Here are the phases of planning a round-the-world trip.
Phase 1: Daydreaming (6 months – 80 years before departure)
You start dreaming about it. It usually starts at the age of 6, but a saddening percentage of the population will never proceed beyond this phase regardless of their number of years. You imagine the places, the situations, the wonders, the journey. You should make physical, not just mental notes of these… to use for the actual planning.
Phase 2: The RTW ticket (4-6 months before departure)
Equipped with your to-visit-list and Google maps, you start figuring out the actual itinerary. Usually you start with squeezing in everything… But once you consider time off from work, climates, seasons, the limitations of RTW tickets, high level budget for additional trips, time being spent on each location and visa requirements, you will start postponing items to your next trip. If you plan to have popular items planned in their high season (Inca Trail, Milford Track, Galapagos cruise, etc), then you have to sync those with your RTW stops and timing, too, so you have to plan them here. Once you have a ticket quote that is acceptable in terms on stops and money, jump in – there is time to fine-tune the details going forward. On your first trip, you might want to have the RTW ticket arranged 4-5 months before the actual departure.
Phase 3: The other tickets + details (4-6 months to 2 weeks before departure)
You arrange the necessary vaccinations based on your stops, buy other tickets (connecting with your RTW stops) and pay for guided tours. You connect to friends of friends living in some of the places, and start building a master plan of the journey – which, in my case, is a huge excel sheet, with one day in a row, but more about that in a later article. You get visa, permits, start arranging accommodation at least for the first day in every city you land in. You could opt to reserve all accommodation beforehand if you have a control freak to throw a bone to. You buy the missing items, then realize you have a truckload of stuff you will never fit into your backpack, but this loss is soothed by the quickly approaching departure date – about which you tell everybody, skyrocketing the number of people who unfriend you on Facebook, simply start hating you or ask you to take them with you in your backpack, depending on the maturity of relationships and their understanding of the temperature in the cargo area on commercial flights.
Phase 4: Last minute madness (2 weeks before departure to 1 minute before departure)
You suddenly realize that oh shit I have only two weeks left. If you still have a showstopper at this stage (like a missing Indian visa, anyone?), then you are in for days of inferno. But normally you run a few packing rehearsals, halve the amount of clothes you pack, try to tie the loose ends of things at work and get a final, good look at all the items you leave behind and you think will miss during the trip (note: that will be your last thought about those items for a long time). You also cram in a lot of meetings with friends, but let’s be honest, you are really boring at this stage as The Trip is the only topic you speak about, but you have no photos or stories yet at all. On your way to the airport you remember the item you forgot that will cause you a little headache on your first stop, but who cares.
Phase 5: Departure
The execution of the plan! And whatever you forgot, misunderstood or simply screwed up will generate all the stories you tell for the rest of your life, so from here on there is one thing to do: live through every single, pure moment of adventure.