The Ultimate Guide to Plan Your Own Year of Travel

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Are you dreaming of taking a year off to travel the world, but don’t know where to start? Look no further than this ultimate guide to planning your own year of travel.

As someone who has spent the last four years traveling the world, I can tell you that a year of travel is an experience like no other. It’s not just about seeing new places; it’s about personal growth, cultural immersion, and gaining new perspectives. In this post, I’ll share my experience and tips on planning your own year of travel.

Whether you are taking a year off from work, on a gap year before starting university, or planning on making huge life changes and quitting your job, this guide will help you get started to plan your year of travel. It’s far different than planning your normal one or two week vacation and we’ll talk about all the intracacies. 

We’ll cover what to expect for your year of travel, how to plan a year of travel, and more!

Year of Travel

This post is all about how to plan a year of travel.

Year of Travel:

Planning Your Year of Travel

year of travel - thailand
year of travel - hawaii

Planning a year of travel takes time, research, and flexibility. It’s important to set a budget and save money, choose destinations, create a travel itinerary, and plan for transportation and accommodation. However, it’s also important to be open to change and spontaneity, regardless of how much you love planning (like me!).

When planning your year of travel, it’s important to consider your interests and preferences. 

  • Do you prefer cities or nature?
  • Are you interested in history and culture?
  • Do you prefer outdoor adventures?
  • Do you want to travel alone or with a partner or friend?
  • Would you rather cross off as many countries as possible or settle into one location for an extended period?

There is no right or wrong way to plan your year of travel, but it is important to create a plan that works for you—even if no one else is doing it or someone wants to shame you for not traveling exactly like they travel.

OUR TAKE: We had the first six weeks booked for our first year of travel, including accommodations and transportation, before we left the US. And then, we had a general idea of where we were heading after that. We didn’t want to book too far in advance since we knew we still had a ton to learn about our preferences and style of travel.

I recommend booking 4-6 weeks ahead throughout the year. This is usually a good time frame for flights and accommodations. Less than 4 weeks out, prices will start to rise and options may sell out. During peak travel months (like summer or major holidays), you’ll want to book at least 2-3 months ahead to ensure you get the best deals. Otherwise, it can and will sell out.

Purchase and download your e-sim before you even step foot in the country. Airalo allows you to have data when you land! 

Setting a Budget

One of the biggest concerns when planning a year of travel is the cost. However, there are many ways to save money before you leave or make money during your trip. However, we really do recommend saving money ahead of time so you can enjoy your year of travel to the fullest.

Once you are traveling or at least starting to book travel, there are plenty of ways to save money. When traveling for a year, you have to remember it’s not the same as a two-week vacation; you can’t do everything, and you will not have the energy to do so.

Here are some quick tips to make your travel budget stretch further:

  • Choose destinations that are affordable (flights, accommodations, transportation, and food)
  • Save money on things you don’t care about as much (for us: transportation) but still spend to make it comfortable on the things you do care about (for us: accommodations)
  • Cook your own meals instead of eating out every single meal
  • Eat local foods and dishes instead of international dishes (In Thailand, eat Thai food, not Italian)
  • Use public transportation instead of taxis or private cars (it’s easier to use than you think!)
  • Look for free or low-cost activities and attractions
  • Use points and miles for free travel

Choosing Destinations

year of travel - albania
year of travel - uae

Choosing destinations and creating an itinerary can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many amazing places to visit. Start by creating a list of destinations that you want to visit and then research the best times to go, the cost of accommodation, and the activities and attractions that you want to see.

We personally pick destinations based on the cost of the flight. If we can find a cheap flight somewhere, we’ll usually build our entire itinerary from there. Just remember to see if flights from that destination are also cheap. Sometimes it can be tricky to find flights coming and going that are inexpensive. We use FareDrop for our roundtrip flights from the US and then build itineraries from there with Google Flights.

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Planning your Itinerary

Technically, you could plan your entire year-long itinerary before leaving for your trip. However, I would suggest planning your travels anywhere from one to three months ahead of time. If this is your first time traveling with a partner or for this long of a period, you will start to learn your preferences and make mistakes as you go. You don’t want to be locked into an itinerary for a year if that’s the case. You can create a general outline of things you want to do or destinations that make sense sequentially.

When creating your itinerary, be flexible and open to change. One of the best things about long-term travel is that you have the flexibility to change your plans if you want to spend more time in a particular place or if you hear about a must-see destination from other travelers.

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We tried traveling quite fast in the beginning with only a week in each country. That proved to be too fast for our style of travel, so by only booking the first 4-6 weeks of travel, we were able to adjust the plan as our year went on.

I’m a big list person though, so I have had a travel bucket list since I was in high school. We definitely still use that as a guide when choosing destinations.

Key Tip: Travel where YOU want to travel, not where others say you should. Pick places that excite or interest you, this is your year of travel to do whatever YOU want with it.

Planning for Transportation and Accommodation

When planning your year of travel, it’s important to research transportation and accommodation options in advance. Look for budget airlines, train passes, or bus tickets that can help you save money on transportation.

A few good resources are 12go.asia for bus, train, and ferry tickets in Asia, and Rome2Rio can help you find the best routes and options worldwide.

Different destinations around the world have unique transportation options that can add to the travel experience. For example, Thailand is known for its colorful tuk-tuks, while Japan has a world-renowned high-speed rail system. Ecuador has a charter bus system that can take you through the Andes Mountains, while Grab is known as the “Uber of Asia.”

In addition to transportation, it’s important to plan for accommodation in advance. Hostels or Airbnbs can be great options for budget travelers, while budget hotels can also offer comfort and convenience. Keep in mind that peak season (holidays and usually summer travel) can be busy, so be sure to book accommodations well in advance if you’re traveling during this time.

Health and Safety on the Road

year of travel - mexico
year of travel - montenegro

Traveling by itself can already be stressful and take a toll on your health. A year of travel is an entirely different ballgame. There are a few things you should do before leaving for your trip to ensure you are set up in the best possible way. Here is a basic checklist of what do before your year of travel for your health and safety:

Doctor’s appointments

I recommend planning your annual doctor’s appointments in the month or two before your trip. It’s a good idea to have your GP give you a check up. Be sure to mention that you are planning on traveling for a year so they can address any concerns or questions you may have. It may also be a good idea to get your teeth cleaned before you go. Other options could be the OB/GYN, dermatologist, or the eye doctor.

You can find affordable and reliable health care around the world, but I would recommend getting a preliminary check before you go.

Prescription medication

If you are on any prescription medication, you’ll need to make a plan for how you are going to get that while traveling. Oftentimes US doctors and pharmacies will give you an additional supply for a trip, but it’s unlikely they will give you a year’s supply. Plus, you’ll have to be sure it doesn’t expire if they did!

I usually get 3-6 months of medication from my US pharmacy before leaving. We then have to get prescriptions abroad for the remainder of the year. It can be easy to find some medication at pharmacies, even without a prescription. For example, I always get my birth control (same dosage as my US prescription, but different brand) over-the-counter in Southeast Asia. As for other medications, you will still need a prescription. Sometimes the pharmacy will accept my US prescription as long it’s not too old. Other times, I will need to book a doctor’s appointment and get a prescription from them. Our go-to medical hub is Bangkok, Thailand since it is a well-developed city with lots of options and reviews. Plus, it’s way more affordable than in the US, even without insurance. 

Be sure to also check the laws surrounding your specific medication. Some are more restricted than others and it may even be illegal in some countries. Be sure to always travel with your original medication bottle and a copy of your prescription.

Proper gear

Make sure you have the proper gear for your potential destinations and activities. You will need bug repellant or clothing that covers your skin for Southeast Asia. Hiking boots are a much safer option for hikes than Chucks. We always travel with headlamps for power outages or late-night/early-morning activities. Having proper layers is another important tip for traveling during the colder seasons. We also always travel with a small first aid kit. This is helpful for small health problems or injuries, especially if we are in more remote destinations.

Vaccines

This is potentially controversial, but I recommend getting vaccines. Some countries actually require specific vaccines (Yellow Fever is the most common one required, but usually only if traveling from an infected area.), while most have a recommended list. 

We opted to get most of the recommended vaccinations before leaving for our trip. It was not cheap, but we are so glad we did it. You’ll need to start planning this a few months before your trip since some vaccines require multiple doses spread over 4-6 weeks.  

We have gotten bitten by hundreds of mosquitos (I despise them so much) even when we try to protect ourselves. We feel that it makes it safer for us to have all the following vaccines: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Polio, Yellow Fever, and COVID-19. Ultimately, you must decide based on where you plan on traveling, your health, and your beliefs.

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It’s also important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally while on the road. Remember, a year of travel is far different than a two-week vacation. You cannot abandon all routine or health habits while traveling for a year. Here are some of top health and safety tips for your year of travel:

  • Stay hydrated and remember to eat your fruits and veggies
  • Be knowledge about the local water (is it drinkable?)
  • Get enough sleep and exercise regularly
  • Practice good hygiene to avoid getting sick
  • Take breaks and rest when you need to
  • Connect with other travelers or locals for support and companionship
  • Share your location & itinerary with others
  • Have emergency cash or debit cards

Travel Insurance

No matter how prepared you are, unexpected events can happen on any trip. That’s why it’s important to have travel insurance, especially for a year of travel. Travel insurance can cover medical emergencies, trip cancellations or interruptions, lost or stolen baggage, emergency evacuations, and more.

We have used multiple different insurance companies that cover longer-term trips. Our favorite, by far, has been SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance. You can easily set up your plan in a few steps and pay an affordable monthly fee (instead of all upfront, like some insurance requires). It’s also made for nomads (long-term travelers), so it covers trips booked on one-way flights (many only cover roundtrips!) and tons of activities that some insurance providers.

You can sign up for SafetyWing once you are on your trip, but I highly recommend doing it before leaving for your year of travel. You never know when something can go wrong!

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Emotional Journey of a Year of Travel

year of travel - indonesia
year of travel - italy

Now that you are prepared with all the practicalities of a year of travel, it’s time to dive into the less talked about stuff. Traveling for a year will be an emotional journey. There will be highs and lows, and it’s important to be prepared for both. Your year of travel will likely be a pretty big shift from your current lifestyle whether that’s a lack of work or routine, missing family, or even just culture shock. Here are a few of the biggest things we’ve faced and how we’ve dealt with them for our years of travel.

Homesickness

Homesickness is a common emotion when traveling for an extended period of time. This can take many forms. You may miss your physical home or your comfy bed. Maybe you miss a pet or a loved one. Honestly, a lot of the time I get home sick over chores or hearing my native language. It sounds weird, but it’s so easy to do chores at home, like laundry or grocery shopping. Sometimes in foreign countries, it can be hard to figure out or to find what you are looking for. Like forget about stick deodorant while in Southeast Asia. Or going to a restaurant and chatting with the waiter about their hairstyle. Oftentimes, that’s impossible when you don’t speak the language.

Luckily, the homesickness won’t last forever, and they may not even happen for you until month 10! It’s different for everyone and that’s okay! One of the best ways to combat these feelings is to connect with other travelers or locals (see more below on how).

It’s also important to stay in touch with friends and family back home. We’ve made it a weekly habit to call both of our parents on Sundays. We also chat weekly with our best friends via video chat. And try to schedule monthly calls with other friends and family. Even just texting or chatting on IG is helpful to make you feel connected.

One of the biggest things we’ve learned was that it’s okay to have comforts of home while on the road. While you definitely want to try the local foods when traveling, sometimes you just want a cheeseburger and french fries. That’s okay! We’ve been to our fair share of McDonald’s around the world. It is what it is. We also carried some odd stuff with us while traveling because it brought us a little piece of home. For example, I have always had my favorite travel blanket, and Nate brought this travel foam roller.

Loneliness

Whether you are traveling alone or with a partner, traveling for a year can get lonely. As an introvert, that can be especially hard. I have found that smaller, meaningful interactions have gone a long way to help my sense of community without utterly exhausting me. This could be making small talk with the waiter in broken English or complimenting the girl on the bus for her cute shoes. We chat with our friends and family back home weekly as well.

When you are really in need of some in-person community, here are some tips for meeting new people while traveling:

  • Stay in hostels or other shared accommodation (even if you book a private room!)
  • Join a tour or take a class
  • Attend local events or festivals
  • Use social media to connect with other travelers (this is how we met our besties!)

Coping with the Unexpected

Traveling for a year can be unpredictable, and there will be times when things don’t go as planned. It’s important to be flexible and adaptable in these situations. Honestly, we’ve had a ton go wrong, but it’s never felt like the end of the world. Here are some tips for coping with the unexpected:

  • Be okay with going with a backup plan in case of emergencies
  • Keep a positive attitude and stay calm (sh!t happens!)
  • Ask for help if you need it (people love to help!)
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on (this year of travel will NOT be perfect)

Our year of travel

year of travel - portugal
year of travel - philippines

We’ll give a quick overview of how our first year of travel went. We both had mid- to high-paying jobs in California before we decided to travel full-time. Over a two-year period prior to traveling, we were able to save upwards of 50% of our income and have a nice nest egg of over $100,000 to use for travel. We definitely did not need that much for only one year of travel, but based on those savings, we are still able to travel full-time over four years later.

Since we wanted to make this a lifestyle rather than just a year, we quit our jobs and sold our belongings. This would not have been necessary had we just been going for a year.

There are a ton of different ways to travel, especially over a year’s time. We have learned a ton from the beginning and found what we prefer. We rarely stay in hostels; if we do, we always get a private room with a private bathroom. A comfort we have come to love is a nice clean room with a comfy bed and a good shower to return to at the end of a long day of travel or exploring. But not everyone agrees with that. 

We traveled with two checked bags (50 lbs each) for the first 3 years, plus two large carry-on camera backpacks. It was fine for us to carry around from country to country. Plus, we had everything we wanted with us. Most of our activities are free or self-planned rather than group tours or private experiences. Food is a big part of our travels, but that doesn’t mean we never crave a burger or McDonald’s.

We’ve also experimented a lot with fast travel vs. slow travel and have found that each works for a certain time and place. We loved spending three months in Colombia and jetting around Europe over a one-month period.

Lastly, we have to plan our travels rather than spontaneously show up somewhere and go with the flow. It really does work for some people, and they love it. But for us, we need to be prepared, and that allows us to enjoy our travels better.

This post was all about planning your ultimate year of travel! I hope my experience and tips have inspired you to take the leap and plan your own year of travel. Remember, it's important to be flexible, open-minded, and to embrace the journey. Happy travels!

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