Long-term travel: planning your travel route with maps

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ May 28th, 2012. Updated on November 12th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Long-term travel.
Travel route map

Plan out your long-term travel route with a map

Long-term travel and planning where to go

One could just hop on a plane, bus, or boat and let the wind take you to where ever. It’s a nice idea. I’ve done it myself and it does have a unique appeal. However if someone is planning to be traveling over a long 18+ month period or even longer I do strongly advise them to have a rough idea of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish.

The most important thing to remember is all good journeys do, can and should change along the way

Let’s look at how you can plan a long-term travel route and why.

Start your long-term travel route with a map

It can be online, or in paper format but you should be able to write on it and take notes. Mark where you are now then decide on the must see top ten places you want to visit. Link them together and you’ve got the roughest of rough maps of the countries you will be visiting.

Ideally I would suggest you try to map out an overall global route first and systematically link the main places together. Then link in other countries neighboring to them and see if there’s anything you’d like to visit there too.

Next up you’ll need to a have a rough idea of how long your long-term journey is going to be. 18 months, 3 years, indefinitely etc.

You are now starting to put together a route map that links everything together. But there’s going to be more to it than just hopping between countries. A lot more.

Jason from Digi Drift recommends:

“Planing for any long term journey, especially if its trans continental is best done with a map. Not your online version either, but a good old fashioned folded paper version. Do a bit of research before buying, because I can attest to the comment that ‘Not all maps were created equal’. Take Africa for example. I would not travel to Africa, without the most up to date maps of my required regions printed by Michelin. Michelin maps are great for route finding, as they show all of the small border crossings as well as minor villages. They even plot the well locations at various locations, when your in very remote regions.”

Michael Robert Powell from The Candy Trail recommends:

“Maps excite me. Am always wondering what’s within those crazy-colored shapes. Start by flipping a coin: go somewhere. Highlight places of interest – then join the dots … there’s your travel route.”

Planning your tourist visas for long-term travel

Of all the problems I see amongst long-term travelers and overland travelers it’s having to change routes and destinations due to tourist visas that sits at the top of the list. I’ve met many a traveler who simply could not continue on their chosen route because they did not plan their travel visas properly.

Overland route map

My first overland travel map … yep it was that basic, but it was a foundation that stood the test of time

When marking out countries you will be visiting on your map quickly look up online if they require you to have a visa beforehand. Or if they offer visas on arrival via plane, or on arrival via overland borders. At the same time look up to see how long their visas are valid for? eg 30 days, 60 days etc.

Write the visa requirements down on your map or next to a country’s name on a separate list. This is vital information in planning a long-term travel route.

*do note that your current legal residence will play a part on the ease or lack of ease in obtaining a visa en-route.

 Long-term travel and countries that do not offer visas on arrival

Many countries require you to obtain a tourist visa from your home country. That’s a real problem for long-term travel.

The easiest advice to give here is to tackle these countries first on your journey. Russia is a prime example. Getting a Russian tourist visa is no easy feat. They require you to apply in your home country with references, bookings and many more requirements. Doing this when you are already traveling is very, very difficult or near impossible.

This applies to quite a few countries and to make it even more complicated a lot of it also depends on your nationality and your country’s current political standing with the one you are applying to.

If you do want to visit Russia and your research tells you that you need to apply at home for a visa then you might also want to include neighbouring countries with difficult visas like Mongolia and China. Tackle all three with pre acquired visas from home and you’ve just removed one of your larger headache’s in long-term travel in that region.

The other option is of course to return home and apply there or trust in a specialist visa agency. Again, I’m writing this under the assumption that you are long-term traveling and not returning home. Just remember that visas take time to process and they have expiry dates (more on that later).

Finding a base to apply for tourist visas when traveling long-term

With your map of countries you should be by now pulling together a wealth of up-to-date visa requirements. You’ll know which countries require a visa via applying from home on arrival or from an embassy.

If you are approaching several countries that allow you to apply for visas in their embassies then you might consider setting up a base in a neighboring country and applying for them all there.

For me I acquired my visas for Iran, Pakistan and India all in Turkey. I’ve also used Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok as bases to apply for visas. Why? Because all of these countries have a host of embassies located in their capitals thereby making applying for visas quite easy.

overland travel map

My real original overland travel map that barely moved from my plan

The only issue is that over the past few years embassies have been cost cutting and moving out into suburban city areas. Thereby making if difficult to locate them and find good public transport to bring you there. Quite often you’ll have to get a taxi as there is no public transport.

As you might be doing a lot of repeat journey’s to the same embassy this can become quite expensive. Not only that but accommodation in capitals can cost more than in other regions. All in all it can be annoying but it’s still cheaper than flying home every time you need to get a visa.

If you are lucky and the embassies are all located near each other you might consider staying outside the capital in cheaper accommodation and take night transport in every few days to check on your applications.

Get your date’s right when applying for visa’s for long-term travel

One last point with tourist visas for long-term travel. You need to do some math. Visas can often be applied in advance for up to 90 days etc. Depending on the country. So you will need to calculate when you’ll be arriving, how long you will be staying, and when the start of the next countries visa will be starting.

In other words be careful on applying to Mongolia for 30 days entering on the 1st and then find out you cannot enter Russia until the 2nd of the following month!

Likewise beware of visa expiry dates.

A point for car drivers going overland to remember. Do make sure you have all your carnet de passage documentation taken care of during this early planning stage too! Many countries will have specific document requirements.

Peter Daams co-founder of Travellerspoint recommends:

“This just takes a lot of preparation and constant planning. You can work out in advance which countries will not be that hard to enter. And then also work out those that will be hard. Those are the ones you’ll need to work around. For example, travelling to Russia will require an invitation before you can apply. And application fees increase a lot if you want to have a quick result. So leave that one lots of time.

The other problem is a lack of embassies, which means getting a visa while you’re travelling becomes extra tricky. Again, you just need to plan the tough ones well in advance and work around those.”

Planning your long-term travel route with a budget

For the record there will be another article about long-term travel finances that will go more in-depth than this one. But for the purposes of planning your long-term travel route you should have a rough budget in mind. You’ll then know how much money you have to spend. At this stage you should know the cost of your visas etc. which is a good time to also find out the approximate daily cost of traveling in a country.

Live long-term overland travel map

My actual live long-term travel map ended up being pretty close to the second map I made

I budget a country a little differently to many. I start with visas then accommodation. It’s one of the easiest to budget and find out. Hotels, guesthouses and hotels make it very easy to find out your initial expenses.

Some self promotion here but do try out my Hotel Search on The Longest Way Home (this link opens a new window so you can try it out, and keep reading here). It covers a wide range of accommodation and you can sort by price. Best of all it’s got a map. A great start for budget planning.

Again write down the approximate cost of accommodation per night. After that you can add-on eating out, and transport.

From here, you start making budget cuts like staying in guesthouses instead of 1 star hotels in some counties. Or even budget in a single expensive country for hostel dorms and making your own meals for countries.

Again, I will be going further in-depth with long-term travel budgets, and finances in a follow-up article. But when it comes to planning your long-term route it’s important to start your basic budget as early on as possible. If anything it will start to shape out journey with a lot more clarity.

Long-term travel must see destinations, time of year weather and festivals

By now you have a rough route forming, an idea of how long you can stay and how much your stay will cost. The next thing you should keep in the back of your mind is the time of year you will be there. Why? Well, if you want to avoid wash out monsoon seasons, standstill freezing snow conditions and overwhelming hot times of the year then this is important.

That said, with long-term travel sooner or later you are bound to be in a country during its “worst” time of year. There’s nothing wrong with that per-say but you should really avoid extended periods of being completely soaked in heavy rains, freezing cold or sweating in hot seasons for months upon months.

More importantly some countries can grind to a halt during extreme weather. Examples are the South of China during winter where the snow often locks up public transport.   Likewise during China’s new year public transport is completely booked up and you may find yourself stuck in place for longer than you would like.

Google calendar is a good starting point here as you can import many international holidays into it quite quickly.

Planning long-term travel around festivals

My advice is to keep local or national festivals in mind but don’t try to make it to every one. You’ll miss out on a lot along the way. I traveled through Romania to catch a full moon in Transylvania, it was worth it. But I also tired myself out. In Nepal there are so many festivals unless you stay there for a year you are bound to miss out on some “must see” festival.

All in all I would mark out the dates of important festivals you’d like to see. Keep them in mind but don’t ruin a journey by rushing to one.

For me, it’s always been important to mark out national holidays and religious holidays when everything comes to a standstill!

Other points to keep in mind  include wars, political unrest and natural disasters. Keep an eye on regional news when long-term traveling.

Summary of planning for a long-term travel journey

I’ve covered a lot here, and I’ve probably left out quite a bit. Keep in mind this is part of a series and I will be likely be going more in-depth a little later on for certain topics.  However for now you have the basics on planning a long-term travel journey.

  • Get a map
  • Mark out your preferred destinations and link them up
  • Add in other countries along the way
  • Find out and write down all the visa requirements for each country
  • Locate countries you need advance visas for
  • Locate countries en-route that have many foreign embassies
  • Start to add in the cost per day for each of these countries

Again there are plenty more steps to planning a long-term travel journey. I’ll be covering as much as possible in separate articles.

Meanwhile if you have any of your own tips for planning a long-term travel journey do share them.

 Read more of my articles on long-term travel

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