How We Decide Which Countries To Visit — It's A Big World Out There

When we were starting out the possibility seems daunting. 192 countries and only 1 year to do it. How are you supposed to decide?

First we tried starting out with an established itinerary from a travel agent, but in the end we customized it so much it didn’t look anything like what we started with (neither did the price).

So we figured it’s easier if we do the two-pronged approach. Let’s start with our own custom itinerary, than shop around trying to find a RTW deal that’s closest to our itinerary… and by magic, it will all just work out.

As you can tell, we’re a little fuzzy about that part of the planning… heck, life in general is fuzzy for us 🙂

Anyway, we’re still in that stage of building and trimming our itinerary, and I think we’re getting pretty close. These are the criteria we loosely used to help us out.

1. Cost

With our limited budget — this is our biggest concern. I would like to visit old friends who are scattered around the globe (and the possibility of staying for free is definitely a plus), but they all live in places like France, Germany, Australia… Places with high living cost that would drain our hard-earned savings quicker than you can say “Long time no see, how are you?” Maybe I can convince some of you to move to Laos? Or Cambodia?

-- by Stuck in Customs
-- by Stuck in Customs

There are also places that just simply too prohibitively expensive to visit. Places like Libya or Bhutan that do not let visitors roam the country by themselves but instead require them to go with pre-arranged organized trips (read: $$$).

Organized trips can be fun, but we simply can’t afford doing a whole country on organized trips like that even if they’re usually all-inclusive.

2. Can we visit this place when we’re 60?

-- by Stewf, Flickr

Even though there are some older people in our gym that are fitter, stronger, and no doubt can out-climb us any day, there’s no guarantee that we won’t be soft, arthritis-ridden oldies (but still infected with travel bug) when we’re their age . When it comes the time to wield the decision blade, some places would need to be taken off the list.

Places that:
– have good, comfortable, and vastly available public transportation
– have good tourist infrastructure
– whose tourism doesn’t depend solely on physical activities such as trekking, climbing, or spelunking

In short, countries that we think our grandparents would enjoy visiting end up on the “Would be nice, but maybe some day” list.

3. Ease to get visa

Fortunately, the majority of the places already in danger of not making it on the list due to the above reasons are usually hard for me to get visa for anyway. Trying to get a visa for countries in Western Europe and Australia are bureaucratic nightmare for someone with my citizenship. I had such a terrible time trying to get Schengen visa, and the requirements are so strict that I tried so hard not to include any Schengen country on our itinerary.

Unfortunately, with Western Europe being a major hub for Northern Africa and Eastern Europe — it seems that getting a Schengen visa is unavoidable.
— Aaargghhh!!!

This is also another reason why after having Australia and New Zealand as our first stop in our itinerary for the longest time, we decided to skip the area altogether in the end. It’s expensive, and visa requirements are a headache.

Holding everything else the same, countries with visa-on-arrival, or even better, no visa requirements always get our vote! As a matter of fact, we use a list of those countries when crafting our first draft of the itinerary.

4. Gut feelings

Robin Hood Tree -- Jack and Jill Collection

I like to browse our local library’s travel section and pick guidebooks at random. Mostly of countries I know nothing about. And sometimes — this is weird, I know — but certain descriptions of a place or a picture would catch my attention and I have a feeling that I should really, really try to squeeze that one in the itinerary, however out of the way it is.

I’m sure that subconsciously I have built up an image and a desire to visit these places through random exposures in the past — maybe a book or a movie I watched many years ago, or something.

What else can it be that made me put down Ethiopia — a country never given even an ounce of consideration — in our itinerary after a 10 sec flipping through the guidebook?

Central Asia countries were also a gut feeling choice. I was devastated when we realized that it might prove to be too costly to go there. But I’m doing further research and it seems that it’s possible we can make a quick jaunt to Kyrgyzstan (how can a word that long only have one vowel?) from Mongolia (update: this depends on the whole situation with China develops). So there’s still hope!

5. Ease of land border crossing

We prefer to do our border crossing on land, either by train or bus. It’s relatively cheaper, you get to see more of the landscape, and have more interaction with people you meet along the way. Even though it’s slower than taking a plane, we imagine that once we’re on the road we’ll definitely be in the position where we actually have more time than money.

We put Mongolia back on our itinerary after we found out that trans-Mongolian train can take us from Beijing to Ulan Bataar relatively easily.

Although to be honest, the real reason is both of us just do not like flying…

6. What people said

Word of mouth is another strong influence on our itinerary. After reading about the beauty and overwhelming friendliness of the people in Georgia, we would try to squeeze in a visit there when we’re in the area. My mom had such a good time in China we’re thinking of staying there longer than we originally planned to.

Daniel and Audrey had such a fantastic time in Antarctica it made me want to put Antarctica on the list too. Until I found out how much it cost…

With $5000 per head I’m afraid that trip will have to wait (see #1)

7. Our own wish list

-- by Barabeke

Last but definitely not least, there are places we’ve carried around in our heart for as long we can remember we don’t know the reason why anymore– places that we’ve uttered in sentences such as “I’d really like to visit there someday”, and actually meant it.

Places like Tibet for Jack, and the pyramids in Egypt for me (although after reading this post, I’m not so sure anymore). These places have priority in the itinerary because they’re the reason we’re planning the trip to begin with anyway. In essence they are the anchors of our itinerary and we try to squeeze everything else in-between.

As usual our ambition is bigger than our bank account, so even with all of these restrictions the list is still long. Ideally I’d like to be able to stay in country for at least a month.. or two. I mean, I’ve lived in this country for 10 years and I’ve barely even scratched at the surface of my state has to offer. I don’t think I can consciously say I’ve been to a place knowing that all I did is a whirlwind tour of the main tourist attractions.

Using the current itinerary, it’ll leave us with 2-3 weeks per country. Which is not good enough. So we either have to cut down on the number of countries (like in third), or save even harder (or figure out a way to make money on the road) so we can be out on the road longer (preferred).

I’ve always known it is a big world out there. But not until you sit in front of a world map and actually look… did you realise that it’s a much, much bigger world out there than you can possibly imagine.

So, tell me…what countries are on YOUR wish list and WHY?


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33 Replies to “How We Decide Which Countries To Visit — It's A Big World Out There”

  1. Wow this post really got me thinking there is so much I want/need to do. East Asia, Emirates, South America (Argentine definitely), North Africa (safari also a must) I wouldn't mind Fiji, Indonesia etc too oh and SE Asia. Too much to think about. I think I would rather have a base though and travel from there. It's how I explored a lot of Western Europe from Germany. Love this blog xx

  2. Mexico would be fun! I really wish we could visit all countries — but it does help to narrow down the choices for our first RTW trip (because, who says there cant be a second, right?)

  3. Those are all great reasons and will hopefully help narrow down your choices! I personally want to travel to all the places that have great surf now because I want to be able to fully enjoy surfing all day long in those countries. 😀

  4. Sorry that visas are giving you such trouble, Jill! The world has become so small in so many ways, but immigration is a whole different story. Hope you still get to go to whereever you want without too much trouble. And keep Cairo and the pyramids on the list. It's really beautiful!

    1. Talking about visas is enough to raise my heart rate 🙂 Seeing the pyramids has always been my childhood dream — I'd brave the touts and any scary stories to see them. I think 🙂

  5. Good list! I personally have a never-ending wish list of countries and places I want to visit, such as Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brasil, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia etc etc … But now it's time for my biggest dream – Mexico first 🙂

  6. Here are some of my dream destinations:
    – Antarctica, like you. Like you too, it's too expensive for us and we have to wait until we win lottery one day. But oh, I forgot, I never join lottery!
    – Watching Aurora Borealis (was not successful with the Aurora Australis hunting – wrong time, wrong place, ha!)
    – Finding corpse flower Titan Arum (aka Bunga Bangkai) in Sumatra
    – Spotting Lemur in Madagascar
    Okay, the list getting long here, better I make it into a post 🙂

    1. Oh yeah, how did I forget to include the Northern Light? When we were talking about a trip to Alaska we were deciding on going in winter for the chance to see NL or summer so we can backpack around… we couldn't decide and ended up going in Spring instead. Already too bright for NL :p

  7. I would agree with Ayngelina's remark. Take it slow. I've been in situations where I've had to get somewhere by a certain date and I've always regretted it. Don't pre-plan everything. I mean, you can try, but you're bound to end up throwing your plan out the window! I edited my plan at least 4 times to the point where it was unrecognizable from my original idea. And this was while I was traveling!

    I always plan a trip by starting out at the bookstore and perusing the travel section. If there's one thing guidebooks are really good for, its getting you interested in a country. Using this info, I am able to narrow down things on my own bucket list.

    1. Thanks Aaron, I don't mind guidebooks so much but they're so heavy (and I can't seem to get into the whole 'Kindle' thing). We'll be forced to make up plans as we go and not depend on guidebooks out of necessity really. And slowly but surely we're ok with it (as opposed to having mini anxiety attacks like we used to have).

  8. Ah, this post is really useful! I'm just starting to narrow down which countries I want to visit, and it's so tough! I feel completely overwhelmed and am changing my mind daily! For me, I definitely have to do Fiji and the Cook Islands… That is the only definite location for me at the moment! 😀

    1. Glad you found it useful. For us, the big factors are visa requirements and the age factor. We figure that when we're old we'll still be traveling, gotta leave the easy-to-visit countries for our golden days 🙂

  9. We just make this desicion according to our budget. We give great importance to the cost. Last year we traveled to Latin America, where visiting most countries are quite cheap. But, before visiting a country no matter the price, we just save money well in advance. So money is not something that determines our decisions. We just follow our dreams and travel!!

  10. Just discovered your website and I love it! We are planning as well a RTW trip, probably for 2012-13, so this question is in my mind for some time now! Although it's too early to really decide anything yet.

    I'd say the 3 most important things are your no 1,2 and 7: cost, visit it at 60 and wish list. For these reasons, Ireland and Greece are on top, with me wanting to discover my ancestors land for a looooong time and my bf dying to see Greece. Add to that Jordan, SEA, India, Egypt (even thought it usually doesn't get a good review by backpackers), Peru, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Mongolia to Russia (or Russia to Mongolia) via transsiberian and transmongolian, Sri Lanka, Sweden and Japan. And there could be so much more, like Central Asia but as you mentionned, not so easy to get to… Good luck with your choices but in any way, you'll have a good time! I'm looking forward to read about your adventures!

  11. Hi Jack & Jill. Been very interested in ur travels and website. We r planning a rtw trip 4 2012 and this time planning to take people with us. Mainly those who haven't travelled before and/or have that dream to travel but are not as inclind to do it on their own. As we have found there is a lot of beurocatric-sp red-tape, (B/S) associated with it so we r mastering the hurdles as we get to them. One of these is that we are not permitted to advertise a price until we r fully licenced, so that the people coming are fully protected financially. We would certainly welcome ur comments on our web site, todate. Our 80 day expedition is more hotel orientated and perhaps more fast paced, however, our main aims are are to give those the opportunity to see these countries and showcase them, so that when they go on holiday next time and say yes I would like to go back to that place and have an idea of where to go and what to do etc. We would certainly welcome ur idea of what the cost for our trip would be, (all up) for a person joining us. 🙂 All the very best for 2011 and happy travelling. 🙂

  12. There are so many factors when choosing a route for a round-the-world trip and like ayngelina said it's likely to change along the way anyway. For me the anchor on my current trip was the Trans-Mongolian Railway from st. Petersburg to Beijing which was a huge pain in the ass in terms of visas. Russia, Mongolia and China visas all had to be acquired in advance in a window of about a month because they only hold validity for 2 to 3 months. In the end though it ended up being one of the most rewarding parts of this trip. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't worry so much about where you end up going because you're likely to have a fabulous time regardless.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nikki. And you're right, I know we're going to have a great time regardless (at least that's what we keep telling ourselves :). I'd like to believe that everyone planning a RTW goes through this stage of over planning before throwing in the towel and say 'screw it!' Hehe…

  13. The way we decide where to go is ver similar, cost being number one at this stage. Although I've never thought of including #2. That's a good question to ask yourself, can we visit this place when we're 60? Do it before it's too late 😛

  14. I understand when you talk about visas as my husband is Turkish and on most occasions applying for visa for him to travel outside Turkey, eats up a lot of money and time. My wish list is just to travel to every corner of Turkey, I want to get to know this country inside out as it is going to be my home for the rest of my life.

    1. Lol, same here… I want to visit every state in the US (18 out of 50 so far, dang!). This country is soooo huge and I've barely even scratched the surface.

  15. This must be so hard to sort out, I'm not jealous! We just flew to Beijing and took it from there with no plan at all really. We even missed our second stop in China so any plans went straight away.

    Gutted Antarctica is so expensive 🙁

  16. When I first started I thought I could start in Mexico, zip through Central and South America then up Africa, around the 'istans and end in Mongolia.

    What was I thinking?

    Several six months in I decided to drop Africa and just go to India.

    But now 8 months into my trip and only being in Peru I decided to stay in South America because I could extend it another 6 months.

    My biggest piece of advice is not to buy any flights home as you'll need to change plans and there is something liberating about not having to worry about flight dates and cost changes.

    1. You've got a good point about worrying about flight dates. We're actually leaning towards getting a point-to-point ticket as opposed to RTW as originally planned.

  17. Wow it looks like you're having a great adventure! This blog was really nice to read.

    I love the quote you have at the bottom, its very inspiring!

  18. Thanks for including our Antarctica post as inspiration, although I completely understand how it may not make the list because of cost. Keep it for another trip 🙂

    If you do have a chance to pop over to Kyrgyzstan, do it!! We spent almost two months there and really loved it – incredible mountains (over 90% of the country), hospitable people, and every day seemed like a bit of an adventure. It used to be possible to buy visas at the airport or I'm sure you could get one in Mongolia.

    Juggling all these variables is tough – I always joke that being a long-term traveler is like constantly problem solving and being a project manager.

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