25 Essential Tips For Planning RTW Family Travel
When you're dreaming of an around the world family adventure (or RTW family travel, as I like to refer to it), the thought of making the dream a reality may seem insurmountable. How do you even start planning for such an experience?
A few years ago, my husband and I were both at that place, mentally. We were both working a full-time job, in debt, and knowing in our hearts that we needed a change in our lives. Even though we had a desire to travel full time with our kids, it wasn't until September 2017 that we decided to make our dream of RTW family travel happen.
Now, we are more than three years into our RTW family travel journey, and we still can't believe that we made it all happen. It was a lot of hard work and organization. And not without a few missteps as well.
One of my goals of this post is to help you avoid the missteps we took! I truly believe that full-time travel is possible for families who want it.
This post was updated on June 16, 2021.
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Planning for around the world travel
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 of families like us have embarked on RTW family travel. And like us, they went through their own process of planning and preparation. As we were preparing for our launch, 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.
And as we've traveled full-time, I've added more things to those mental notes. For some initial travel inspiration, read the stories of the traveling families highlighted in The Road Taken, by Michelle Damiani (you can buy the book here). After that, read on to get to the nitty gritty of planning the actual trip.
Our tips for planning 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, start by taking a look at this 12 week worldschooling course from Trailblazing Families, led by fellow veteran worldschooling mom, Lizz Quain:
Lizz does a great job of walking you through the steps of getting ready for launch. But if you're not quite ready for a full course to prepare for your RTW trip, 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!
Get more tips on how to prepare for a family gap year here.
1. Decide why you want to do RTW family travel
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 it will also guide you through the travel itself.
2. 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. We used books like the Lonely Planet Travel Book to give them ideas of countries to visit. That really helped in getting them excited for the trip and less sad about leaving their friends behind.
Buy the Lonely Planet Travel Book here for you and your kids.
3. 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. You can also use Notion, which also has an app you can download to your phone.
Need more suggestions on how to make your travel goals a reality? Read here!
4. Choose destinations that feel right for you
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.
As the world recovers from the global pandemic, also look at what countries have travel health restrictions. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a really helpful travel map that shows current travel restrictions for countries around the world.
5. Decide how to fund your RTW family travel
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.
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. You don't have to be stuck thinking that you need to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to travel.
Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.
6. 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.
We use Mint to keep track of our travel expenses. It's free, and can sync up to all your accounts. But I also I have an Excel workbook that I update on a weekly basis to track my expenses against my annual budget.
During our first month of traveling here in the United States, we spent about $7,000 on transportation, lodging, food, family travel expenses, and activities. That breaks down to about $233 per day.
As we travel through less expensive countries, like Indonesia, we are able to love our daily expenses slightly. Now, after three years of travel, our daily expenses average around $200 (inclusive of airfare, lodging, and insurance).
Read here for an example of how we budget for one month of full time travel in Mexico.
7. Have bank accounts and credit cards that are accessible worldwide
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. One example is the Alaska Visa Signature. It gives 40,000 bonus miles upon opening, free checked bags on Alaska flights, and an annual companion fare on Alaska flights.
8. Get a handle on tax accounting for RTW family travel
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.
9. 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. We're so glad that we took the time to do it.
10. 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. Just in case, it's worth it to add it into your travel budget.
11. 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.
Most companies have limitations for how long you can purchase coverage. 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. It helps to do your research.
12. Don't buy all your plane tickets at once
People have asked us whether we bought an around the world plane ticket for our trip. They also ask 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). It's wise to be thinking two countries ahead when purchasing plane tickets.
Slow down your travels to save money on airfare. Read here to find out why slow travel is a much more sustainable way to travel with your family.
13. Research visa and passport requirements
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.
14. Consider where you will 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.
15. Think about what to 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. We like to pack clothes that we can mix and match. Remember that if there is an item that you realize you need, you'll most likely be able to find it at your destination.
We are not bringing any heavy winter coats, but we are bringing a fall jacket. My jacket is a Columbia waterproof jacket for women. It's light, breathable, AND stylish!
We use one large packing cube full of clothes for each member of the family. Remember that if there is an item that you realize you need, you'll most likely be able to find it at your destination.
Take a look at our other must-have travel items for our around the world trip.
16. Choose bags that will last
Along the lines of packing, you'll also want to consider the best backpack you'll be taking for your RTW trip. Bags with wheels will be easiest for your back. They will also 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. Also choose bags that are made with durable material.
We opted to use hiking backpacks that we already have. However, traveling friends of our swear by the Osprey Sojourn, which fits 80 liters worth of things. Other friends use Eagle Creek duffel bags with wheels.
17. Buy quality travel gear and technology
We're a tech loving family, so we're traveling with laptops, iPads, and iPhones. We even have 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.
18. Adopt a minimalist mindset to reduce your stuff
Letting go of your possessions 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.
19. Find a place to store the stuff you're keeping
Once you've reduced your stuff, it's important to decide where you want to store the 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 dedicate a room in your house to store the things you want to keep.
20. Consider what to do with the house while you're doing RTW family travel
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 and rent it out. In this way, 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. You will just need to move out when your lease is done.
Curious to learn more about worldschooling? Take a look at these posts on how to worldschool with your kids.
21. Hire a property manager instead of renting out your house yourself
I'm all about having a DIY attitude to save money. However, 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.
22. Get someone to manage 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). However, you should always be cautious about having someone go through your sensitive or confidential mail.
23. Have a backup 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. 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 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.
24. Research worldchooling options for your kids
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. They 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.
There are plenty of amazing worldschooling resources you can use on your travels. Take some time exploring what feels most right for your kids.
25. Be mindful of the kind of footprint you leave behind on your RTW travel trip
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. 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. We use things like GRAYL bottles to help us have clean drinkable water when we travel, so we don't have to buy so much bottled water.
You can buy your own GRAYL bottles to reduce your reliance on single-use plastic using the links below:
Need more tips on how to travel sustainably with your kids? Take a look at this post.
Making a commitment for around the world travel
There are so many more things I could list off related to RTW family travel planning. 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.
Ready to take that step to travel? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.
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