save money for the trip and Betsy was able to share her closest possessions with dear friends.  You can read more about the party here .

Betsy and Warren Talbot are on a mission to redesign their lives to travel full-time.  They are two reforming type-A personalities who are learning that living large is not necessarily living well.  They just returned from an enviable Antarctic expedition and are taking a transcontinental voyage from Argentina to England.  Their website is chockful of great information include month-by-month breakdowns of their budget.  Follow their journey on their blog , Facebook fan page , and Twitter ( @warrentalbot ).

thinkCHUA and LOCAVORista from Living If
Buy local with a local

The "unusual" savings trick we use on the road can best be summed up as "buying local, with a local."  It starts with the fact that we buy travel commodities such as medicine (i.e. malaria pills can be 30-80% cheaper outside the US) or replacement electronics on the road.  We stop by stores to learn the tourist price, then persuade a local to go and purchase it for us.  In places without posted prices, where "tourist prices" prevail, this usually gets a 20-50% discount.  Persuading a local to do this is easy, buying them lunch or a drink will suffice and you can ask a guesthouse employee or a student to do it for you.  Not only will you save money, but the time you spend with them will enrich your visit as well.

Living IF is about living the ifs that life presents.  Each person has different dreams and opportunities, to live ifs is to seize the opportunities that will lead towards making dreams reality.  Living IF is dedicated to helping people live their ifs through content, personal stories, and a good old kick in the pants.  The Chuas are currently motorcycling through Cambodia.  Their website contains maps, journals, mouth-watering food posts, and beautiful photography of all the places they have been.  Follow their journey on their blog , Facebook fan page , and Twitter ( @livingif ).

Amy and Sean from Surrounded by the Sound
Shop around for good value accommodation

Accommodation is almost always the difference in whether or not we make our daily budget on the road, but since we like to be comfortable, we look for the best value rather than the cheapest room. We typically do some advance online recognizance to get to know the market, then spend some time when we arrive comparing rooms. Often they'll show us the most expensive room first, so we always ask if there is anything cheaper available. While you have the most negotiating power outside of the high season, we've found that getting a discount is often as simple as asking for it. If that fails, bargaining chips include committing to a certain number of days, paying in cash, or forgoing an included breakfast if we can eat cheaper on our own. In Japan we once saved by only getting our room cleaned every three days! We've learned the hard way to negotiate in the currency we plan to use to avoid a surprise increase. Finally, we've found that cheaper, quality accommodations often are in the vicinity of Lonely Planet picks, which tend to increase in price as soon as they get into “The Book.”

Amy and Sean are our traveling doppelgangers (but not in an evil way, of course): Amy is a former lawyer and Sean is a computer programmer and they spent the year before they traveled remodeling and fixing up their money pit house  (been there) and sold it to fund their travels.  They, too, were as devastated by this tragic Super Bowl as my husband was (that's Patrick in the background yelling, Go Steelers).  Their blog is a lovely combination of their personal insights with beautiful photography.  They are currently in the Perhentians and heading to New Zealand, soon.  Follow their journey on their blog and via Twitter ( @amyakabetty ).

Read More About Unusual RTW Savings Tricks:

*Travelers Talk Back is a part of the RTW in Retrospect Community Project , a series that intends to bring together the opinions of travelers on how they planned for their trip and how that planning panned out.  And, we want to hear from you! If you are a recently returned RTWer or current RTWer and would be interested in contributing, please let me know via comments or e-mail at theroadforks [at] gmail [dot] com.

unusual travel saving tricks

Zambian market

A Zambian market

Last night, as we moaned over the silky, salty, sweet chocolate budino at FIG, a truly outstanding restaurant in historic Charleston and one I will describe for you later, a glasses-clad wobbling man plopped down at our table, interested in why we had been photographing our meal.  When we explained that we blog about food and our world travels, he retorted, in perhaps a less than lucid state than he would have otherwise wished, "This is an expensive restaurant.  How do you travel full-time and afford this?"  We explained, as we have explained to y'all, that we budget and work to keep us in this lifestyle.  I could have mentioned to him the third step in how we fund our travels but it is not nearly as sexy as proclaiming our digital nomadic lifestyle.

What we do: we save.  A lot.  We saved before we left for our trip, during, and after.  We are money-hungry savers and darn proud of it.

[Snores abound.]  That's okay.  I can take it.  Listen, I'm no Suze Orman or Clark Howard (our favorite) and I don't want to tell you how to save.  You've heard of the obvious savings tricks: cut back on coffee, drive less, eat out less, etc.  But, what about the less common savings tricks?  That's what I want to talk about.  For this round of RTW Planning in Retrospect, I am going to list my t op 5 unusual savings tricks and ask the panel for Travelers Talk Back on Tuesday to do the same.

1. Pretend that we only have one salary. When I first started at my law firm, one of the partners cautioned me to avoid the Golden Handcuffs: that is, the BMWs or fancy houses purchased by fledgling attorneys and their inability to escape their high-income jobs, even when they want.  He told me to pretend that my legal salary didn't exist, sock all of that money into savings or investments, and live off Patrick's salary.  The advice was so good that we have been treating my income as nonexistent ever since.  Whatever money I make goes into savings or (when we had a house) into repairing the house or other investments.  Whenever Patrick gets a raise, we pretend the money doesn't exist.  Basically, we continue to live at the salary level we had when we were 25, which is why we've only bought one new car in our 14 years together.  [Obviously, this only works if you have a two-income household.]

A Zambian market

Women at the Zambian market

2. Shop at local farmer markets. If you haven't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with food.  But, that doesn't mean we eat out at restaurants all the time.  Truth is, we get annoyed when we dish out $70 . . . or even $20 . . . for a mediocre meal.  When we travel, we usually stay in hostels or vacation homes and 90% of the time cook our own meals.  But, groceries!  Groceries are so expensive, are they not?  No, they don't have to be if you shop at local farmers markets.  In Jacksonville, we used to buy a pound of green beans for a single dollar and on our recent trip to Savannah, I found a quarter flat of strawberries for $4.  Aside from providing delicious sustenance, a trip to the local market is a cheap, wonderful excursion and way to meet many locals.

3.  Become maniacal about inputting expenses into financial tracking software. When I turned 14, I asked my parents for a $10 per week allowance.  They agreed but with one condition: I had to track my expenses in a bank ledger (and later Quicken).  I used to think it was an annoying exercise but was willing to do it to get the $10 bill in my hand.  Now, I am hooked on Quicken.  If I don't input our expenses and income every week, I turn grouchy because I feel like my financial house is a dirty pigsty and nobody wants to live in a dirty pigsty, right?  We know exactly how much money we have at all times in every account . . . which means that we never spend more than we can afford.  [The obvious corollary of this trick is start using Quicken or some other software immediately, if you aren't already.  Knowing how much you are spending will make you a much better saver.]

Lizard in Namibia

A lizard we found when we were walking through a random spot in Namibia

4. Indulge in walking. Our number 1 favorite travel activity: walking.  We walk several miles every day, exploring the streets and nooks of the new places to which we travel.  There are so many reasons to love walking: (1) it is completely free; (2) we get to understand the locale, meet locals getting from place to place, and find hidden treasures; (3) we don't have the time to spend money on other expensive activities annd tours; and most importantly, (4) we don't feel so bad if our walk lands us at the local bakery or cupcake shop.

5. Buy presents at the airport duty free shop. This sounds counter-intuitive, I know, because normally the airport duty-free stores mark everything up.  But, whenever we are in a foreign country, we invariably end up with extra money in that particular currency---usually anywhere from $20 to $50 that we weren't able to spend before we got to the airport.  We use that money to buy gifts at the airport because: (1) we are guaranteed to find kids' books in English for our nephew, (2) we don't have to worry about customs hassles (or security people confiscating our boomerangs ) because we're already inside the airport, and (3) we get rid of our extra change.  Win, win, win!

That's my top 5.  What are you favorite unusual (or not so unusual) savings tricks?  And stay tuned on Tuesday when other fabulous travel bloggers will be chiming in.

* Unusual Travel Saving Tips is a post in the RTW Travel Planning in Retrospect Project, a weekly community project that seeks to gather insights and advice on round-the-world travel planning from those who have been in the metaphorical trenches. Stay tuned because, on Tuesday, some very fabulous travel bloggers will join in the discussion and reveal what they do to save.  And, if you are a current or recently returned RTW traveler, we would love to hear your thoughts so get in touch with me if you would like to be featured via the comments or at theroadforks [at] gmail [dot] com.