Are you dreaming of taking a year off from work to travel around the world? Emanuele and Romana Siracusa share their experiences and offer detailed advice for future world travellers. Should you purchase around-the-world airfare? How much money do you need? Where should you go? What kind of travel insurance do you need? It is all covered in this interview.
Please tell us about your around the world trip?
We left in November 2010 and stayed away until the first half of July. We kicked-off our around the world trip with a flight from London to Delhi . After 6 weeks of travelling within India we flew to SE Asia, where we stayed until the second week of May. We did Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and finally Bali, Indonesia. Then we went to Australia and New Zealand for some winter time and some great camper-van road trips. Finally, we spent some time in Fiji and a short week in California before catching the flight back to London.
What were your most and least favourite countries?
Bali will always have a special place in our heart – we managed to stay away from the loud tourist triangle of Kuta-Legian-Seminyak and tried to keep off the beaten path. We also explored some of the most beautiful parts of the country by motorbike. What an experience! Oh, and Bali is also where our soon-to-be-born baby was conceived 🙂 Apart from Bali, we also loved India and Vietnam. India is a very complex reality and it deserves a longer travel-time than our 6 weeks. India is also extremely photogenic and our camera has some unfinished business with this country, so I guess we’ll be back some time. Vietnam was a sort of surprise – a positive one. After hearing so many bad stories (scams, etc.) we only planned a short stay in the country, however we got so sucked into it that we ended up staying almost 2 months. We met very interesting people, ate great food and saw so many nice places, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hoi An. It’s hard to put something on the least favourite end of the spectrum but if we have to we’d pick Australia. It’s not really about the country, because Australia has a lot of natural beauty to offer and it’s a great country to live too (based on what some friends tell us). But after almost 7 months in Asia we weren’t excited about re-entering the so-called western world. However we still enjoyed meeting some old and new friends and embarked, as I said, on two great road trips: Sydney to Melbourne via the Princes Highway, and the Great Ocean Road.
Why did you choose long-term travel rather than the typical short annual vacation?
We started flirting with the idea of long-term travel during a couple of years of taking small city breaks in Europe, taking advantage of the low fares offered by some no-frills air companies. At that time we were living in Ireland and neither of us are Irish (I’m Italian and Romana is Portuguese). We were wondering whether we would leave the country one day or we would end up staying for good. We had some decent paying jobs – I worked as an instructional designer and Romana was a customer service team leader with a multinational company – and we could afford to save a good portion of our monthly salaries. One day we realized we had a decent amount of money in our savings account, but the ‘right time’ to leave never seemed to arrive. So at some stage we said to each other: it’s either we leave now, or we quit the idea and start a mortgage, etc. and settle in Ireland. A few weeks later we had a RTW ticket in our hands – well, in our inbox, since it was an e-ticket. 🙂
How much did you spend in total on your trip?
We spent approximately 18,000 euros (total, not per person) during the trip, plus approx. 2300 each for the RTW fare, but we spent more in 2 months between Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and California, than in 6+ months in Asia 🙂
How long did it take to plan and save for your trip?
On and off, we saved about 1000 euros each per month for more than three years – but we also paid for our wedding in 2009 with part of that money. Also, keep in mind that because we didn’t have a job waiting for us on our return, we also had to save for the post-trip period to make sure we wouldn’t run out of money while settling back home.
In terms of planning it’s difficult to say how long it took – we started reading around the world guide books and blogs as soon as as we started fantasizing about taking an around the world trip. But once we became serious about leaving we got the planning out of the way in only a couple of months.
Did you have to change your lifestyle to save for the trip?
The first thing we did was to create a spreadsheet to keep track of our daily expenses. Analyzing the spreadsheet gave us an idea of where we could cut. The first thing was eating out – a budget buster in Dublin, Ireland, at that time. Following, we quit smoking, which was good for our health as well as our pockets. Another thing we found beneficial was to make grocery lists rather than going on impromptu grocery shopping expeditions. Also we started avoiding the expensive supermarkets close to home in favour of cheaper (but farther away) supermarkets. On another note, we’ve never been fans of big, expensive cars or luxury in general (we had a small second-hand car), and generally we tend to buy only what we can afford. This way we have no debts – no mortgages, no outstanding loans, no credit card balances, nothing. That made things a lot easier for us. But that was our philosophy even before we started thinking of taking the trip, so I can’t really talk about lifestyle ‘changes’ here.
How did you manage your money while travelling?
We had two separate bank accounts (with two different banks) and international bank cards (both debit and credit cards, where the credit cards were on different networks, i.e. one VISA and one Mastercard) – This is a good thing to do, because if something goes wrong with a bank or network you always have a second chance, and a backup plan. Oh, and things did go wrong with a card (and a bank) a couple of times while we were on the road, but in those cases we always had another card (and bank) to rely on.
Please tell us about your around the world air tickets.
We bought the around the world air ticket with roundtheworldexperts.co.uk and as I said it was about 2300 euros including taxes. The ticket included 7 flights: London-Delhi, Mumbai-Singapore-Bangkok, Bali-Sydney, Melbourne-Christchurch, Auckland-Nadi (Fiji), Nadi-Los Angeles, San Francisco-London. We were satisfied with the service offered by Round the World Experts for two main reasons: they have good customer service and they don’t charge in case you want to change the dates of your flights – and we changed our dates constantly!
Would you recommend around the world airfare for other travellers?
Buying an around the world ticket forces a lot of structure to your travels – it allows for some flexibility but it doesn’t give you freedom. This is not good or bad per se. Travellers are different and have different styles and needs, but the good thing about buying an around the world ticket is the price. What you pay for around-the-world airfare is generally less than you’d pay if you had to buy single flights one after another. Having said that, if you want to go, say, to SE Asia only, then it probably makes more sense to buy a return ticket to Bangkok and take it from there. We were okay with the around the world airfare, but to be honest if we didn’t buy it, we would have stayed in Asia for the whole trip, leaving Australia and the Pacific for later in life.
Did you have any major problems on your trip?
Nothing apart from a bus accident in India, on the way to Mumbai from Goa. (If you want to read the story, check our post ‘A troubled trip to Mumbai.’ )
What travel insurance company did you use?
We had two different types of insurance: travel insurance and a special type of photography insurance for non-professionals, which covered our travel photography gear, including our laptop. Buying insurance is a good idea when you’re setting off for long journeys. Plus, if you travel with expensive camera equipment that your normal travel insurance alone won’t cover, then buying a separate insurance for your photography gear is worth every cent and will give you peace of mind. For the travel insurance we used multitrip.com, for the photography insurance we used a UK based insurance broker called Aaduki.
Do you feel the travel has changed you?
Apart from being an awesome life and learning experience, this trip has certainly broadened our views and re-enforced our feeling of being in control of our lives. It made us understand what we really value in life, what we should make a priority and what type of lifestyle we want for ourselves in the near future – this is great because every effort we’re making now is aimed at organizing our lives according to our vision, rather than looking for easy compromises.
As individuals it certainly made us even more frugal and minimal than we used to be – as a couple it made us stronger, in so many ways (e.g. conflict resolution, communication, expectation management). Finally, as soon-to-be parents (we’re having a baby in January), we’ll make it a priority to help our son understand the value of diversity and the beauty of a multicultural world.
Do you have advice for others considering an around the world trip?
Here are a few tips we’d give to anyone considering an around the world trip:
- It’s easy to become too ambitious with your travel plans when you take an around the world trip. Travel slow and enjoy yourself – It’s better to do fewer places, but doing them well, rather than doing too many places in a hit-and-run fashion.
- Always have a plan B at hand. You’re not always in control of the circumstances and it’s good to have alternatives in mind and a certain degree of flexibility.
- Stay frugal but splurge from time to time.
- Set a budget for unforeseen expenses when you’re trying to figure out how much you need. Also set a budget for after the trip if you don’t have a job waiting for you on your return.
- Do it now. The more you hesitate, the more excuses you’ll make with yourself (e.g. waiting for the right time, etc.), the more unlikely you are to take the trip of a lifetime!