Okay, go ahead, play connect-the-dots!
Do not let the choice of destinations determine your route. An RTW travel specialist will always have plenty of options on which to base the routing decision, such as available flights, transportation connections, and affordability. There are a few things I would like to stress: if your path allows it, try to see or do what you are most interested in first in a country, since time runs out fast; travel slowly, see fewer places, and stay in each place at least 2 to 5 days to get a feel for it, before deciding to leave. Sleeping in the same place every night for a week (every month or so) will help you avoid burning out from constant movement.
"Keep your options open! Do NOT get locked into an itinerary with non-refundable, no-changes-allowed tickets. On a long trip, you never know what to expect. That is the fun of it! You may be bored by the ballyhooed 'must see' tourist sensation which is teeming with tourists, and fall in love with a small village 'off the beaten track' where the local people are excited to see you and may even invite you into their homes. By 'off the beaten track' I do not mean Lonely Planet's travel guide destinations. Anything mentioned in a widely read book is definitely not an unspoiled travel destination. Remember, this is YOUR trip, make your own marks. If you can go overland, do it. You do not get to experience places too well from your seat in an airplane, but often you have to cross a big amount of water or avoid a country that is off limits to travelers (like present Rwanda and Somalia). Sometimes (like in Africa) the connections from one place to another are just too hard to make. In those cases, buy an airline ticket." <Axel Lambert>
"A common planning mistake is locking in a route that is not really necessary, desirable, or optimal. Another one is eliminating destinations because of false assumptions about possible routes. Many travellers prefer crossing large stretches by land, since water is rarely feasible, but then those stretches (e.g. the Karakoram Highway), become destinations in themselves. Another mistake is to pass up stretches, like the KKH, based on the false assumption that RTW tickets require an unbroken route by air. It is not necessary to backtrack by land to resume the air itinerary. Moreover, focusing on routes distracts people from thinking about the reality of what life (and travel) will be like in the places they will be passing through, and thus living in." <Edward Hasbrouck>
Detailed itineraries are available in RTW Trip Abstracts, the last section of the guide. There are also extensive routing considerations in the section on Weather. Here are a few generalized examples of RTW routes:
[I would appreciate examples of routes that cover other paths, if there are common ones through S. America and Russia. May start a section or separate file for this. See the rest of this section for more information.]
- US, Hawaii, Fiji (or Cook Islands or Tahiti), New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, India, Africa, and Europe.
- Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Vladivostok.
- Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Mongolia, and then the Trans-Mongolian railroad to Beijing.
To get an idea of routes that consolidators offer, visit their sites listed in the Consolidator chapter.
There is a tendency, or rule, for travel agents to ticket north or south of the equator, so this may be one way to split it into two trips if you are using published-fare tickets. The Southern Route ticket is more expensive, and goes to New Zealand, Australia, East Africa, and South America, with free stops usually in Hawaii, Tahiti, and Fiji. The Northern Route goes to places such as Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Turkey, and is very affordable.
If you cannot afford New Zealand, you will find some of the same scenery in Nepal and N. India. Diving in Australia can be replaced by Indonesia and the Red Sea. New Zealand is cheaper than Australia, if you go in that direction. You might consider splitting the trip into multiple RTWs, since you will be traversing many Third World countries, which can wear you down in the long run, so don't do too many of them on one trip. Many people want to sample many places quickly, but if you decide to travel slowly, then also consider a Circle-Pacific ticket. South America is also cheapest if ticketed as a round-trip from LA or Miami, and worth a year by itself.
Onward tickets vs. buying all of them: The critical points, if you do decide to go there, are Australia and New Zealand. Most nationalities I believe, need an onward ticket, but if you don't, it is no place to be buying them since they are very expensive there (Americans don't require onward tickets, if they can show sufficent funds in New Zealand). The same goes for Japan, one of the worst possible places to have to buy a one-way ticket out. The countries whose onward-ticket requirements (for most nationalities) most often require through-travellers to buy through-tickets in advance are Australia and Indonesia. My solution for expensive places is to email my travel agent, and have him ship me the tickets.
"Buying all your tickets separately or in stages (before leaving, or en route) is nice for the flexibility, but it is likely to be more expensive than if choosing the entire route, buying all the tickets at once, and committing to completing travel within one year of buying the tickets. The price penalty for buying tickets in two or three stages (several flights at a time) may be only a few hundred US dollars (10-15% of total cost), but buying tickets one at a time could double the cost, given the cost of single one-way tickets out of some countries without local discounting." <Edward Hasbrouck>
Depending on your interests, you can usually change the dates in your itinerary -- ask before buying tickets. London, San Francisco, Bangkok, Athens, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang are popular places to buy cheap tickets. New York, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Nairobi, are other places for cheap tickets. Sydney is a special case: prices are good, but it's usually ruled out by the Australian onward-ticket requirement for all but Australian and New Zealand citizens. In Amsterdam, have a look at the classifieds in "De Volkskrant" and "De Telegraaf".
Another critical juncture is Bombay to East Africa. It is easy to buy tickets there at reasonable prices, but I still don't trust the travel agents. It is best to have confirmed reservations before high season, else you may wait weeks to leave.
"Other considerations for route and directions are that it may be a good idea to alternate time spent in Third World countries versus 'civilized' nations. This has a number of benefits and is not difficult to incorporate into most routes. For one, if you are struggling with health or dietary problems, it allows your body some recovery time. Secondly, it provides greater contrast in cultures, giving you greater appreciation of the differences. Third, it allows periods where you can be better contacted by friends or relatives. Fourth, it may be easier to renew travel insurance, vaccinations, change plane tickets, etc., in a more familiar environment. There are numerous other benefits, although spending extended periods in either environment is certainly not to be discouraged!!" <Chris Finlayson>
"It is true that to travel to Third World countries it is good to be refreshed beforehand, but a few months in Australia before Asia, Europe before Africa, or the US before South America will do this for you, amongst unlimited other possibilities. It is not necessary (or possibly even desirable) to go to Asia first. Your insurance should cover your return home in the event of sickness WHEREVER you are, and whenever it happens. Also, increasing the levels of difficulty is not necessarily a good idea. It can be good (we found) to plunge into the most difficult at full strength when you are most alert, rather than when you may be worn down a bit." <Chris Finlayson>
There are a thousand ways to do Western Europe, due to open borders and many transportation options. Your choices for routes through Asia are more limited, and there is the possibility of dead-ends that can cause you to backtrack long distances. There is a 'tourist trail' (in either direction) from Bali through Singapore and Malaysia, then up into Thailand, hopping to Nepal, and down to Goa in southern India. Since you can now get visas for the Vietnam-China border crossing, it is once again possible to continue overland on the popular London-New Zealand route. If you are using published RTW airline tickets, you might find yourself moving through countries in Southeast Asia in the same order as others due to the nature of travelling there, and the availability of flights in that area.
Most travellers pass through SE Asia, so have a look at the Low Res border map at SE Asia Border Crossings .
If you want to trace Western history, you might start in Egypt, head up through Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, then wander around the rest of Europe.
Another frequent path is from Europe to India, crossing through Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. If your nationality prevents you from crossing through Iran, you might be able to go south in a variety of paths, or fly across. There are a few overland buses plying this route. Americans and Brits are not always granted visas for Iran (and then sometimes with limitations on duration of stay, and/or for transit, and/or with considerable delays in issuance). If you are rejected in Ankara, Turkey, try Tbilisi, Georgia.
There are two main routes down through Africa. The Eastern Route used to start in Egypt, splitting after Sudan (now uncrossable due to civil war) to: Central African Republic (CAR), Uganda, Kenya, or Eritrea. It was also possible to start in Eritrea and continue into Ethiopia, but they are still disputing the border as of 2005. The Uganda leg can pass into Kenya, Rwanda (no longer), or Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also too dangerous). The Kenya leg can pass through Tanzania into Zaire by boat, or by rail or road into Zambia, with a possible side-trip to Malawi (Mozambique may still be recovering from the 20-year civil war, so find current info to see if their are hotspots, and how things are going in general). The route crosses between Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe). There are many routes from there to Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia. There is also the option of flying some of the more difficult stretches (e.g. flying between Dar es Salaam and Harare).
Considerably more difficult, the Western Route starts in Morocco (as Algeria is very dangerous) and passes through Western Sahara. It follows the coast between Senegal (or Gambia, or the Cape Verde Islands) and Ghana (not advisable in 2005) or the Ivory Coast (or, for those more ambitious and willing to deal with the crime, etc. of Nigeria, further on to Cameroon or Equatorial Guinea), then onward to Central Africa Republic, one of the many places where the routes meet, and a great place to pick up news from other travellers. Intermittent political problems sometimes make it necessary to overfly one or more countries along the way, and this route is only for those with a reserve of emergency money and an extremely elastic budget of time. Zaire (Congo) is too dangerous now to consider crossing to the southern or eastern African nations, so you will have to fly.
"If you want to see places that tourists (even backpackers) usually do not visit -- especially in Africa -- you may want to consider buying a full-price, one-way ticket. This allows you all the stopovers en-route that you can think of. I put together trips from London to Capetown with stops in places like Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Zaire (Congo), Malawi and Zimbabwe. Even though such a ticket is not cheap, it beats having to buy individual tickets in those countries or traveling back and forth to Europe. Such a ticket is quite flexible too, in terms of changes and refunds." <Axel Lambert>
"South America is usually cheapest as a side-trip from North America, but that is not necessarily a reason not to include it, especially for those starting or ending their trip outside the Americas. It is fairly common for them to go Europe-East Coast USA-Central/South America-West Coast USA-Asia/Pacific or vice versa. As for Africa, it is not always 'very' expensive; it depends greatly on the exact itinerary. Sometimes adding one particular African stop could add $1500 to an itinerary; sometimes you could add six African stops for less than that." <Edward Hasbrouck>
Most routes change on the road just from the advice and stories you hear from fellow travellers, and new friends you make along the way. As you cross paths with those travelling in the opposite direction, you will exchange the most up-to-date information. In addition, opportunities arise and political climates change.
The more prior planning you do, the more flexibility you will have. Some places are so nice, you will stay longer than planned; others too expensive to stay as long as planned.
"Your perception of a country before you get there, and your notions of how long it might take to do things will continually change. Once you are there you will know whether you want to rush through or linger, and you will hear of things that you want to see that you didn't even know existed. We found also that at the start of our trip we just wanted to see everything (it was all so exciting), then as the trip lengthened, although we still wanted to see everything, we found ourselves preferring not to move quite so much, but to base ourselves in one place and more thoroughly explore a particular area." <Chris Finlayson>
"Nothing is worse than having a great time and then realizing that you HAVE to catch a flight in x number of days … bummer. Stay away from strict schedules. It is probably one of my main pieces of advice to give to others. I take that back, it is *the* single most important piece of advice I can give." <Alan Nelson>
"I am not a big believer in planning out a route in advance. There really is no way to predict which country or culture will compel you to take a closer look. We went to Bali for a week and stayed a month. In 1984 I went to Istanbul for three days and stayed for ten, leaving then only because I had to be in Bulgaria according to my self-imposed schedule. Had I not restricted myself so, I might have spent a month or two in Turkey, discovering the country before its huge tourist boom, and extending my five-month trip because of the lower costs in Turkey. I have met a great many people with RTW air tickets scrambling to get their money back on segments they did not use, or could not get to in time. One German fellow with a one-year RTW ticket made New Zealand his first stop; when we met him he had been there for nine months. For every traveler with the courage to break from his or her planned, prepaid itinerary there must be a hundred who just go on with the trip, full of regrets about the places they did not linger. In the Third World, the traveling, rather than the destination, is the most interesting part of the trip. You can usually cover large areas overland, relying on planes only for crossing highly unstable areas (Iraq, Afghanistan) or the ocean. By shrinking distances and enveloping the traveller in a standard, artificial atmosphere, airplanes are the great destroyers of adventure in the 20th century. So, my advice is: buy a discount, one-way ticket to your first destination and wing it from there. Wherever possible, travel overland and you will find that you need to do a lot less flying than you thought. In the end, you may not even go all the way around the world. You may spend a little more on airfare than you would buying the tickets all up front, but the trip will be your own, and not the routing of some airline or travel agent." <Larry Lustig>
I encourage using consolidator tickets, but if you must use published-fare RTW airline tickets, keep in mind that they try to keep you in one hemisphere or allow one crossing for places like Australia, and most do not allow any backtracking. You can get around this by going on side-trips at your own expense. Most RTW fares require that your routing destinations be declared, but only the first flight date must be firmly set. Sometimes, the airline rules can make it difficult to change the routing after you have started. Include as many cities as possible on a published-fare ticket since you can travel past some of them on the ground, to the next airport, without paying a fee to re-issue the ticket.
South America and Africa are not covered very well by published-fare RTW tickets. They can be very expensive, and are mostly just a drop-off and pick-up due to the major airlines using the hub and spoke system. For example, British Airways flies round-trips from London to just a few cities in Southern Africa, without stopping in the Mideast or Egypt. They fly in and out of Casablanca, Ghana-Nigeria, Uganda-Kenya-Tanzania, Seychelles-Mauritius, and South Africa on separate round-trips. In general, flights into Africa are cheaper from Europe.
"If you are going to research the published RTW airline ticket routing yourself, you will find that it is the most difficult and time-consuming portion of RTW planning. Getting accurate information can be difficult. You may find that limited stops on long-range flights will eliminate most Middle Eastern stop-overs from Asia to Europe." <Alan Nelson>
For adventurers with limited funds, you might consider the other option of leaving with only a few tickets. If you have a long list of interests, sellable skills, minimal ties back home, prior travel experience, maturity, and enough money to get started, you may not want a set itinerary, so you can wander as your interests change, and just come home, or find work as you need.