Friday, May 28, 2010

RTW Itinerary -- soliciting feedback please!

As posted on BootsnAll & Lonely Planet's ThornTree:

Greg and I are starting our 6+ month RTW trip in just over 2 months! We have not booked anything but are ready to commit to specific dates/flights/tours as necessary. We will be flying standby on DL to SYD. Overall trip is still very flexible at this point. We are in the process of getting all vaccinations but have not started on visas.

A little history: I was an international flight attendant for Delta for 7 years so have traveled extensively for work & pleasure. I have already been on extended trips (1-2 weeks+ each) to Beijing, Seoul, Mumbai, Rajasthan, New Delhi & Agra, Istanbul, Italy and Spain but have agreed to revisit some of these areas due to my boyfriend's desire to see them. We are both easy-going, physically fit, generally healthy, non-picky eaters. We have already traveled together to Eastern Europe and many places in the U.S. so I have few doubts about our ability to cope with the inherent ups & downs of long-term travel.

Together we have narrowed down the countries/regions we're most interested in seeing. We've both saved up a lot of money as well as have separate reserves for "reentry" and basically are hoping to travel until the $$$ runs out or we wear out! We plan to stay with friends, couch surf, or stay in private rooms in hostels or budget motels but will splurge as needed (e.g. for safaris, when sick, for a unique experience). After this first 6 months, we are planning to rest at home in the U.S. for a week or two, then head out again to South America for a few more months.

All that being said, here's our itinerary with some of my key questions listed at the end:

Date Duration (days) Country - City/Sights
01AUG 2 in transit BNA-ATL-LAX-SYD
03AUG 4 Australia - Sydney
Fly to Darwin; train/rental car through Northern Territory/South Australia
07AUG 14 Australia - Kakadu NP, Uluru, Kangaroo Island, Melbourne
Fly to Auckland; fly to Rotorua
22AUG 14 New Zealand - self drive/rail tour (via Auckland; Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown)
Fly to SE Asia
05SEP 14 Laos: Louang Prabang, Vientiane; Vietnam: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Mekong Delta; Cambodia: Phnom Penh, Angkor
Fly to Hong Kong
19SEP 5 China Hong Kong
24SEP 7 China Yangtze river cruise?
01OCT 5 China Beijing/Great Wall
Fly to Seoul
06OCT 5 Korea Seoul/DMZ
Fly to Tokyo
11OCT 4 Japan Tokyo
Train to Kyoto
15OCT 5 Japan Kyoto/Hiroshima
Fly to Delhi
20OCT 3 India - Delhi; Shatabdi Express train to Agra/Taj Mahal
23OCT 14 India - Varanasi? Kolkata?
Fly to Bangalore
06NOV 5 India - Kerala: Fort Cochin, backwaters by houseboat
Fly to Cape Town
11NOV 7 South Africa - Cape Town & vicinity; Blue Train? Kruger?
Fly to Dar es Salaam
18NOV 7 Tanzania - Dar es Salaam, Ngorongoro, Serengeti
25NOV 7 Kenya - Maasai Mara safari
Fly to Cairo
02DEC 10 Egypt - Cairo & Giza, Luxor, Nile River cruise, Abu Simbel
12DEC 5 Jordan - Amman, Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum
17DEC 5 Israel - Jerusalem & historic/biblical sites
22DEC 8 Turkey - Istanbul ++
Fly to Italy
30DEC 20 Italy - 3 weeks by car/train
Fly to Spain
19JAN 7 Spain - Madrid & Barcelona
26JAN 7 Morocco - Marrakesh, Fes, Tangier, Rabat
02FEB in transit MAD-ATL-BNA

Key questions:

VISAS - Based on my research & previous experience, we need to get China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kenya & Tanzania in advance. Trying to decide if it's worth the money to use a visa processing company (like Travisa) as they charge $50 per person, per country. Otherwise we have to mail our passports to each embassy and hope to get them back with the approved visa.

ITINERARY - I know this is pretty ambitious. Any suggestions for trimming down (ie, any places you would skip for some reason or another?) or maybe substituting in some way?

TRANSPORTATION - This is probably what I'm most concerned about -- the cost & logistics of all those flights! Still need to inquire about a RTW-type ticket but afraid to get pigeonholed by too many set dates. At the same time, don't want to spend days on rickety bus/boat/trains... Which tickets do you think are critical to buy in advance, whether due to limited availability/high tourist season or to keep costs down? Are there any particular transit experiences/routes on our itinerary that you highly recommend?

ORGANIZED TOURS - We feel that some places justify an organized tour, although I prefer the smallest group size possible. These include Uluru, Yangtze river cruise, Tanzania & Kenya safaris, and possibly all of Egypt, Jordan, Israel & Turkey. Any thoughts or recommendations?

Many thanks in advance to everyone who responds. I am treating this like a (most enjoyable) full time job until we depart so can reply quickly to anyone who needs further information.


  1. amy Teichman5/29/10, 4:15 AM

    Hi Althea (and Greg),

    I have been to a few of the places on your itinerary. It sounds like a wonderful and ambitious trip. I wanted to give you a couple of ideas off the top of my head:

    Austalia: Uluru can be done in 1 day or skipped altogether. We were there for two days and about 4 hours into, we were bored. It is a giant rock in the middle of absolutely nowhere!!! Once we hiked around it, there was really nothing left to do. They have a couple of really big resorts around that have accommodation for 5 star hotels and hostels to camping all on the same grounds. Two of the things we did that were fun we a camel ride at sunrise and a Aussie BBQ underneath the stars at night. The latter was awesome. It was really cool to see all the amazing stars! The food wasn't spectacular, but it was fun. And you leave just before sunset so there are great opportunities to take pictures at sunset in front of the giant rocks. Also, the outback is infested with flies. It was horrible. No one told us about it and we would have been happy about the head's up. You can buy hats with netting for your head. I would definitely get those. It's hard to take pictures and explore when you're constantly batting flies. I've been a lot of places and nothing has ever been that bad.

    I didn't see Cairns or the Reef on your itinerary. There is a great rain forest in Cairns that has a small zoo at the top. It was so beautiful. You can take an old wooden train to the top and a cable car (kind of like the old sky ride at Opryland) down. Or you can hike or any combination of the three. It was wonderful. Also, from Cairns you can jump off to the Great Barrier Reef Islands. We splurged and stayed on Dunk Island. It was unbelievable. It was quite possibly the most relaxed I have ever been (with one exception, you'll see that one in a minute). Tons of stuff to do, horse back riding at sunset on the beach, fishing (we caught at 300lb shark) and lots of snorkeling and scuba (you can get certified on the same day). You will probably do a tour with the snorkeling/ scuba. When you do this anywhere in Australia, check the size of the tour boat before you book. Make sure it is around 50 ppl (no more than 100). It might be a little more expensive, but it's worth it. There will be so much stuff that you will want to ask about that it's good to have that smaller ratio and more attention from staff.

  2. Amy Teichman5/29/10, 4:15 AM

    Sydney is great. We spent days hiking in the Blue Mountains. The animals are unbelievable. I loved looking at all the birds.

    Italy- I know Althea has been there. I have spent a lot of time in Italy. I would recommend not to miss Sardenia. Also, in the north I would go to Volterra. The food is unreal!! Also Rovello in the south (this is where Limoncello comes from) is great and you can jump from there to Capri and other islands. It smells like the freshest lemons in the world (which is also a good treat). Let me know what you finally decide and I may be able to help you with a lot of other stuff. I have plenty of friends and I've worked in a ton of restaurants throughout the country. So, I might be able to help you.

    Finally, I know you may not be heading this far, but can I recommend Greece. Go to Athens see the sites for a couple days. Then take the hydrofoil to Hydra. This is the most romantic and relaxing place I have ever been. When all the chaos gets to you, go here. It's a tiny island with no cars (a donkey meets you at the boat to take your luggage to the hotel. We stayed in an old sponge factory. It was brilliant. There are no other Americans and little English is spoken. But, the people are genuine and friendly. the scenery is gorgeous and it's a great place to just wander around and be together. There are lovely cliffs and restaurants and bars right over the edge. It is truly a dream place.

    I have tons of stuff for Europe. I know you do too. Let me know if you need any help with anything there. If I think of anything else, i'll drop you a line. Also, it goes without saying, if you need a place in London, you can always hang with us. We have an extra room, so you'll not have to crash on a couch!!

    Cheers and good luck!!

  3. First off I'll write a quick note and more later ( I've been out and not flying due to an injury and can't sit for long...) I agree with Amy about Uluru...I loved Cairns as well and snorkling in the Great Barrier Reef. Also took a helicopter ride over the reef and that was amazing. Queenstown was by far my favorite place in New Zealand...Shotover Jet Boat rides were scary fun and you can bungy jump from a speedboat kind of like parasail bungee jumping.
    As of S.Africa, Cape Town was a fave and Tabletop mountain is a must. I wouldn't take the Blue Train as a) it is over priced b) you are only on it for about 8 hours c) it would be better to see the Stellenbosch through a tour specifically for that, a wine tasting tour.
    Have you considered Zanzibar?
    I stayed at the Aywar Niwat Hotel ( link coming soon ) in Jaipur and would highly recommend $15/night big nice rooms and good food.
    I have a good friend in Osaka and I could pick his brain if you go there. Just read an article about the beaches of Cambodia, more on that later was in Nat. Geo mag this month I think. How exciting. take care G