The round-the-world ticket way
Four thousand stops in a hundred countries, or so it felt when I booked my first round-the-world ticket. I wanted to go everywhere. Immediately. And so, without even a casual thought for one-way tickets, I crammed it all into one 42,000 mile air-bound adventure.
London – Madrid – Quito – Rio de Janeiro – Miami – Panama – Mexico City – Texas – Tokyo – Singapore – Bangkok – Hong Kong – Beijing – Hong Kong – New Delhi – Jordan – London.
I’m exhausted thinking about it, let alone flying it. And that’s not to mention the bunch of internal flights I booked on the side from Thailand to Laos, Israel to Cyprus and a fleeting visit home (Buenos Aires – Lima – New York – London. Repeat in reverse.)
It would be safe to say I’d booked a big ticket, every few days packing my bag and moving on. It was an amazing experience. And one I would never repeat because as nice as broad travel is, hitting countries at the speed of a tornado and sticking to a schedule sucks.
Doing it differently: one-way tickets all the way
So, when I decided to take flight in May for a jaunt until Christmas I did things differently. I booked a one way ticked from London to Mexico (it helps that’s all my airmiles would afford me), and it has worked out to be the best travel decision ever…and not least because without intention or planning I have found myself in Hawaii.
Here’s why, for long term trips, I would always book one way.
Linger longer, live local
Despite booking a one way flight, I had a reasonably clear idea of what I wanted to do: get to Mexico and work my way south to Colombia in time for a flight home for Christmas (no matter where I am in the world, I crave my family at Christmas more than I do the roast potatoes and stuffing).
However, without a grueling travel schedule to stick to, pulling me on and off night buses every second night, I found myself lingering longer. A week passed here, a month passed there and before I knew it I’d made no ‘progress’ in travel mileage. Compared to my past fast travel standards my trip (or lack thereof) could be considered a failure. Except I’d done something I’d not done before – stayed long enough to really dig deep into a location. Learning where the best hidden bakery was, becoming so familiar to the souvenir sellers they stopped trying to sell to me, seeing every last sight in the surrounding region (including swimming with turtles at a lesser known beach) and, best of all, making friends with people who lived locally. Fleeting is perhaps the best word to describe the interactions we have with most of the people we meet on the road, but stay longer and true friendships can form and that alone is worth not booking a return flight.
You can take an illogical route that provides maximum experience
For all intents and purposes I was heading south…until I found myself steering northbound towards Mexico City and on to Guadalajara, another 8 hours north by bus. The inspiration for my illogical detour came from my newly found Mexican friend who very kindly showed me the skill of sipping tequila. Unlike the salt, slug, wince, lime, double wince approach we apply to cheap tequila shooting around most of the world, the experience is quite different in Mexico – mainly because the quality of what you’re drinking is so much better.
There are some pretty damn good agave based spirits out there and once introduced to them, I wanted to discover more, curious to find out more about the drink I’d been repelled by during my 20s and found the need to mix into tart margaritas during my 30s. And to do that I needed to head to the town of Tequila, a few hours side tour from Guadalajara. North. Not south as I’d planned, but without a fixed plan forcing me in one direction I altered my course, visited Tequila and met some amazing people along the way.
With flexibility over fixed plans the world is your oyster
Returning from Guadalajara to the Yucatán peninsula, finally turning south again, I was starting to get a little concerned – months had passed and I was still in Mexico, barely moving. I began to wonder if, in fact, I did need more structure than a one way ticket to get my ass into gear – without a deadline to get to Colombia I was going nowhere. Fast.
My brother came and went (as he frequently does). We rushed through Belize and it kick started my momentum. My usual travel style would resume, rushing and racing, gorging on sights like an all you can eat sightseeing buffet with a restaurant closing time. I would go to Campeche, on to San Cristobal de las Casas then slip back into Guatemala. Honduras. El Salvador. So on and so forth until I hit Colombia. My route south would finally be underway. I’d travelled fast before, I could do it again. It would be fun, wouldn’t it?
The problem was, I wasn’t excited about the prospect. Not so much the speed, but the intended itinerary. I’d seen most of the countries on my route south before. Yes, I wanted to go back to explore further, but I knew about the scents and sounds they offered and after so many months idling in Latin America I suddenly had a hunger for something strange. For things unfamiliar. For exhilaration. But I had a plan, right? I was going to Colombia, and with lack of any other plans, south I would go.
Searching for accommodation advice for the small fort town of Campeche where I planned to stay for at least a week I sent an email to a guy I’d met along the way and it was his response that (thankfully) threw me off course. The town barely held enough to occupy half a day, let alone a week. Even my roughest plan wasn’t holding together too strong. It was time to rethink…time when the beauty of my one way ticket came into its own. I didn’t have to go south. The world literally was my oyster (travel budget permitting).
The thought was overwhelming, but suddenly I had it – the excitement I was craving. I let my thoughts settle for a few days. This was going to be fun.
You can go with your impulse and follow your heart’s desire
Things change. What I wanted in May was not what I wanted in September. My mood had shifted, as had my heart’s desire. I was feeling impulsive, flighty and for the first time I felt able to act on it. Still unsure where I wanted to go, I started pouring over the search results on Kayak, seeing where my limited travel budget could take me. Into the US, direct to Colombia, out to Asia. My mind was as distracted as it could be, but I continued to work, plugging away at my long article list until I came to a short piece for a client on the ‘Highlights of Hawaii’.
I refreshed my previous research on this set of Pacific islands complete with volcanoes, rushing lava, waterfalls, surf beaches, sunsets galore. Oh, how nice it would be to visit. It wasn’t the first time the islands of Hawaii had fallen on my radar. I had hoped to cram Hawaii into my first gargantuan ticket, but with the islands sitting on the periphery of both sides of the world map, a trip to Hawaii would have been at the expense of at least three other places on my route, a sacrifice I wasn’t prepared to make at that point in my travels, and so I parked Hawaii, filing it under the ever expanding list of places I want to go. Then I promptly forgot it…until I found myself footloose and travel plan free in Mexico. It was impulsive, but I suddenly wanted to go, more than I wanted anything.
No set travel dates equals bargain prices
I’m a huge fan of Skyscanner.net and regularly find myself grazing over flight prices, making fantasy plans, creating far off dreams, and I gave it a shot with Hawaii. The flight price was bound to be phenomenal, getting to a paradise where honeymooners out-price independent travellers with their vacation funds really couldn’t be cheap, could it?
Mexico to Hawaii. Any route. Any time. One way. One person. I hit search and waited for the four figure price to pop up but by some small travel miracle, the price surprised me. I searched again in disbelief only to get the same results. I did some research. It was low season. I was half way there (compared to flying from Europe) and there it was – a one way flight for less than $250 via San Francisco. There were conditions, of course. I had to fly with an airline I’d never heard of (rare for me, the regular flight taker) and I had to fly via Atlanta with a 7 hour lay-over, but this seemed a small price to pay to fly to paradise. And then there was the final requirement. I had to fly that week. In less than seven days I could be in paradise. Scaling volcanoes, playing in the surf, rediscovering the excitement that travel gives me. Yes, yes, yes. I booked.
I took the flight and I sit here writing this from Hawaii, something I would never have imagined when I boarded my one way flight in May.
I get asked each day how long I plan to stay in Hawaii and still riding on the back of a one way ticket, I give the best answer I have: ‘I’ll be home for Christmas, but otherwise I have no plans.’