Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 16, 2010

Around the World – Quick, Easy & Cheap

Circling the globe like a modern-day Magellan doesn't have to be dangerous, give you scurvy, or take three years; it can be easy, cheap and quick.

How many people who have lived on the Earth

A 1928 flier touting a world cruise by the S.S. Resolute

have ever been around it? The whole thing. All the way around. You know, an around-the-world trip.

Although Ferdinand Magellan is generally credited with being the first to circumnavigate the globe, on his 1519-1522 voyage, it was actually 18 out of Magellan’s original crew of 237 who did it; the rest, including Magellan, died en route.

Intrepid seafarers still can circumnavigate the globe on luxury liners, like the Queen Mary 2, which can do it in 101 days, at a cost of about $20,000 (and up), per person, double occupancy. For flyers, it wasn’t really until commercial aviation’s post-World War II expansion that it became affordable for just anyone to circle the Earth.

In late 2009, I finally did it.

It was not an epic journey. It was more one of those “at-least-I-can-now-say-I-did-it” things.

This has been a dream of mine for awhile. For years, I’ve had an “Around the World” poster on my wall as a goad to go for it. I’ve come close a couple of times. But there was always this gap between the Middle East and Asia that I had not crossed.

QM2: RTW, 101 days, $20K

How did I “conquer” the final stretch? Quite by accident, as it turns out. I was looking for a creative and different way home to Los Angeles after a trip to Germany. I was searching Kayak for multi-city itineraries, when the website queried me: Are you looking for an RTW itinerary? I clicked yes. And then I was routed to the site of a company called Airtreks.

Airtreks specializes in RTW itineraries and just the kind of creative international routing solutions I was looking for. They quickly ascertained what my goals were (i.e., to do it cheaply, quickly and without needing visas) and suggested an itinerary. It was a routing that I would have never thought of (or found on my own). And it only cost $2,500.

The first leg of my journey, from LAX to Frankfurt, Germany, I had done before. It’s about an 11-hour flight. I sleep through most of it – or try to, anyway.

The second leg was a six-hour flight from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways.

How best to view the Middle East, smog-free

This is where I ran into my first bit of trouble. I had never flown this airline before, and it is not part of any alliance that I have status with, so my seat wasn’t a very good one. No sleeping, no window peeping.

Since I have been to the Middle East several times before, this wasn’t a tragedy. Looking out an airplane window in this part of the world is generally pointless, because of the seemingly endless smog. The Middle East desperately needs a Clean Air Act, or something equivalent.

I had hoped to use my six-hour layover for a quick sightseeing taxi tour, but leaving the airport as a “transit passenger” proved problematic. So I spent the time in the airport, which has some really over-the-top duty free shopping opportunities. But not for me; I was traveling light.

Imaginatve architecture, as seen from AUH where I was stuck as "transit passenger"

From what I could see of the city surrounding the airport, Abu Dhabi is “Dubai Lite” so far, although there is a notable building spurt going on, featuring Dubai-like wildly imaginative architecture.

No stature on Etihad meant no decent seat from Abu Dhabi to Manila, my next leg. This is the part I really wanted to see – having not been this way before.

Leg from Abu Dhabi to Manila - a victim of window shade blackout

But the fellow who had the window seat in my row not only would not trade, he proceeded to sleep the entire flight – with the shade down.

This is about a nine-hour flight, and it is the cheapest leg of the trip – only about $400 of the total. It works out to about 10 cents a mile, and Etihad keeps it cheap because it is a ferry system for low-wage Filipinos to come and go from the Emirates as temporary “guest workers” on the UAE’s various building projects.

I went through Manila, a shopper’s paradise since peso devaluation, instead of any place else in Asia, Airtreks said, because it was available when Tokyo, Beijing (where a visa is also needed) and other possibilities were solidly booked. (Magellan only made it to The Philippines, where he was rudely welcomed by natives – with poison arrows.)

Magellan's Philippines stop was cut short by unplanned lynching

I spent a few days in Manila (see my column on the city and its famous Peninsula Hotel or Medical Tourism opportunities there), before heading out for a 10-plus hour flight on Hawaiian Airlines to my next stop in Honolulu (for more about this place’s heavenly charms, see my column 36 Hours in Honolulu). And, after a couple of days there, it was another 5-plus hour flight home to Los Angeles.

Hawaiian is another one of those “orphan” airlines when it comes to frequent flier alliances, so out of the 27,000 miles or so that I traveled on this trip, I only got rewarded for the first leg (LAX-FRA) on United. I feel the Etihad and Hawaiian miles that I accrued are pretty much lost, since I don’t foresee flying them again; but more than that, I had no pre-boarding privileges, luggage allowances, seat selection or VIP lounge admissions that flyers with status can get.

Final approach into HNL - finally, a window seat!

I could have gone to a website like www.staralliance.com to construct an RTW itinerary. But I figure it would cost a lot more; Airtreks told me as much. I could also use frequent flyer miles instead of actual money, to pay for it, but Star Alliance seemed to have recently doubled the number of miles it would take.

There are other RTW booking agencies, I know, and some who can construct very elaborate itineraries, lasting weeks, not days; and they can do it for under $3,000 or $4,000 for coach class (which is how I traveled).

One of the good things I did, besides stopping for a couple of days after each leg, was travel east to west, rather than west to east as Magellan did; jet lag – not to mention the International Date Line – was never a factor. Flight times – about 51 hours in the air, all told – were shorter this direction too, by several hours overall, thanks to the Earth’s prevailing wind direction which is to west to east.

Will I go again? I don’t know. Earth? Been there, done that.

Jerry Garrett

March 16, 2010

To read more, ask questions, or leave comments please click here.

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