Flights and routes
Round-the-world tickets are usually sold through travel agents such as STA (it’s not necessary to be a student but there are deals for under-31s), Travelnation, Flightcentre or roundtheworldflights.com. They are usually limited to12-month trips, and budget airlines tend not be included. STA has several all-inclusive RTW packages – from £849 to £2,699. The Bula Loop (from £1,139) comprises five flights, taking in south-east Asia, Australia, Fiji and the US, with sections of overland travel. Those who don’t want to be restricted to a fixed route can tailor a multi-stop itinerary through a travel agent. RTW tickets from major airline alliances (Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam are major players) restrict travellers to certain airlinesandtend to require travel in one direction.
An alternative is to ditch flying and opt for interrailing across Europe (interrail.eu). Single-country passes start at £48, a 30-country pass is £194 for five travel days in a 15-day trip or up to £475 for a month of unlimited travel days, with discounts for under-27s and over-60s. Or venture further, into central Asia and on to Russia or China – seat61.com has tips on routes, costs and how to buy tickets. Overland adventures by truck can be booked through operators such as dragoman.com, intrepidtravel.com, madventure.co.uk and oasisoverland.co.uk.
Tourist visas are required for certain destinations, particularly in Asia, which could mean a visit to an embassy in advance, booking online or paying on arrival. A full list of visa requirements can be found on gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. Prices vary (from £20 to £150 for UK citizens) depending on country of residence, and the country where the visa is bought. A visa may not be required for certain destinations (most of South America allows UK citizens in without) or for shorter trips – Vietnam allows 15 days, for instance (for longer stays, a £20 e-visa is available online for up to 30 days, or visit a Vietnamese embassy). It is a good idea to take a few copies of your passport, along with some passport photos, which can be useful for border crossings. Applying for a working visa is more complex, more expensive and can take longer.
A good average to go by for a RTW trip is about £1,000 a month. Try using a pre-loadable travel card – Caxton, Mastercardor WeSwap are good options, currently. Most don’t charge fees, tend to be cheaper thana bureau de change, and can help with budgeting (by transferring money weekly via the app, for instance).
A credit card is also a good idea – Halifax Clarity is a top choice for backpackers, as it doesn’t charge interest on purchases abroad if the balance is paid by the end of the month. There’s no fee for withdrawals, but interest is charged from the day cash is withdrawn, so minimise it by paying it off the same day (via online banking). Debit cards are a fee-heavy option. Monzo offers an alternative: it’s fully licensed so money is protected (unlike competitor Revolut, currently) and there’s no charge for transactions, though free withdrawals are limited to £200 a month (3% thereafter).
Not all insurers offer cover for long trips, sometimes called gap-year or extended-leave insurance. Comparison sites are a good place to start: check companies such as Alpha, AA, Allianz, Holidaysafe, Hiscox and STA. Basic worldwide cover could start from around 70p a day, but shop around as costlier doesn’t always mean better. Check excesses, activity exemptions and destinations covered. Buy as soon as the trip is booked to cover cancellation or pre-trip sickness, and think about whether separate gadget insurance is necessary.
If you have a long phone contract, contact the provider to find out what options are available, as some will let you buy out the contract or lower the tariff. Almost all providers now offer extensive and cheap roaming options, so there will be a list of countries where phone charges are the same as in the UK (check uswitch.com for the latest tariffs, as they change regularly). Buying a sim card on arrival can be good if you plan on being in a country for several months, and includes data-only deals, although this means a new phone number, so it’s often less popular. And WhatsApp is free anywhere in the world.
Checking health warnings well in advance for all destinations is essential (fitfortravel.nhs.uk), as some vaccinations require several injections weeks or months apart. Some common jabs are available free on the NHS at GP surgeries, including typhoid, hepatitis A, cholera, and diphtheria/polio/tetanus (combined booster). They may be able to order others in forless than a private travel clinic (such as Boots, Superdrug, Nomad or Masta) would charge. Vaccinations can cost £30-£90 a dose, and some require multiple doses. A GP or clinician will advise on the contents of a travel first aid kit (according to location), and options for malaria protection – note that unbranded tablets are just as good and cheaper (atovaquone/proguanil is the generic version of Malarone, for instance). Other things to pack include enough regular medicines, and insect repellent (available in most of Europe and Asia, but less common in parts of central and South America).
Booking the first few days’ accommodation makes sense, but depending on the length of the trip it is often best to book as you go. Hostelworld and Booking.com apps list hostels, BnBs and guesthouses in most destinations, or homestays can mean getting closer to local life (try Airbnb, Homestay or Couchsurfing). In Cuba it is also common (outside of Havana) to be greeted as you get off the bus by a line of potential hosts, holding placards advertising their homes. If travelling in a pair, sharing a double room in a hostel can cost the same as two dorm beds and offer extra privacy. Travelling overnight saves money on accommodation – some coaches in South America even come with dinner and a nightcap. Campervanning in places like Australia and US can be cheaper option – shop around for campervan rentals or convert a seven-seater vehicle with an airbed and camping supplies. User-populated app Wikicamps also suggests free places to park and pitch.
It’s a good idea to try several backpacks on for size and comfort before buying. A 70-litre one should be the absolute max size, but 50 litres tends to be better for a female frame, and 60 litres for men. Maximum length should be from the base of the neck to the top of the hips, and padding on shoulder straps, waistbelt and back is a must. Front-loading travelpacks (with the main compartment opening like a suitcase) are usually preferable to toploaders, and some come with a handy smaller daypack. Traveller favourites include Osprey, Kathmandu and Berghaus. Expect to pay between £80 and £160 for a good-quality bag, but look for sales and discount codes online, too.
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