5. Route Planning
So now we have come up with a good realistic plan of where we want to go and how long we want to be in each place and how much it will cost. The next task is to work out what order we're going to do things in.
If you've been working your way through each of these steps then you will already have come up with a vaguely sensible looking routing when working out your rough costs for flights. But now we want to refine that and make it awesome.
There are several things to consider when planning the route you will take on your trip:
=> Best time of year to visit
=> Travel difficulty
=> Transport costs
=> Time zone changes
=> Political issues and visa requirements
So before we lock down our routing we probably want to put a bit of thought into each of these areas.
Tip: Make another spreadsheet
A good way to keep track of everything is to make a new spreadsheet (or a new tab of your previous spreadsheet) with a list on it of all the places you intend to go. Beside each place you want 14 columns as follows:
=> In the first column type in how many days you want to spend in the country.
=> The next twelve columns are for each month of the year, from January thru December.
=> The last column is for notes.
If you're wondering why you're doing all this, or can't quite visualise what you're meant to do, skip on down to the end of this page to see what the finished product looks like.
If you don't like spreadsheets you can just use a sheet of paper for this, but it looks far more impressive on a spreadsheet.
Best time of year to visit
The first thing to work out for each country is what times in the year it is good to visit, and what times are bad to visit. There are several things to consider for this:
1. What times of the year is the climate desirable? If you're going to somewhere that gets really hot like Oman, then you may not want to be there when it is the hottest time of the year. Likewise, you may not want to be in Russia during winter, unless you specifically want to experience the Russian winter. Many countries in the tropics have monsoon seasons that you also probably want to avoid. If you have specific things you want to do in a country, such as skiing, hiking, snorkling etc, then find out what times of the year it is best to do these things.
2. When are major events and holidays? Even if you're not wanting to attend any festivals or events, it is still worth knowing when they are, as they can make it difficult to find accommodation, or they may cause certain things to be closed. If you intend to visit Muslim countries for example then you’ll probably want to know in advance if you’re going to be there during the month of Ramadan. It may sound like a great idea to be in Gallipoli for ANZAC day, but if you decide to go then you should know in advance how crowded it will be.
3. When is the tourist high season? The tourist high season sometimes occurs during the time of year when there are the best things to see and do. This can be the case in parts of Africa during the massive wildebeest migrations and so forth. But a lot of the time the high season occurs when it does because that is when all the tourists have their vacations. Normally it is good to avoid the tourist high season, as everything gets crowded and expensive. But in some cases you may want to go when it is the busy time because that is the only time you can experience what you want to experience.
So find out the above information for each country you want to visit, and add this information to your spreadsheet in the notes column. If there are particular times of the year when it looks really good to visit, shade the cells green for those months. Then shade cells orange or red for times when you wouldn't want to be there. You'll find this shading helpful when you come to work out the best order to visit each country.
The above information is usually available in guidebooks, but if you don’t have guidebooks handy then the Lonely Planet website is a good place to start. It has a “When to go & weather” section for most countries. For example, this link gives you advice on when to visit Jordan: www.lonelyplanet.com/jordan/weather
Other websites you may find helpful:
Some countries are fairly easy to travel in. Some countries are not. In general, the more similar a country is to your own country, the easier you are likely to find it to travel there. It is relatively easy for example, for a New Zealander to travel in Australia, England, Canada and the USA. It is much more challenging to travel somewhere like Madagascar, Saudi Arabia, India, China or Russia, where things are very different. If you're new to travel then you probably want to start with some easier countries and ease yourself in.
It is also good to have a bit of variety in your trip. We found after three months in Africa it was a welcome relief to change to the comforts and relative ease of travelling in North America. Some other travellers we met along the way thought we were nuts to go to North America instead of South America, but after a few months in hard countries you need a break and some comfort for a while among people who don't see you as a walking wallet.
So alongside each country add a note about how easy or difficult you expect it would be to travel there.
Obviously the order you visit places will have a major effect on how much you end up paying to get from place to place. Ideally you'd like your routing to be as direct as possible, as this should keep your transport costs to a minimum. But sometimes the shortest route isn't the cheapest.
If you are considering using a Round The World (RTW) ticket from one of the airline alliances, your routing will be limited based on what airlines are in the alliance you are using (eg One World, Star Alliance, Sky Team etc). It will also be limited based on the specific rules of the RTW ticket you are using. Some of these are mileage based, others are continent based, and most have various additional rules that limit what you can and can't do.
If you intend to use a RTW ticket you will probably find yourself spending several hours trying out different routings on the routing tools on the airline alliance websites. Try to make sure the routing you come up with isn't just the cheapest, but also takes into account some of the other issues we're discussing here.
If it all gets too hard then it might be easiest to contact Air Treks or STA travel or Student Travel and ask them to help work out the best routing. ( www.airtreks.com/ www.statravel.com/worldwide.htm www.studentflights.com/)
Time zone changes
There's not a whole lot you can do about time zone changes, so this one is more something to be aware of. In general, the more time zones you cross in a day, the more jet lagged you're going to be. We also have it on good authority that travelling around the world heading west gets you less jet lagged than travelling east. We went west and we normally found it quite easy to drop back an hour or two from time to time. It just means you can sleep in that bit longer! Whereas going forward an hour or two or three now and then sounds like torture...
Political issues and visa requirements
Sometimes international politics can get in the way of your trip. The most commonly encountered example of this is travellers who visit Israel. Its fairly well known that many Arab nations don't particularly like Israel. What this means for travellers is that they won't be allowed to enter a whole bunch of Arab countries if they have any evidence in their passport that they've been to Israel. Therefore, if you want to visit both Syria and Israel, then you should try to visit Syria first. There are ways around this, but you need to be aware of these issues before you go so you don't get caught out. Don't worry, there aren't many cases like this...
You also need to factor into your routing any tricky visa requirements. Some countries want you to get a visa to visit their country while you're still in your home country, but then the visa is only valid for a certain length of time. If you get one of these visas you need to make sure your routing will have you in that country while your visa is still valid. There aren't many countries like this, but there are some out there that could trip you up, so be careful when you're sorting out the visa requirements for each of the countries you want to visit.
So make a note for each country of any political issues or visa requirements that could impact on your routing.
Optimising your routing
So now you have all the information, it is time to start the process of working out your optimum routing. This is likely to evolve a bit but you should be able to get it pretty close based on all the stuff you've worked out now.
All you do for this step is you take your list of countries with all the information next to them and the shaded cells showing the best months to visit, and you shuffle around the order little by little, until you have the best compromise you can get.
The best solution should have you in most countries at a good time of the year, you can meet the requirements of visas etc, and the routing is affordable (and allowable if you're using a RTW ticket).
When you do this you may discover that your trip would be sooo much better if you left a couple of months earlier or later than you were intending to. If you can change your departure date to make this work then its definitely worth considering, as it can have a big impact on how enjoyable your trip is. It may also reveal that your trip would work a whole lot better if you added in an extra couple of weeks somewhere or took away some time.
In the example shown below we've tried two options, one heading westward, and the other heading eastward. Heading west it looks as though the second half of the trip would work a whole lot better if we spent about two extra months somewhere between arriving in China and arriving in Morocco. Thats a lot of extra time. In the Eastwards option it all looks pretty good until the end, apart from the fact we can't go to Speed Week. And the end of the trip would work out nicer if we spent an extra month somewhere between Spain and Mongolia, which is a bit better than the two months extra for going westwards. Given this routing also puts most of the more difficult destinations at the end of the trip this would probably be the preferred direction to go.
You'll probably make countless tweaks to your routing over the coming weeks so its good not to lock anything in straight away.
It can be handy to get a travel agent involved about now as they can usually book your preferred routing (especially on a RTW ticket) without you having to commit to paying for all your flights up front. In New Zealand travel agents will typically charge you a non-refundable bond of a couple hundred dollars and that lets you book all the flights you want, and change them as much as you like prior to purchase. Its only when you get near your departure date that they'll actually make you pay for your whole ticket.
So let it mellow, and wait until you're pretty certain you've got the best routing nailed before you fork out any serious money.
Thats about all we have to say about planning your routing. If you've made it this far, well done!