In the summer 2009, our family of five set off for almost three months on an around the world adventure that would see us visit seventeen countries, visit the Pyramids, hike the Great Wall, take two cruises, Disneyland, Universal Studio’s Japan, and three Cubs baseball games. We hadn’t done much traveling prior, Lynne and I had visited Europe for seven weeks in 1996, but that was about it. There were two factors that led us to this trip. One, I’d received a book for Christmas a few years before called “One Year Off” by David Cohen. The book was a collection of memoirs the his family had written about selling their house, cars, possessions and travelling with their kids for a year around the world. At the time I’d never heard of an entire family doing such a thing, although now it is fairly common. My plan wasn’t as extreme, we weren’t going to sell everything, or spend an entire year on the road, nevertheless we did circumnavigate the earth. Two, Lynne’s brother and family live in Sweden and my uncle and family live in Australia. To take my family to either destination would cost at least ten thousand dollars, but combining the two into an around the world trip would be the most economical way to visit both.
I enjoy putting together itineraries and researching travel destinations, so in the three months prior to the trip I spent countless hours optimizing our time. The internet has made travel exponentially easier than ever before, but still most people don’t know where to look or can’t be bothered to find out about their destinations. The more information you research the more you can use your time effectively and save money in the meantime. This was going to be a HUGE jigsaw puzzle and was a lot of fun solving.
Once we decided to do this once in a lifetime trip, I needed to start looking at how to do it. There are three main airline alliances in the world, SkyTeam, OneWorld and Star Alliance. They all offer round the world fares and generally speaking they are great value. We used OneWorld, they has a fantastic online planning and booking engine for these complicated trips. The fare we choose allowed for four continents and up to four flights within each continent. We maximized the rules to allow us to see as much as possible in the time we had and booked our flights online. The OneWorld fare allowed us to freely change dates of these flights but not the order or cities. Although I highly recommend this alliance and their round the world fares, there was almost always a ticketing delay or problem at the airport. Because we were ticketed on so many different airlines the flight attendants seemed to have a hard time seeing us in their system. Once they realized we had the OneWorld ticket they were able to issue boarding passes, however, this made getting to the airports early a must.
When planning the trip I had asked each child to research a place they wanted to see. Natasha was eleven and picked an elephant sanctuary in the Malaysian rain forest, Alyssa aged eight, picked Australia zoo, specifically to see wombats, and Nicholas aged five wanted to see the Great Pyramids. Easy, now all I had to do was plan the flights around Sweden, Australia, Egypt and Malaysia. All these destinations were obtainable using OneWorld, however fitting in Egypt was proving to be a challenge. No matter which way I tried to fit in Egypt, it just wasn’t working. Then I saw an ad for a seven day cruise out of Athens that would stop in Alexandria, Egypt for the day. From there, full day excursion to the pyramids is possible. The itinerary, included Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey Israel and a few Greek islands. I booked it, problem solved.
About a month before the trip was to depart the cruise company in Athens called us to explain their ships wouldn’t be operating. This wasn’t good news, as our OneWorld flights were booked. Remember, I could change dates but not cities. The company offered us a good deal on a shorter Greek Island and Turkey cruise but it wouldn’t be stopping in Egypt. I used the money saved from the first cruise and bought a separate round trip airfare from Athens to Cairo on Egyptair. This way we would be able to spend a few days in Egypt and not a rushed shore excursion. The Greek Island cruise had ports of call on Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Patmos and Kuşadası, Turkey. Our second cruise in the Baltic departed from Stockholm with stops in Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia.
I booked some accommodation prior to our trip, but mostly waited until a week or two before our arrival to book, leaving as much flexibility as possible. We had two short cruises booked and about ten days with family in Sweden and Australia, the rest was open. Finding accommodation in Europe for a five person family is difficult, made easier today with Airbnb, but in 2009 it was a challenge. The range of our accommodations was substantial. From an Eco-hotel in Madrid, a cramped hotel with five cots in Athens, to a historic apartment in Budapest. There was a luxury apartment/hotel in Beijing and Malaysia, a hotel in Osaka, Japan with incredible hospitality, to a downtown Chicago high-rise hotel. Wherever we stayed, the memories of these places are with us as much as the destinations themselves.
The more I look back at this trip now, I realize what an accomplishment it was. Think of how many people in human history have actually circled the globe. Not very many. Even seasoned travelers may not have done it, many of them take separate trips and return home between journeys. Even though the kids were quite young many of the memories from this trip are burned into their memories. They became expert travelers, packing up, navigating airports, trains, ships, and public buses. They experienced being lost in a foreign country with a language barrier in Hungary and China, experienced different foods, and slept in unfamiliar places. Eleven weeks of once in a lifetime experiences all for the cost of four, one week trips to Mexico.
The OneWorld airfare cost us $19,400. That sounds like a lot of money, but when you consider there is five of us, we took fifteen flights, including five long haul flights, the cost is incredibly cheap. It works out to less than $280 Canadian dollars per flight, inclusive of taxes and fees. In 2009 OneWorld was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary as an alliance and they were discounting their fares by 10%. Add to that, kids under twelve paid 75% of full fare explains why the fares were so cheap.
Our flight itinerary:
- Vancouver-New York 3916 km (Cathay Pacific)
- New York-Madrid 5785 km (Iberia)
- Madrid-Athens 2374 km (Iberia)
- Athens-Cairo 1120 km (Egyptair)
- Cairo-Athens 1120 km (Egyptair)
- Athens-Budapest 1123 km (Malev)
- Budapest-Copenhagen 1013 km (Malev)
- Stockholm-Helsinki 398 km (Finnair)
- Helsinki-Beijing 6336 km (Finnair)
- Beijing-Osaka 1788 km (JAL)
- Osaka-Kuala Lumpur 5247 km (JAL)
- Singapore-Brisbane 6155 km (Qantas)
- Brisbane-Auckland 2290 km (Qantas)
- Auckland-Los Angeles 10,477 km (Qantas)
- Los Angeles-Chicago 2809 km (American)
- Chicago-Seattle 2796 km (American)
A grand total of 54,747 kilometers flown.