In Jules Verne's classic adventure novel, Phileas Fogg had a devil of a time trying to travel around the world in 80 days. But in the 21st century, circumnavigating the globe has become a bit of a breeze: all you need is a round-the-world (RTW) ticket. In fact, a dedicated (if masochistic) traveller could squeeze it into a few jet-lagged days.
If you have 80 to spare, though, you have enough time for a life-changing trip, and the opportunity to visit places that will stay with you forever. But careful planning is essential if you're going to make the most of your precious time.
Just the ticket
Buying an RTW ticket can be far cheaper than purchasing separate tickets linking each of your destinations. Normally, RTW tickets allow you to visit up to 16 different places with a minimum of three stops. Most airlines are now part of global alliances, so it’s sensible to pick a ticket with an airline that has multiple partners so you can travel with any of them.
The biggest airline partnership is Star Alliance (www.staralliance.com), which has 28 airlines covering almost a thousand destinations in 162 countries. They offer four different versions of RTW ticket, depending on the number of miles you want to travel, starting at 26,000 miles and going up to 39,000.
Oneworld (www.oneworld.com), with 11 member airlines, is the next best option, again offering a selection of RTW tickets with varying amounts of miles. A number of individual airlines – including Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com), Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.co.uk), KLM (www.klm.com) and Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) – offer RTW tickets too. But their tickets are only valid for their own planes.
Decide whether you plan to travel east or west. All RTW tickets require you to head in one direction or the other and keep moving the same way. And, just like Phileas Fogg, you’ll have to start and finish your journey in the same place.
Do you want an active, adventure-focused experience? Or is seeing glorious landscapes your goal? Are you keener on cities and culture than lazing on a beach?
Whatever you decide, bear in mind that most RTW tickets involve flying in and out of major hubs like London, LA, Sydney, Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro; adding more out-of-the-way destinations will increase the cost of the ticket dramatically. Talking to travel agencies that specialise in RTW tickets, such as STA Travel (www.statravel.com) or Trailfinders (www.trailfinders.com), is a good idea. They will know the best way to tailor your ticket to meet your needs.
Remember too that you don’t have to do all your travelling by plane. You can fly to New York and then drive to LA to catch your next flight, link Beijing and Moscow via the Trans-Siberian Railway, or even overland it from Egypt to South Africa.
Choose your moment
Weather is a crucial factor on any RTW trip. Land in Sydney in December and you can head straight to the beach; arrive in the northern hemisphere a couple of weeks later and it’ll be the depths of winter.
While you will never be able to get perfect weather in every destination, plan ahead if you have specific things you want to do. For example, if you’ve got your heart set on diving in the Andaman Sea, or fancy trekking in the Himalaya, don’t arrive in the middle of monsoon season.
Suggested routes: three ideas for your big trip
For adventure: this route offers everything from deserts and diving to mountains and white-water rafting. Start in London and head east to Delhi and then Nepal for a Himalayan trek. Backtrack overland to India and fly to Bangkok, the gateway for Thailand’s idyllic diving spots.
Move on to New Zealand’s South Island and Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, where you can try everything from bungee jumping to mountain biking and river-boarding. From there, it’s a short hop to Sydney and Australia’s beaches and deserts. Another flight takes you to LA, from where you can drive Route 66 to the east coast and fly out of New York to London.
For culture and carnivals: if vibrant city life is more your thing, then try this trip. Fly east from London to Cairo for its markets, museums and the Pyramids. From there, you could take a quick cruise down the Nile to Luxor, before heading south to Cape Town and South Africa, where you can tipple your way along the wine-growing routes just outside the city.
After Cape Town, fly to Hong Kong, perhaps via Bangkok or Singapore. One of the world’s most exciting cities, it’s also an essential destination for foodies. The Chinese capital Beijing is a few hours away by plane, allowing you to set foot on the Great Wall, before you make the long haul across the Pacific to San Francisco, the most European of all American cities.
Then drive the Pacific Coast Highway to LA for a taste of Hollywood high life, before flying south to Rio de Janeiro in time for the carnival. A short journey south is Buenos Aires, cultural capital of South America. From there, travel back to London via New York.
For natural wonders: landscape junkies can take this voyage west through some of the most dramatic scenery – deserts, jungle and mountains – on the planet. Begin in Sydney and make your way across Australia, via the Outback, to Perth, before flying to Bangkok. Travel north to Chiang Mai, or make a diversion to Myanmar, currently the hottest destination in Southeast Asia.
Delhi, the starting point for a journey to the deserts of Rajasthan, is just a hop away from Bangkok. Then it’s time for Africa; a flight to Nairobi and a safari in Kenya. You could then stop off in Cairo before breaking your journey westwards in a European capital.
Afterwards, travel across the Atlantic to Brazil and venture north into the Amazonian rainforests. Back in Rio, fly across the south Pacific to New Zealand’s natural delights, before returning to Sydney.