Affordable wanderlust: The financial case against round-the-world flights
Wednesday, 5 April 2017
One cold night in November 2008, I was staring up at a starless sky while lying on top of a speeding bus crossing the border into India from Nepal.
Bundled up with two sweatshirts and a jacket, my hands were clenched tightly to the rooftop bars. Tyler, my boyfriend (now husband), was similarly dressed, also white-knuckling it. Our backpacks were our pillows, but we had to adjust them whenever the bus hit a speed bump.
The adrenaline was palpable. Around us were other backpackers crossing the border—backpackers with very little money, looking to get from one place to another without spending a lot of money.
This wasn't our first overland border cross. We'd traveled by airplane from San Francisco to Shanghai, China, five months prior. Since then, we had taken mostly trains, buses, cars, and boats between countries. The only other time we'd flown was to Nepal from Thailand, because political conflict in Myanmar made it unsafe to cross on land. We were on a tight budget and planned to be away from home for a full year. Flights were a luxury.
Not once did we consider a round-the-world (RTW) ticket. Why? We had time, we wanted the flexibility to leave cities in an instant, and we didn't have much money. RTW tickets can be attractive options for people who want to know exactly when and where they are going, but the finances don't always work out. Depending on the air carriers, dates, and places you'd like to go, a ticket like this can cost $3,000 to $10,000—not very friendly to budget travelers.
Here, I break down four financial reasons not to purchase a RTW ticket.
1. Buying local is always cheaper
Regardless if you're in Paris, Lima, Panama, Singapore, or Kathmandu, you can find decent transportation options on the ground. You don't need to plan too far in advance; it's better if you wait until you are in a location to scope out the most affordable options. Take Tyler Morgan, a BBVA Leap Associate, for example. He traveled throughout Europe last summer and instead of purchasing train tickets through Eurail (which can be pricey), he bought his travel through Rail Europe after he arrived. Read more about his exciting trip here.
Talk to travel agents once you get to your location. It's also a good idea to chat with people staying and working at hostels. And if you do need to purchase an intercontinental flight, look at local options. Ryanair and easyJet are two well-known companies in Europe.
2. Smart scheduling can eliminate hotels
Tyler and I were gone for a full year with very little money, and we needed to get creative. One of our favorite cost-cutting measures was to schedule overnight train or bus trips between locations. The result allowed us forgo charges for an overnight in a hotel room. Instead, we used the bus, boat, plane, or train as our hotel room. We did this so often that we became proficient at sleeping anywhere. Once we'd arrive at our destination, we'd wake up refreshed and ready to explore.
3. Making friends can save you money
Backpackers attract other backpackers. You'll most likely find people in your same situation at Internet cafes, restaurants and bookstores. Start chatting with them and see if you are going to the same place. If you are, collaborate on transportation costs. You may be able to share a car in India, get a group discount for train tickets in Thailand and much more. We did this and not only saved money, but met new friends along the way.
4. Flexibility is budget-friendly
With many RTW tickets, you're locked into specific departure and arrival dates. This can hurt you financially, especially if you're staying in an expensive city and want to leave. Conversely, if you could come and go whenever you wanted, you may be able to travel to a location that is easier on your wallet.
Of course, if you have money saved from not flying, you can spend it on exciting excursions that you wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise.
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