Planning the trip was quite insane, in terms of plane tickets, train tickets, lodging, visas and health insurance.
In order to know enough about the places we were visiting, we chose to stick with Lonely Planet guides - we tried a few others such as Frommers, Rough Guide and Fodors but found Lonely Planet to be the best one. Also, Lonely Planet guides turned out to be available almost everywhere in the world. The negative of doing this is that almost everybody used Lonely Planet and you are liable to be doing the same thing everybody else is doing - you'll have to make any active effort to break out of this wherever you are! Chances are that if you are on a RTW trip, you'll need many many travel guides - this creates a quandary - do you buy all these in advance (to help in planning) and then carry these with you around the world OR do you buy these along the way. We also used VirtualTourist.com to check out traveler blogs on specific places in the world - the great thing about this site is that it allows you to post questions about specific places and have them answered in a day or two! Also, many cities have VirtualTourst teams (VT teams) that meet every couple of months - you can connect with VT members in each city if you don't know anybody else!
Even better than written guides and online sources, we connected with friends and family in different parts of the world... there's nothing better than a local to get you on the right track! And it was wonderful to have so many people willing to help us!
Getting our round-the-world ticket turned out to be quite difficult! Most travel agents are not incented to provide RTW tickets - my guess is that this is because there is a ton of research/work involved in putting together a ticket (which eats up a lot of time) and the profit margins are very low. There is an agency called Airtreks to whom you can specify all your locations and they then put together an itinerary - but they do not do Round-the-world tickets - rather, they string together a bunch of one-way tickets which turns out to be much more expensive. We also looked at online world travel sites such as Boots 'N All, LonelyPlanet and EthicalTraveller.
The best way to travel is to get a round-the-world ticket, available with most airlines. In fact, most airlines stitch together a round-the-world ticket on an alliance of airlines (such as Star Alliance or OneWorld). Don't forget to take all your frequent flyer numbers with you!! The cheapest round-the-world tickets can be purchased from Australia, New Zealand or England - seems to be that people from these countries do the most RTW travelling - you ca n get tickets for between $1500 and $3000 per person! What you can do is to call an agency in that country, book the ticket and then fly to that country to commence your travelling. Most RTW tickets come in one of two formats:
- You get a maximum limit of miles flown and can book as many flights as you like upto this limit. You can fly through one region (such as Western US) only once. Changes can be made to dates & times very easily.
- You get a maximum of 3 stops per region. You can fly through one city/region only once. You have to keep flying around the world in the same direction (i.e. East all the way or West all the way). Changes can be made to dates, times & places very easily.
Note that the travel does not all have be connected i.e. you may take a flight to London and then travel by train to Spain and then take the next flight out from Madrid. Also note, that some parts of the world don't have any airlines that belong to a RTW airline alliance so be ready to buy individual one-way tickets sometimes as well! Also, RTW tickets usually require you to finish your travel with 12 months.
Visa-wise, I had to get 16 visas and Smruti 6. Instead of trudging around each of the consulates & embassies and/or fedexing our applications around the US, we decided to use a visa agency (named Visa Network, in San Francisco) to handle all the work. For a little bit of extra money, they procured more visas for us in a shorter amount of time than we would have been able to do ourselves. If we had had more time, we might have done it ourselves. On the other hand, many of the consulates required plane tickets and hotel reservations prior to giving us a visa and since we didn't have this till shortly before we left, we had to scramble at the last minute anyway. Unfortunately, we didn't get all our visas done before we left on the trip, so we had to get a bunch along the way - if at all possible, don't do this as many countries do not allow visas to be given outside of your home country. For example, the Brazilians and the US have some tit-for-tat going on in terms of visas, so we had to jump through many hoops to get Smruti a Brazilian visa from the Brazilian embassy in New Delhi, India. (As an aside, it is pretty funny when Americans are asked to fill out some of the onerous forms that Americans ask others to fill out... questions such as "Are you a terrorist?" or "Are you a prostitute?"...and they're also fingerprinted!) Also, some countries have separate procedures you have to go through if you want to visit a "sensitive" area, so plan for this in advance.
Health insurance was easy enough. All the travel books suggested the same thing - get basic domestic US insurance to cover emergencies. And then get international travel insurance to cover medical evacuations from the other country to the US. No international insurance will cover doctor's visits or prescriptions abroad. So take several months supply of prescription medicine along with you.
One other practical thing to do is to scan your passport, health insurance and travellers cheque forms and email them to your own Internet-based email account (Yahoo! or Hotmail or Gmail or the like). This will come in extremely handy if you happen to loose your papers and need to get them redone.