How to Plan A Trip Around the World
Over the 2014 Christmas holiday I visited Asia for the fourth time and completed my third round-the-world (RTW) trip. I added three new countries, visiting Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka for the first time.
DCA-IAH-TYR, DFW-DEN-NRT-CGK-DPS-SIN-RGN-NYU, MDL-HEH-MDL-NYU-RGN-KUL-CMB-DXB-ZRH-IAD
How did this 21 segment itinerary come about? How do I even begin considering something so complex? Many people have asked, so I decided to write a detailed account here.
As I’ve written about before, ambitious travel is most likely to happen if you have goals. A good friend and I have been wanting to travel together for years, and in February of 2014, decided it was time! We knew we wanted to visit Myanmar – a country that had been at the top of both of our lists since the country re-opened to tourism in 2011. The other stops were completely flexible. Because Myanmar is on the opposite side of the world from Washington, DC, I knew this was going to be a big trip, and a big investment. I would want to see other countries in the region, and attempt to create an airfare booking that would take me completely around the world (RTW), and not simply a round-trip (RT) flight that would cross the Pacific twice. I began to closely examine flight sales to SE Asia on The Flight Deal, searching for a sale that could be hacked for my purposes. Eventually I struck gold on a United sale from Dallas to Jakarta, Indonesia for $996. The Flight Deal is a great place to sources cheap fares that can be modified or hacked for an around the world (RTW) trip
After I found a fare to modify, the first step was to see if the sale was available for the dates I needed, and if it could originate from Tyler, TX where I would be with my family for the holidays. United sales often apply to other nearby cities which feed into the same United hub – in this case, Houston (IAH). After some time on ITA Matrix playing around with the dates, I was able to find an itinerary from Tyler, TX (TYR) to Jakarta (CGK), departing December 23rd and returning January 8th for $1054, only $58 more. Quite a good price for Tyler, TX and for travel over the holidays!
However, I wasn’t finished yet. Remember that I didn’t want a RT ticket, I wanted a RTW ticket that will let me visit other new countries without having to double-back home on the same flight segments. Using ITA Matrix (Google Flights is now a better alternative), I kept the same dates that I found for the fare sale, but transferred over to a Multi-Segment search, with Tyler to Jakarta on Dec 23rd as the outbound segment. For the inbound segment, I began to randomly type in Star Alliance hub cities that I knew would route me home flying Westward, like Istanbul (IST – Turkish Airways), Zurich (ZRH – SWISS Airlines), and Cairo (CAI – EgyptAir). These hubs didn’t work, and raised the cost to well over $2000 – not helpful. It seemed that the sale fare necessitated that the inbound segment originate somewhere in Asia. I tried the big Star Alliance airports in Asia like Bangkok and Singapore, and was able to keep the same low price, but was always routed back across the Pacific.
After about 20 minutes of searching, I started randomly trying large airports, starting at Jakarta and slowly moving West, hoping that I could find an itinerary that would price for the same amount, but route me home traveling West. Colombo, Sri Lanka was the winner! It priced out to roughly $1380 to return home via SWISS from Colombo to Dubai to Zurich to DC with a long layover in Zurich, an around the world itinerary! I then attempted to purchase the itinerary on several online booking sites and found success with Orbitz, one of the legacy online travel agencies that allows you to book multi-airline itineraries. When the itinerary was priced, it actually dropped to $1262! Over $100 cheaper than I found on ITA Matrix.
Since my friend and I were going to fly into Jakarta to qualify for the airfare sale, we decided that we both needed to see Bali. Neither of us had been, and it was a short and cheap $70 AirAsia flight from Jakarta. I then used Skyscanner to book other Asian budget airline tickets to transit from Bali to Yangon, and from Yangon to Colombo. Another attractive option was to use British Airways Avios to book short reward flights on OneWorld partners like Sri Lankan Airlines or Malaysia Airlines since the Avios award points are distance-based.
In the end, our primary destinations turned out to be Bali, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, three new countries for me! I also had the good fortune of having United cancel one of my flights, allowing me to call them to rebook including a 25 hour layover in Tokyo, a city I hadn’t yet explored. Adding in my long layover in Zurich for some hiking and snow-hunting, I covered a lot of ground! These types of trips are very fulfilling to me, because I am getting the most bang-for-my buck. It would have been much easier to book that RT ticket to Jakarta and then a second RT ticket from Jakarta to Myanmar, but it would have involved flying the exact same segments twice, and missing out on exploring many new places for the same approximate cost.