Circumnavigating the planet and stopping off wherever you fancy is the ultimate trip – perfect for travellers who want to see it all, or who are just plain indecisive. But booking a round-the-world (RTW) trip can be a complex business. Here is a guide to get you started.
How to do it
The most economical way to
circumnavigate the globe is to buy a RTW air ticket that uses one airline alliance.
Theoretically, any routing is possible, but knowing how the RTW booking system
works will make your trip cheaper. For example, the Star Alliance, a coalition
of 27 airlines which fly to 1,185 airports in 185 countries, offers a RTW
ticket with a maximum of 15 stops.
There are rules: you must
follow one global direction (east or west – no backtracking); you must start
and finish in the same country; and you must book all of your flights before
departure, though you can change them later (which may incur extra charges).
How long you will need
You could whip around the
world in a weekend if you flew non-stop. However, the minimum duration of most
RTW tickets is 10 days – still a breathless romp. Consider stock-piling annual
leave, tagging on public holidays or even arranging a sabbatical in order to
take a few months off work. The maximum duration of a RTW ticket is one year.
When to go
The weather will never be
ideal in all of your stops. So, focus on what you want to do most and research
conditions there. If a Himalaya trek is your highlight, do not land in Nepal
mid-monsoon season; if you want to swim with whale sharks off the coast of Western
Australia, be there between April and July. Then accept you will be in some
regions at the “wrong” time – though this might
offer unexpected benefits (for example, Zambia in wet season means lush
landscapes and cheaper prices).
In general, city
sightseeing can be done year-round (escape extreme heat/cold/rain in museums
and cafes) but outdoor adventures are more reliant on – and enjoyable in – the
Where to go
The classic (and cheapest) RTW tickets flit between a few big cities, for
example London – Bangkok – Singapore – Sydney – LA. If you want to link more
offbeat hubs (Baku – Kinshasa – Paramaribo, anyone?), prices will climb
considerably. The cost of the ticket is based on the total distance covered or
the number of countries visited.
Remember, you do not have
to fly between each point: in Australia you could land in Perth, travel
overland and fly out of Cairns. Or fly into Moscow, board the Trans-Siberian
train and fly onwards from Beijing.
Pick some personal
highlights and string the rest of your itinerary around those. For instance, if
you are a keen trekker, flesh out a Peru (Inca Trail), New Zealand (Milford
Track) and Nepal (Everest Base Camp) itinerary with Brazil (Rio’s a good access point for
South America), Australia and northern India.
If budget is an issue, spend more time
in less expensive countries. Your daily outgoings will be far higher in Europe
and North America than in South-East Asia. Indonesia, Bolivia and India are
Tips, tricks and pitfalls
- Talk to an expert
before you book: you may have an itinerary in mind but an experienced RTW
flight booker will know which routings work best and cost least – a few
tweaks could mean big savings.
- Be flexible: moving
your departure date by a few days can save money; mid-week flights are
generally cheaper, as are flights on Christmas Day.
- Think about internal
travel: it can be cheaper to book internal flights at the same time as
booking your RTW ticket. But, with the global increase of low-cost
airlines, you may find it better (and more flexible) to buy them
separately as you go.
- Be warned: if you do
not board one of your booked flights (say, on a whim, you decide to travel
overland from Bangkok to Singapore rather than fly it) your airline is
likely to cancel all subsequent flights.
The article 'How to plan a round-the-world trip' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.