To most, a trip around the world is a dream affordable only to those with ample money and time. But around-the-world travel is a growing trend among people from all backgrounds, professions and ages. With airfare costing far less than you might imagine, many travelers are turning their dreams into reality.
This Travelhoppers activity guide will give you an overview of the considerations you need to make before undertaking such a grand and unique endeavor. Many rewards and frustrations can accompany an around-the-world trip, and you will have a better idea if such a trip is for you, while you learn about the advance planning needed to pull off your elaborate, life-altering trip.
An ATW trip is usually defined as one that persists in a single direction (East or West) and stops on at least three continents before resulting in complete global circumnavigation. Travel time is usually three months to one year, and can include stops on every continent. Though extremely rewarding, an around-the-world trip is not for everyone. Far from an extended stay at a resort, a trip around the world does involve a similar commitment of time, but also holds promises of real adventure.
If you are truly considering a trip around the world, your flair for adventure will override the logistical issues and risks. Doing your research before you take off is the key to a successful ATW trip, and you can start with a knowledgeable travel consultant who may assist you with developing your itinerary. The rewards? Savor a new sense of freedom and the confidence of mastering travel that others only dream of. The engaging stories you might share upon your return could teach others tolerance and appreciation for other cultures, and in the best way possible, make the world a smaller place.
Before you talk to a travel consultant, develop a general idea of the time you have to travel and the amount of money you wish to spend. Also consider the type of experience you are seeking… are you interested in climbing mountains, hiking through rainforests, or snorkeling over a coral reef? Would you rather meet locals over coffee in cafés, or perhaps work on your tan? Which countries are on your “must-see” list and which can you skip? The more you consider these issues, the more efficient the planning process will be, and the quicker you will be on your way.
Your first stop should be a good travel agent experienced with tour operators or air consolidators offering ATW trips. Because of the logistics of an ATW trip and your significant investment in both time and money, it is important to have a practiced set of eyes watching out for you. A good travel consultant will know which ATW tour operators to use and which to avoid, and can assist in pulling together less obvious components of the trip.
Most ATW tour operators purchase bulk airfares from one or more airlines and sell them at terrific discounts off of published fares, in addition to offering discounts at hotels and other accommodations through negotiated rates. Air and hotel aside, also identify and plan the activities and sightseeing you’d like to experience along the way, but go to your travel consultant with an open mind. No doubt you will discover many new possibilities for your trip as you plan.
Your travel route is a large factor in the overall cost of your excursion. Around the world trips can certainly be luxurious, but the budget-minded can be true world travelers as well. If you are looking to save money, package deals (rather than specialized itineraries) are your best bet. On average, packages cost from $1,300 to $3,000, based on stops in airport hub cities – the more hub cities in your route, the more money you will said, the price of your trip will increase with each stop you make.
To further reduce cost, you can spend more time in less expensive areas such as South America, Africa and Asia. You can buy food at local markets instead of dining out, and consider staying in a hostel, many of which offer private rooms and baths. Using inexpensive local transportation will also give you an authentic view of the country you are visiting. If you are a full-time student or senior citizen, you could also be eligible for discounted airfare. In planning your trip, incorporate overland travel by train, bus, car or ship as you make your way around the world (however, always check with your agent to be sure that your air connections will still be valid). Though not as efficient as flying, overland travel lets you get to know a country more intimately and adds variety to your itinerary. You will have the opportunity to interact with locals, who can serve as wellsprings of information for what to see and do.
Your tour operator will take climate and seasonal weather conditions, such as hurricanes, into consideration as your route is planned. When a destination’s climate is favorable, that’s typically its “high season,” and tourism greatly increases. If you wish to travel during high season, you should book your flights well in advance and expect to pay more for airfare. However, if you are looking to save money and/or be in the company of fewer tourists and are willing to endure a chill or intense heat, you can take the “shoulder” or “low season” options.
Before you leave the U.S. you will have to purchase all of your airline tickets, and all of your flights must culminate in a round trip. In most instances, you must continually move in a westward or eastward trek with no back-tracking. Travelers must have a return or onward ticket out of the country they are visiting. The only exception is if you have a student, work or residential visa.
With some fares, each flight in your journey will need to be booked in advance; others will allow open dates, which will give you more freedom in your itinerary. If you are planning to travel for more than a year, you will have to purchase your tickets in stages since airline tickets are usually valid for a year after their issue date. Tour operators specializing in ATW programs can often provide a greater percentage of flights with open dates as part of the package.
Once you have purchased your tickets, it is likely that you will incur a cost to change travel dates. Date change rules vary depending on the airline and fare, so be sure to ask your tour operator for the date change and cancellation policy of each airline you are using. And since the least expensive fares sometimes do not offer frequent flyer mileage credits, also ask your travel consultant if there are any such restrictions on your tickets.
Your choice of accommodations as you travel is important both in determining the degree of comfort you can anticipate and also your total expenditure. Your travel consultant will provide you with excellent resources for this part of your planning. Most travel planners have access to insider hostel and hotel guides that provide detailed description of not only the amenities of each property, but also reviews by professional hotel critics. Your travel consultant may book through the same tour operator used for airline ticketing or may choose other suppliers.
Decide if you want to stay in local, indigenous properties, or whether you want to work with mostly westernized properties. It is often the case that particular properties are frequented by similar ethnic groups: western travelers congregate at particular properties, Asian travelers at others, and the local population may use still other properties. The flavor of your stay in any destination will be greatly influenced by your choice of accommodations, so choose wisely!
Now that you have made your travel arrangements, you are just about ready to start your adventure. But before you step on the plane, it is time to organize your travel documents. Make sure your passport is current and will be for at least a year after your return date. You may need certain visas or other documents for each country you are visiting. Ask you tour operator which documents are needed at each stop. And keep all of your airline tickets together. In some countries, health certificates are required certifying to yellow fever vaccinations. Check all health requirements of all countries you will be visiting. Make sure that you are appropriate physical condition prior to travel. Visit with a doctor experienced with travel medicine and cover your itinerary. Have any deferred dental work or other medical issues settled prior to your departure. Bring copies of your passport and airline tickets with you on the trip, as well as copies of your passport photos, which are often needed when purchasing rail/metro travel cards. It is also practical to give a copy of your itinerary, passport and return ticket to a friend or family member back home, who can fax them to you in an emergency. During your trip, keep your documents on you at all times, not in your hotel room. A money belt in which to carry documents is a good idea.
If you are traveling with a companion, make solid arrangements in advance on how to handle any contingencies that might arise, such as one of you wishing to stay longer in any given destination, or returning sooner, sickness or meeting new acquaintances along the way, not getting along…you get the picture. The more advance contingency planning you do, the less stressful unforeseen circumstances need be.
Staying in touch with friends, family and business at home will likely be a necessity. There are a number of alternatives such as internet cafes, international calling cards and “world phones” that will make communications from other countries more simple to negotiate. Investigate your options well in advance of travel.
During your planning, consider how you will handle your finances while on the road. In general, traveler’s checks and credit cards are the safest bet, since they can be refunded or replaced if lost or stolen. Credit cards generally offer the best exchange rate, but in some destinations are less common for trade than others. European merchants prefer credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard. For the rest of the world, it is best to have some American dollars in case you get into a bind. And remember that you do not want to unzip your money belt and expose your passport and finances each time you need cash. Keep a small amount of local currency in a more easily accessible place, such as your pocket or purse. Monitor your budget and expenses carefully as you travel, as it is easy to lose track of finances as money in changed repeatedly from one currency to another.
After all of your planning for your trip of a lifetime, it would be wise to invest in travel insurance. Some companies have long term travel policies available. Remember that your own health insurance may not be valid abroad. Items generally covered by a typical travel insurance policy include airfare, baggage, health, and trip cancellation/interruption for up to a year. Some companies also offer travel assistance services and worldwide call numbers should something happen.
Packing for a yearlong trip does not have to be as daunting as it sounds. Whether you will be traveling with backpack or luggage, the most important thing is to pack light. Bring only the essentials, safe with the knowledge that the world is loaded with stores. And if you can not find that particular something in another country, maybe it is not really necessary. A common practice among experienced travelers is to set out everything you think you will need, and then only take half. Remember that everything you start off with, you will also be coming home with, in addition to whatever shopping you do along the way.
A backpack is a practical way to go, especially if you will be doing a lot of overland and/or adventure travel. Also be aware that you will most likely be packing for different climates, terrains and possibly insects. Ask your travel agent or tour operator for the average temperatures and rainfall for the countries you will be visiting. Three items often left off a packing list to the eventual dismay of the traveler: sunglasses, SPF lotions and a hat! Medications should be packed in their original prescription bottles and carried with you, not stored in checked baggage. Of course you will want to take a camera to immortalize your trip and help illustrate your adventure to others, and possibly a journal. Understand that although a state-of-the-art camera would do those majestic sunsets more justice, keeping a constant eye on such a valuable piece of equipment could prove to be a burden.
Is an around the world trip safe? Common sense will be your best defense. Trust your instincts and steer clear of potentially dangerous situations. Do your research before you go so you will be aware of less hospitable areas in the cities you visit. Find out if the water is drinkable or if you should stick with bottled. The latter includes while brushing your teeth, and means foregoing ice cubes. Research the local culture and mores of the regions you will visit. Be respectful of different cultures, even if they are not particularly fond of your politics, gender or race. Dress appropriately and do not expect superior treatment because of your nationality. View your trip as educational and as an opportunity to connect with others.
Most importantly, relax. The road goes on forever. You are setting off on an adventure that most only imagine.