Flying around the world

After Nancy Stott of Walnutport, Pennsylvania, asked readers to write about their experiences arranging around-the-world itineraries with airline alliances, we received a number of responses and printed several in last month’s issue. One reader took the task to heart, and we’re printing a portion of her letter here.

If you have anything to add on the subject, write to Flying Around the World, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail (please include the address at which you receive ITN).

Around the World for Dummies, or Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Around-the-World Travel

My companion and I have circled the globe three times in the last six years, traveling nine months, two months and three months, respectively, and I am busily planning our fourth such trip, which will take nearly three months. Here are some ideas for planning.

Getting Started

First, you must ask yourself how long you wish to travel on your around-the-world adventure.

Get a good world map and then make a calendar. My advice — use the computer to run a calendar of the trip months, with each month on an 8_"x11" sheet of paper.

Decide if you want to go west to east or east to west. Your season of departure will help you determine this. Do you want to do the Southern or Northern hemisphere or try to do both?

On your calendar, write the names of the big cities that are in the countries you want to visit, and highlight them on your map. Always proceed in one direction; do not back up. For example, go from New York to London to Amsterdam to Athens, NOT New York to Amsterdam to London to Athens. It’s okay to cross the equator back and forth.

Keep the stops to a minimum; it may be cheaper that way. For example, go from New York to Amsterdam, run around Europe and then go back to Amsterdam for the flight east to Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Bangkok or Australia. (That said, there is a qualifier later in this article about backing up.)

With any airline ticket scheme there are key cities; you will discover them as you plan. Remember that traveling in less-developed countries is difficult, so try to keep from building an itinerary that is strenuous over several months with no downtime. If you choose more challenging destinations, build in some respite in a resort or an easy destination.

Once you know or think you know where you want to go, arm yourself with good travel books. I like the Lonely Planet series best because it’s all-inclusive and gives full ranges of accommodations, includes some cultural and historical background and even lists grocery stores and laudromats. These guidebooks also have great city maps. The newer Lonely Planet guides also suggest itineraries, which are very helpful, as well as some websites.

If you’re doing just a few days in several countries, you can get an area guide and it’s just as good as a more detailed country guide. For example, if you’re going to Prague, Budapest and Warsaw, you can just get Lonely Planet’s “Eastern Europe” guide. If you intend to spend more that 10 days, however, invest in the single-country guide.

Frommer’s has a good overall travel site (

The Let’s Go guidebook series is for youngsters who are backpacking and doing the hostel route. However, Let’s Go also has some city guides, which are superb. I have used “Let’s Go Berlin” and it’s great.

Insight Guides also has single-city guides. These are excellent if you are just cruising through the city for a few days and not visiting the country itself.

Read, surf the Web, read and surf the Web some more. Do not worry about details of any sort until you know where you want to go and have learned about what you want to see. After you do your research, you will be ready to plan.

When I’m researching, I look at tour companies’ travel websites. The tour companies have great ideas about what to see and it helps me zero in on the highlights and plan our trip. Also, I often notice optional excursions like a hot-air balloon flight or a whitewater raft trip. This is a clue that when we arrive at that destination, we might be able to book our own activities independently.

For example, while in Salzburg, Austria, for three days, we booked a “Sound of Music Tour” at the tourist office. This was an all-day group bus tour that went into the hills and to many of the movie sites, like the church where Maria was married. There were many other opportunities in Salzburg, from Beethoven concerts to tours of the castle.

Make notes, run webpages and mark up tour books. And what do you do with all of the guides? Well, you head for the copy machine and copy the pages that you want to take with you, or you just cut out the pages that you want. Extensive planning will save you money, enhance the experience and reduce stress.


As you’re planning, you may find yourself drowning in paper, books and notes and ideas. To get organized, use whatever system fits your style: manila folders, a 3-ring binder or a spreadsheet.

Start with a file folder for each country and one just for the airlines. Now back up several months and print calendars for those months preceding your trip and write in vital dates. On this calendar, also give yourself trip-planning deadlines, i.e., dates by which to have your route finished, buy plane tickets, find a friend to take your mail, find someone to take the cat, etc.

It’s a good idea to determine what sort of emphasis you want for this trip or what it is you want to see and/or do. The categories are endless, but they usually break into history/archaeology, culture/art/music, food/drink, outdoor recreation and shopping. Sometimes the destination will determine what you want to do.

If you want to do museums and art galleries, the cities often have pass schemes which are a bargain. You will see them advertised on the city website; Google in “official Paris tourism,” for example. Some cities also have bus deals or even combo tourist passes for sightseeing and transportation. Sometimes you must buy these schemes before you leave the U.S.

Another option is to take some sort of specialty tour while you are in a country. If you really like to experience local cuisine, for example, you could find a cooking school or maybe build in a short 2- or 3-day walking tour in the countryside. (We always go to the public parks and arboretums as well as local markets.) You often can find activities like these after you arrive; look for ideas in the Lonely Planet guides.

Once you arrive in a city or town, your best friend is the local tourist office. Just remember this: any activity oft repeated soon becomes routine.

Around-the-World Ticket Schemes

Around-the-world air tickets fall into two categories. You can either purchase a ticket from a broker or company that uses various airlines or you can buy a ticket with a scheme designed by partner airlines.

If you Web search “around the world tickets,” you will get many brokers and companies. They will route you on various airlines and you will accumulate mileage accordingly. If you are on a tight budget and going to large cities, you can often book a ticket in coach class at a budget price.

The two main airline partner groups are Star Alliance (visit and One World Alliance ( The total mileage you accumulate will be put on your U.S. airline account. I have used Star Alliance twice, going from west to east and east to west. Their core airlines are United, Lufthansa, Singapore Air and Air New Zealand, and there are also smaller airlines. One World’s core partners are American Airlines, LAN, British Airways and Qantas, with additional airlines as well.

If you are going around the world in the Northern Hemisphere, Star Alliance is very strong. With Star Alliance, you may not back up at all and your fare depends on the mileage flown. If you are going to South America, One World has more routes. I am currently planning an around-the-world trip which includes South America, and it just isn’t possible with Star Alliance. With One World, you may roam around a continent once you land there (backing up is allowed), with the number of stops regulated. The fare is based on the zones you visit.

Regardless of which scheme you use, be sure to read the restrictions very carefully before you commit.

Once you know your schedule, start doing your own route research via the Web. You need to have your complete air itinerary as close to finalized as you can get it before you give it to a travel agent to cost out for both coach or business class. Be sure to get a price for business class, as often it is not as expensive as you would think. A business-class ticket gives you access to the airline lounges — a big plus.

Tour Companies vs. Independent Travel

You need to decide if you want to travel totally independently or with package tours or escorted tours or a combination of all three. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and the choice is very personal. If your trip includes a variety of destinations, you might want to combine the three approaches.

Traveling independently requires that you do all of the planning. This takes time and effort, but you will feel very involved in your trip, meet some interesting locals and often save money. It also increases your flexibility, because with an around-the-world ticket, changes to the itinerary are allowed.

Many travelers are well acquainted with fully escorted tours. These typically provide everything, and you need do little planning. On an around-the-world trip, if you choose a fully escorted tour you will need to negotiate the tour without the air flight charges. Also, booking a tour means you must arrive at a designated city on a particular date.

Package tours are another option. As an example of a typical package tour, in Budapest in 1998 our package included three nights’ hotel with breakfast, a museum pass, bus tour vouchers and a voucher for one typical Hungarian meal at a specific restaurant. The bus tour was a seat-in-bus type, with a guide narrating the city tour. Otherwise, we were on our own, and if we did want to change our itinerary and thus the date for our package tour, it may well have been possible to do so.

The company I have used twice is Tradesco Tours. Its home office is in Budapest, but there is an office in Los Angeles; call 800/448-4321 or visit They specialize in Central Europe and also do fully escorted tours.

If you want to do Africa, Southeast Asia, India, China, the Himalayas or Egypt, I recommend using a tour company for your first trip. I hate large group tours and have found that a private, customized tour is not significantly more expensive, especially when I am using an around-the-world ticket. For example, we arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, by plane and picked up our private guide and car for a week’s tour in Bulgaria and a week in Romania.

You absolutely, positively do not need a tour for Western or Northern Europe, Australia or New Zealand, the South Pacific and some of Central or South America. Whether you need one in Eastern Europe or not is a toss-up, as it is in Russia; for those areas, I think a package tour or a river cruise would be great. Surf the Web. Ask around.

There is a wonderful tour operator whom we have been with on four trips, to eastern Turkey, western Turkey, Central Asia and Mongolia/western China. Her name is Melika Seval and she can be reached at Melitour (Inonu Cad 390/74, 35290 Izmir, Turkey; phone 90 532 345 9987, fax 90 256 614 3972 or visit www. She is Turkish, is a great lecturer and emphasizes using local hotels. There are usually no more than 15 people in her groups.

In Singapore, there is a scheme called the Singapore Stopover. It includes hotel, breakfast and some sightseeing of various types. Check it out at Singapore makes a great stopover in Asia; I’d recommend it for a breather.


Technically, you can book your own around-the-world ticket, but I would use a travel agent to book that ticket, buy your train pass, book a car rental and book private tours. You can do the hotels or apartments yourself.

I use an agent at Council Travel in Seattle, Washington. They specialize in student travel, which means they look for bargains.

What I do is plan the entire trip and then tell the agent what I want to book and buy. That way, travel agent is talking to travel agent — they speak the same language, so it’s easier to work out glitches. Remember, you do not need to always fly from city to city. You can go overland to reach your next flight.

Possible Routes

Following are the itineraries for our three circle-the-globe trips.

• Our first around-the-world trip, in 1998-1999, lasted seven months, with another two in the USA. We started in Western Europe going overland via train (we got mesmerized in France and missed Italy), then visited Central Europe, Turkey, Greece, Singapore (for a week, due to air connections), Nepal, Singapore, Australia (six weeks, partly by car), New Zealand (two weeks on each island by car), the Cook Islands and Honolulu.

This was an easy trip, even though we were gone from home a long time, because our destinations were not particularly challenging. With the exception of a 2-week tour in Turkey, a week of trekking in Nepal and a few days in the Australian Outback, all of it was done independently. Only in those areas which seemed a bit exotic or unusual did we take a tour.

This trip was done using an around-the-world ticket plan of Air New Zealand and Singapore Air that has been discontinued.

• After taking some shorter trips abroad in Europe, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and cruises in the Mediterranean, Egypt and Israel, we started to yearn to circumnavigate the globe again.

This time I booked with the Star Alliance group. We started on Labor Day in September 2002 flying from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, then went by train to Germany and the Czech Republic. We flew without the around-the-world ticket to Sofia and picked up a 2-week private tour of Bulgaria and Romania, then, again without the around-the-world ticket, went from Bucharest to Budapest. Using our train passes, we went to Austria and Switzerland, then picked up our around-the-world ticket stop in Zürich, flying to Perth via Singapore. We spent five weeks in Australia visiting Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane before hopping to New Zealand for a week on the North Island, then heading to L.A. This trip was not quite four months.

• A year later we had an opportunity to go to Mongolia and western China with Melitour, so, what the heck, we decided to circle the globe again and visit our European friends, but this time we went east to west.

We started in August ’03, flying from L.A. to Tahiti for a cruise, then going to Auckland for 10 days on the North Island, to Seoul for a few days and via Tokyo to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. We spent 14 days touring with a group, then ended up in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

An interesting wrinkle on the Star Alliance around-the-world ticket — one of the stipulations is that you cannot back up; however, if necessary, the ticket will back you up. From Almaty, our destination was Istanbul. Lufthansa, which is a partner on the Star Alliance group, goes to Istanbul but through Frankfurt, Germany, so that is how we were routed. That’s right, and we did it all in one day!

We had a week in Turkey before flying via Munich to Washington, D.C. We continued overland to Philadelphia and from there flew to Seattle, still on the ’round-the-world ticket. This was a 2-month trip.

Our next around-the-world trip will start in late February ’06 and take about 11 weeks.

When to go

Determining when to go is tricky. Unless you are either staying in one hemisphere or going around the world in two months or less, you will deal with climate changes. Here are some off-the cuff-observations.

Avoid Europe in August at all costs. It’s hot, the Europeans are all on vacation and prices are high. You always run the chance of poor air-conditioning at your hotel. Before I retired I could only travel in the summer, and let me tell you about Athens in July! Spring is a good time to visit Europe; it gets warmer every day. Autumn is fine as well, but it gets cooler every day.

Turkey is lovely in the late spring and early autumn.

In Central Asia, it’s so hot in the summer that it’s unbearable.

China is cold in the winter and polluted in the summer.

There is a common misperception about Australia and New Zealand in that tourists think you have to go there in what is the North American winter and thus be there in the summer. Well, in December and January it’s really hot in Australia from Brisbane south. In the far north, where it’s tropical, it’s best in July when it’s not so humid. So, if you are going to be in both the north and south, try for the Aussie spring or fall. New Zealand’s North Island is milder than the South Island.

The South Pacific has a monsoon season.

In Africa, be sure you know whether it’s the rainy or dry season; there are pros and cons for both.

Generally speaking, you will be well served to consider spring and/or fall travel. If you must travel with clothing for two different seasons, you can send home a box of clothing when you move from warm to cool or vice versa.


In a coming issue, Cecilia will give tips on paying bills at home while away as well as on finding lodging and dining out overseas. She’ll also share her list of the most helpful gadgets to pack for a long trip.