Hit up friends, family and social media
With initial ammo gained from the pub fantasising session, expand upon it with other friends and members of family. Get as many suggestions, ideas and dreams as you can. Incidentally, this is where all of those people you’re ‘friends’ with on Facebook but have not been in contact with for years come in handy. A quick query along the lines of “Anyone been to Cambodia? What’s it like?” or “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?” can bring all manner of sage advice out of the woodwork from people you’d forgotten existed.
Head to the pub
There’s no point in going into the detail before you’ve got the juices flowing. And the best place to get excitable about an impending round the world adventure is the pub, preferably aided by a gaggle of mates. Get a few drinks, bat a few ideas around, compare war stories from trips past, drool over dream destinations and pick up top tips about life on the road.
Scour the web for information
With a few ideas in mind, dip a toe into the vast ocean of information that is the World Wide Web. The likes of Lonely Planet, WAYN, Gadling and Vtravelled have heaps of material to sift through and gain information from. Newspaper websites – such as The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent – have a vast back catalogue of articles online too. Don’t limit yourself to UK sites either. The Sydney Morning Herald has a lot more on the South Pacific, Asia and Australia, while the New York Times will have more on the Americas.
Read magazines and guidebooks
The likes of Condé Nast Traveller and the Sunday Times Travel Mag work only if you’ve got towers full of money, or have no intention of going anywhere and just like to look at pretty pictures of spas. But Wanderlust, Travel Africa and Geographical are superb – as are other, smaller niche titles.
And then there are guidebooks. Most people only buy them once they’ve decided where they’re going, but they’re just as useful in deciding where to go. They’re also brilliant for learning about a destination’s history and culture.
The quality of guidebook varies enormously depending on the brand and author – which you prefer depends on your tastes. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are arguably the best all-rounders (and Lonely Planet has by far and away the best structuring of information and maps). But Footprint is excellent for detail, and Bradt covers some of the more obscure corners of the world with undisguised affection.
If you’re not so keen on buying guidebooks to every country you may consider going to, try the cheat’s method and take them out at the library.
Get a map out
Once you’ve a rough list of what you want to do and where, get a map or a globe out (or use Google Maps) to put things in approximate geographical order. So, for example, it could be Great Wall of China – Thai Islands – Great Barrier Reef – Sailing on Sydney Harbour – trekking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand – island hopping in Fiji – star spotting in Hollywood – flying over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter – home.
Check the weather
Unless you want to follow monsoon season around the world, it’s probably work out when you want to go where. January, for example, is great for Thailand but bad for a rather chillier Japan. July is good for northern Australia and the South Pacific, but bad for southern Australia or New Zealand (unless you like skiing). Other countries – and even regions of countries – have bizarre microclimates to look out for. Weather will be a prime factor in deciding when you go and how long you spend in each destination.
Decide when you want to go
The other key factor, of course, is cost. Some parts of the year are cheaper than others for RTW flights. These seasonal differences are largely based on weather (either iffy weather in Asia and Australia or people wanting to come to Europe when it’s sunny) – and the period between April and July usually offers the cheapest deals. A rough run-down of the seasons is as follows:
January - Shoulder / Low Season
February - Low Season
March - Low Season
April - Low Season
May - Low Season
June - Low / High Season
July - High Season
August - High Season
September - Low Season
October - Low Season
November - Low Season
December - Shoulder / High Season
Work to your budget
If cash is tight, then plan to spend more time where it’s cheaper (ie South East Asia or South America) rather than where costs are high (ie. Japan, Australia, much of the Middle East and the US). Also remember that you’re not going to be able to do everything and see everything on one trip. It’s far better – and cheaper - to do a few areas slowly and in depth than to try constantly rushing between tickbox highlights.
Web review sites (notably TripAdvisor) can be useful, but they should be taken with a pinch of salt. The main problem is that you don’t know who is reviewing the hotel, tour or restaurant, what they’re accustomed to or what their expectations were. Hence every hotel on TripAdvisor has reviews ranging from gushing praise to accusations of receptionists spitting in the customer’s face. These sites are generally better for pubs and restaurants than hotels – and they tend to be more up to date than the guidebooks.
There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have a fascinating story to tell; but it’s also true that in some places it’s particularly easy to uncover parts of the local history which will appeal to your interests. Here are some countries where it is the historical and cultural attractions which are the main draw for international visitors.
India’s most famous symbol, the Taj Mahal, is even more beautiful with your own eyes than in any film or picture; that is, once you’ve battled through the army of touts at the entrance. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site for Sikhs, offers a much calmer, more welcoming and refreshingly hassle-free experience. For the ultimate immersion in Indian culture, nothing can match a dawn boat trip on the Ganges in Varanasi, to see the burning cremation ghats.
If your interest lies in 20th-century history, the vast Cu Chi Tunnel network is bound to appeal. Used as shelters, military HQs and supply channels less than 50 years ago, the tunnels are now a popular tourist attraction. Vietnam’s history goes back much further, far beyond the French colonial buildings of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Head to Hue, the former imperial capital, or visit Hoi An, an important commercial city since the 1300s and still home to a maze of narrow alleys with traditional artisan workshops.
Angkor Wat is high on the list for most visitors to South East Asia, and rightly so; you need at least three days to see the major temples, with ruins spread over 30 kms apart. In the capital Phnom Penh, the lavish Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace complex is the stand-out highlight. Meanwhile the horrors of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge years are easy to access (but impossible to comprehend) at the Killing Fields site at Choeng Ek, and at the Tuol Sleng Museum in the city centre.
You cannot fail to marvel at the men who built the 5th-century palace on the top of the rock at Sigiriya; the 200 metre climb is hard enough carrying nothing more than a bottle of water, although the views across the old royal grounds and surrounding countryside reward what is a very sweaty workout. The nearby caves at Dambulla are home to an impressive cave temple system, while the ruins of the ancient capitals of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura still contain an impressive collection of temple buildings and giant Buddha statues.
The Pyramids of Giza remain one of the world’s most instantly recognisable sights. Along with the Sphinx and the priceless collection of mummies and sarcophagi in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in nearby Cairo, these offer an unforgettable introduction to Egypt’s ancient treasures for the first-time visitor. Further up the Nile meanwhile, a river cruise provides access to the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, the sprawling Karnak Temple complex, and the Philae Temple at Aswan.