It was May of 2008. I zipped my plasticky waterproof shell up to my chin, leaned over the edge of the little zodiac boat, raised both arms in the air, and yelled at the top of my lungs while the waterfall plunged down on me with such force that my voice was inaudible, and my eyelids immovable. I felt so alive at that instant: it was a singular moment, not only in my traveling career, but in my life in general. And experiencing the majestic power and beauty of Iguazu Falls in Argentina was just the beginning of the life-changing experiences on my first solo round-the-world trip.
The trip was not an easy one to plan. I had just quit my job and had a couple of months off. I stressed about the planning of this giant task because I did not know until the very day when I quit what my time off might look like. I spent the better part of the next 96 hours in front of a computer and on the phone with travel agents trying to work out the main structure of my trip. Ultimately, in the span of 56 days, I traveled from Tokyo to LA for lunch with friends, then on to Las Vegas for a friend’s bachelor party weekend. From there I flew to Miami on a red-eye, spent the day on South Beach, then on to Buenos Aires on a second red-eye to stay with some friends in the Argentine capital. I took a side trip to Iguazu Falls before moving on to Cusco, Peru to kick off a trip to Machu Picchu through the Sacred Valley. From there I flew north to Quito, Ecuador for a brief stop before flying west to the Galapagos Islands for a live-aboard yacht trip through the archipelago. I then crossed over the Atlantic to Madrid via Quito again, spent a night there to see Picasso’s “Guernica” and some other artworks before spending a few days seeing Gaudi’s “living” museums in Barcelona. I flew back west again to Lisbon, exploring the beautiful riverside city, making a day trip to take in the spectacular castles of Sintra, then moving on to Vienna where I attended the opera and soaked up anything Mozart-related. Salzburg–home of “The Sound of Music”– was an easy train ride away; Prague was a more difficult train-and-bus-and-midnight-taxi-ride away, but a good friend was there to meet me for a few days to explore the sights of the city, giving me a nice break from traveling alone. Charming Budapest was naturally next on the list and so it went until I made it to Istanbul, which quickly became one of my most treasured cities anywhere– a city to experience with all five senses. Egypt was next: after seeing the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, it was off to the south by overnight train to Aswan for a Nile cruise back to Luxor– including a dawn convoy to Abu Simbel and hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. From Luxor I flew back via Cairo all the way to London to visit my cousins for a few hours before hopping back on a plane bound for Bangkok, from where I went straight to a “detox” resort on Koh Samui to relax and recover from my “vacation” before returning to Tokyo to start my new job.
If that took a lot of effort to read through, well it took a lot more effort to plan and execute. 14 countries, 58 days. This rapid method of travel is not for everyone, but I have no regrets about going about it the way I did. I made friends all along the way, had moments where I laughed and cried tears of happiness. I truly saw the world. These days, I prefer to spend more time in one place I love (I’ve just spent 5 weeks in Byron Bay, Australia), but that only comes after I feel like I’ve seen a few places and know what I enjoy.
So what made this trip possible for me? Well, time, first of all: I had 2 months with which to work, which obviously doesn’t happen every day. Money, of course, but not as much as you might think. It all depends on how much you want to spend on accommodations. Some tools: I had a 40 litre backpack, a carry-on sized rolling suitcase, a carry-on backpack, and a self-folding day backpack. I had some clothes holders to organize a 14-day rotation of clean clothes so my backpack was always neat, I could pick out the clothes I needed with one glance, and I could even have a suit folded with minimal wrinkles to wear out to the Opera, in Vegas, or to dinner. But the single most important “item” that made this trip possible was the Round-the-World airfare.
I flew the following segments: Tokyo-LA-Las Vegas-Miami-Buenos Aires-Cusco-Quito-Madrid-Lisbon-Vienna/Prague-Budapest-Istanbul-Cairo-London-Koh Samui-Tokyo for the shockingly low price of $5850 US–business class the whole way. Had I opted for economy class, it would have been even cheaper at $4300, but considering the cost of a Tokyo-New York round-trip business class ticket then was $6000, the one year time limit on the use of the ticket, the flexibility of being able to change flights any time, and the fact I would collect full miles on the entire trip, it just seemed a no-brainer to step up. Hop aboard the plane, turn left instead of right, sip champagne before takeoff, never worry about baggage limits or fees, lie flat on trans-oceanic flights. Fuel costs and taxes have since pushed up the cost of airfare in general, but in relative terms, it’s still one of the very best travel deals in existence, and we will talk about it more in the coming weeks.
There are quite a few websites out there now that offer guidance to people looking to tear out a little less hair in the process of booking these things, making things a little bit easier for the newbie. But for now, I want to ask you– have you ever taken a round-the-world trip? If yes, what was your experience like in planning it? If not, have you ever thought about taking one? What’s stopping you? Let me know with your comments below.
This album covers gives a brief recap of my 2008 trip through photos, hope you enjoy it.
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