How to plan a trip around the world

How to plan a trip around the world

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Combining a series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences into a single around-the-world trip can feel like the ultimate expression of luxury travel. It can be a daunting prospect though, with many contending factors to consider. Here’s how to start planning the ultimate round-the-world trip.

1. Take to the sky

Air travel is, predictably, the simplest way to traverse the globe. Start by purchasing an around-the-world plane ticket through an airline alliance — coalitions of different airlines which let you pay for all of your flights in a single transaction. The alliance offers regional passes which might work better should you want to devote the bulk of your time to one or two continents.

There are three main players: Star Alliance, OneWorld and Skyteam; the latter, however, has suspended sales of RTW tickets. Star Alliance is a confederation of 26 airlines covering 1,200 airports in 98% of the world’s nations, while OneWorld’s 13 airlines serve 1,000 destinations across almost as many countries.

The small print varies, but fliers must always keep to one global direction, east or west (the latter better suits your circadian rhythm), with no backtracking; must only cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans once each; must start and finish in the same country; and must travel for a period between 10 days and one year.

Convenience is a benefit here, allowing you to minimise paperwork. It’s worth noting that some countries, such as China, also require proof of an outbound air ticket before issuing visas. 

How to do it: Star Alliance offers a 133-day itinerary from London via Istanbul, Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney, Los Angeles and New York from £2,580 per person. 

2. Ride the rails

A century ago, taking extended rail journeys was one of the only means of long-distance travel. Today, trains are a great option for travellers looking to minimise their carbon footprint and take a slower, more measured route.

Recapturing the romance of the past, around-the-world specialists Travel Nation can tailor-make odysseys involving  separate train journeys. Vietnam’s Reunification Express, an Outback crossing aboard the Australian Ghan and a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada can all feature.

How to do it: Travel Nation’s 74-night, rail-focused global tour costs from £17,760 per person, including flights, trains, accommodation, most meals and some excursions. 

3. Go Private

For those who truly want to travel in style, it’s possible to circumnavigate the globe by private jet through National Geographic Expeditions. These trips are based around epic itineraries whose remarkable destinations are brought to life by a experts and groundbreaking researchers in various fields, who most travellers never get to meet.

On the 24-day Around the World by Private Jet expedition, you can visit 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Among the trip’s standouts are Easter Island’s Moai statues, Angkor’s jungle-flanked temple complexes, rock-carved Petra and a Serengeti safari. Departing from Washington, DC, up to 75 passengers will travel VIP-style in a customised Boeing 757, bedding down throughout the adventure in five-star hotels or lodges.

How to do it: National Geographic Expeditions’ 23-night Around the World by Private Jet trip starts from £77,100 per person, all-inclusive, including medical evacuation insurance. Departures on 10 March, 29 October and 28 December 2024. 

4. Head overland

Travellers who don’t mind hitting the open road can try Oasis Overland, a tour company specialising in overland travel. Its longest offering is a 293-day trip from the UK to Cairo via an anticlockwise loop along much of the African coast, plus Victoria Falls and Zanzibar. The slew of highlights include the Sahara desert, the Giza Pyramids and East Africa’s wildlife-rich plains.  

The 16 (or fewer) group members will ride in one of Oasis Overland’s bright yellow trucks, built for traversing bumpy roads while offering as much comfort as possible. Nights are almost exclusively spent camping, and everyone is expected to contribute by pitching tents or cooking dinners.

You could also combine trips by flying from Cairo to Istanbul and then joining another overland tour all the way to Singapore, for example.

How to do it: Oasis Overland’s 292-night UK to Cairo expedition starts from £9,495 per person, including all transport (except flights from the UK to Gibraltar or Malaga) and a selection of excursions.

5. Do it yourself

Arranging everything yourself is an option — most easily accomplished by purchasing multi-destination flights through a comparison website such as kiwi.com or Skyscanner.

A big upside to this is that you can work out something closely aligned to your specific needs; it’ll require a fair bit of time, though, and you’ll lose out in terms of flexibility — changing dates can be tricky — and cancellation cover.

It’s usually more convenient to aim for large airport hubs — the likes of Bangkok, Dallas, Dubai, Heathrow, Paris and Singapore — as the many competing services provide more options. A typical around-the-world ticket will involve something along the lines of London — Istanbul — Bangkok — Singapore — Sydney — Los Angeles — New York — London. From these hubs, you’ll be well placed to add in more obscure destinations in between. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that you don’t have to fly between each stage. For instance, it’s possible to travel from London to Istanbul by train, lowering your carbon footprint in the process. Or, rather than flying from Bangkok to Singapore, you could get a boat from the Thai capital to Koh Samui and continue from there instead. A reliable tool for establishing train, bus, boat or taxi costs is the website Rome2Rio, and it’s worth investigating the likes of Amtrak rail passes in the US, Eurail Passes for European trains or Greyhound coach tickets covering Australia’s east coast.

Accommodation is something to decide on in advance. Be sure to have all hotel bookings locked in place well ahead of time. Hostels are a good bet, especially if you’re travelling solo or planning an ad-hoc approach during each stage of the trip, but can be lacking in privacy and comforts. House or apartment rentals can be much more comfortable and convenient, particularly for longer stays. 

How to do it: A sample 147-day itinerary from London via Istanbul, Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney, Los Angeles and New York from kiwi.com starts at £2,189 per person, including checked luggage.

6. Enlist a pro

One of the best ways to arrange an air-based around-the-world itinerary is by booking with a specialist agent or operator such as Trailfinders, Travel Nation or AirTreks. This can cut out a lot of organisational stress, while also enabling you to take advantage of these companies’ many years of experience. These firms often have access to special deals and aren’t constrained to particular airlines or alliances, allowing them to further improve the offerings to their clients.

The AirTreks website even has a trip planner tool listing a series of suggested activities, interests and attractions such as hiking, beaches, meditation or family travel, providing an extra level of choice at the planning stage.

If you’re interested in earning air miles, specify this to the agent so that they can concentrate on finding flights that qualify. Agents will also be able to suggest tempting additional stops — Taiwan, maybe, or a pause in Oman — which can be a great way of adding an extra bit of excitement to burgeoning itineraries. 

Finally, a specialist company can also take care of — or advise on — vaccinations (such as malaria), and certification and visas you’ll need, saving you plenty of legwork.

How to do it: AirTreks’ nine-stop ticket from London via Paris, Florence, Venice, Athens, Singapore, Sydney, Auckland and Los Angeles costs from £1,325 to £1,770.

7. Learn to sail

Land ahoy! You might just get to utter those words by signing up for a unique sailing adventure with London-based operator Another World Adventures, which can arrange for you to join a classic, square-rigged tall ship for 90 days as it makes its way around the world on a 455-day voyage. Once on board, you’ll learn how to trim the sails, haul mizzen spinnakers and lean on trade winds to cross the tropics. No experience is required, and participants will become part of a tight-knit crew and make friends for life.

It doesn’t matter at which point on its itinerary the ship happens to be, as it’s entirely possible to join subsequent legs. Setting sail from Bali on 6 November 2023, leg three sees the ship call at the Indian Ocean islands of Rodrigues and Reunion before arriving in Cape Town on 6 February. Beginning one day later, the fourth and final stage is via Namibia, the British overseas territory of St Helena, several Caribbean islands and, on 13 July, Nova Scotia in Canada.

If you’d prefer to wait and tackle the whole trip — the other two legs are Nova Scotia to Tahiti, and Tahiti to Bali — then Another World Adventures (which also offers other, similar experiences) expects it to start in 2025.

How to do it: Another World Adventures offers 90 nights, full board, from £13,600 per person, including transport, port fees and instruction. 

8. Cruise along

Ever more around-the-world voyages are being offered by cruise lines. To join one, you’ll need one important thing: lots of spare time. The circular itineraries are mostly more than 100 days in length, with Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise maxing out at 274 nights via seven continents and around 150 stops. These kinds of journeys really fit the ‘trip of a lifetime’ tag, running up to £100,000 per person.

Notably, 2023 marks a century since the world’s first continuous passenger cruise ship completed its pioneering journey. Chartered by the American Express Company, Cunard’s SS Laconia arrived back in New York City after completing a monumental six-month sailing via Japan, Singapore, India and Egypt. 

They also sell out quicker than almost any other cruise, partly due to having a limited number of departures. Holland America Line, for example, opened bookings this summer on its new 2025 Grand World Voyage. Departing from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, this is a six-continent, 124-day round-trip which transits the Panama Canal before visiting Callao (for excursions to Machu Picchu), Easter Island, Tahiti, the Great Barrier Reef, the Seychelles, Cape Town, Kenya, Jordan and Barcelona among 46 stops. 

How to do it: Holland America Line’s 123-night Grand World Voyage starts from £19,900 per person, full board, including complimentary airport transfers, a $500 (£400) air credit and up to £6,700 per person in onboard spending credits if booked by 3 June 2024. 

9. Hop aboard a cargo ship

A rather more adventurous way of sailing the seas is aboard a cargo ship or freighter cruise. Carrying large containers of clothes, electrical equipment, foods and most other things between the world’s major ports, some of these allot space for four to 12 passengers.

Single, twin or double cabins are the norm, usually with sea-facing windows as well as a sitting area, a desk, a shower and a toilet. A few boats come with a pool, but most are very simple — they’re built for work, not pleasure, after all — and you certainly won’t find a spa or casino (though playing cards with the crew members isn’t unheard of). All meals are provided in the on-board canteen.

The major appeal is the sense of serenity — watching the ocean drift by and having time to gather your thoughts or write that novel you’ve always planned. 

This can also be an amazing way to tick off some hard-to-reach places. Take freighters travelling to Singapore from New Zealand; be it for fuel and supplies or to make a drop-off, these stop at numerous Pacific islands en route, occasionally for a couple of days. That said, some port calls are too quick for guests to go ashore.

Note that good health and unaided mobility — due to steep gangways and lots of stairs — are mandatory, and it’s not suited for children or elderly travellers.

How to do it: Cargo Ship Voyages offers a cargo ship crossing from Rotterdam to Cuba (estimated at 16 nights) from £1,880 per person, which includes all meals.  

Published in the Luxury Collection 2023, distributed with the November 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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