How to make your round-the-world trip your best ever holiday
12 February 2014
TRAVELLING on a round-the-world ticket can be one of the most memorable and amazing things you do. That is, if you go about it the right way!
WHAT inspires some people to book a round-the-world ticket, while others only dream about it?
There’s usually something — it could be a redundancy, a breakup, a dream, the urgency to visit a long-lost relative, or just the travel itch and the willingness to forget about your urban existence and go in search of a different kind of future.
For me it was a win a few years ago. I won a round-the-world ticket and made it into so much more. The win itself wasn’t massive — a simple, limited-stop route worth around $3,000 or so, but the idea of travelling around the world (and who doesn’t take up a win) helped me make it into something bigger.
The ticket was too simple for me and I ended up expanding the ticket and turning it into a complex round-the-world-in-so-many-ways itinerary. It involved me paying a lot more for the changes (the cheapest round-the-world tickets will see you flying the simplest routes) and quitting my job ... and deciding to leave my husband behind for two months (he could only come for a month as he wasn’t willing to quit his job … and the prize was just one round-the-world ticket).
Embarking on a big trip usually means taking a leap of faith — whether it’s three months or three years, jobs and people don’t always wait around. Not embarking on that adventure you’ve always dreamt of could however turn into regret. To put it simply you’ll never know unless you do it.
Here are seven things that will help make that leap of faith a trip of a lifetime.
1) Book the important stuff in advance
But don’t over plan. I booked flights and accommodation in more remote areas in advance, but left some of the details until I got a destination. It pays to have a plan in place, but also the flexibility to change the plan if you so feel. You might hate one city, but completely fall in love with another, so booking a flight that allows changes without a fee (or at least with a minimal fee) is the best way to go.
2) Plan for various kinds of travel
I set off with my husband and so we worked out the places we wanted to see together and went from there.
I’ve got a Russian background so we visited Russia together and it was incredibly special for me to be able to share that with him. My Russian helped us get by, and although I would advise most people travelling to Russia to go as part of a tour (if you don’t speak English it can be tough) we were fine because of my dual-language skills.
We visited Moscow and St Petersburg, but also popped in and stayed overnight with relatives I’d never met in country Russia, and even went clubbing with my dad’s friends kids (which was way more fun than we expected).
The other country we choose to visit together was Italy — for two reasons.
Firstly, I love pizza and didn’t want to eat pizza twice daily alone every single day.
Secondly, Italy is pretty romantic. We relaxed in a gondola for an hour (after we got over how expensive it was), drank a lot of wine, watched many sunsets. It was bliss and one of the holidays we still reminisce about.
When I said bye to my husband I went on to visit places where I knew I’d be comfortable on my own. This was my first big trip, and my first solo stop was England. Is there any other place in the world outside of Australia that an Aussie feels more comfortable in?
This was the best way to ease into solo travel and I stayed at a hostel where I met a heap of friendly people. The fact that everything was in English helped a lot with the transition too.
My next stop was Paris — again a big city that was easy enough to navigate around on my own, but minus the English. Easing into each challenge one step at a time was such a good way to go.
From there I went onto Spain where I met my sister who decided to join me for a few weeks. We explored Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and even partied in Ibiza together before joining an Intrepid tour in Morocco. We choose to go with a tour in Morocco because we felt this would be the safer option, and again it gave me another mode of travelling within my three-month trip. Group trips are completely different so it was nice to change up the dynamics and see and chat to the same people every day for 10 days.
From Europe I went onto Montreal, then New York and then to Los Angeles on my own, and again joined an Intrepid tour in Central America to explore Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. I choose to travel to countries where I felt more comfortable on my own and joined group tours in countries that I knew less about.
My Central America Intrepid group. Picture: Tatyana Leonov
Now that I’m a seasoned traveller I’d probably approach the trip differently, but for a first-timer this was definitely the best way to go..
3) Chat to other travellers
One of the things that kept me from going insane was making friends and even catching up with people I knew (who became friends) wherever I was.
I had a few friends living in London at the time so caught up with them and had a few great nights out. In Paris I caught up with someone I’d only met once in Sydney. This ‘friend of a friend’ ended up taking me around Paris and introducing me to a bunch of really fun people — long story short — it was one of my best nights during the whole holiday.
In cities where I knew no-one I made more of an effort to chat to other travellers. Travelling for three months is a pretty big expense so I mostly stayed in hostels and chatted to my roommates and anyone in the common areas. Breakfast is usually provided at hostels and offers a great opportunity to meet others.
In Los Angeles I didn’t know anyone at all but made really good friends with a group of like-minded women staying at the same hostel. We all rented a car together and had a blast exploring Hollywood together.
4) Chat to locals
Locals are a wealth of insider knowledge that you won’t find online or in guidebooks. The people you deal with every day throughout your trip (shop keepers, bus drivers, concierge, hostel staff etc.) are usually full of really useful and detailed localised knowledge.
I remember in Montreal I went up and said hi to this girl who looked like she was nice. She was. She was also a ‘bagel expert’ and took me on a four-hour bagel walking tour. We bought cream cheese and salmon in bulk and then walked from one bagel shop to another, sampling all the varieties on offer. She was happy because she was able to share her passion with a visitor, and I was happy because … … bagels and company … enough said.
In Belize I tried some of the best lobster I’ve ever eaten, so I made an effort to chat to the chef. He ended up being one of the most charismatic men I’ve ever met and was so happy to chat lobster and rum all night. That’s all you need in Belize to be happy — lobster, rum and someone who knows all about it.
5) Immerse yourself in local culture
It could be as simple as listening to a local band play live music, watching an ice hockey game in Canada or checking out Mayan ruins in Mexico.
It can get tiring travelling for a long time, but making an effort to do what the locals do and seeing what the country is renowned for is worth it. It’s these memories that you’ll look back upon in years to come, and it’s these photos that you’ll want to share with friends and family when you get back home.
6) Take time out to do nothing
It’s really important to take time out on long holiday. Humans have a habit of trying to fit in as much as they can into a trip, but when you’re travelling for a long time you need time off from fun — to appreciate the fun … to wash clothes … you get the picture.
I remember going and seeing a movie on my own in Montreal and this was one of my best travel days. I just needed time off to do something I’d do at home and the experience made me a little less homesick.
Another highlight was the daylong train trip from Montreal to New York. A few people asked why I didn’t fly, but sitting in a super comfy seat watching the scenery go by for hours and hours was such a nice way to spend a day. It forced me to do nothing but relax and look out the window.
In Madrid my sister and I were so exhausted after a stint in Ibiza that we spent two days sleeping. Yeah, it was a bit of a ‘waste of time’, but our bodies needed sleep and we needed to make time for it.
5) Have fun
Sometimes the obvious things need to be spelt out, and ‘have fun’ is one of them. By all means, if you have a bucket list and you feel inclined to tick things off, then do it, but don’t forget to have fun doing the other stuff too. I climbed the Eiffel Tower and visited the Louvre in Paris, I went to the Colosseum in Rome, ate tagine in Morocco, checked out the Empire State Building in New York … the list goes on.
I also jumped with cartoon characters, tried foods I wouldn’t at home (like camel meat in Morocco), had photos taken with all kinds of weird paraphernalia, and even lay on the ground with my new friends in Hollywood … on Hollywood Boulevard. Everyone always says life is short — so act like it and make your round-the-world trip the trip of a lifetime.