Escape the age of austerity
Given the hard times we live in, you might assume it's time to downsize your holiday expectations rather than embark upon a costly circumnavigation of the globe.
Yet this is arguably the best of times to consider a round-the-world (RTW) trip. If you still have a job, celebrate by planning the trip of a lifetime -- one that, perhaps paradoxically, needn't break the bank.
And if you are a victim of recession, there's no better way to splurge the redundancy cheque to see what you've been missing.
Either way, now's the time to escape our new age of austerity and go beyond the traditional holiday. After a couple of years of retrenchment, the new airline schedules, which start this weekend, provide the globetrotter with more options than ever before.
Many of the best RTW fares are offered through the airline alliances: Star (featuring United, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, plus many others), SkyTeam (Air France/KLM, Delta and Korean Air) and Oneworld (American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia and Qantas).
RTW tickets were first dreamt up in the 1970s. The airlines had acquired wide-bodied jets, which meant they had a lot more seats to fill. Yet fares were very high compared with wage levels: typically €1,400 (about the same as the most basic RTW costs in the high season today), which equalled about three months' work at the average salary. Today, it takes the typical Irish employee less than three weeks to earn the price of a ticket.
This once-in-a-lifetime trip is an all-you-can-eat travel buffet: you can feast on contrasting cultures, cuisines and landscapes. But as with any feast, choose your dishes carefully to maximise satisfaction and minimise indigestion.
The basic, budget itinerary remains much as it has always been: a long hop to Asia, an exploration of Australia and/or New Zealand, perhaps a South Pacific stopover and the chance to discover as much of North America as you can afford in terms of time and money.
If price is your overwhelming concern, search online; you can probably undercut the many specialist agents competing for your cash. But it is a far smarter plan to find an expert who knows all the tricks of this tangled trade. An agent will help to unravel the complexities offered by dozens of airlines and hundreds of destinations, blending them together for maximum value and minimum stress.
Before you pick up the phone, do some dreaming. Compile an A-list of cities you insist upon, such as Hong Kong or Tokyo, Sydney or Auckland, San Francisco or New York, together with activities such as whale-watching in Canada or an African safari. Then add a B-list of places or experiences it would be nice to have: perhaps a stop in the Gulf, a train ride through Southeast Asia or a drive along the Californian coast. Present these to an expert and they will throw in a C-list of places you hadn't thought of, but which can be inserted in the trip for little or no extra cash.
A good agent will advise on how moving your departure date could cut the cost: the date you leave determines the overall price. Christmas/New Year and July/August are the highest seasons, while mid-April/June are the lowest.
They will also advise on how much it costs to upgrade to business or premium economy for some or all of the trip -- less than you might think, especially for Christmas/New Year departures when economy fares are high.
Either way, in years to come, you'll probably look back on your round the world trip as one of the best investments you ever made.