There are many great reasons to take a RTW trip, but one of the best is the freedom it gives you on the road. So many of us are used to the one week vacation, where we pack in as much as we possibly can to take advantage of the short time off, or we simply relax and rest to give our bodies and minds a chance to recharge from daily life.
When you make the decision to go RTW, you are in for a whole new way of traveling. Time is almost always going to be on your side, which means you can take part in activities and adventures that are difficult over the course of a normal vacation. If you have always been fascinated by the thought of a particular epic journey, whether it be taking the Trans-Siberian Railway, driving the length of the Pan American highway, or following 2000 years of history on the Silk Road, now is your chance.
The Trans Siberian Railway
The longest and most popular train journey in the world, the Trans Siberian Railway is 6152 miles long and connects Moscow to Vladivostok. Every other day, this famous train leaves Moscow for its 7 day journey. A great aspect of this trip is the options travelers have. You can take the entire journey in the allotted 7 days, or you can choose to stop off along the way.
Vladivostok is the final city on the traditional Trans-Siberian Railway, but truth be told, it’s not really worth the long trip. Most travelers either move on from there (by taking a ferry to Japan) or they choose to take an alternative to the traditional Trans-Siberian route. The Trans-Mongolian line leaves Moscow every Tuesday night and is bound for Beijing, China. This trip is a day shorter (six instead of seven) and heads through Siberia, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, then over into China. There is yet another option if you would prefer to end your journey in China rather than Vladivostok, and that is to take the weekly Trans-Manchurian train. Like the Trans-Mongolian line, this train takes you from Moscow to Beijing but through Manchuria instead, also taking 6 days.
From Beijing, many travelers continue their trips by heading south to Shanghai, Xian, or even all the way into Hanoi, Vietnam. If you plan on visiting Southeast Asia during your RTW, consider beginning your trip with the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow If staying on a train for 6-7 days doesn’t sound like your style, don’t worry as you can stop off along the way. Irkutsk in Siberia, Ulan Bator in Mongolia, and Ekaterinberg and Ulan Ude are all popular stop off destinations when taking this journey.
The Pan-American Highway
If you are a fan of road trips and fancy taking your car on an epic journey, then look no further than the longest motorable road in the world – The Pan-American Highway. Stretching from Alaska all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina on the tip of South America, this trip will allow travelers to see a multitude of countries, cities, and cultures. While it’s impossible to get an accurate mileage count because there’s not just one way to go, the general estimates have the Alaska to Argentina journey clocking in at close to 30,000 miles (about 48,000 kilometers). People traveling the Pan-American Highway will pass through a vast array of climates and terrain, from mountains to jungles to salt flats to deserts.
The beauty of the Pan-American Highway is that there isn’t just one route. You can veer off course however and wherever you want, and you can take as much time as you want. While there is a traditional route, if you decide to travel from Alaska to southern Patagonia, I doubt anyone will criticize you for taking the wrong route. It obviously isn’t a race, so take your time and do it how you want to do it.
After making your way through Canada and the US, the most traditional routes have travelers crossing into Mexico from Laredo, Texas, then heading south through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, then down into South America (usually via boat from Panama to Colombia, bypassing the Darien Gap. Once in Colombia, most road-trippers make their way through Ecuador, Peru, and Chile before entering Argentina. Many will take a detour through Bolivia and head into Argentina or Chile from there. No matter what route you decide to take or how long your journey is, there is no doubt that it will be epic.
>>While driving the Pan-American would is challenge enough, consider biking the entire route as the Vogels did – as a family with two kids - or read 9 Excellent Stops Along the Pan American Highway if you’re thinking of taking the road trip of all road trips.
The Silk Road
The Silk Road is one of the oldest road trips in the world, traveled before Jesus Christ was even around. The Silk Road originated when the Emperor of the Han Dynasty sent a caravan west from what is now Xian, China. Though that first journey wasn’t very successful, they eventually reached as far west as the Roman Empire and established a trade route between the east and west.
This trip is certainly not for the faint of heart. It passes through some difficult-to-travel in regions, and is probably better saved for a more experienced traveler (or a brave, patient, open-minded novice traveler). If you are a traveler looking to retrace the steps of those early traders (traditionally from Xian, China to Istanbul, Turkey), then it’s going to take some planning. Because the situation in many of the countries is always tenuous, staying on top of the political landscape is crucial, and having all your visas worked out in advance is highly advisable.
Because there is no one main route and taking into account that you probably want to avoid Afghanistan and Iraq at the moment (and possibly Pakistan and/or Iran, depending on your nationality and boldness), you’ll have to be flexible. Starting in Xian, Silk Road travelers can head through Tibet and India, or take a more northern route through the Stans before making your way into Turkey. If you go the southern route, it’s possible to make your way across India before flying or taking a boat into Saudi Arabia or another Middle Eastern country before your final destination of Istanbul. If you’re the adventurous type, this trip may be for you, as it will truly get you off the beaten path and through some of the most historic countries and cities in the world. It will take you through ancient ruins and what used to be major towns along the route, and you will have plenty of exploration opportunities along the way.
If you’re looking for an epic journey and a serious adventure, how does traversing 10,000 miles from the UK to Ulan Bator, Mongolia sound? Better yet, what would you say if I told you that people from all over the world come here annually to take part in this rally with other teams for charity? Even better (or worse, depending on how you look at it), you and your team is responsible for accommodations, feeding yourselves, and keeping your vehicle up and running.
So who would go on a crazy adventure like this? The inaugural rally took place in 2004 with only six teams, four of which actually finished. Evidently there are lots of travelers out there looking for an adventure, because this year over a thousand people on over 300 teams are taking part in the Mongol Rally as you read this. People from all over the world participate, and getting in can actually be challenging. Plan ahead if this is an adventure you want to take part in.
One of the more interesting parts of the Mongol Rally is there isn’t any one route that all teams take. In the spirit of the rally, “There is a place to start and a place to finish, but where you go, and what happens in between is anyone’s guess. That’s the whole point.” So each team sets off from London with its own plan, which is sure to change along the way as accidents, breakdowns, corruption, and even military disputes can pop up at any time. This is the ultimate journey that certainly isn’t for everyone.
>>Follow one of the Mongol Rally teams, The Social Media Syndicate, as they photograph and blog their way through this year’s rally.
Camino de Santiago
Like the Mongol Rally, the Camino de Santiago is a test in endurance, but that’s about where the comparisons end. The pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in the cathedral of Santiago in Santiago de Compostela, Spain is one of the most important ones a Christian can make. For more than 1000 years, pilgrims have taken this route, and most only use their own two feet to make it happen.
Like many of the journeys on this list, there isn’t necessarily a correct route to take. Traditionally Europeans would simply begin their pilgrimage from their homes, wherever that may be. Since the pilgrimage has become so popular, there are now starting points from all over Europe where one can begin the journey. Traditionally many of the pilgrims came from France, so various cities around the country like Paris, Vezelay, Arles, and Le Puy are all common jumping off points. The most traditional route; however, begins on the French side of the Pyrenees in St. Jean Pied de Port and finishes at the tomb of St. James nearly 500 miles later.
This traditional route is very good for first timers to the Camino. The trail is well trodden, and there should be minimal challenges when it comes to finding a place to crash for the night and getting food in your belly. If you go the traditional route, it is even marked along the way with big yellow arrows. If you’re looking for a challenge but don’t want to put your safety on the line like with some of these other journeys, making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is a fine way to test yourself and have a great time doing it.
If you have ever driven through any of the Midwest and Southwest in the United States, you have no doubt seen the Historic Route 66 signs scattered about random roads and highways. Route 66 was one of the original US highways that originally ran from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles, passing through six other states on the way.
While the path is obviously not the same as it was when the highway was first finished in 1926, it is still possible to travel down much of Historic Route 66, which would make an interesting United States road trip. Many of the smaller roads have been replaced by interstates, but there are a lot off detours of the main highways that will take travelers through smaller towns along the way, giving a unique view of the United States that not everyone gets to see.
In addition to the smaller towns, Historic Route 66 will take you through some major US cities that don’t normally get a lot of love from travelers, particularly international ones. Chicago is the jumping off point, and as one of the top destinations in the States, would make a great start to any road trip. Continuing south, the Historic Route 66 road trip would take you through St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Sante Fe, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and finally on to California, where it ends just west of downtown LA in Santa Monica. So if you’re looking to get off the regular tourist track in the US, consider a nice, long cross-country road trip on Historic Route 66.
If Australia is on your RTW trip itinerary, then you have probably thought about renting a vehicle of some sort to get around. While it’s possible to travel by bus and train in Oz, the country is huge, and it’s quite nice to be able to go where you want when you want. Road-tripping in Australia is going to a great time no matter where you go, but if you really want an epic journey, consider following the Explorer’s Highway from Adelaide to Darwin.
At a little over 2000 miles (about 3200 kilometers), the Explorer’s Highway takes travelers from the south to the north, along the same path as pioneer John McDouall Stuart. In 1862, Stuart became the first person to travel south to north on the continent, taking almost 6 months to do so in the harsh climate and terrain. Nowadays travelers can make the same trip in about a week, but giving yourself two weeks is advisable. Of course, if you’re doing this journey as part of a RTW trip, then you can take as much time as your heart desires.
Highlights abound on this Australian adventure as you leave the southern city of Adelaide. It will be easy to get sidetracked early in the Barossa Valley, famous for great wine and food. The Explorer’s Highway will also take you through the Southern Australian outback, mountain ranges, gorges, and give you an opportunity to see plenty of wildlife. As with traveling Historic Route 66 in the States, the great thing about taking your own transportation on a trip like this is the detour possibilities along the way. The Painted Desert provides a fantastic one on your way to Alice Springs. Heading north, travelers can hit up plenty more famous sites, from national parks to deserts to rivers before finally arriving in Darwin.
>> Start planning your trip with our Australia travel guide
Cairo to Cape Town Highway
If you’re an adventurer who tends to take things to the extreme, then this journey might be the perfect one for you. Traversing the entire continent of Africa, from Cairo in the north all the way down to Cape Town in the South, is about as iconic a journey as it gets. The official Cairo to Cape Town Highway, well over 100 years in the making, is still not fully complete, so taking detours and playing it by ear is a necessity.
The British Empire first came up with the idea for transportation over the entire continent way back in 1890. They envisioned something similar to the Pan-American Highway in North and South America. There is no continuous route all the way down, and it’s crucial to plan for things like rainy seasons and keep up with the political climate in the region. While you may get paved roads some of the time, there will also be plenty of dust, dirt, and gravel along the way, making for plenty of rough patches on your journey.
The first successful trip across Africa was completed in 1926, though it took 2 years to do so. It shouldn’t take that long these days, but don’t expect a quick journey. Actor Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took it a step further and left from Scotland, taking 85 days to drive (and sometimes push) their motorbikes all the way down to South Africa, even making a TV show as they went along. Completing a journey like this is challenging no matter the circumstances, but I’m sure they had resources that the everyday traveler won’t. Normal people have completed the journey as well, including Sam Millar and Peter Loewen, who took about a month and a half to go from Cairo to Cape Town.
If any of these iconic journeys have been on your travel wish list, and you are planning on setting out on a RTW trip, take advantage of the time you have and do it. Not everyone gets to make their travel dreams come true, so if you’re one of those people who is making travel your priority, take it a step further and complete one of these epic odysseys.
Have you completed one of these iconic journeys? Is one (or more) on your travel wish list? What adventure may we have missed? Comment below to share your thoughts or read more about epic adventures around the world:
- 9 Inspired-by-Travel-Books Trips That Are Probably Too Crazy to Take
- BootsnAll adventure tours
- 9 Famous Adventurers to Inspire your Trip
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
Now Adam is going to tell you how you can plan your own epic adventure. Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” he’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.