4 continents, 8 countries (December 2014 - February 2015)
I thought I would answer some of the most common questions I get about my world trip concerning logistics, planning, and general bits and bobs. My RTW trip followed most conventions of long-term travel except that it was not very long, so I hope some of you might find it helpful for putting together their Big Journey.
>> HOW DID I DECIDE ON THE ROUTE? <<
Since I only had 2-3 months to spend on the road, I had to get my priorities straight and find a region that I would want to spend most of the time in and build my route around. In my case, it was South Pacific, and I chose it for the following reasons:
It is really far from home and difficult to get to money-, time-, and visa-wise, so I am not likely to return there soon
Reverse seasons (I was travelling in their summer)
Affinity for this part of the world (I had just come back from Fiji a few months earlier)
For this route, New Zealand served as a perfect hub, and the rest came from here.
>> HOW DID I BOOK THE FLIGHTS? <<
The most budget-friendly way to is to build and buy a 'single' round-the-world air ticket with an airline alliance. There are 3 major ones: Star Alliance (Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, etc), SkyTeam (KLM, Delta, Aeroflot, etc), and Oneworld (British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, etc). Each of them offers multicontinental and RTW deals which can save you a fortune as opposed to booking all flights separately. Conditions vary, but 3 basic rules are: you must follow one global direction, i.e. east or west (no backtracking); you must start and finish in the same country; you must book all your flights before departure, but you might change them later (probably at extra charge).
I spent a good month trying to work it out on my own, but eventually gave up and turned to a specialised travel agency. Experienced agents will know which routes are better and/or cheaper – a single change could mean big savings. They also have access to cross-alliance offers which you might not see. So with my itinerary in mind, I came to Kilroy in Amsterdam. I must give a lot of credit to Tom who was patient enough with my constant "and how about this place?", and thanks to him we booked a round-the-world ticket I was really happy with.
Altogether, I flew 14 times throughout the trip, but only 9 of these flights made up that itinerary (they are coloured purple). The other flights I booked on the go to allow for some spontaneity.
Amsterdam - LA (via London) - Papeete - Auckland [travel by land] Christchurch - Wellington - Auckland - Port Vila - Noumea - Auckland - Hong Kong - Ho Chi Minh City [travel by land] Da Nang - Ho Chi Minh City - Hong Kong - Amsterdam
My RTW ticket cost €2,795 - an incredible bargain! Just think about it: I travelled through Christmas, summer holidays in Southern Hemisphere, and Lunar New Year in Vietnam and in Hong Kong. They were all direct flights minus AMS - LAX (I could have left the airport in London but did not). Guess how much these tickets cost on their own? A one-way direct flight for the same dates but in 2016:
from Amsterdam to LA (with a stopover): €384
from LA to Papeete: €659
from Papeete to Auckland: €667 (but €306 the day before)
from Auckland to Port Vila: €185
from Port Vila to Nouméa: €146
from Nouméa to Auckland: €284
from Auckland to HK: €462
from HK to Amsterdam: €704
See? My thoughts exactly.
>> WHAT ELSE DID I BOOK IN ADVANCE? <<
The only other things I booked well in advance were accommodation in French Polynesia and my Kiwi Experience bus pass. I was worried that my hostel in Moorea would be sold out because of the holidays (it wasn't) and I took advantage of a great discount for the tour bus in New Zealand (although those are frequent). Everything else - hostels and activities - I booked on the go.
I did make a list of activities I wanted to do such as scuba diving, paragliding, glacier tour, etc to take account of bigger expenses throughout the trip.
>> HOW DID I SAVE UP? <<
I moved out of my room on the day of departure so I didn't pay any rent throughout the trip. (Kudos to my friend Federica who stored my stuff while I was away)
Good ol' piggy bank. I took a plastic container, put a sticker "Best Trip Ever" on it and looked at it every single day. Apparently, it worked as I managed to save about €220 in the span of a few months.
Perhaps a no-brainer but still worth mentioning: cutting down on non-essential expenses in general. This one was pretty easy since I was so sucked into my thesis that in the end I barely stepped outside the library (and that is not a hyperbole). That said, I did make 2 short trips to London and Dublin during that time, but those were my only not-so-necessary expenditures - but very much necessary distractions.
The timing was in my favour. This trip was taking place not long after my birthday, I was going to be travelling during Christmas, and the whole shebang was to celebrate the end of my Master's (and probably the end of my university career altogether). In other words, there were some occasions when I could suggest giving me money and trip-tailored items in lieu of presents.
*note that my visa prohibited employment so work was not an option
WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENTLY NOW?
I wish I had started planning this trip earlier so I could have saved more money. Enjoying the moment is great and everything, but when you are on holidays on the other side of the world, it is only natural to want to splurge. Activities like scuba diving, windsurfing, river rafting, caving, and so on are usually on the pricier side regardless of location, but they are extra expensive in places like New Zealand and New Caledonia. Also, I should have made a special Las Vegas piggy bank, too.
I came home with a couple of thousands of pictures and I still wish I had taken more. Even though I'm usually all about preaching the 'put your camera down and seize the moment' mantra, memories fade - that's a given.
Finally, I wish I had taken more notes while on the road. It would make blogging about it now so much easier!
If you have more questions, ask away in the comments below.
>> WHAT sources did I consult? <<
I am not a big planner when it comes to travelling, but I like to do my research beforehand. My main source of information was the Lonely Planet guidebook on the South Pacific that I used for French Polynesia, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. I found it quite helpful for budget management and finding backpacker-friendly spots. The BBC documentary series about these islands served as a primary source of inspiration as well as helped me learn a great deal about this part of the world.
For New Zealand, I used the Kiwi Experience website to become familiar with my route around the country. The little travel guide you receive upon boarding your first bus is handy for planning activities when already on the road.
I did not study any sources on the US and Hong Kong as I had been to these destinations a few times before this trip. For Vietnam, I spoke with a couple friends who had really enjoyed their time there, looked up pictures on Google Earth, and consulted Hostel World for best accommodation options (which are plentiful across the country).