Category Archives: Round-the-world trip

Am I practicing what I preach? Hell yeah!

I have written on a number of occasions how I find it strange that people who travel are in such a rush. As an alternative, I suggested taking the time, going to less places and staying longer in one destination. But I wondered whether I practice what I preach? To check whether I follow my own recommendations, I looked at a recent example – the Grey Wave camper vacation in Western Europe, and at an older one – the big Round-the-world trip.

“Grey Wave tour”

Our trusty camper

We’ve spent a whole week on this camping and would have stayed longer but they were closing for the winter

Let’s start with the recent trip. In September of last year, we rented a camper van and traveled for 3 weeks, going to Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and France. Four countries sounds like a lot, but its less than it seems. Firstly, we’ve been to all these countries before, so we were under no pressure to see as much as possible. Secondly, we stayed mostly in the border region of these countries, which limited the travel times.  All in all we stayed in 5 different locations – on average, that’s 4 nights at a place. So not bad, for a short trip to familiar places, I would say.

Our route for 3 weeks

Our route for 3 weeks

Our big Round-the-world trip took us to 4 continents, 15 countries and countless destinations over a time span of about 10 months. But we managed to stay calm and never (well, almost never) rushed around.

First leg – Europe and the Middle East

Starting with a day in London, just to board a plane, we went to Ukraine, spending almost two weeks spread between Crimea and Kiev. From there we went to Israel for a few days with the family and crossed to Jordan just to see Petra. Excluding the week in Israel, where we were on a family visit and basically just dragged along, we’ve been to 4 ‘destinations’ in two weeks.

Second leg – Indian subcontinent

After a few days in Delhi to acclimatize, we went for a couple of weeks to Rajastan (Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur), and then to Rishikesh. From Rishikesh, we went on a trek to Hemkund and then left India, going to Nepal. In Nepal we mostly hiked (Around Annapurna and Annapurna Base Camp treks), and spent the remainder of our time in Pokhara, Kathmandu and Chitwan. We then returned to Delhi for a few more days, before flying out to Bangkok. All this took us 3 months, with a total of ~13 ‘destinations’, depending how you count them.

Third leg – South-East Asia

Here we’ve been a bit more mobile, going to no less than 5 countries and a variety of destinations I will not bother listing (“the banana pancake trail”). Sufficient to say we’ve spent about 3 weeks each in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. With a few days in Singapore, I count ~17 ‘destinations’ in 3 months, which is a bit busier than our time in Nepal but we were certainly not in a rush.

Fourth leg – Oceania

Most of our 3 months in Oceania we spent in New Zealand, where we drove a lot around, camped on remote beaches and hiked a variety of tracks. After New Zealand we spent three weeks on a remote atoll in French Polynesia, and stopped by at Easter Island. The ‘destination’ count does not really work on this leg, but I can tell you we were in absolutely no hurry.

Pearl farming

Pearl farming can feature on Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”

Fifth and final leg – Peru

Originally our plan was to make a brief stop in New Zealand and spend more time in South America. We chose the comfort and safety of New Zealand though and cut our final leg down to Peru only (hurray for flexibility!). Our two weeks in Peru were split between Cuzco and Lima, with side trips to the Nazca lines and Macchu Picchu.

 

Sure, we sometimes stayed in a place just for one night and moved on. Overall though, we usually spent between 3 days and a week in a place, taking day trips and/or longer tours before coming back to the “base camp”.

Conclusion

Having critically reviewed my own travel habits I can now safely claim to live according to my own preaching. Of course, sometimes I do travel at a faster pace. But most of the time, I do my best to slow down a bit. I’m not saying this gives me the right to claim moral superiority or something. But I think I can safely say I know what “slow travel” means. Its not like I avoid the tourist highlights. I just not limit myself exclusively to them.

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So how much does it REALLY cost to travel around the world?

Planning a big trip? Probably you’ve noticed that there’s A LOT of planning to do. Choosing your destinations, scheduling the travel time table, getting vaccinations, buying some gear, saving money for travel… Wait, how much money do you actually need?

When me and my significant other were planning our 10-months trip around the world, that was one of the big unknowns – how much are we going to spend? The ultimate answer depends, as you may guess, on your travel style, the activities you undertake and – not to forget – your destinations. Because, and it will probably not be a shock to you, while some countries are cheap, others are expensive.

Singapore can be a budget destination, too ;-)

Singapore can be a budget destination, too 😉

Being a total nerd and a statistics geek, I’ve meticulously kept a note of our spending. It wasn’t too difficult in this day and age – all I had to do was use the bank card to draw cash everywhere we went. Back home I could look up the numbers by logging in to my bank account and now I can report them here. Beware that these are just a rough reference and I can not be held accountable for any budget mishaps you may have using my notes as a guideline.

Rather than specifying the costs per country, I’ve split it into regions – this way the duration of travel per destination (region) is longer and more statistically valid, and rounded the numbers. All the numbers are for a couple travelling together – which means that if you’re on your own you may end up spending more or less, depending on whether you will pay for a separate room (which we did) or find the cheapest bunk bed (which we didn’t). The numbers include all the visa costs, internal and connecting flights, food, lodging, transport, and everything else you may think of. All the costs are given in Euro’s and although we’ve travelled some 5 years ago the numbers are probably largely valid as inflation was mild in these years due to the financial crisis.

  1. Pre-travel
    Costs – 9000 Euro
    Including Round The World tickets (about three-quarters of the sum) gear, vaccinations, insurance etc.
  2. Europe and the Middle East
    Countries – England, Ukraine, Israel, Jordan
    Duration – 3 weeks
    Costs – 60 Euro per day
    Notes – staying with family in Israel saves quite a bit
  3. Indian subcontinent
    Countries – India and Nepal
    Duration – 3 months
    Costs – 60 Euro per day
    Notes – some splashing in Nepal on an upbeat lodge in Chitwan and gift shopping in Kathmandu. Also includes more than 300 Euro in visa costs, and a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi to avoid a couple of days of bus/train travel.
  4. South-East Asia
    Countries – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore
    Duration – 3 months
    Costs – 70 Euro per day
    Notes – includes two weeks of non-stop diving on Kho Phi Phi and flights from Hanoi to Luang Prabang and from Phuket to Singapore.
  5. Oceania
    Countries – New Zealand, French Polynesia, Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
    Duration – 3 months
    Costs – 90 Euro per day
    Notes – includes two months of car rental in New Zeland and three weeks on a remote atoll spending nothing (although the flight there cost 600 Euro).
  6. Peru (only stop in South America)
    Duration –  2 weeks
    Costs – 120 Euro per day
    Notes – includes a flight from Santiago to Lima, a lot of expensive activities like a flight over the Nazca Lines, and a lot of shopping for gifts and souvenirs as this was our final destination.
  7. Total budget
    Duration – 10 months
    Costs – 100 Euro per day
    Notes – includes EVERYTHING

As I reviewed the numbers I was quite surprised. How did we end up spending more per day in SE Asia than we’ve spent in Europe? And Peru was supposed to be a cheap country, wasn’t it? But there is a simple explanation – always look at the big picture. For example, India has cost us only about 30 Euro per day to stay in. But the visas were a 100 Euro per person, adding about 20% to the overall price tag of a month in India. Couchsurfing in Singapore made it one of the cheapest countries to stay in. We’ve had 3-course meals in Peru for 1 Euro, but bagging several (pricey) top attractions in a couple of weeks eats a big chunk of your budget, and we were quite travel-weary so weren’t minding spending a few extra coins to support the local economy by staying in better lodgings and buying an alpaca skin rug. All in all we’ve had a smashing 10 months trip for just 100 Euro per day for the two of us.

Can you do it cheaper? Sure! Buy a less extensive RTW ticket, for starters. Ours included some weird detours and a lot of stops, so we had a lot of mileage and airport taxes to pay. The cheapest round-the-world tickets cost only 1500 Euro! If you do buy an RTW ticket, don’t plan any land segments. We initially intended to travel from Thailand to Singapore and from Santiago to Lima over land and ended up buying plane tickets because we’ve seen enough dusty roads. Staying longer in a country (or even a region) helps bring down the costs, as the visa fees and cross-border travel costs are already included. But most importantly – think Zen! Its not the destination that matters, its what you will do there that will make the difference.

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Around the world in 15 pictures

Its that time of year again. The time for all sorts of summaries. And I’ve realized I’ve been writing posts about our round-the-world trip, but that I’ve forgotten to summarize the experience. Now I could write about what we’ve learned, what were the best and the worse experiences, which places are the cheapest and which the most expensive, and so on and on. But I won’t. Not because I have nothing to tell, or because I am too lazy to write, but because I’ve got something much better – pictures. Thinking of it, I will tell you one thing that I’ve learned – you can never take too many pictures. This is how we spent 10 months travelling, in one picture per country.

August, Xmas shopping season is open

August – Christmas shopping in London

Marveling at the golden domes of Kiev, Ukraine

August – marvelling at the golden domes of Kiev, Ukraine

Ein Ovdat canyon in Israel

September – hiking in the Ein Ovdat canyon in Israel

"The Monastery" in Petra, Jordan

September – admiring “The Monastery” in Petra, Jordan

At the Johpur fort in India

October – watching the city life from atop the Jodhpur fort in India

Fishing with the Tharu in Chitwan, Nepal

November – fishing with the Tharu in Chitwan, Nepal

Cycling around in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

December – cycling around in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

In the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

January – taking a walk in the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

Statue of King Anouvong in Vientian, Laos

February – strolling by the statue of King Anouvong in Vientian, Laos

Diving (of course) on Kho Phi Phi, Thailand

February – diving (of course) on Kho Phi Phi, Thailand
Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

February – spending a morning in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

Flying dolfin in Kaikoura, New Zealand

March – seeing dolfins fly in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Diving for pearls among the sharks on Ahe, French Polynesia

April – diving for pearls among the sharks on Ahe, French Polynesia

Easter Island - awesome!

May – standing face to face with the Moai on Easter Island

Chillin' in Cuzco, Peru

June – chillin’ in Cuzco, Peru

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On the road to Cuzco

The old lady stands next to the path from Saksaywaman back to Cuzco. I don’t know how old she is, its rather hard to tell. She’s wearing her best clothes and is holding a lama on a rope. As we pass she says something in Quechua, I don’t understand what she says, but the meaning is obvious. We stand next to her to take some pictures. She doesn’t smile. Her eyes are in a bad shape, she probably can’t see much. Seeing the pictures now makes me think of my grandmother, how happy she was after eye surgery, and how this lady probably will never get a chance to see well. We give her 5 soles for the pictures. She feels the coin in her hand, and seems surprised as she recognizes the value. She mumbles words of thank you, tears fill her eyes. 5 soles is just 1 Euro. One of the best Euros I’ve ever spent.

The lady and her lama

The lady and her lama

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The surgeon of Easter Island

Easter Island1

Easter Island statues are called Moai. This one is very close to the village.

“The local hospital is definitely not one of the highlights of Easter Island. Do whatever you can to avoid getting there”. The guide book left no room for interpretation. However, I had very little choice. As a reminder of the pearl farming adventure I carried with me not only a few black pearls, but also a nasty infection in my foot. By the time we arrived at Easter Island, my foot was swollen and dotted with ugly looking pits, where bacteria were developing a rather advanced civilization. And so, upon landing on the most remote airport in the world, our primary criterion in choosing a guest house was its proximity to the local hospital.

 

Easter Island2

The stone platforms upon which the statues stand are called Ahu. This is Ahu Anakena.

Having limped to the hospital, my Spanish was sufficient to explain to the receptionist that “tengo una problema con mi pie”. Her gesture towards the waiting line was sufficient and I collapsed onto a chair between an elderly farmer and his wife, who were obviously planning to pay for the visit with a chicken or perhaps a goat’s hind. Soon my foot was being examined by a young lieutenant in a white uniform under his doctor’s coat (like most of the island, the hospital was being run by the Chilean Navy). He didn’t like what he saw, and the older nurse accompanying him liked it even less. I for my part totally disliked them not liking my foot. I mean, I wasn’t happy with it either, but their faces were rather unoptimistic, not the expression you want to see on the medical staff treating you. After a brief discussion among them the lieutenant told me in perfect English that I had a serious infection and that it was best if Doctor Jorge had a look at it.

Easter Island8

Half-wild horses are everywhere on Easter Island. There are more than 5000 of them here.

I never learned Doctor Jorge’s last name, but it was probably Authority. If ever there was a prototype for a Doctor (yes, with a capital letter) for a Latin soap-opera, he just entered the room. Doctor Jorge was stoutly built, in his mid-50’s, with a solid moustache and with an infinite supply of confidence. Fortunately for me, in his case confidence was justified as he was obviously very experienced and, having worked in an American hospital for decades, well trained for his job (as he so humbly mentioned). Which was probably a very good thing, as he was the only surgeon within 3500 km radius (again, he told us so himself). Having examined my leg, Doctor Jorge pronounced that I will live, that my leg will be OK, that my infection was serious but treatable and that I should not be worried but that I nevertheless must return the next day for inspection. Thus spoken, Doctor Jorge shook my hand and left, carrying with him the young lieutenant and the admiring looks of the nurses, not forgetting to kiss my wife goodbye (on both cheeks). She later confessed that no doctor has ever said goodbye to her in this way, but with Doctor Jorge it seemed the most natural way to do it.

Easter Island9

Hundreds of statues remain in the quarry, in various stages of completeness.

I was left in the hands of a uniformed medic who told me that he would do “limpiar”. My blank gaze required an explanation, so he made sweeping moves, supplemented by “whoosh whoosh” noises, until I finally understood that he was going to clean my wounds. By that time, the lieutenant returned, having received further instructions from Doctor Jorge. The two of them efficiently injected me with a painkiller and an antibiotic and cleaned and bandaged my foot, which was rather painful despite the painkiller.

Easter Island7

Ahu Tongariki has the most Mo’ai – 15 of them!

Afterwards, I was sent off to the pharmacy with a recipe for a course of antibiotics. That being Easter Island, the pharmacy didn’t have the said antibiotics. Asked when they expect to have them, the pharmacists shrugged and asked “when’s the next plane?”. Since we’ve arrived the day before and there are only two planes a week, I’d have to wait at least 3 days, by which time we were leaving anyway. Back to Doctor Jorge we went. This time, we didn’t have to wait amongst the elderly farmers. Having heard that we need to see Doctor Jorge, the receptionist took us directly to the man himself. Undaunted (and unsurprised) by the lack of medications in the pharmacy, Doctor Jorge prescribed an alternative and sent us on our way, this time without the kisses.

Easter Island5

The Rapa Nui are the native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island

From here on, there is not much to tell. My foot got better, and the little scars left by the eradicated bacterial civilization are almost completely gone. But every now and then, when I look at my left foot, I remember Doctor Jorge, the surgeon of Easter Island.

 

P. S. Next to the barracks that house the hospital, they were working on what looked like a spacious, modern building for a new facility. I hope by now Doctor Jorge got the hospital he deserves.

Easter Island6

Easter Island – 3500 kilometers to the next surgeon

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What do you mean you haven’t been to Tahiti?

I grew up in the Soviet Union. Visiting places like Tahiti or the Bahamas, tropical wreckage pieces of European Empires, was a recurring theme in Soviet humour and satire. The heading of this post is an example of one such bitter joke. Back in the days, this question would be asked with infinite irony, for an obvious reason – the chances of the average Soviet citizen to visit Tahiti were about the same as your chances to go to the Moon. People have been there, it is theoretically feasible but the practical possibility of you ever getting there is zero.

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Needless to say, when I was booking a RTW ticket my first question was – will it get me to Tahiti? And the next question was – why was I going there? Well, I was going there to work. A few weeks before we went on our RTW trip I’ve accidentally stumbled across WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Never expecting to find anything, I’ve checked whether there are any opportunities for volunteering on an organic farm in French Polynesia (Tahiti is in French Polynesia, in case you wondered). To my great surprise there was a place called Kamoka. It was a pearl farm.

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In my life I’ve done dozens of jobs, being pretty much anything from a journalist to a geohydrologist to a gardener. But even in my wildest dreams I’ve never imagined I would one day be farming pearls. Our help was welcome at Kamoka, all we had to do was give Laurent, the farm manager, a call a couple of days before arrival and he would pick us up at the local airport. And so we did. When we arrived at Ahe atoll, the location of Kamoka farm, there was an airport, a farm manager and a farm, but none of all this looked as you’d normally expect it to be. But thinking of it, it all did look quite as an airport, a farm manager and a farm should look like on a tiny atoll in a remote corner of the Pacific Ocean.

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As promised, it was no Club Med. But I can think of no Club Med where for lunch you can eat parrot fish you’ve caught 3 minutes ago, where you take a boat ride to the middle of the atoll at midnight to go skinny dipping miles from shore, where you make coconut milk from coconuts you’ve gathered, where to get your dinner you dive among dozens of sharks, where the ocean is your dishwasher and laundromat, where you find out there are 17 ways to prepare chicken with just soy sauce and onions or where you have to use a pan as a shaving mirror. In short, I can think of no Club Med in the world where you can have so much fun.

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New Zealand – to Doom or not to Doom?

Moung Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom, seen from Oturere Hut

Moung Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom, seen from Oturere Hut

The young couple is ecstatic. They’ve just reached a landmark in their lives and want to share it with everyone in the hostel. They shout in joy: “We did it, we’ve climbed Mount Doom!”. They sing songs of the Shire and dance around the tables. It almost breaks my heart, but someone must do it. Now, while they still have the chance to get things right. I have to tell them.

Mount Taranaki seen from Pouakai Hut

Mount Taranaki seen from Pouakai Hut

-I’m sorry, really sorry to break your party, but you didn’t climb Mount Doom today.
-What do you mean we didn’t? We’ve been there, today, you’ve seen us at the top!
-Well, yes, at the top of Mount Taranaki. It’s a mountain, it’s a volcano, it’s event the same type as Mount Doom – a stratovolcano, but it’s not Mount Doom.

Us at the top of Mount Taranaki

Us at the top of Mount Taranaki

They just stare in disbelief. So sad to see them like this, but I really hope they have a few days left in New Zealand and can still climb Mount Ngauruhoe, which “played” Mount Doom in the movie. Actually, Mount Taranaki “played” Mount Fuji in The Last Samurai, but I doubt that will cheer them up. I do my best to encourage them:

-You’re lucky, it was really good weather today, you could see Mount Doom in the distance. It’s only about 80 km from here.
-So… you mean we’ve climbed the wrong mountain?
-I’m so, so sorry for you. Try to look at it this way – you’ve climbed a real good, high mountain. And you’ve seen Mount Doom. Now go there and climb it.
-We’ve climbed the wrong mountain… It’s not Mount Doom. Not Mount Doom…

The 360 degrees view from the top of Mount Taranaki is astounishing

The 360 degrees view from the top of Mount Taranaki is astonishing. Mount Ngauruhoe is the pointy cone in the middle, the big one on the right is Mount Ruapehu

It’s the only thing they can say. Nobody’s laughing. Everybody in the hostel’s living room understands the frustration of a Tolkien fan who just thought he’s reached another landmark of his quest. Making silly remarks is the last thing on everyone’s mind. I offer them a piece of my apple pie for consolation but the young couple politely refuses. They retreat to their room, to recover their losses and plan the conquest of Mount Doom. Again. I hope they made it. We did.

Us at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a. Mount Doom

Us at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a. Mount Doom

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