We finally made it home after our fantastic 5 and a half month circumnavigation of the globe and this now marks the completion of the first phase of our 12 month career break. Well… it is a little more than a ‘career break’… for us, this year is a kind of ‘life’ break too… 12 months of doing something totally different and away from the routine and responsibilities of life.
A once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the world, try new activities, stay in different types of places, eat in different restaurants and also to experience a temporary life of relative freedom. Freedom from household chores; freedom from work deadlines and freedom from the endless list of ‘things to do’. In a way we are ‘borrowing’ a year from retirement… bringing one precious year forward by 15 years or so and creating fantastic memories that we can look back on for the rest of our lives.
Of course, life on the road isn’t one long odessy of shameless and carefree bliss. You do indeed end up with chores… just different ones! Our RTW trip was pretty fast and (not quite) furious as we covered a lot of places during this time. Moving to a new accommodation every few days and a new country every couple of weeks takes a lot of on-the-go planning and organising so is quite different from simply being on holiday.
With the odd exception (a weekend camping or trekking for example) a holiday for us usually means 1 or 2 weeks of staying in a decent hotel with a few luxuries, an extra cocktail or two and a few treats. Travelling for nearly six months meant staying in hostels, home-stays, AirBnB rentals, budget hotels and the occasional splurge of a 4 star hotel (although only when in less expensive countries… oh yes).
The first 6 weeks or so were carefully planned and executed! Once confirmation of Laura’s career break was received we spent 4 months (Sep – Dec) planning in earnest. We had the first few flights booked, the routes, accommodation for the first 6 weeks, the hire car in New Zealand and had looked into several activities. From our arrival in Bali in mid February we had nothing organised and did the rest of the planning and booking as we went.
In order to make the best of a destination we’ve found that researching our options and planning as much as we can in advance worked well for us. When we reflect back the best experiences we had were those we had researched properly. As an example, we had a brilliant time staying at the Tapik Beach in Palawan, Philippines. Had we simply followed the usual tourist route and just stayed in El Nido we would have spent too much time in this shoulder-to-shoulder tourist hotspot and not discovered the most beautiful beach we’ve ever seen or woken up to the sun rising through our open slatted beach house windows each morning or had dinner on the remote beach with a handful of other people.
Conversely we didn’t research Luang Prabang properly which resulted in us spending our 4 days there during the Laos New Year and getting drenched with water every time we ventured out of the hotel. That, combined with the seasonal dense smoke in the atmosphere didn’t give us the best experience of (according to CN Traveller) this “colonial gem of a city“. So our hot tip is don’t go to LP in mid April…
So… back to getting home… It took only a matter of hours before we settled back in and started to get back to normal. We had left cold dark wintery London during the morning of 1st January and arrived back to… hmmm… pleasantly mild, if not a tad rainy mid June temperatures. Our grown up adult children had looked after our home and car and all was grand when we returned…
After nearly 6 months it was wonderful to see our family in ‘real life’ and it was particularly special to spend a week in Santorini with our son and daughters shortly after our return. Although thanks to Skype and FaceTime we were able to keep in good contact with our family throughout our trip.
As mentioned above, travelling around the world as we did took a great deal of planning and organising. Most of the information gleaned was from other travel blogs. As we publish this post we are just over half way through our amazing year and thought it would be good to share some facts and figures together with some Q & A’s which may be helpful to other travellers (and to anyone else who is vaguely interested).
London – Los Angeles – Maui – Hawaii (Volcano Big Island) – Tahiti – Bora Bora – Moorea – Auckland – Rotorua – Napier – Wellington – Christchurch – Fairlie – Wanaka – Te Anau – Queenstown – Sydney – Cairns – Seminyak – Ubud – Yogyakarta – Jakarta – Manila – Batad – Manila – Puerto Princesa – El Nido – El Nido East (Tapik) – Puerto Princesa – Phuket – Koh Lanta – Krabi – Surat Thani – Hua Hin – Bangkok – Sukhothai – Chiang Mai – Luang Prabang – Vientiane – Hanoi – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap – Hong Kong – Macau – Tokyo – Shanghai – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya – Ella – Tangalle – Mirissa – Galle – Negombo – London
RTW Flight or individual flights?
We chose to book all of our flights individually rather than purchase commercial round-the-world tickets. We found this to be cheaper and it also maximised our flexibility to choose where and when to move around. Most RTW tickets have conditions whereby you have to travel in a certain direction, stop in certain continents and travel within a certain timescale. We didn’t have any of this and were able to book the most suitable flights for us.
As an example our RTW trip consisted of 26 flights (including long and short haul) which came to a total of £2,850* each, so an average of £109 per flight. The most expensive was £350 (from Honolulu to Papeete) and the cheapest was £15.50 (from Yogyakarta to Jakarta). *We paid for our (longest) flights from London to LA using Virgin Flying Club miles + tax which was £190 each.
Total number of different accommodations: 62… yep we stayed in 62 different places ranging from several 1 night stays to the odd 7 night stay. We were away for 165 days which meant checking out and a moving to a new place on average every 2.5 days. We spent around £6K on accommodation for both of us so an average of £36 per night. Not surprisingly the average in the Pacific countries was much higher at around £70 per night and much lower in the Asian countries, particularly Thailand where we could find a room for around £15 per night (hence one reason for staying the longest in Thailand…)
Total cost of flights and accommodation per person for 5.5 months: £6,000
This cost could be significantly reduced with less flights/transfers and more time in South East Asia.
Working out the total expenditure for the entire trip is much more difficult and something we haven’t actually done. This would include all the extras e.g. food, activities, train and bus travel, car hire, excursions and everything else. We haven’t kept track or kept any receipts so to do this would mean going through every bank and credit card statement, removing the cost of flights and accomm’s and try to work out the remainder…
Backpack or case? We had a combination of both which worked for us! We took one small-medium sized wheeled case where we packed liquids, the first aid kit, snorkel equipment and other bits and bobs and this was our single piece of ‘checked baggage’ which saved quite a bit of money.
In addition we took a 40 litre Osprey back pack each which are the maximum size as accepted by most airlines for cabin baggage. All airlines vary their allowances slightly so we kept the weight of each pack to 7 kg and the weight of the case to under 20 kg. This worked well as a general rule and meant we didn’t incur any unexpected extra baggage fees. We were both highly impressed with our Osprey packs which are comfortable to wear, lightweight and durable and fully open like a case.
Where is your favourite place? Many people have asked this question and it is difficult to answer…maybe the scenery in New Zealand; the food in Thailand; the organisation and orderliness of Japan? As a starter we’ve selected our 10 favourite view points:
- Standing at Belvedere Point, Moorea, French Polynesia
- Watching Tokyo at dusk from the top of the Mori Tower was stunning
- Arriving at the tiny deserted paradise Philippine island (from Tapik Beach) was jaw dropping
- Seeing a turtle while snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef was incredible
- Hiking the Rob Roy Glacier in New Zealand
- The view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak was breath-taking
- Looking across the harbour at Sydney Opera House was a ‘pinch myself I’m not dreaming’ moment
- Riding on the incredibly scenic train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella in Sri Lanka
- Seeing the smouldering crater at Hawaii Volcano National Park
- Wandering through Angkor Wat in Cambodia and trying to appreciate the effort, determination and skill that went into building it hundreds of years ago
Next up… Europe!