The answers to the top five questions facing would-be round-the-world travellers
It’s the ultimate nomadic fantasy: start heading east (or west) and just keep on going. For some, a circumnavigation of the globe is a rite of passage; for others, a vital sabbatical
from an over-structured life.
With well-paved overland routes, packaged global airline tickets and helpful books, sites and apps, putting together a trip on the cheap has never been so convenient – no matter your age or circumstances. Here are the answers to the top five round-the-world-questions...
Famous attractions are nice – and there’s no need to avert your eyes if you’re nearby – but many travellers make these the focus of their trip. The problem is that they can leave you feeling you haven’t cracked the surface of the culture. Instead of thinking about what you’d like to see, think about what you’d like to do. The experiences with more meat are often more unique and personalised.
Approach the trip as an opportunity to collect experiences, not postcards and passport stamps. If you like to cook, you might take a pastry course at the Cordon Bleu school in Paris or try a day of curry preparation at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
If you like birdwatching, plan your itinerary around a great migration or sites where you’ll see specific species. The more original your approach, the more memorable your experience is likely to be. And by following your interests, you’re likely to not only enjoy what you’re doing, but also to meet locals with similar interests and form a more organic connection with them.
The actual flight time needed to whip around the world’s 40,000km girth is just 40 hours – you could conceivably pull it off in a weekend. However, you’re going to want to make a few stops along the way.
Two months is short but doable; even two years will feel like too little time once you set off. You won’t ever be able to see it all, so the most important thing is the tempo – how much you attempt to see and do with the amount of time you have.
As a guideline, think of one ‘thing’ per week: seeing Paris, visiting a relative, taking a hike. Some ‘things’ may only take a day, but the idea is to give yourself the gift of flexibility. Ever wonder how people get invited to a local wedding? Or find those tiny festivals? Or end up taking free palm-tree-climbing lessons at the local cultural centre?
There are no guarantees, but you’re much less likely to make serendipitous discoveries when you’re rushing between new places every other day.
You might even stop to work or volunteer for a while, take a course, even just chill on a beach. Why? Partly to recharge your wanderlust (all those new smells, churches, museums, bus rides, daily packings get exhausting). Travel doesn’t necessarily mean being in a constant state of motion. In fact, those weeks or months you stay put may be among the most rewarding experiences of the trip.
You're never too old
Take time off work. bring your family. Or use up some of those pension funds.
On a long trip you can’t be everywhere at the ideal time. You need to be flexible. If it’s too hot inland, head for the coast. If it’s too hot on the coast, move to higher elevations. If there are monsoon rains in one place, an overnight train or bus can usually take you to the area that’s getting all the sun. In general, you’ll find your timing is fine for 75% of your trip; you’ll take a few hits for the other 25%.
What you need to investigate is if there are any dates to absolutely avoid. Paris in January may be chilly but fine for city exploring, especially if you plan to be inside museums and churches, whereas a bike trip around Austria would probably be punishing at that time of year.
If you plan to hitch sections of your journey on yachts, make sure you check out the seasonal schedule (summer in the Med, winter in the Caribbean); same for rough overland trips that could get snowed under or rained out.
Getting your trip down to a decent budget is about fighting the urge to splurge and cutting down on daily expenses. You might save a few hundred pounds on a cheaper plane ticket, but if you can save £25 a day, that will add up to over £4,000 in six months.
If you forego beer, nice meals, museum fees and take the cheapest local buses, you can save a fortune. The trick is finding a balance. You don’t want to go all the way to Buenos Aires, then skip a must-see museum because the entry fee is too high. And you’re unlikely to regret that overpriced beer you bought in Cape Town as you watched the sunset from the edge of a cliff.
Perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to save money, which is also one of the most environmentally friendly and culturally enriching, is couch surf. There are vast networks of people willing to host travellers on their sofas and in their guest rooms for absolutely nothing. It’s free to sign up at sites such as www.couchsurfing.org and the set-up is much like Facebook. Women can do it safely: look for single women hosts or families, and read the reviews of past visitors.
The next biggest saving is picking a country where travel is cheap. Your budget will last at least twice as long in places such as Laos, India, Nepal and Indonesia than Western Europe. With accommodation (but not flights or rail passes), bank on spending from £20 a day in cheap countries and from £40 a day in pricier ones. You’ll find travellers doing it for less and others for more than twice that. It comes down to the level of comfort you require, how long you can go without splurging and if your definition of a ‘splurge’ is a decent meal or three nights in a boutique hotel.
Beware of over-saver syndrome
Yes, you'll have to economise sometimes, but don't let budgeting become your obsession. And don't fall into the trap of constantly comparing how much you paid for your chai/room/excursion with other travellers. No good can come of this.
There are benefits to travelling alone. You learn about yourself. You’ll find out what your likes and dislikes are, and will be able to act on them. You’ll spend more time writing your journal, taking photos, studying the culture – absorbing more of the country you’re travelling in. You’ll be less distracted by a friend and more likely to notice the small things happening around you.
Also, travelling alone doesn’t mean you’ll be alone for the bulk of your trip. Everywhere you go you’ll run into other solo travellers who’ll be delighted to travel with someone and, because there are often significant price breaks on rooms for pairs, there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing accommodation. Even the shyest travellers find the dialogue easy to start. Those who are still uncertain could sign up for a group tour along the way to surround themselves with an entire platoon of companions.
And there are benefits to travelling with a friend. They can minimise culture shock and provide medical security – to help you if you get sick. They make staying in double rooms and taking taxis cheaper. They offer moral support for the never-ending onslaught of new situations, and mean you don’t have to eat alone.
However, just because you’re best friends or partners, there’s no guarantee you’ll travel well together. Give yourselves the option of separating for a while – even just a morning apart every few days can be enough breathing room to sustain a travel relationship.
Even better, build some solo time into the trip – perhaps a week or two apart every other month: sign up for different courses or tackle a city separately. Discuss this before you set out so you don’t end up deciding to take a break after an argument.
Finally, agree your budget. If one person is on a shoestring, they will feel like a scrooge, or as if their budget is always pushed too far; the person on the bigger budget will be roughing it more than they’d like, yet feel they’re shamelessly indulging in front of their companion.