Around the World Travel
If You’re Halfway There Already, Why Not Keep Going?
Some travelers set out with a plan to circle the globe, while others plan a single trip and later decide, “Why stop there?” There are a lot of advantages to visiting multiple countries on one trip. First of all, you’re already packed. If you take a backpack that’s not stuffed to capacity, you can move easily from place to place and switch out clothes to fit the local climate. Once you start moving, you’ll find that in many countries you can stay in hotels and eat in restaurants for far less than you spend just getting by at home. Once you jettison those fixed costs for rent, car insurance, and utilities and stop spending money on a work wardrobe and dry cleaning, finances become much simpler. Many round-the-world travelers find that they are living better while spending less.
The biggest reason to keep going once you’ve started is that transportation costs become cheaper with volume. Taking separate vacation trips to Asia, Africa, and South America could cost a fortune. Visiting all three on a round-the-world ticket is far less.
Following are three options for round-the-world (RTW) or circle-the-globe airline travel, with the pros and cons of each method.
Global Airline Alliance Passes
Oneworld Alliance and Star Alliance offer the choice of buying one round-the-world ticket that covers a variety of well-known airlines in the alliance. You pay based on distance and/or continents visited.
Pros: You fly on known airlines with good safety records and you earn frequent flier miles on one system—often enough for an additional international flight. You always have an onward ticket to show any over-zealous immigration folks. In theory anyway, you’re dealing with well-staffed customer service departments who speak English.
Cons: This is usually the most expensive option from the U.S., where the price is almost double what it is in the most other parts of the world. Figure on close to $3,000 for the least number of stops. From Canada or London, the price is more reasonable. You're locked into a set itinerary and your ticket is only good for one year. Also, your choices are limited to where the partners fly and there are some strange restrictions, such as a mandatory stop in Africa on Oneworld’s offerings.
Consolidators patch together a series of tickets to cover your destinations and work out a price based on market rates for those combined segments. Sometimes referred to as “bucket shops,” consolidators often purchase the tickets from international sources. STA is a student-centered travel agency, but they also operate as a consolidator when it comes to RTW tickets.
Pros: These are usually far cheaper than the formal alliance deals and offer more flexibility: you can use any airline and go anywhere there’s a flight, provided you’re willing to pay for it. You can sometimes reschedule the last leg with a particular airline locally, extending the yearlong expiration. Again, you’ll have an onward ticket to show immigration.
Cons: Though departure dates (after the first one) are flexible, you're still locked into a set itinerary. You can end up on some odd airlines you've never hear of (Tarom, Biman Bangladesh, Air Jordan, etc.). You will not get frequent flier mileage on some or all legs of the trip. If you run into a problem, there’s often no local contact to sort it out.
Buy as You Go
With this option, you buy a one-way ticket to your first stop, then purchase additional one-way tickets locally as you go after that. You get the local prices, which are often far cheaper than in your home country, especially for 1-way flights.
Pros: This option is usually, though not always, the cheapest. It also offers unparalleled flexibility. If you decide to stay somewhere for a while, you don’t have to worry about tickets expiring. If you change your itinerary in midstream, no problem. You can choose destinations based on flight prices or political changes as you go, when you’ll know more about the options than you did at home.
Cons: You will not know at the outset what your whole trip will cost and you’ll have to hold money in savings to cover flights, so this is not an option for those who can’t stick to a budget. During peak times in some places you could have trouble getting a ticket. You’ll fly on some strange airlines and likely not earn much frequent flier mileage. You will not have an onward ticket if you get hassled by an immigration official (rare outside rich countries, but it happens).
It’s also possible to combine elements of a consolidator ticket and the pay-as-you-go model. Some travelers buy a bare bones “skeleton” ticket to cover four or five main stops, then fill in the rest with short local hops.
Keep in mind that you can visit a great many countries by going overland or on ferries. There are several well-worn travel circuits where this is quite simple: through Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central America, South America, and much of East Africa for a start. A flight to Bangkok can get you to eight different countries by land or sea, so you can save a bundle on flights from there if you have the time. The world is a much simpler place to get around than it used to be, so take advantage of it and branch out.
Round the World Travel Ticketers
Editor's note: Indie — Global TripPlanner: indie.bootsnall.com. Highly recommended new website which allows maximum flexibility in the scheduling and purchasing of round-the-world tickets, with a great intuitive interface. A very well conceived website and concept which will save you bundles in these days of skyrocketing airline ticket prices.
STA Travel: www.statravel.com
Star Alliance: www.staralliance.com/en/
One World Alliance: www.oneworld.com
TIM LEFFEL is the author of some classic books on budget travel and travel writing. He is also editor of PerceptiveTravel.com, featuring narratives from some of the best wandering authors on the planet.