RTW: The Logistics
A year and a half ago, I decided that I needed to go travel, and I needed to go for a long time. I spent eight-and-a-half months on the road and have been back in Canada for a few weeks. After the obligatory questions of "How was your trip?" and "What was your favourite place?" a lot of people want to know just how I pulled a stunt like this off.
Get the low down after the jump.
Getting the Time Off
I took an extended leave of absence from my job with Hostelling International. While I was prepared to quit, simply because I felt so strongly about going, HI very generously offered me extended leave. This isn't something that you can expect from an employer, but it just might be an option and you might not know it's one until you ask. What this meant is that I technically remained an employee, but I was on unpaid leave for a specified amount of time. Health benefits were put on hold, but I had the peace of mind of knowing I had a job to go back to when I got back.
Getting the Funds
I spent just under $28,000 on the whole trip - incuding pre-trip costs like flights, insurance, shots and gear. A big chunk of the money came from savings bonds that I'd put away almost 15 years ago. These funds (and a hefty chunk of interest) came available to me a few years ago. I put the money in GICs, with the initial plan of letting them fester for a bit until I felt it necessary to buy a home or a car but when the idea of travel popped into my head, I pulled it all out and put it towards the cause.
Smart? Depends on who you ask. I think it's the best money I've spent in my life, but I have absolutely no savings right now. Still worth it, but it depends on who you are and what kind of life you're after.
Another chunk came from savings that I started putting away from each pay cheque from the day I decided to go. The rest came from freelance writing I did before and while I travelled. I'd recommend setting up an investment savings account (I did mine with ING Direct) and setting up a direct transfer of funds from your regular bank account to your savings account, on the day you get paid. Keep your savings away from the money you access on a day to day basis. If you're saving for a while, find a bank account with a good interest rate, or look into short-term GICs.
Many people are aware of Round the World (RTW) airfares on offer from major airline networks like Star Alliance and One World. Unfortunately, Canada is one of the most expensive places to buy a RTW ticket. A ticket with the exact same itinerary will cost you significantly less in the U.K. than over here. I ended up getting two one-way tickets with multiple layovers.
Air New Zealand took me from Vancouver, through L.A. to Auckland and then onto Sydney a few weeks later. A British Airways flight took me from Sydney to Bangkok, then to London and onto Toronto three months later. If I wanted to change any of the legs of my flights, I'd have to pay a $200 change fee.
With a true RTW ticket, your dates are left open so you can book them as you go. This didn't prove to be a problem at all. Had I had the flexibility, I very well may have never left New Zealand. I booked my major flights between continents before I left Canada. I took a number of short-haul flights within particular areas that I booked as I saw fit.
I've been collecting RBC Reward Points for as long as I've had a credit card. I switched to an Avion Visa card last summer, which has a higher annual fee but a better flight redemption schedule. Usually twice a year, RBC runs a promotion that lets you transfer your RBC points to BA Miles with a 50% bonus (they often do this in the spring and the fall but no one at RBC will ever tell you when it will happen).
I took advantage of this and got over 90,000 BA Miles, which got me flights from London - Cape Town, Nairobi-Stockholm, Vienna-Edinburgh, Glasgow-Paris, Stuttgart-Lisbon and Madrid- London. I had to pay taxes and fees but these flights were still cheaper than budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. I still have over 20,000 points left.
Choosing an Itinerary
Seasons were one of the major determinants in my itinerary decisions. I didn't want to go anywhere too cold, and I wanted to leave in January. I headed to summery New Zealand and Australia first, up to Thailand and Laos where it's never really cold, then to Africa and ended in Europe during the northern hemisphere's summer. This was decided before I left. My itineraries inside each region were left much to my own whims. For the most part, this was a good way to go. If I didn't like a place, I'd move on. If I loved it, I'd stick around for awhile.
On the other hand, I am an incorrigle planner and I spent an awful lot of time researching options. I could go anywhere and I spent a lot of time learning about my options and trying to figure out which would be the best. This is a huge time waster, but it was something I had to learn to manage. The only way to figure out where to go is to try something and see how it goes.
Countries visited: New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, England, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Austria, Scotland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Spain
With that, I'm signing off from the RTW component of the blog, but will still be bringing you tons of information about hostels from around the world right here.
If you have any questions or if you have your own tips for planning a big trip, leave a comment.