Frequently Asked Questions
After discovering the huge online travel community and so many other long-term and frequent travelers, we sometimes are surprised and forget that our Round The World trip is not considered common and we are usually met with a bunch of questions from people. We left our hometown of Los Angeles in August of 2015, visited 23 countries (24 if you count Vatican City, Italy :P), and returned home at the end of August 2016. (Read our RTW Recap here)
We plan to have additional posts with in-depth explanations and detail, but for now, here are some answers to the questions we get asked the most pertaining to our Round The World trip. We hope this helps and encourages anyone who wants to travel but thinks it’s unattainable – it can be done! Travel is humbling, eye-opening, and gives you extraordinary experiences that last you a lifetime, and we always encourage everyone to travel more.
What made you want to do this trip?
The conversation came about while we were on our way to a travel show that we randomly received tickets to. We were discussing how there are so many places and things we want to see, but every time we go somewhere, we usually end up jam packing our 2 week vacation to see as much as possible, that we always feel that we need a vacation from our exhausting vacation! Also, it might have been a case of post-wedding blues, but it felt like something was missing to us and the cookie cutter expected path of – get married, buy a house, have kids, and then maybe travel after our kids are grown if we have the energy, time, or health to – felt very linear and not that appealing to us. At our rate of traveling internationally once every 2 years at 2 weeks at a time, we realized we weren’t going to be able to see much in our lifetime. It started off as a “pie in the sky” idea, and the more we thought about it, the more we researched it and found other couples’ and people’s blogs online who were able to do it – the more it became a realistic possibility. Tiff’s manager at the time had also done a Round The World trip back in 2001, so there was even more inspiration and living proof to us that it was doable and put a lot of our fears at ease. The scariest part was actually deciding and committing to going through with it. Once we did, we did everything we could to make it a reality.
How did you afford the trip?
We saved and saved and saved. We did the typical things that most people do when they save – we limited eating out at restaurants, brought our lunch to work, stopped shopping and spending on splurge items we didn’t need. We sold things on eBay and Craigslist to add to our travel fund. These were all habits that we were already implementing prior to our wedding, so instead of contributing to a wedding fund, we turned it into a Round The World travel fund.
We also made use of all of the points we had racked up from our frequent flyer miles and booked a good portion of our flights using airline miles and hotel points, which helped us a ton in being able to afford our trip (detailed post of award travel coming soon).
Something we always mention to people when they ask us this question is that it is much more affordable than people think. If you’re traveling full time, you don’t have a mortgage/rent, cell phone bill, insurance, electricity bills, etc. We also spent the majority of our travels where the cost of living is much lower and our dollar would last us much longer. Our trip wasn’t a luxury vacation – but a travel lifestyle that we needed to budget for – which is where I think most people tend to associate expensive travel with. We didn’t spend any more traveling for the year than what we would have spent living in LA for a year.
While traveling, we also did things to save on costs like taking the local bus instead of a taxi, eating at street stalls instead of restaurants (which we prefer to do anyway), or cooking at home when we stayed at an apartment with a kitchen. This allowed us to afford the more expensive activities like taking the train up to Machu Picchu, flying in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, or getting custom tailor-made suits for Minh in Vietnam.
How did you figure out a budget?
We sort of just saved as much as we could and once we figured out our departure date, figured out how much we would have to travel with. From there, we had an average per-day amount that we calculated. This also sort of dictated where we would go during our travels, as we knew we wouldn’t last long in modern, developed countries that have a higher cost per day. There are various sources online that also give you an average cost per day per country.
We also set aside an emergency fund and return fund that we didn’t touch during our travels. During our trip, we tracked our spending using the Trail Wallet app (created by fellow inspirational long-term travel couple Never Ending Voyage), which helped keep us in line with our budget.
When planning out our trip, there were various resources of long term travelers who worked with every type of budget – from low end to high end. It really depends on your personal travel style – some people are able to stretch $100 for 2 weeks+ by staying at a hostel in a shared dorm bed, and for some, are only willing to stay at higher-end hotels that are $100+/night. Your budget sort of dictates where you stay, eat, and what to do. Worst case scenario – if we ran out of money, we could always cut our trip short and come home (which we didn’t need to, thankfully!).
How did you choose where to go and for how long?
As mentioned above, due to wanting to stretch out where our dollar would go the furthest, we mainly chose countries that would be affordable, so we cut out Western Europe all together as we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford it. In addition, we also chose countries and places we thought we may not want to “rough it” through later on in life such as less developed parts of South East Asia (i.e. places our parents have no interest in visiting and wouldn’t enjoy if we took them now).
We received a small inflatable globe from the same travel show that sparked our conversation, and just started pointing at places on the globe that we’ve always wanted to visit (pie in the sky planning at this point still..lol). Once we scaled down our list to a “must-visit” list of countries we wanted to go and figured out which countries would fit within our budget, we looked up when the best time to go, weather-wise for each country was. We tried our best to go to each country during a bearable season (as we are from Los Angeles – it’s true, we’re weather wimps), and then figured out that August was the best time for us to take off on our trip to match up where and when we wanted to be around the world!
What did you do with all your stuff?
We moved out of our apartment and sold most of our large furniture and anything else we could (which helped add to our travel fund), and the rest of the stuff we knew we would need when we returned, we stored with various family members and friends (thanks guys! We love you!! 🙂 )
How far out did you plan? Did you plan everything out or plan as you went?
As mentioned above, we figured out the best time, weather-wise, when to be in each country we wanted to go to. We had a rough itinerary month by month of where we intended on going, as to keep us on track so that we’d be able to visit everywhere we wanted to go, but also kept it open so that if we didn’t like a place, or wanted to stay longer, we could. It was structured, but still flexible.
Before we left, (in August), we had all our major flights booked up until December (i.e. incoming and outgoing flight booked per country, but no specific itinerary or cities planned out). Because a lot of our flights were booked using our airline points, if we happened to change our mind, we would only need to pay a change fee, instead of losing out on the entire cost of a flight, so that also gave us more flexibility. We had our accommodations booked just for the first month of travel, and then anything beyond that, we planned as we went.
Where did you stay?
We mainly stayed in hotels and apartments through Air BnB. We didn’t stay in hostels, which most people find surprising. We weren’t interested in staying in a hostel dorm, and the difference in paying for a private hostel room for 2 people vs a budget hotel for 2 people wasn’t much. We’re probably considered “flash packers,” as we’re a little older than the budget backpacking crowd, and a clean bed, clean and private restroom, and good night’s rest is much more important to us!
What did you bring/How much did you pack?
We traveled carry-on only – we each had one carry on sized roller luggage and a backpack (Find our packing lists here). Most people are incredibly shocked when we tell them this. We packed about a week and a half worth of clothes with us and constantly did laundry. Our luggage was packed Tetris style utilizing packing cubes, with every item having a designated place. This also worked out in our favor, as we couldn’t really buy any souvenirs on the road because we had no space to put them.
Tiff’s sister and parents also visited us, so we were able to switch out some of our stuff throughout the trip, and anytime a visitor from back home would come meet us, they graciously muled us over any items we may have needed (thanks again everyone!)
Did you get bored? What did you do all day?
A misconception that many people have is that we were sitting around lounging around doing nothing all day. Don’t get us wrong, we definitely had our loungin’ beach days, but for the most part, we were constantly on the move, or planning our next move. The longest we stayed in one city at a time was probably 10 days. We weren’t on a year-long vacation, as traveling full-time is actually much more work than people realize.
Once we had caught up to our pre-planned travel, and had to plan out our travels while we were traveling became even more work. Our travel style is flexible to a certain extent, and we aren’t the type to just show up to a place with no clue of where we’re staying or what we’re going to do. The planning and research that goes into figuring out the logistics of how to get to the airport, what to do after we land (pull out money, buy a sim card, figure out how and how much it should be to get to the hotel – taxi (reputable taxi that won’t rip us off?) bus?, tipping etiquette, etc). Then after checking into the hotel – needing to plan out what to see and do in the city, while wasting precious site-seeing time in the hotel room planning it out. After figuring all those things out, we also needed to figure out our hotel and transportation for the next destination in a few days. Repeat all over again at next destination. Oh and throw in doing things like laundry in our hotel room in there somewhere too.
There were times that we were so burnt out that we had to force ourselves to stay in and do nothing to give ourselves time to recuperate from the constant travel and planning. It was a continuous balance of trying to see and do as much as we could at each destination while staying within budget (which requires a lot of planning), without tiring ourselves out. This was also a big reason why the updates to the blog became less frequent. I don’t know how all the other full-time travelers are able to keep up their blogs and social media while traveling – props to them!
Did you get homesick?
We were lucky enough to have lots of people come visit us throughout our trip, which kept the homesick-ness at bay. Before we left, we sent an e-mail out to all our friends and family letting them know our rough itinerary, and to come meet us if they happen to be traveling! We actually had people who responded and somehow managed to have a “visitor” at least once every two months. Thank you to everyone who came to meet up with us, it was so nice to have a small piece of home while we were on the road! ♥
How did you manage to spend all that time together and not strangle each other?
Surprisingly to most people, we did spend pretty much every moment with each other for a full year and we still like each other! We’re lucky that our travel styles are pretty similar, and this trip taught us a lot to communicate even better with each other. We of course, had some really silly spats that probably arose from spending so much time traveling together – like Minh getting mad at Tiff for walking too fast ahead of him (it was 95+ degrees with no shade!) and he couldn’t keep up since he was carrying the “heavier” luggage (lol sounds so silly just typing it out!).
We also had visitors/people to meet up with and made friends with other great people along the way too, so it wasn’t just the two of us the whole time.
Traveling in a foreign and unfamiliar place can be stressful enough. When you’re lost and not sure where to go, we learned that getting mad at each other doesn’t help the situation, and instead, working as a team makes those stressful situations more manageable. We both agree that this trip made our relationship stronger and we’ve grown much more integrated with each other’s habits that we can sense what each other is thinking and feeling (a valuable skill to have to avoid major conflict!).
In general, Japan will always be a favorite country of ours, even though we’ve been multiple times. Thailand is also a given, since we spent the most amount of time there. However, it’s too difficult to choose just one as our favorite since each place has something special or unique about it that makes us like it! Countries we really enjoyed and want to return to…for Minh: Malaysia, Taiwan, and Italy. For Tiff: Croatia, Vietnam, and Spain.
Place that surprised you the most?
A place that both of us ended up falling in love with was Malaysia. Specifically, Penang. It’s probably a combination of not having any expectations and being blown away by the amazing food and affordability (or maybe it’s not such a surprise, since we love to eat. Lol.) There’s a diverse culture, the food is so so delicious, it’s extremely affordable, and it was easy to communicate with everyone there.
Another place we both really ended up loving was Bagan, Myanmar. We describe it to our friends as what Angkor Wat must have been 25 years ago, before it became commercialized by tourism. Being able to have a temple all to ourselves to watch the sunrise with a gorgeous backdrop of thousands of ancient temples and hot air balloons was an unforgettable experience.
Most difficult place?
The place we had the hardest time was in South Korea, the last country we were visiting. We actually have been before during our honeymoon back in 2013, and had a great time, but we met with friends who were able to show us around at the time. This time around, we had nobody to show us around, and we found that the language barrier and unfriendliness of many of the people we encountered made it really difficult for us! The beauty of having a flexible schedule was that since we weren’t really enjoying our time there, we were able to book a last minute flight to Japan – one of our favorite countries – for a few days before having to fly back to Seoul to catch our return flight home to Los Angeles.
Ever felt in danger?
Thankfully we never encountered any big situations where we felt in danger. The only ones we can think of are the protest up the street from our apartment in Turkey, and our Blue dollar exchange experience in Argentina that is probably considered pretty normal.
This one is tough, as we obviously love to eat and we basically make it our mission to find the best food at each place we visit. We’ll definitely have many many more favorite food posts coming up, but just top of mind, the places where we had some of our best meals would be: Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, and Spain.
How did you decide when to come back?
We originally intended to return around October, but while we were still traveling, Minh’s former workplace graciously reached out to him about a job opportunity which would require us to come back earlier. Since we were nearing the end of our trip already, we weighed out our options and decided to head back early, omitting our intended travel plans to explore China.
What’s the first thing you ate when you got home?
Mexican food and In-N-Out. We’re definitely from Los Angeles!
Things you noticed when you got home?
We didn’t have too hard of a time readjusting to life back home, as our last destination before coming home was South Korea, which is very modern and looks pretty similar to K-Town in Los Angeles. The main things that we weren’t used to were being able to drive a car again, and walking into big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart and seeing the huge aisles and endless variety of packaged snacks, cereals, and peanut butter.
Also, after spending the previous 8 months in Asia, returning home and seeing so many older Asian people and Asian people in general speaking fluent English with American accents was weird for us to see! Lol.
How has the trip changed you?
After living out of our suitcases for a year, we learned that you really don’t need all that much in general, and have come to recognize the huge consumerist society we come from, that convinces you need so much more stuff than you actually do. We’ve become better advocates of the “experiences over possessions” mentality.
An unexpected takeaway from this trip was the discovery of our roots and family history for the both of us. For Minh, going back to Vietnam for the first time since he left at age 2 and learning more about the country firsthand was eye opening. Tiff’s parents also met with us in Hong Kong and showed us their old stomping grounds and we learned more about their life growing up there. It gave us a much greater appreciation for the magnitude of sacrifices our parents and grandparents made for us. The opportunities we’ve had growing up in a country like the US (including being able to take a RTW trip), is something that is undoubtedly derived from their decision to leave their home country to come to the US so that we could have a better life.
Lastly, this trip has taught us the importance of being open minded, humble, and to practice gratitude. It’s so easy to get caught up in First World Problems and complain, that we tend to forget that there are people living in places where they have limited resources, freedom, or opportunities. This experience has absolutely taught us more about ourselves, other people, and other cultures than we expected.
Are you done traveling? Are there other places you still want to visit?
We hope to be able to visit China since we didn’t get the opportunity to finish out our whole intended trip (luckily we have the 10 year visa), and, of course, the more expensive countries we had to eliminate due to budget restraints – Western Europe, New Zealand, Australia, etc.
Before we went on this trip, our intention was to “get all our travels out of our system.” Ha! I’m sure any long term traveler who is reading this is laughing. We read about this prior to going on our trip, and for some reason didn’t really believe it, but this trip obviously didn’t get it out of our system, but instead just increased our desire to travel and see even more of the world.
Although we were on the road for a year, it feels like we barely scratched the surface for many of the places we went to, and there’s still so much left for us to explore, and places that we hope to return to again. Our list of destinations we’d like to visit is always growing, and this trip has made us re-prioritize travel for us, as we know travel will always be a part of our lives. Our next “pie in the sky” travel goal (maybe in retirement) is to one day get a sprinter van and do a road trip across the US!
We hope this has given a little more insight and inspiration to anyone thinking of doing a RTW trip themselves, or even just considering traveling more in general. If we can do it, you can too! 🙂
Have any additional questions for us? Leave them in the comments!