Author: Tom Shuttleworth

10 Things You Should Know About Round The World Tickets

Editor’s note: We first published this article nearly two years ago to the day.  When Tom originally wrote this, everything below was true.  But with the announcement of Indie, BootsnAll’s new multi-country flight finder, some of these “things you should know” are out of date and a non-factor anymore. 

We’re going to keep the original content, as some of these are still true – it’s the big ones that have changed.  After each “rule” that is no longer valid, we’ll tell how and why Indie has changed how you can go about shopping and buying multi-stop plane tickets.

There’s a lot to know about round the world air tickets (here on in referred to as RTW tickets), and even the experienced traveler can be left on the verge of tears after having yet again failed to complete a valid set of flights and dates to get to the point where a ticket can be bought and thoughts of exotic locales turn to reality. But forewarned is forearmed, so before you head out into an ocean of options and damning glimpses of an ultimate adventure, there are some key things to know that will help to get your dreams and the sobering realities working together to make the trip of a lifetime.

#1. They need time to plan The New Way: Get a price in minutes

The Old Way: They need time to plan
Where planning a RTW trip differs from something more streamline is the research and thought that is required to actually put a ticket together. It would be a mistake to think of it as a spur of the moment thing. One day you imagine telling your boss you can’t take it anymore and few days later you’re sunning yourself in the tropics. It’s not going to happen like that.How much planning is needed and the time in which it can be done depends on how much control you want over your trip. Control begins with getting your desired destinations and dates. Get on this early if you’re clear on what you want. Be sure to know about visas and vaccinations, too.It’s not that going RTW is introducing foreign elements of planning at pre-departure. Dates, visas insurance; these are all familiar to the traveler. However, with RTW tickets there’s a lot more of them and it can take time and patience to get them in sync. If it looks to be a little overwhelming then a good place to start would be right here at Bootsnall. Check out the link for some great ideas and tools to start putting your ticket together.

The New Way: Get a price in minutes
Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Noncomformity and travel lover, wrote a post on his site back in 2008 about how to by a round the world plane ticket.  In it he says, “I have spent at least 40 hours, probably more by now, learning the ins and outs of Round-the-World travel…Be aware that planning and shopping for a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket is a labor-intensive process. If you don’t enjoy planning a short trip, you’ll find it much more difficult to plan a complicated RTW itinerary.”

One day you imagine telling your boss you can’t take it anymore, and few days later you’re sunning yourself in the tropics. It’s not going to happen like that.

One day you imagine telling your boss you can’t take it anymore, and few days later you’re sunning yourself in the tropics. It’s not going to happen like that. With Indie, it is possible should you want to do this.  Let’s say you win the lottery. You could walk into work the next day, go out in a blaze of glory, open up your laptop, log in to Indie, plug in your destinations and dates, click “search fares,” then buy your tickets.  There are no tricks.  It really is that simple.

Indie is the only tool of its kind on the interwebs where you can search, price, and buy tickets for a 6-leg or longer multi-stop trip.  While you will still have to worry about issues like visas and insurance, as long as your first destination issues visas on arrival, then you can worry about that stuff on the road.  If you know where you want to go and when, the booking process can be done in minutes, literally.

#2. They like to follow rules The New Way: There are no rules

The Old Way: They like to follow rules

It’s easy to get carried away with the misconception that a RTW ticket will give you free reign to charge around the globe, picking and mixing destinations with gay abandon. As in all things, there are rules!For those wanting to put together that full RTW extravaganza, pay heed to the following……….

  • Your ticket must cross both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
  • You must travel in a continuous easterly or westerly direction.  There is no backtracking allowed except within regions.

Yes, within a region (South America, for example), your flights can head in any direction even if it means going back where you came from, which leads on to the next point.

Ticket prices and trip structure are based on either distance traveled or regions covered. Those travelers who are looking to cover some regions in greater depth may find the latter option to be more economical. It’s also important to be aware that your initial departure date will have an effect on the overall price of your ticket, so some flexibility with this could save you much needed money.

To prevent frustration when trying to put tickets together bear in mind that there are limits to the number of stopovers and connections that you can make. Try to keep flights as direct as possible and save those connections for any ‘offbeat’ destinations that you really want to get to.

Check out our reviews of shopping for a RTW ticket with the three main alliances:

If you’re ready to jump in and start drawing your own lines across the planet you can find a user friendly RTW trip planner here at Bootsnall.

It should also be noted that not all tickets falling under the RTW moniker actually mean circumnavigating the globe. Some are more “region” specific. A popular example is those that take travelers to Australia with one or two stops in Asia thrown in for good measure. Such tickets are some of the best deals around. Check out some of the offers with popular travel agents that specialize in “independent” travel.

New Way: There are no rules
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All those pesky, stupid rules that you can’t wrap your head around? Forget them. With Indie, they don’t exist anymore.

Want to start your trip in New York? Sydney? London? How about Minsk? Or La Paz? Or Phnom Penh? You can do that. It doesn’t matter where you start or where you end. You don’t have to worry about traveling in a certain direction. Or backtracking. Or keeping it under a certain mileage allotment or stops. There are no rules anymore.

Just log on, enter your destinations and dates, with no restrictions, search, get a price, and book.

#3. They’re flexible… However, they need you to be flexible, too The New Way: Define flexibility

The Old Way: They’re flexible…

If handing over the cash needed for a RTW ticket purchase is likely to make your eyes water and induce a feeling of having lost control over what happens next, then breathe easy, these tickets offer plenty of flexibility.Your dates can be changed, free of charge. Your ticket is also valid for a year, giving plenty of time and scope to fit everything in. In fact, during pre-departure, only the dates that cover the first sector of your trip need to be penned in (and even they can be changed after take-off).It’s also possible to tinker with your original route should you feel the need.#4. However– They need you to be flexible, too
Like any healthy relationship, flexibility and willingness to compromise are key. So, if you want to avoid frosty relations with your RTW ticket experience you have to accept that you can’t always have things your own way.In the planning, your pick and mix of dream destinations may not fit in with the rules and regulations that govern how RTW tickets work. Be prepared to sacrifice one or two stopovers for the greater good and show willing if unexpected destinations are required to make your ticket work.Your RTW ticket offers you flexible dates but it can’t wait around forever for you to make up your mind. As such the RTW traveler needs to be able to plan on the go and sacrifice the occasional afternoon at the beach in order to make some calls and pay visit to airline offices.Be warned that changes to the destinations of your ticket may not just be a straight forward re-routing of a couple of flights. A single change could end up reverberating through the remainder of your trip and require compromise at a later stage.Your first port of call for these issues should be with the airline that issued your tickets. That’s usually the airline that carried you on your initial flight.

The New Way: Defining flexibility
First off, to say that “dates can be changed, free of charge” is a broad statement that isn’t fully true. I am going to assume that the original author was talking about the alliances, because they are the only ones who offer free date changes.

With any other company or travel agent who sells multi-stop flights, you will pay to change dates, and that includes Indie (who charges $100 for a change fee on top of any airline fee or difference in fare).

The only other difference in this “thing you should know” is that with Indie, it shouldn’t take too much of your time to make a change. We are available via email, phone, or chat, so there is no need to go to the airport, try to navigate some automated recording, or sit on hold forever. Get in touch, and we’ll take care of you.

#5. They don’t care about the seasons The New Way: Book the best trip for you

Storm on the beach
The Old Way: They don’t care about the season

RTW tickets may offer great coverage, variety of experience and flexibility to change dates but they are still at the mercy of Mother Nature and as such may not be able to cater to all those ’50 Things To Do Before You Die’ lists in one sitting.When it’s winter on the European ski slopes it’s also the time to visit South East Asia and avoid the regions rainy season which may place restrictions on treks and off beat destinations in that area.Spring time in Peru and the Inca trail starts drying off after another soggy February but thousands of kilometers away the cherry blossoms in Japan are beginning to open up across the country offering the chance to get that quintessential snap shot to put on the mantelpiece back home.You get the idea. A RTW ticket is great for whisking travelers around the globe but if can’t bend space and time. It’s important not to take a RTW ticket merely at face value. You need to look deeper. If there are activities that you want to pursue or festivals you want to be a part of you need to give this extra priority and use them as points around which to put together a ticket.The implications can be more serious than missing out on winter surf at the north shore of Hawaii. A RTW ticket won’t care that it drops you off in India in the middle of the monsoon or Australia’s Gold Coast amidst the mayhem of Schoolies Week. As such, even if you’re not an adventure sports enthusiast or cultural anthropologist, it’s important to do some research into what time of year you’re going to be in what type of place.

The New Way: We want you to book the best trip for you
BootsnAll has been helping indie travelers plan trips for 15 years. We have a team of travelers who have done these types of trips before and are well versed in airline geography.

If you decide to try this whole endeavor on your own, searching and booking through Indie without ever speaking to anyone, then all the research falls on you, and “They don’t care about seasons” is true. Many people like to do the research themselves, and that’s great! Indie is a great tool for you.

If you want some help, though, reach out to our staff, and we can talk you through the various aspects of planning your flights to best maximize your time and wishes for your trip.

What we really care about at BootsnAll is for you to get out and see and explore the world. While we would love for you to book on Indie, if it’s not in your best interest to do so, and if one of the alliances or other travel agents can better serve you and the type of trip you’re looking for, we’ll point you in the right direction. No bullshitting – try us.

Do you care more about saving time or money when booking a multi-stop flight?

#6. They can take you where you least expected

Given that RTW tickets are all about mileage or regions they can provide an economical opportunity to crowbar in the kind of destination that, as a single trip, might have cost an arm and a leg to get to. So, for those looking to put together their own tickets it pays to think ‘outside the box’. Make an effort to look beyond the magnetic glow of the marquee destinations and you may just find ‘the next big thing’ before it gets big.

The New Way: It’s easier to take you where you least expected
Since Indie has taken so much of the time commitment out of planning your flights by allowing you to instantly search fares, it’s much easier to build the exact itinerary you want.  It takes a matter of minutes to change destinations and dates around to get a new price.  Instead of going back and forth with an agent, you can do it all online with a few clicks.

Being able to check prices this quickly allows you to really play around and try different combinations and additions to your route.  Check this route out from Wednesday’s article, 5 Affordable Round the World Routes, for validation of what’s possible with Indie.

#7. They involve a lot of travel

Well, duhhh! Yes, this may be stating the obvious, but it’s important to give plenty of thought into what kind of travel experience you’re after. The gravitational pull of the RTW trip as being the ultimate experience can distract from some of the realities and the other options available, particularly if this is to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ thing.

That the RTW trip involves a lot of travel is the reason why it exists, but part of that will mean spending a lot of time on a kind of ‘production line’ travel experience. Airport lounges and duty free shops, mind numbing queues and repetitive bureaucracy. Basically the kind of travel we do to get to the point where we actually start ‘traveling’.

Some people may find a more rewarding experience if they sacrifice a wide range of destinations for a more intimate look into particular regions. The logistics will be simpler, perhaps only requiring a return flight to a major travel hub and the only other date you’ll need to be aware of is when you finally board the return flight home.

If you want to go even more intimate, go ‘native’. Consider a single destination where you can work or study and ultimately integrate yourself into a new culture in a way that no RTW extravaganza can afford.

#8. They can represent a great deal but watch out for the extra costs

The Old Way: They can represent a great deal but watch out for the extra costs

Let’s cut to the chase here. More fantastic looking destinations on your RTW itinerary means more visas, more airport taxes and taxis, more vaccinations and more temptation to spend extortionate money on over priced waiting lounge latte’s. This is not so much about saving overall costs as it is about spending money on original travel experiences.For example, on the South American leg of a RTW journey you may fly in to Rio de Janeiro and then have to get to Santiago, Chile for connecting flights to Australia. A RTW ticket can fly you from Rio to Santiago so as you can avoid those pesky Andean mountains that block the path. This will mean two visits to the airport in Rio and two more in Santiago. That’s double the number of expensive journeys in and out of the city. Double the chance that your fatigued body and mind might lapse and allow you to indulge in an expensive dinner at the type of eatery you can find back home. Now, it is possible to connect the two cities by travelling overland. It’s a journey that may, or may not, be more expensive than time spent hanging around airports and big budget cities, but the point is it will be a richer travel experience.Time, budget and availability are the buzz words when it comes to RTW tickets, and these will ultimately determine if you connect destinations by flight or by going overland. However, it’s important to be aware of the costs that are not shown when you’re putting together your itinerary. You may find you can squeeze in extra destinations without affecting the price of your ticket. However, it will mean another stop in the kind of place that soaks up a lot of your travel budget.

The New Way: There can still be extra costs, but let us help
Indie isn’t just the only tool that can help you as a long-term traveler.  Don’t forget that BootsnAll has been around for 15 years, and we have 15 years worth of content and expertise to help.  If you search on Indie, you are also going to be helped by those of us who work at BootsnAll, and we can help you estimate all those “extra” costs the author is talking about.  We’re here not only to help you with your flight, but also to help plan the rest of your trip.  Even if you ultimately decide to book your flights with someone else, we still want to help you out with the rest of your logistics.

#9. They leave a carbon footprint

Travelers, for all our posturing about wanting to cast off the shackles of the environmental disaster that is modern, capitalist society, do rely heavily on one of said society’s most remarkable and heavily polluting creations, the airplane.

Even the lightest research into the CO2 emissions of flying around the world throws up myriad of statistics that seem to be routinely confirmed and rubbished. In the case of RTW tickets though, the math is simple. More flights mean more pollution.

Airlines now run their own emissions ‘offset’ schemes where by passengers are charged ‘carbon (insert local currency here)’ which are then invested in environmental projects around the world that are approved by the UN Kyoto Agreement.

Such schemes are optional and their simplicity may suit some. However, placing your trust in an airline to do the right thing environmentally is perhaps not for everyone and opportunities abound to help travelers make positive, ‘green’ contributions in all corners of the globe. In fact, environmental guilt aside, these ‘eco-tourism’ schemes could be the key to some life-changing travel experiences that were the reason for going RTW in the first place.

The International Civil Aviation Organization runs a pretty user friendly site to help calculate your flights CO2 emissions.

#10. They can give you the experience of a lifetime

RTW tickets offer a unique chance to see the world as the bizarre and beautiful global community that it is. Boarding that first flight, leave your cynicism in the bins, along with your excess liquids, as you step into a manic stream of humanity that’s pouring its way around the globe in chaotic unison. Rules of time and distance will become anathema as you help to show the rest of us that frictions between rival economies are an illusion created by men in suits and that we can, and do, live together pretty well. So, if you’ve got the means, a RTW ticket will be handsome reward for any amount of time and effort needed to put it together.

For more round the world travel info, read:

Need some inspiration?

BootsnAll publishes a monthly Round the World Ticket newsletter, featuring RTW ticket deals and tips for RTW travel, so if you’re not already a subscriber, go sign up!

Each month in 2013 BootsnAll will focus on a different destination of the world.  January is Southeast month, so stay tuned next week for articles, tips, and advice for traveling in one of the top indie travel regions in the world!

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Photos by: Friedwater, Adam Seper, all others by the author and may not be used without permission