planning the first few months of RTW, part 1

It’s getting closer, friends! Exciting and terrifying, the Global Fantastic Adventure gets closer every day.

Warning: this post is long and a bit confusing as I consider different routes and expenses.  I am mostly doing this to preserve links and thought processes as we try to figure things out.

We have been looking at logistics lately and, sadly, it looks like India may be out. Surprisingly, the infrastructure for getting from one peninsula- southeast Asia- to the one next door- India- is daunting. We were hoping for a ferry or interesting travel by land however it looks bleak. It looks like going to India would involve 2 extra flights – a serious consideration for our budget for the six of us. We have been planning after Asia to go West to eastern Europe by train. The trains appear to go through northern China, not from India.  Getting on the Transiberian Railroad seems to require us getting back north to Beijing, possible by rail compared unlike going from Thailand to India since we are trying to avoid airfare x 6. Anyway, that is an overview, a little confusing and I apologize for that. Here is some more budget planning.

Budget prediction time!  East Coast to Vancouver to China

We are planning about 20 days to Vancouver, with several days in San Francisco. Total planned budget:  $2300 – a little over $100/day.  This is a maximum, I hope to save on food and emergency numbers.  Here’s the breakdown:

Driving to San Francisco is about 2800 mi/30 MPG x $4/gallon gas = $375 for gas

Food: $30-$40/day x 20 days = Max $800 (hopefully less!!)

Housing: maybe 15 of the 20 days will be camping. We prefer state parks, but may have to resort to private campgrounds in a pinch. Example of a state park in Iowa is Wildcat Den, near Davenport Iowa off rt. 80. It is $9/night for primitive camping with water but no showers. A private campground near rt 80 in Grand Island, Nebraska near is $32/night including showers and a pool and wifi. Let’s average that to $25/night for camping x 15 nights = $375. We should assume at least 1 hotel stay for $150, just in case.  So, total = $525

Emergency: car repair, extra hotel stay, etc : I’d like to allot $500. Let’s face it, the car may break down entirely and then we are on the bus! But also: the car may make it and we can sell it, at least for scrap: $200?

After San Francisco, we have to get to Vancouver and I’d like to stay two nights there. San Fran to Seattle is 800 miles/30 MPG x $4/gal gas = $107  We will probably stay a night in Portland with friends or maybe camp along the beautiful way. Sell car in Seattle, get rid of all our camping gear 😦 greyhound to Vancouver is $75 for all 6 of us, but I believe we have to buy the tickets in advance or it is much more. The trip is 4 hours. I found this Vancouver airbnb place that sleeps six for $124/ night. Planning for 2 nights = $260

That ends the first 20 days.

Then we just have to get to the port sometime before 1pm so we don’t miss the boat! We are paying for this repositioning cruise in advance (it’s about $6500 incl. taxes + gratuities + insurance. It is a splurge at over $430 per day but we have mostly decided we want to do it. As a comparison, flying from NYC to Bangkok would be about $3000 + approx 14 days room+board, added since they are included in cruise price). 15 nights onboard including a day we lose due to crossing the international date line. We have to be careful not to spend money here for things not included in our cruise price such as: Wifi, alcohol, spa treatments, excursions, special restaurants.  We get to explore Alaska (1 night) and Japan (3 nights) as the boat docks, one big reason for choosing the cruise. Then we are in Shanghai.

Shanghai and China

Big shock with China: the visas.  Per the Chinese Embassy, it appears to cost $140 per person plus what sounds like an excruciating beaurocratic process in both NYC and Washington, DC.  Minimum just for us to enter the country = $840.  We will do this in the next few months.

In Shanghai, we would stay at an Airbnb or a regular hotel for a night or two to figure out our next move. This airbnb place would set us back about $450 for their 3-night minimum. Here is a youth hostel, it appears we would have a 3-night minimum for $260 total. This place, another airbnb, is $293 for 3 nights. Here is a budget hotel for Y359 (Chinese Yuan)/night, which is US $57.44. We may have to commit to a place to stay in the process to get a visa, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  From there we would spend time in Shanghai, we could go to see the terra cotta warriors as we have looked at, and eventually we would head down to SE Asia.  If we could find a cheap, interesting place to stay in China, especially if we could learn some of the language, I’d stay a month or so, but I am more excited, at least for now, to get to SE Asia.

China to Bangkok

Yeah, ok we could fly, but where’s the fun in that?  I want to see the area, travel with locals, and check out the train system.  But just for comparison, I did a quick check and got:

Flight for 6 Shanghai to Bangkok: $1372

We may fly the opposite way after a few months in SE Asia as we head to Beijing for the 6-day Beijing-to-Moscow train.  Then again, we may do the train/bus trip the opposite way to check out other things we may have missed.  I love this flexibility and the option to avoid planes!  We may try to do the whole trip without planes!  It is partly the cost, but I feel we would miss out on local sights and opportunities if we always jetted from place to place.

So, for this Shanghai to Bangkok portion of the trip, here we go.  I think there are child discounts that I am not seeing online, and even without those, it looks to be an affordable option. There are issues of connecting at different points, and it may not be the most comfortable option, but after the cruise we have to keep expenses down.  If we are sleeping on a bus or train, that saves us lodging costs as well.

We plan to go to Bangkok to get vaccines as I have looked into. Train to Hong Kong:hard sleeper overnight is $62 pp, likely with discounts for kids. So less than $62x 6=$372 total. From there, we could fly to Bangkok or go overland.  Flight looks to be about $180 per person ($1080 for us). Overland is 3 days, max $150 per person per Rome2rio ($900). The same site has a range, minimum for which, not including kid discounts, same trip, is $714

So: train to Hong Kong and fly to Bangkok for 6: $1452

train to Hong Kong and flight to Kuala Lumpur then train to Bangkok for 6: $1374

train to Hong Kong then trains/busses to Bangkok for 6: $1849 (incl visas)

Here is an option I have to look into. I am not sure of route…  looks like train to Hanoi, bus to Vientiane, train to Bangkok. Train (as recommended by seat61) to Hanoi is 2 night sleeper trains with a day in Nanning in between. This is $68/person x 6 = $408, then Hanoi 24-hr trip by bus to Vientiane $30pp = $180, then train from there to Bangkok is $11 for 2nd class sleeper = $55 since the twins each pay 1/2 price.

Two considerations here: visas and itinerary.  Right now, Vietnam requires a visa in advance which we would get in China if possible.  It looks to cost $312 for 6 of us, I’m hoping for a child discount.  Laos costs $35 per person payable at border x 6 = $210, again, hoping for a child discount!  Thailand no charge for visas right now.

The price is looking steeper for this overland travel, but it includes some nights sleeping on train, also we would get to see these countries.  I look at it as a tour of the countries and a slow travel way to see the area. We may even decide to stay awhile in Vietnam or Laos, though I have my eye on Cambodia for a place to live for a month/months.  The visas seem to allow for 30 days, so we could stay a week or more in Laos and Vietnam if we want to. No visa fee in Thailand, BTW. But I plan to stay in Cambodia for access to Thailand, and I have assumed we will want to spend time there.

Thinking about flying part way: what about going by air from Shanghai to Singapore and using the highly recommended train from Singapore to Bangkok?  It may actually be cheaper than overlanding, about $340pp x 6 for us = $2040, ugh. Kuala Lumpur, on the same train route, is also an option. $320 ($1920, still a lot) appears to get you from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur. All of this is to say, we may boat to Shanghai, fly to Kuala Lumpur, then take a train to Bangkok before settling in Cambodia.

fly to Singapore, train to Bangkok: $2382

fly to KL, train to Bangkok: $2202

Train from KL to Bangkok: this appears fairly straightforward according to Mr. Seat 61. KL to Butterworth, apparently, is how the trip is done. This seems to be a 6-hour trip, however there is a time change so I believe it is longer. Anyway, $13 per person is the 2nd class (recommended) fare. Then Butterworth to Bangkok is the next leg, 20.5 hrs and only one fare option, $34 per person. That makes it $282 to get my family to Bangkok from KL.  If we do not choose this option, we may make the trip anyway since it sounds great and I have a friend in Singapore.

In Bangkok, we would stay a few days and get vaccines. If we were to stay in Bangkok for a week, there are a few options. Here is an airbnb place for $209 a week.

It would be around late November if we were to spend a month in China and a month getting to Bangkok. Three months of the trip gone!  But wonderful so far.

That ends this planning part for now, I’m working on a part 2 where we live in Cambodia for a month/months, then go to Beijing for the train to Moscow.

Fly to Bangkok? Drive to Vancouver? Cruise to Rome?

I was about to pull the trigger and place a deposit on the cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo, but I was a little anxious.  The deposit alone was almost $3000, and with taxes and tips, the cruise looks to cost us about $8K.  Despite reassurances from the cruise line, I was not confident that we could get the money back if plans changed for any reason.  Not to mention we have to get to Vancouver.  The same cruise cost $250 less per person last year when I first found it!  Repositioning cruises (Florida- Europe) in April are about half the price.  Why oh why??  Consternation abounds.

I had a discussion with Mr. Fantastic, during which he looked up prices on one-way flights from NYC to Bangkok.  A glaring possibility I had not considered.  It looks to be about $500pp.  It would be a gnarly 24-hour ordeal, but then we would be there for about half the cruise price.  We would not have the two weeks of room/board/entertainment, but on the plus side we would be closer to our first destination for a long-term stay and time-wise we save about 6 weeks (drive + cruise).  As for the drive to Vancouver, we agree that is neutral since it wouldn’t cost too much and would be a nice part of the trip, but we are willing to forgo since we could do it at a later date and without vaccines/passports.

Another option is to leave in April 2016 rather than September 2015 and catch a cheap repositioning cruise to Europe.  I found one from Texas to Italy for about $700pp.  We bagged that idea pretty quickly, though, since we have already been planning and waiting for so many years and it is best to rent our house in the fall rather than spring.  We are considering, for the return trip, a repositioning cruise from Europe back to the US which may extend our 1-year travel plan by a month or two, but we could score one of those for around $700pp.

So now the rough outline looks like flying from NYC to Bangkok, Thailand in late August/early September 2015.  We would stay there a day or two (hook us up, airbnb!!) to recuperate from the flight then head for Battambang, Cambodia unless we find a better option.  And we have about 9 months to figure out passports and vaccines and renting our house.  I have to research vaccines more, but I do have a few hot tips from Dr. Mama Fabulous, who visited us this week with two of her kids – stay tuned for a post about that, BTW, adventures were had.  And my savings for the deposit for the Vancouver cruise we will likely not take, well, part of that went to a car repair this week, part will go to passport fees, and the rest I hope to grow over the next months.


RTW plane tix vs. seat-of-our-pants

If you have gathered anything from reading about our family, you might assume that, in all likelihood, we will never, shall we say, be accused of over-organization.  And you would be right.  That said, I am valiantly attempting to put a loose structure on the plan of traipsing around the globe with the spouse and four children as our target date, now a mere 18 months away, draws nearer.

A major, perhaps THE major, factor governing the trip is transportation.  Going RTW as a family may have its advantages, however, multiplying plane/bus/train ticket prices x 6 is not one of them.   Of course, we have to get from place to place somehow, and with our new timeline of one year instead of two, the RTW flight plan became more of an option.  So, I looked at one of the major companies that sells this type of thing, and the quote they gave me was more than half our budget for the year!  They give a slight discount for children under 11, but the tickets were about $7000 per person – a whopping $42,000. Yikes!!

Now, the Bootsnall website had a link to multi-stop tickets with much friendlier pricing, but I’m not sure how this works.  Apparently the website is and they do this monthly; here is the list for March.  Also, I ordered Bootsnall’s free e-report on RTW airfare in which they compared various companies that sell these tickets.  The conclusion from the report was that the DIY method was cheapest and most flexible, but there are advantages to having your tickets pre-paid such as: having proof that you are leaving the country (useful in certain countries I’m told), budgeting a known quantity, and perhaps most importantly, saving time and stress in finding flights.  This guy seems very pro-RTW plane tickets but of course is not budgeting for 6.  The 6-person family in Sixintheworld – who are inspiring in many ways but likely had a bigger budget than we have and covered more ground than we plan to cover- bought RTW tix for their year-long trip, but they had the significant advantage of frequent flyer miles and paid only $250 per ticket.  Sigh.

So, I don’t think we will be flying much.  I am closely watching the repositioning cruises to cross the Atlantic and/or Pacific, in fact the whole idea of our itinerary changed when I found a cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo leaving Sept. 2014.  If there is one the following year, that is my pick.  If not, we still could cruise with the fancy schmancy Cunard line to the UK from NYC to get the trip started.  It is not much more than flying, and the kids and I get more excited about ship travel than flying so it may be worth it.

After getting to Europe or Asia, there are supposedly cheaper local flights and there are always alternatives to flying.  I was impressed with the bus system for Mexico and Central America.  I once took a bus from Mexico City to Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras over 3 days, and Mr Fantastic (who spoke almost no Spanish) followed me a few weeks later and we both had safe, fairly comfortable, inexpensive trips.  I cannot say the same for Greyhound in the USA, but I am optimistic about other countries.  Mr. Fantastic is a big fan of the Trans-Siberian Railway for travel between Europe and China/Japan.  This website looks to be very detailed in how to use that system.  If we land in Tokyo, I also found this website on ferry boats to China/Korea/Russia/Taiwan from Japan.  Of course, within cities, I am very keen to use the subway systems because I just like them.

So, barring any sudden windfall of frequent flyer miles or other unexpected incentives to fly, it looks like it will be seat-of-our-pants for the Fantastics.  Personally, I think rail, boat, bus, tuk-tuk, bicycle, etc. will certainly be more adventurous and bring more memories than the sterile, bland interior of most airplanes.  Ideally, it will make the traveling more interesting, budget-friendly, and after all, don’t they always say it’s the journey and not the destination?  I’m not sure whoever ‘they’ are was talking about RTW travel for a family of 6, but it works for me for now.