How to Plan the RTW Trip Itinerary of Your Dreams

When you love to travel, few things are more exciting than planning a new trip. A round-the-world trip (RTW trip) where you spend months visiting several countries and making a complete loop around the globe is probably the most exciting planning adventure of all! Dreaming of all the places you can go and things you can see is full of joy and inspiration, but it can also be overwhelming. How do you whittle down your bucket list to a real RTW trip itinerary?

There are three key principles to keep in mind when you’re planning a RTW trip:

  1. Set your priorities
  2. Conduct thorough research
  3. Be open to changes

Table of Contents

Decide When to Go

Dreaming of where to go is the fun part, but you will also need to make decisions about when to start your RTW trip and how long you’ll be traveling. Be honest with yourself about your priorities.

When I started planning my RTW trip, I dreamt of two years on the road. It was much more realistic for me to travel for one year. I also decided I didn’t want to break my lease, which meant starting my trip in July.

Pick Your Pillars

Okay, now comes the fun part. Write out your bucket list and pick the top handful of things you want to do. You can give yourself a theme for your trip like the world’s best surf breaks or wine regions. Or if you’re like me and thrive best on variety, you’ll want to think about what experiences are the most important to you. What could you never forgive yourself for missing out on? These will be the pillars of your RTW trip itinerary — the major experiences that form the broad outline of your trip.

In its most technical sense, a RTW trip visits several continents. I decided to break my year of travel up into three four-month-long tours of Europe, Asia and South America.

These were the pillars I chose:

Some of the pillars you choose will help you time your trip. For example, the best time of year to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is April or May. This was the most important thing I wanted to do, and because I already knew I needed to start my trip in July, that meant South America would be the final leg of my RTW trip itinerary.

Find Time for Slow Travel

Taking a RTW trip is a unique opportunity and one of the things that sets it apart is the chance for slow travel. With more than a week or two to travel, you can slow down and spend weeks or even months in one place. You’ll get to know your destination in a different way and you’ll also keep yourself from getting burned out by all your travel.
Think about how often you want to slow down on your RTW trip and what kinds of places you’d like to spend extended periods of time in.
I felt strongly about starting my trip with three to four weeks in one place. I thought it would help me break out of the vacation mindset. I also decided to slow down whenever I changed continents, kind of like warming up and cooling down from a workout. I typically chose large cities like Barcelona and Buenos Aires — places with so much to see it would be hard to fully experience them in just a few days. I also chose relaxing destinations like Bali to build in some recharge time between stretches of busy travel.

Research Flights and Overland Routes

You have the big pieces of your RTW trip itinerary in place. To flesh out the rest of your plan, you’ll need to have a clear picture of what your transportation options are.
I don’t recommend buying a RTW ticket for airfare because booking your own flights one at a time is less expensive and grants you more freedom and flexibility. However, Indie is a great website for visualizing your RTW trip itinerary. To see your options for train and bus routes around the world, I highly recommend Rome2Rio.
Think about your preferences for flights, trains and buses, how much money you want to spend on transportation, and how long you are willing to spend in transit. You might find interesting destinations to stop in between your trip pillars, or you might realize one of your pillars is too far out of the way.

Understand Where You’re Willing to Make Sacrifices

There is no such thing as the perfect RTW trip itinerary. No matter where you go, you will need to think about the cost of travel, how crowded the destination is, and what the weather is like.
In planning my trip, I knew South America would be the final leg of my itinerary which meant I needed to decide whether to make Europe or Asia my first stop when I left in July. If I chose Europe first, I would have summer weather, a very inexpensive flight and travel conditions that were more familiar to me, but it would be crowded and my other costs would be high for the start of my trip. If I visited Asia first, I would see fewer crowds and lower prices, but would have to deal with monsoon season and higher stress. I decided to pay the price for sunny days and an easier start to my trip and made Europe the first leg of my itinerary.

Have a Backup Plan

Your RTW trip itinerary will change! When you plan a full year of travel, you might get on the road and learn about a new-to-you place worth visiting, get detoured by changing health and safety conditions, or fall in love with a city and decide to extend your stay. You can also experience emergencies or find you’re unhappy with a destination and need to leave early.
The places you chose for slow travel earlier are some of the biggest flux points you have on your itinerary. Deciding to stay somewhere for a long time is a commitment. If you can’t find a place to stay or you arrive and don’t like the destination as much as you expected, you should know what your options are for moving on elsewhere. Basically, for every destination on your itinerary, you should have a “just in case” option in your back pocket.

Finalize Your RTW Trip Itinerary

Your final itinerary will still be pretty broad at this stage of your plans. Don’t worry about drilling down into day-by-day details or planning what you’ll do in each destination. Focus on where you will go and how you will get there.
The itinerary I planned looked like this:
Fly from BWI to Reykjavik
Spend a few days to a week in Iceland and tour the Golden Circle
Fly to Barcelona for three to four weeks
Fly to Naples
Spend about two weeks in southern Italy
Take a bus to Venice and stay the night
Take a ferry to Croatia and spend about two weeks in Split and Dubrovnik
Take a bus to Mostar for a few days to a week in Bosnia & Herzegovina
Take a bus to Kotor for a few days to a week in Montenegro
Take a bus to Athens for about two weeks in Greece, including a ferry trip to Santorini and back
Fly to Istanbul and rent a short-term apartment for a month
Fly to Delhi
Spend a week or two in northern India
Fly to Kathmandu
Take a guided trek in the Annapurna Sanctuary
Fly to Bangkok
Spend two to three weeks in Thailand, ultimately making my way to Chiang Mai
Take a three-day boat trip to Luang Prabang for about a week in Laos
Fly to Hanoi
Spend about three weeks in Vietnam, traveling by train through Hoi An and Nha Trang, ultimately making my way to Ho Chi Minh City
Take a bus to Phnom Penh for a few days and then to Siem Reap for a few days, including a visit to Angkor Wat
Travel overland back to Bangkok
Fly to Bali and rent a short-term apartment for a month
Fly to Tokyo
Spend about two weeks in Japan, perhaps taking a train to Kyoto for part of the visit
Fly to Montevideo for a week or two in Uruguay
Take a bus to Buenos Aires and rent a short-term apartment for a month
Take a bus to Mendoza and spend about two more weeks in Argentina
Fly to Lima and then Cusco to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Spend about two weeks total in Peru
Fly to Lima and then San Jose for about two weeks in Costa Rica
Fly to Mexico City for about two weeks in Mexico
Return home

You might have a lot of research ahead of you to figure out the best route for your RTW trip, but I hope this has helped you think about your priorities and develop a plan of action. Stay flexible and open to where this journey takes you! If you need more guidance on how to create your RTW trip itinerary, check out the Map It Out! Itinerary Planner workbook below.

Plan Your Own RTW Itinerary with Map It Out!

It took me months to figure out this itinerary. I know all too well the feeling of having a miles-long bucket list and no clue where to start, so I created a workbook to save you time on your own RTW trip plans. The Map It Out! Itinerary Planner will walk you through the outline of your own epic worldwide adventure. Click below for big savings on your dream trip!

Similar Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *