RTW Trip Planning Tips

Rick’s RTW Ramblings
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As with our blog, this is mostly in prose or narative form rather than the more suitable point form. Everything’s a story with me these days I guess. Also, There are several points at the bottom which are incomplete and that I will continue to update over the next several months.
😉
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Airfare
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There are three major RTW airline alliances available, Star Alliance, Oneworld and Skyteam. Star is (slightly) the largest by carriers and cities, but we found the Oneworld “rules” and structure to be a little more flexible. Skyteam is the smallest and had too few carriers to be worthy of us considering it. Oneworld had it’s own installable planning software available with every flight available which was pretty cool. It still took us a while to figure out routings and how everything worked. The fares for the most continents (five) was an incredibly reasonable $6,000. When we had finalized (roughly mostly that is) our planned route we discovered that Oneworld (and also Star Alliance upon extra investigation) gave us the most ridiculous hub points for connecting flights.
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For instance, we were starting in Costa Rica, and wanted to then fly to Peru for the next leg our adventure (and the start of our first organized (GAP) tour. Oneworld had us flying to Houston (Texas, USA) in between San Jose’ and Lima! This didn’t seem a huge deal to me at first when Claudette mentioned it, (an extra hour or ninety minutes, nothing to it). I wasn’t really considering the true scale of Latin American geographics though. What should have been about a 3-4 hour flight, actually turned out into a 6+ and an 8 hour flight, with a several hour (or overnight!) stop in between! This was just crazy in the cost of time. Similarly, to go from Peru to Ecuador nine days later required us to fly all the way up to Florida first. This was also completely unacceptable. When we started looking at our routes in Asia it was also terrible, but on a slightly lesser time schedule. Going from India to Kenya however, (almost the closest neighbors across the small stretch of Ocean) on Oneworld required a transfer in London or Paris!!! This was a two day “detour”, not to mention hotels and a crapload of extra taxis. As a comparison, we priced our entire tentatively planned route through Long Haul Travel in Toronto, (a sub-company of Airtreks in San Francisco) and came up with $8,500 instead of the $6,000, (both are per person). This more expensive option only had 13 flights from Edmonton to Halifax, (West to East) versus Oneworld’s 22 flights!!! I forget the total extra travel days but it was just over a week… Also, Oneworld’s $6,000 option only included a total of 20 flights, so we would have had to pay an extra few hundred dollars each for the two extra Oneworld legs per person.
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I could still see the Star Alliance or Oneworld RTW fares being suitable for some people’s trip plans. If you are planning less stops, and to ONLY go to very mjor airline hubs, (and you’re somewhat flexible in where you want to go) they could still be a reasonable option and economical both monetarily and time wise. I’d suggest thoroughly checking out the time requirements before committing though… Incidentally, we found the “Long Haul Travel” (and hence, the “Airtreks”) link(s) through the “Boots ‘N All” RTW travel resource website, which proved to be invaluable for all aspects of travel planning. Oneworld and Star also had very poor means of travelling around within China, but both seemed to have addressed this deficiency and added new partners in the last year since we bought our tickets.
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We only ended up purchasing half of our trip airline tickets (chronologically) from Airtreks because plane tickets can only be purchased one year in advance. We were buying about five months before our departure date. Whenever we had any sort of difficulties with our schedule or needed to make any sort of flight changes we encountered staunch opposition from the airline clerks. I usually managed to get things done after much negotiating or wrangling, (or sometimes having to go to another, more major office, typically downtown and away from the airport). The disdain we encountered was due to the fact that we had purchased our tickets through an “internet ticket agent”. Apparently regular travel agencies are almost as good as buying from the airline counters themselves. Discount internet resellers however are seemingly the preverbial bane of the airline industry, and most everyone treated those tickets very contemptuously. This is not to say that we didn’t get by, or eventually reach a resolution. It is just interesting to note their snobish reaction to a new way of life that sure ain’t gonna be going away. This was about the only problem (a minor one actually) that we encountered with the Airtreks tickets.
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Communications
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Internet:
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Internet savvy is an absolute must to travel. now-a-days I believe (unless no one back home loves you). Blogs and skype accounts are practically minimum standards now for most long term travelers; be they singles, couples or families. We’ve only had difficulty finding pay-per-use internet cafes in one country so far out of twelve, (China). Most all of these cafe’ computers have skype software installed along with the requisite headsets & boom mike. Australia was the exception of having skype and instead had coin-op Linux terminals with just web access (and web based e-mail to let everyone know yer still alive). Cusco alone (in Peru) more than made up for this though with more internet cafe’s than hotels! In a city of a few hundred thousand whose economy is based entirely upon tourism that’s quite a few hotels too…
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A Gmail account would seem to be a pretty good bet in general as well. It doesn’t have any of the restrictions of a hotmail account and is wildly more versatile. Mainly, g-mail has an integrated chat engine which can be used easily (with other g-mail users ONLY of course) and does NOT require the installation of any other software on the remote computer you are using. Many internet cafe’s have MSN messenger installed, but g-mail just seems to be a little more seamless. Also, with a g-mail account you can use Google docs which is an invaluable resource for storing word processor text or spreadsheets. If you want to get really fancy, a trip route on Google Maps (with waypoints, legs, or combinations of both) can be saved and shared with others to view what you’re planning.
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Two major companies seem to predominate the blog landscape. WordPress and Blogger are both free and relatively simple (and similar) to operate. While a blog is pretty handy (and what I would consider to be a base necessity) having your own domain is even better! Registration of a domain name is cheap! ($6/yr for .com and $15/yr for .ca) and we have found an awesome host in the States with a bunch of great packages. They are:
http://www.1and1.com
and have a variety of options in packages ranging from $24/yr to $120/yr. We have the $60/yr package which includes all kinds of stuff that is handy, but mostly for traveling we use:
-e-mail alias and 2GB pop3 accounts also accessible by webmail
-multiple domains hosted within the same package
-a bunch of potential subdomains
-a tonne of storage or web space which would be difficult to use up
-10 customizable FTP accounts (for different people to have access to different folders)
-ability to easily password protect webistes or entire folders within a domain.
-two fully incorporated Blogs, powered by wordpress
-two fully incorporated picture galleries allowing slideshows, thumbnail galleries and downloading by anyone of the full size picture

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Phones:
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I wrote previously on our trials and tribulations with phones. A quick recap: Originally bought a Wifi VOIP phone with a Gizmo account for occasional 1 cent per minute calls to friends and family to let them know we were still alive. This proved to be an awesome resource for most all of Latin America where we found frequent unlocked and robust Wifi signals. The phone was an absolute bust in Australia (and likely Canada and the States as well if that’s where you might be traveling) due to there being no free Wifi intenet! Even the unlocked signals required login accounts of pre-purchased time. We found one bakery in a small strip mall in a small town along the highway by dumb luck that had a decent quality and free signal. And believe, me; I tried almost everywehere we ent and at every opportunity (much to Claudette’s chagrin oftentimes of course ). Wifi VOIP phones don’t require computers and there are two types of models: those that can ONLY use skype accounts, or models that can use any of the other dozen or so systems, (such as Gizmo). We had originally bought the Linksys WIP300 model, which worked great and we were very happy with.
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In Australia we found it necessary to get a cell phone. To make reservations at future campgrounds (at least two, and preferably four days in advance was necessary we quickly realized) a cellphone was a complete minimal requirement. Not only was it handy to check out the campground listings while driving (and having the passenger call) but there were just practically no payphones anywhere! Most campgrounds themselves would have a poorly working spider web infested one outside somewhere, but restaurants, malls or general public places usually had diddly squat available. Having absolutely no use for one at home, (in our nice tiny town) we were at a disadvantage in knowing about brands and plans. I bought the cheapest one that I could find, which proved to be a waste of money in the long run (six weeks after). It was a Vodaphone, that I later discovered has the phone crippled so no other SIM card can be used in it. After we left Australia, the phone was a crappy paperweight at best, (even though they promised me we could use it in four of the next six countries we were going to, and so I topped up with an extra $50, (do I sound bitter??? OH YEAH I AM! )). So, VODAPHONE: avoid these lying, choice quashing scum at all costs. UPDATE 2008-01-25 on Vodaphone. We’ve met and chatted with two sets of Aussies traveling in the last several weeks and I have tried to GIVE them the Vodaphone and charger (without the SIM of course). They wouldn’t touch it! I suggested maybe they could give it to some friends back home who didn’t have a cell phone yet. Still they laughed and wondered aloud which of their friends (if any) would possibly be crazy enough to sign up with vodaphone. So, I can’t GIVE away an $80 phone because of their terrible reputation…
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I lost the Wifi phone just before we left Singapore, so we looked for a new (and useful compared to the dam Vodaphone) cell phone. After an abundance of reading, I bought the cheapest tri-band (for use in multiple types of networks offered in different countries) I could find. It was only $40 more than the $80 Vodaphone, which says quite a bit about how the phone companies and manufacturers bend us over in North America, (and Australia apparently). I was under the impression that SIM cards were only available on thousand dollar phones, but it turns out that it’s normal for consumers to have the choice to switch networks willy-nilly in all other parts of the world. We quickly adapted to buying a new SIM card in each new country we traveled to for peanuts, and then picking up top-up cards or codes and a huge variety of local stores. These SIM cards are usually about $10 to $15 and include $7 to $12 of initial credit. Can you imagine such a thing so simple and easy to use? Even better were the rates overseas. We were paying just under 30 cents per minute for calls to Canada from Malaysia and Thailand! China Mobile had dirt cheap rates within the country, but got really expensive to call internationally. Guess the commie thought police don’t want the proletariat talking too much with others and finding out how restricted they are at home…
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Cameras
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A digital camera is an unquestionable necessity. The prices are so reasonable and the benefit of almost infinite image capturing is so beneficial. Some things are a must though while traveling for extended periods:
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An extra battery (or two!) are very worthwhile along with a seperate wall charger. Many cameras these days are sold with a wall charger, but some still only come with a power cable that plugs into the camera body and charges the battery while not allowing you portable usage of it. A small single outlet inverter is also really handy. There are many times when we were traveling by longer distances in a small vehicle. This enables charging at many different opportunities, and especially when plugs are sparse, or not available at all like the African Safari where we were at campgrounds each night.
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Lenses are pretty useful too. Wide angle lenses are invaluable for so many monuments everywhere around the world, up to and including Egypt. They allow one to get an broadened close-up view in so many places where there just isn’t room to step backwards to better fill the frame. This goes double for video cameras even. Ours is a wide angle Hi-def DVD camera, and I am SOOOO happy that I have the lense along. Telephoto lenses are built into most digital still cameras, but getting an external 2X one for a video camera is very beneficial for anything that involves wildlife viewing. I’ve used it only a couple of times outside of the Tanzanian safari. It was an enviable asset while shooting wildlife from the top of the jeep though. I rarely removed the telephoto lense during those four days. Anything more than 2X is probably a waste of time though (I don’t even know if they make more than a 2X for consumer grade video cameras?) since it will be impossible to keep your frame steady past that point.
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Lastly, backups are the most critical aspects of vacation photos. I realize that many people will chance just accumulating pictures on a card for a two or three week vacation. Long term travel necessitates much stronger (and more responsible) precautions though. At the very least have a duplicate size spare memory card or thumb drive where all pictures are backed up to every few days or so. If traveling with others, then pack these in two different suitcases or with two different people to keep it safeguarded. An even better solution is a portable hard drive. They are very inexpensive these days, and can take many card’s (or DVD’s) worth of photos. We have two, that have all exactly the same stuff on them, carried separately by Claudette and I. After there is double redundancy with us, we either send the mini DVD home, or reformat the card in Alex’s camera. Try and get the smaller size (laptop drive, 2.5 inches) drive case which only has one cable for both data transfer and power. Most internet cafe’s that you would do the transfers in have card readers available, but it might not hurt to also carry a small USB card reader of the type used in your camera.
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Baggage & Suitcases
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Travel Insurance
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-Insure My Trip.ca
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Hotel / Hostel Booking
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There are many…
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Travel Drugs & Treatments
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We bought Malerone for Malaria…
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More to add here soon…

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