Backpack the World with Zero Planning

March 4, 2011 โ€” I haven't written in a long while because i'm currently on a long trip around the world. at the moment, we're in indonesia. one thing that really surprised me was that despite our best efforts to do as little planning as possible, we were in fact almost overprepared. i've realized you can do an around the world trip with literally zero planning and be perfectly fine. you can literally hop on a plane with nothing more than a passport, license, credit card, and the clothes on your back and worry about the rest later. i think a lot of people don't make a journey like this because they're intimidated not by the trip itself, but by the planning for the trip. i'm here to say you don't need to plan at all to travel the world (alas, would be a lot harder if you were not born in a first world country, unfortunately). here's my guide for anyone that might want to attempt to do so. every step is highlighted in bold. adjust accordingly for your specific needs and desires.

The plan (see below for bullet points)

Set a savings goal. you'll need money to travel around the world, and the more money you have, the easier, longer, and more fun your journey will be.

Save, save, save. make sure you save enough so that when your trip ends you won't come home broke. $12,000 would be a large enough amount to travel for a long time and still come back with money to get you resettled easily.

Once you've saved half of your goal, buy your first one way plane ticket to a cheap, tourist friendly country. bali, indonesia or bangkok, thailand would be terrific first stops, amongst others. next, get a paypal account with a paypal debit card. this card gives you 1.5% cash back on all purchases, only charges a $1 atm fee, and charges no foreign transaction fees at all. the 1.5% cash back more than offsets the 1% fee Mastercard charges for interchange fees. if you don't have them already, get a drivers license and a passport with at least 1 year left before expiration. get a free google voice number so people can still SMS and leave you voicemails without paying a monthly cell phone bill. if you need glasses, contacts, prescription medication, or other custom things, stock up on those.

Settle your affairs at home--housing, job, etc. now, your planning is DONE! you have everything you need to embark on a trip around the world.

Get on the plane with your passport, license, paypal debit card, and $100 US Cash. you don't need anything else--not even a backpack! you'll pick up all that later.

Once you've arrived in bali (or another similar locale), go to a large, cheap shopping district(kuta square in bali for example). if you arrived late, find a cheap place to crash first and hit the market first thing in the morning. look for backpackers at the airport or ask someone who works there for cheap accommodation recommendations.

Once you're at the market, you've got a lot to buy. visit an ATM to take money out of your PayPal account in the local currency. if you want, space out your purchases over a few days. you'll want to buy a lonely planet/rough guides for your current country, a solid backpack (get a good one), bug spray with deet, sun tan lotion, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, nail clippers, tweezers, a swiss army knife, pepto bismol, tylenol, band aids, neosporin, bathing suit, some clothes for the current weather, shoes/flip flops, a cheap cell phone and SIM card, a netbook, a power adapter, and a camera and memory card. you now have pretty much everything you need for your trip and you probably spent less than half of what you would have had to spend in the states. you may want some other things like a sleeping bag, tent, portable stove, goggles, etc., depending on what you want to do on your trip.

Now, talk to locals and other travelers for travel recommendations. that plus your lonely planet and maybe some google searching and you'll have all the tools you need to plan where to go, what to do and what to eat.

Hit up an internet cafe to email and print a copy of your drivers license, passport, and credit card. it will be dirt cheap. get some passport photos made for countries that require a photo for visas. then sign up for skype and facebook (if you're the one person in the world who hasn't done this yet) to make cheap phone calls and keep in touch with family and friends.

Plan your trip one country at a time. every few days, check flight prices for the next few legs of your trip. you can sometimes get amazingly cheap deals if you check prices frequently and are flexible about when and where you fly. use sites like kayak, adioso,, airbnb, and hostelworld to find cheap flights and places to stay, especially in expensive countries. in cheap countries, lonely planet and simply asking around often works great for finding great value hotels. also in expensive cities, find the local groupon clones and check them often for great excursion and meal deals. finally, you might want to get travel insurance from a site like world nomads.

That's it. enjoy your trip!


Bullet point format