Here’s the picture: you have some time on your hands and a bit of money to spend, maybe you’re about to retire and want the vacation of a lifetime. What to do? If you’re looking for the ultimate journey, there’s one choice: a trip around the world.
Ever since Phileas Fogg dashed around the globe in Around the World in 80 Days, the round-the-world trip has been the voyage that inspires the imagination of travellers everywhere. Sipping wine by the Seine, hiking in the Alps, riding elephants in India, shopping for silk in Hong Kong — it evokes a flood of romantic images.
Of course, a round-the-world trip is beyond our reach. Or is it? Amazingly, a round-the-world trip is affordable enough that you can do it without a giant wad of cash. In fact, even in these days of sky-high travel costs, it’s possible to circumnavigate this planet for not much more than a first-class trip to Miami.
Back in 1990, I went around the world, purely on a whim. When a friend mentioned casually that you could buy a round-the-world ticket for $2,000, bells went off in my head. Could this be true? It was, and a few months later, armed with a shoulder bag and a book of plane tickets, I took off to see the world.
Over the next two-and-a-half months, I cruised the canals of Amsterdam, saw the Roman Colosseum and the Taj Mahal, explored the temples of Thailand. I slept in native longhouses in Borneo, saw camel trains in Rajasthan and white rhinos in Nepal, sat under the cherry blossoms of Tokyo, and arrived home safe and sound after the adventure of my life. And checking the calendar when I returned, I realized that by overstaying a few days here and there, I had inadvertently done it in exactly … 80 days.
Including an extra flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong, the airfares for that trip cost about $2,500. And here’s the amazing part: today, more than 20 years later, you can still do a trip a lot like mine for the same money — or maybe even less.
I was twigged to this by a woman I met in Cuba not long ago. It can’t be true, I thought. But a few months later, browsing through the website of Flight Centre, one of Canada’s biggest travel agencies, I came across the undeniable truth: a whole page devoted to round-the-world trips, including this incredible bargain:
Toronto » Los Angeles » Tokyo » Singapore » New Delhi » London » Toronto. Price, $2,149, economy class on Singapore Airlines, including taxes and fees.
If they had them, others must too. And they do: An easy web search turned up the California-based World Travellers’ Club, with an impressive list of trips like this one:
LA » London » Colombo » Delhi » Kathmandu » Bangkok » Hong Kong » LA. Prices from $2,549 US.
They even have an all-in trip from New York that zips around the world in 16 days, landing in Hong Kong, Thailand, India and Switzerland, from $4,639 US, hotels and breakfasts included. It’s not exactly a Phileas Fogg-type odyssey, but you could spend that much for a couple of weeks in the Caribbean.
There are others out there, too. The Oneworld airline alliance has its Global Explorer program, with a tool that lets you build your own trip. The tickets are a bit dearer here, but still not outrageous.
Star Alliance, the other major airline group, also has a round-the-world calculator, and there are other folks out there who specialize in these trips. Some say round-the-world tickets are cheaper from Europe than from North America. If you’re reading this over ‘ome, the British-based roundtheworldflights.com has some amazing deals.
Different sellers calculate the price using different criteria: the number of stops, the total mileage or the number of continents you land in. The time of year you set out on your trip makes a difference, too: April to June is cheapest, while summer and the Christmas-New Year period are more expensive. Oh, and a nice bonus: you can earn frequent flyer points on the way round, and end up with enough for another trip.
Of course, most of these prices are air fare-only, so unless you plan on sleeping in airports and bus shelters, you can add the costs of hotels, meals and sightseeing. Plus a few hundred more if you can’t resist bringing home a truckload of trinkets. That will double or triple the cost, depending on how long you spend on the road.
To keep those costs down, you can do what I did: spend more time in low-cost countries like India and as little as possible in expensive places like London and Tokyo. Or stay with family and friends along the way. Another strategy is to book a fairly simple, lower-cost ticket and take side trips by bus or train from the places you land.
But how do you plan a trip like that? It’s something best done with a travel agent (more on that here) who knows the ins and outs of round-the-world trips. But the best approach is to make a list of places you’ve always wanted to go — the ones I talked about in my post on bucket lists — and build a route that links them together. (You have to travel in one direction, so no criss-crossing.) This takes some time, and there may be visas to apply for, so start early.
My round-the-world trip was one of the best times of my life. I saw things I’d never dreamed of, made new friends and acquaintances, and formed a real understanding of the great big world that stretches beyond our little backyards. Would I do it again? Well, I have a big birthday coming up …