My husband and I have been dreaming of around the world family travel (or RTW family travel, as I like to refer to it) for quite some time. A few years ago, we were both at a place, mentally, where we felt like we needed a change in our lives. However, it wasn’t until September 2017 that we decided to make our dream of RTW family travel happen.
Now, we are in the beginning months of our RTW family travel journey, and we still can’t believe that we made it all happen in about nine months. It was a lot of hard work and organization, and even now, I still can’t relax my brain and assure myself that everything is all taken care of.
Planning for RTW travel is no easy task. Not only is planning an around the world trip complicated, but adding kids into the mix makes it exponentially so. But rest assured, it is absolutely possible to do. Many families have done it. Just that fact alone gave us the confidence to make our dream a reality.
Plenty families like us have embarked on RTW family travel. And like us, they went through their own process of planning and preparation. In the last nine months, I couldn’t help but make mental notes of the things that I thought would be useful to know for families who are considering RTW family travel
If you’re thinking of doing this type of trip with your family, or just wondering what it takes to get your family and affairs ready for full time travel, I’ve put together this handy list of 25 things to consider for RTW family travel. I hope it serves as a resource for you, and provides you with the knowledge and confidence to set out on your own around the world journey!
Decide why you want to do this
The most important consideration for RTW family travel is understanding why you want to do this trip in the first place. Everyone has their reasons for travel, whether it’s a desire to experience a new culture, a desire to make a life reset, or a desire to reconnect with family. It could even be a combination of things. Whatever your reasons, make sure that you and your family are all on the same page (or at least aware of each family member’s reasons). This will help sustain you through the grueling process of planning, and guide you through the travel itself.
Involve the kids
Along the same lines of determining why you want to do RTW family travel, it’s important to involve the kids early on in the planning process. Getting your kids on board with the trip will help them enjoy the trip so much more. And getting them involved in the planning process will help them feel a small sense of control, which will help them better cope with the changes that they will experience during travel. For our kids, we gave them a say in choosing the countries that we will be visiting. That really helped in getting them excited for the trip and less sad about leaving their friends behind.
Set a task list and timeline
Once you’ve determined your reasons for RTW family travel, the second most important thing to do is to set a launch date. For the most part, it will be an arbitrary date, but it will serve as your first commitment to the trip. Setting a launch date also helps you establish a timeline and task list of things that will need to be accomplished before your launch. Being project-management minded folks, my husband and I opted to use a tool called Tasklist to help us organize our tasks for the trip, set due dates for each task, and track our progress on the overall trip planning.
Choosing your destinations
Think about where you want to go during your trip. For our trip, we chose destinations that were meaningful to us in some way. But we also made sure to choose places that allow for some ease of travel. Some destinations have certain restrictions and laws that may prohibit some families from traveling freely. These restrictions may relate to things like sexual orientation or religion. Other places may be less desirable to travel due to prolonged conflict or civil unrest. Think about the current political situation of the countries that you plan to visit, and consider whether it will be challenging or easy for your family to travel to those places.
Decide how to fund your trip
A big factor to consider when it comes to RTW family travel is how to fund the trip. Many people assume that we must be independently wealthy to be able to afford a big trip like this. The reality, however, is that we’re both working to pay for this trip. My husband is continuing his job at half-time, and also ramping up his two side businesses. Meanwhile, I’m supplementing our funds with income from my freelance writing work and international development/non-profit consulting. Other families we know have sold their house and used the income from the sale of their house to travel. And yet others have spent several years saving up their money for a trip like this. There are many options for funding your trip, and you don’t have to be stuck thinking that you have to be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to travel.
Be strict about managing and tracking your budget and expenses
On the topic of money and finances, I can’t stress enough how important it is to set a budget for your trip, and track your expenses against that budget. RTW family travel is not cheap, but if you’re careful about how you spend your money, it can certainly be affordable. I have an Excel workbook that I update on a weekly basis to track my expenses against my annual budget. Just in our first month of traveling here in the United States, we have spent about $7,000 on transportation, lodging, food, family travel expenses, and activities. That breaks down to about $233 per day.
Bank accounts and credit cards
Banking will be something you’ll have to consider while you’re doing RTW family travel. Make sure that your bank account is one that is accessible online. If you’re planning on working while you travel, make sure to set up direct deposit, so that you don’t have to worry about getting checks mailed to you. Check to see whether your bank charges you fees for using ATMs in foreign countries. We’re fortunate that our bank will actually reimburse us for foreign transaction fees when we use ATMs outside the United States. For credit cards, consider using one that gives you mileage points. I like using the Barclay Arrival+ card. It gives me 2 miles per dollar spent, and I can redeem miles to pay off travel-related expenses on my card.
Another financial consideration is taxes. Before doing RTW family travel, be sure to talk to a tax adviser to understand what the tax rules may be for working while on the road and reporting income earned while traveling. Having a tax accountant will also be helpful when it comes to filing your taxes while you’re on the road.
Get your will in order
When you’re planning for travel, even long term travel, you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That’s why having your will in place before you leave for your around the world trip is important. You want to make sure that your family is taken care of, in case something should happen during your trip. It took us nine years of marriage and two kids to finally get our will finalized, but we’re so glad that we took the time to do it.
Purchase life insurance
Along those same lines, you want to make sure that your family will be taken care of financially, should something happen to you during your RTW family travel. If you have life insurance through your work, you can usually request portability (continuation of coverage) after you quit your job. Life insurance premiums are usually not that expensive, so it’s worth it to add it into your travel budget.
Don’t forget travel insurance
Speaking of insurance, you also want to make sure you have travel insurance during your trip. This will help cover losses for theft, trip cancellation, and even medical emergencies. Travel insurance can get pricey, especially for a family of four, and most companies have limitations for how long you can purchase coverage, so you may have to renew periodically if you’re doing a multi-year trip. Most long term travelers prefer World Nomads, but there are several other options out there, so do your research.
Visas and passports
Make sure you research visa requirements for the countries you visit. Nothing is worse than showing up at the airport of a country and learning that you’re missing a visa to enter that country! Similarly, make sure your passports won’t expire by the end of your trip. Some countries require the expiration date on your passport to be at least six months from the date of your departure from that country.
Buying plane tickets
People have asked us whether we bought an around the world plane ticket for our trip, or whether we booked all our tickets in advance. The answer is “no.” At this point, the only plane ticket we’ve purchased is the one that will take us from the United States and into Mexico. We plan to purchase our plane tickets as we go. When you’re buying plane tickets, do remember that many countries require an onward ticket (a ticket that shows that you will be leaving the country), so it’s wise to be thinking two countries ahead when purchasing plane tickets.
Where will you be staying?
Besides plane tickets and food, the next big expense for RTW family travel is accommodations. For our family, in order to keep accommodation costs down, we plan to use a lot of vacation rentals and house-sitting. For vacation rentals, we prefer Airbnb. And for house-sitting, our favorite site is Trusted Housesitters. We’ve had two house sits so far, and they have both been great experiences for our family.
What do you pack for RTW travel?
Each family is different when it comes to packing for RTW family travel. For our family, we try and take a minimalist approach, and pack clothes that we can mix and match. We are not bringing any heavy winter coats, but we are bringing a fall jacket. Remember that if there is an item that you realize you need, you’ll most likely be able to find it at your destination.
What bags do we take?
Along the lines of packing, you’ll also want to consider what kind of baggage you’ll be taking for your RTW trip. Bags with wheels will be easiest for your back, and will be the easiest to maneuver around an airport. However, if you plan to do a bit of off the beaten path travel, they may not be the easiest to take down a jungle road or cobblestone path. When it comes to backpacks, choose ones that will provide good back support, and that are made with durable material.
Travel gear and technology
We’re a tech loving family, so we’re traveling with laptops, iPads, iPhones, and even a mobile router and WiFi hotspot. When choosing your travel gear, look for things that are lightweight. Also, put your emphasis on quality instead of price when it comes to choosing what kind of gear to buy. You want these things to last, so it’s best to choose items that are well made and of good quality.
How do you reduce your stuff?
I’ve written in the past about our journey towards minimalism. It isn’t easy. But if you’re planning for RTW family travel, leading a minimalist life is essential. A way to reduce your stuff can be either selling them online or holding a garage sale. You can also donate your goods to charity. Really being mindful in your decisions of what items to keep will also be helpful. You only want to keep things that you think you will want to come back to after your trip.
What to do with the stuff you’re keeping
So once you’ve reduced your stuff, it’s important to decide where you want to store your stuff that you do plan to keep. Some families rent out a storage unit where they’ve stored their belongings. Other families, like us, leave their things at friends or family’s homes. If you own a house, and you’re not planning on selling it for your trip, you can also dedicate a room in your house to store the things you want to keep.
What to do with the house
Another common question we get asked is, “what did you do with your house?” For traveling families who are homeowners, some of them opt to sell their home in order to have extra funds for travel. In our case, we decided to keep our house, but rent it out, so that essentially our mortgage payments are covered by the rental income. I’ve also known other families who have chosen to turn their house into a vacation rental while they travel. If you’re a family that is currently renting a home, then you won’t need to think about what to do with your house, as you will just need to move out when your lease is done.
Hiring a property manager versus doing it yourself
I’m all about having a DIY attitude to save money, but when it comes to certain aspects of RTW family travel, hiring someone else to do the work can be much more cost effective. Since we decided to make our house a rental property, we chose to hire a property manager instead of managing the rental ourselves from afar. Can you imagine having to help a tenant sort out a plumbing situation when you’re halfway around the world? The same attitude should be applied if you’re turning your home into a vacation rental. Yes, a property manager will eat into your income, but the peace of mind of having someone else manage your property while you travel is priceless.
What to do with your mail
Despite almost everything being available online, some companies and government agencies still insist on sending documents by mail. For our family, we opted to rent a post office box, in the case where we had to have mail sent to us. My younger sister has a key, and will periodically check our mail for us. There are also services available that can serve as a virtual mailbox (documents are scanned so that you have an electronic copy of your physical mail), but you should always be cautious about having someone go through your sensitive or confidential mail.
Having internet connection on the road
If you’re planning on working while your doing RTW family travel, having internet connection on the road is essential. One strategy is to only choose accommodations with WiFi. But in some countries, the internet connection can be spotty. That’s why we opted to bring along our own personal WiFi hotspot to use in case we stay some place that doesn’t have WiFi available. A few brands exist: Tep, Skyroam, and Google’s Project Fi. Do your research and make sure you choose one that is right for your family’s travel plans. Sometimes your mobile phone plan may also have options for internet connection.
If you’re planning on doing RTW family travel with school-aged kids, then you will want to think of schooling options for your kids. Some families choose to take a complete break from any kind of schooling, and let the experience itself be the lesson for the kids. Other families opt for enrolling their kids in online schools. Most families will do their own version of homeschooling, known as worldschooling, while they’re on the road. For our family, we have been doing at least an hour and a half each day of school-based lessons (covering topics like reading, writing, spelling, math, science, social studies, etc). The rest of the day is either free play or a travel-based activity.
What kind of footprint are you leaving behind?
The final thing to keep in mind when considering RTW family travel is what kind of footprint your family will leave behind in the places you visit. Travel is so much more affordable and accessible than it was decades ago when I was a kid, but that also means that many destinations have become more consumer-based and commodified. Whether it’s the places you stay, the activities you are doing, or the products you are buying, it’s important to think about the impact your actions (and dollars) will have on the communities that you’re visiting and the environment that you’re exploring.
There are so many more things I could list off related to RTW family travel planning, but these 25 considerations are the ones that I think are most important. It may seem like an overwhelming list, but once you decide to make the commitment for around the world travel, eventually all these things will fall into place.
In the end, we all just want to give our family an enriching once-in-a-lifetime experience. The preparation and planning are just the set up for the adventure that is yet to come.
Have you done RTW family travel? What other things have I missed? Share them with me in the comments.
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