w   o   r   l   d   a   w   a   i   t   s   .   c   o   m

Worldawaits Home


Road Reality

Roadwise Advice

Tales of the World

RTW Journal

Gear Links

International Data

World Weather

US Embassies Abroad

Embassies in US

Contact the Author

A column on the art of traveling well
Roadwise Home

Cost vs. Flexibility
The Right Long-Distance Ticket Package for You
Paul Otteson

"I'd like a ticket to Borneo, please. First Class...
...departing this afternoon, I'll pay in cash." I've always wanted to say that to a travel agent. Unfortunately, what I usually say is something more like this: "If I buy 6 months in advance, take the redeye, and travel baggage class, can I trim $50 of the fare?" The truth is that international travel seems expensive to all but a happy few, and that saving money on flights is a priority for most of us.

On the other hand, many modern travelers are independent-minded and adventurous. They may be traveling for extended periods, visiting several destinations. It's difficult to plan flights way in advance. It's not uncommon to change your mind many times on a trip, deciding to stay longer, leave sooner, or go someplace not on the original itinerary. No one wants to be stuck with a non-refundable ticket they don't want to use.

Travelers often want freedom, inspiration, spontaneity and flexibility to characterize their journeys. Fixed schedules and pre-booked reservations can steal these qualities, even as they add order and peace of mind. The smart traveler develops an approach that blends the two ends of the spectrum, allowing plenty of room for free exploration and spontaneous decision-making while pre-booking some transport and lodging for convenience.

If you are planning an extended journey with a constrained budget, yet want to maintain flexibility, consider the following alternatives:

1) GO DISCOUNT!—Most of the major airlines are involved in partnerships with other carriers of the world to provide multi-destination routing that encompasses the globe. Sometimes, these tickets will be marketed as special round-the-world deals that involve some combination of mild discounts and restrictive rules. Don't be taken in! Instead, buy from a discount ticket agent or "consolidator", you can get much cheaper tickets, all on major established airlines, with fewer restrictions and similar protections. Consolidators contract with a variety of airlines for blocks of seats on certain routes, then put those routes together into amazing packages. It is still possible to find round-the-world packages for $1000, though most of the deals now start around $1200. Check here for examples.

2) CHOOSE THE RIGHT TICKET PACKAGE—Perhaps the biggest mistake novice travelers make is to plan too much. It takes time to explore many regions of the world. Travelers with long destination lists often feel pressured to race through the local scene in order to get to the next place on the list. If you pre-purchase a Round-the-World, Circle-the-Pacific, or other multi-destination ticket package, match the number of stops to the time you have available. Be especially careful to allow enough time on the ground when you have to connect airports that are far apart—as when you land in London but your next flight departs from Athens. Good agents will advise you on what's reasonable.

3) PRE-PURCHASE HALF A JOURNEY—If you'll be traveling for a long time (several months to a year or more), expect to change your mind on the road. The ideas you have ahead of time about where to go and how long to stay could very well change. You will meet people who give you new ideas. You will discover what you really enjoy about travel. One way to avoid locking yourself into a plan that you end up not wanting is to pre-purchase half a package. If you're planning a round-the-world journey, you might buy the package that gets you to Europe, North Africa and South Asia, but doesn't include East Asia, Australia, or the South Pacific. When you arrive for your days in Athens, head to the local cyber café and set up your next ticket with your agent. Just make sure to find out in advance how overseas ticketing works with your agency. It might involve a pick-up at an affiliate agency, or perhaps overseas shipping. Agencies like Circletheplanet.com have an option to suit almost any itinerary.

4) THINK HUBS—Travel does not have to be completely linear. With Bangkok as a hub, for example, you can do excursions to Nepal, Vietnam, and Ko Phi Phi. The advantage of this "home base" thinking is that you can explore a macro-region more thoroughly, enjoying cheaper hub-based round trip flights. Another advantage is that more of your long-distance flights are between major hubs, which makes the tickets cheaper. A good discount travel agent will offer both cheap multi-destination packages that take you from hub to hub, and a variety of tickets and passes on regional airlines to get you too the cool spots.

5) STAY CONNECTED WITH YOUR AGENT AS YOU GO—Few travelers realize how much support they can get from their home agent while they are on the road. With the ease of sending and checking e-mail these days, you can maintain contact with your agent, keeping them informed of your choices as you think of them and getting their advice on moves that are good for the budget. The best discount agencies can even set you up with tickets just about anywhere in the world, either by directing you to a convenient partner agency where your tickets will be waiting, or by shipping tickets to a good rendezvous. The best thing, though, is that your agent will have answers for tough transport questions within hours of when you inquire—answers that aren't always easy to come by away from home.

Budget world travel arrived relatively recently. Just 20 years ago, discount round-the-world deals were a new thing. Today, discount agents are experts at finding the cheap threads in the amazing air transport web that links thousands of destinations worldwide. For the price of a month's apartment rent in San Francisco, you can hit 4 or 5 continents. Choose wisely, though—it's easy to make expensive mistakes in the air ticket game.


Paul Otteson
The World Awaits: How to Travel Far & Well
Managing Editor / Hostels.com