From Mexico to Alaska to Japan to Thailand to the Baltics to Italy!
If you’ve been having trouble keeping up with our roaming lately, we can’t blame you. It’s literally been all over the map and much faster than our usual pace. Yet it sure has proven to be an exciting trip!
We’ve framed this round-the-world trip around the concept of “affordable luxury.” During this journey, we want to go beyond simply highlighting some of the interesting destinations we’re finding. It’s our aim to go further to show some of our tips & tricks of how we achieve a luxury-for-less standard by using budget travel techniques.
So we’re here to explain a bit more about what the heck we’ve been up to these past few months and help connect the dots of our travel map. This travel update will also get into our upcoming plans, that we’re super excited for!
For those who are just recently joining us on this trip around the world, here are a few things to catch you up-to-speed:
- This is our now our 6th year of nomadic living and non-stop traveling. We love round-the-world trips and this is now our 3rd trip entirely around the world. You can find more about us here.
- We started this year’s round-the-world trip in Florida, with a flight to Ecuador where we spent three months traveling throughout this spectacular country. See 20 reasons to visit Ecuador here!
- We then moved North into Colombia for just a bit. Ultimately that was a connection to get us to Mexico, where we spent five wonderful months slowing down our travels. Much of our time there was housesitting and working online, which were savings tactics to help us pull off the trip we’re currently on. You can read more about our slow roll through Mexico here.
- From those slow travels in Mexico, we’ve really picked up the pace as we proceeded on this affordable luxury trip around the world! So that’s what we’re in the middle of right now as we post this travel update!
This trip really kicked into high gear when we departed Guadalajara, which was a home base for us during our Mexico roaming. So here are some travel stats since leaving our favorite city in Mexico:
- Number of days: 50
- Number of Countries visited: 10
- Mexico, USA, Canada, Japan, Thailand, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Italy
- Number of places slept: 14
- Hotels: 11
- Airbnbs: 1
- Cruise/ ferries: 2
- Transport Segments: 51
- Flights: 8
- Boats & Ships: 5 vessels, 11 segments
- Trains: 27
- Buses: 5
An Itinerary Along the Route of Affordable Luxury
This trip has come a long way since we departed Guadalajara at the end of August. It’s crazy to think that over the past two months we’ve passed through three-quarters of the world’s time zones!
As we’ve been bouncing all over the globe, from one country to the next, a few people have been asking us about what must seem like a pretty bizarre itinerary. (And it’s only becoming stranger from here.)
But really, there’s a lot of logic built into our route. We’ve been purposely following inexpensive connections in order to get to certain points in the world as affordably as possible. We’re of the school-of-thought to spend as little as possible on transport in order to spend more on experiences once on the ground. So that’s exactly what we’ve been doing!
Here are some of the strategies we’ve been using to zigzag around the world. It’s the following inexpensive connections that have led to some of the best affordable luxury highlights of this trip so far.
From Guadalajara, we needed to get to Vancouver. Breaking up the journey by stopping into Tijuana and San Diego saves hundreds of dollars. So that’s what we did to save on airfare. That savings was instead spent on experiences, such as eating the original Caesar salad, invented in Tijuana Mexico, and drinking all of San Diego’s delicious craft beer.
We arrived in Vancouver to catch a repositioning cruise across the Pacific Ocean. The Celebrity Millennium wasn’t only a luxuriously affordable way to get to Asia. It also gave us a chance to explore Sitka, Alaska, in addition to three intriguing ports in Japan. At a cost that is comparable to a flight between the two continents, we always love trying to take advantage of the cruise deals. It allows us a level of comfort that’s otherwise unaffordable, while voyaging the world’s oceans and visiting far-flung ports of call.
Once across the Pacific, we then had a week to spend in Japan. So rather than splash our cash in high-cost Tokyo where we disembarked, we decided to take advantage of a regional rail pass to explore Japan’s lesser-visited Tohoku region. It proved to be far more affordable with lots of unexpected surprises. We hope to eventually write a more detailed post about everything we found so intriguing in this beautiful region of northern Japan.
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Our next goal was to get to Europe. To progress that along we ventured over to Thailand. With a $100-flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, this was the most logical westbound move in our grand scheme. So, we returned to one of our favorite affordable luxury destinations, Railay! To see why we love this secluded tropical paradise so much, you can read our travel guide here, detailing the 15 Best Things to Do in Railay.
Throughout this trip, we’ve been mostly staying in 3-star and 4-star accommodation. Yet to really make this an affordable luxury trip around the world, we had to include at least one five-star resort. So that brought us over to the Santhiya, with its bathtub balconies and infinity pools, all overlooking the island-dotted Andaman Sea. It must be one of the few five-star resorts in the world that is seasonably priced under $100/night. It’s also among our absolute favorite places we’ve ever stayed.
Meanwhile, the cheapest flight out of Thailand was from Bangkok was to Stockholm, Sweden. With a $161 flight taking us halfway around the world, this was the next rational progression. Yet we were met in Sweden with Scandinavia’s notoriously high prices.
So instead of lingering, we hopped on a Russian ferry/cruise ship for what ended being an awesomely affordable voyage throughout the Baltic Sea. Despite being a ferry at its core, this ship had many cruise-like elements, as we awoke to breakfasts that were complete with prosecco and caviar. And this voyage is a heck-of-a-bargain too, with prices from Stockholm that break down to about $27 per person, per night!
The weeklong ferry/cruise trip gave us a chance to explore four different Baltic seaports that included Stockholm, Helsinki, and Tallinn. Yet the highlight was being able to legally spend three days without a visa in St. Petersburg, Russia!
Thiswas a huge money-saver, as it would have cost us somewhere in the ballpark of $700 for the two of us to obtain Russian visas. This savings gave us the opportunity to splurge on finer accommodation and dining while exploring this grand, opulent, and fascinating city!
Once the voyage through the Baltics concluded, we took the least expensive flight out of Stockholm we could find. The $16 (+ baggage) route dropped us off in the most charming Italian town of Bergamo, Italy, at the foothills of the Alps. Italy is always a such a pleasure to roam around. So it was a goal to include it on this trip, even if just for brief stopover. We rented an apartment to hide out here for the past three days to enjoy the charms of local life in this town, all while simultaneously preparing for our next grand voyage!
That leads us directly to what we’re up to now!
So Where to Next?
Hold on tight! We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves!
We were initially planning to tie up this quick trip around the world with a final voyage across the Atlantic. There are dozens of transatlantic cruises that get repositioned from Europe back to Florida during the Fall. Many of them are departing right now and throughout November. It would have been all too convenient to book a last-minute fare across the Atlantic as a fun and familiar way for us to return to the US before the holidays.
Doing so would have tightly wrapped up this affordable luxury trip entirely around the world. That was the initial plan. But we instead decided to pull the trigger on a much more ambitious plan.
There are a few more “affordable luxury” ideas we wanted to try and accomplish before concluding this grand itinerary. We’d still like to toss in a trip to the Greek Islands, a visit to the Seychelles and maybe even an African safari.
So we’re now doing all of that!
And we’re doing it the best way we know how. We’re now taking a repositioning cruise all the way from Italy to South Africa!
Yes, such a cruise itinerary actually does exist. On Friday, we just boarded the MSC Orchestra in Genoa, Italy, for a 29-day grand voyage from Italy all the way down to Durban, South Africa. Yes, really.
We’ve already sailed down the coast of Italy and just passed the Stromboli Volcano yesterday!
This ship is now bringing us to ten different countries, most of which we’ve never been to before. We’re extremely excited for the far-flung ports throughout the Indian Ocean, such as the Maldives and France’s Reunion Island!
This is not a barebones repositioning cruise itinerary, as they sometimes are. It’s filled with port days in some very interesting destinations! Perhaps best of all are the overnight ports. We’ll have two full days in both the Seychelles and Mauritius!
We’ll also have a night to spend in Israel, a country we’ll be visiting for the first time. But that’s just the beginning of our voyage through the Middle East. We’ll also be passing through Egypt’s Suez Canal again. Doing so will bring us to the country of Jordan, which will give us the opportunity to finally visit the world wonder of Petra!
Before all that, we’ve already had a chance to pop into Rome for a day. And we’re currently posting this from the island of Crete, down in Greece! We’ll be elaborating much more on this in the upcoming days, over on regular daily Facebook posts.
Anyhow, it’s all just a fascinating route, with a price we simply couldn’t ignore. This ultra-exotic itinerary caught our attention only a few months ago, just before we departed Mexico. That’s when we noticed a significant price drop.
Before taxes and gratuities, this cruise came to a total of $1,229 per person for an interior stateroom on this 4-star ship. For perspective, that’s less than $300 per week, or $42/day, for a pretty spectacular way to travel to South Africa! The weather has been great so far as we’ve been voyaging on the MSC Orchestra. Here’s the ship as we cruised away from Italy yesterday.
The grand total of the trip will ultimately prove to cost more once factoring in additional expenses we’ll undoubtedly incur while in port, plus the recommended gratuities we always pay. This should bring us to a budget somewhere north of $60 pp/pn. We plan to venture out on a semi-costly day trip to explore Petra and maybe even splurge on a dive trip at one of the five Indian Ocean islands we’ll be stopping at!
During the past two months of travel, we’ve been long debating whether or not to pursue what is ultimately a dream trip. Yet being able to get to Italy right at the exact time this cruise was departing, we simply had to pull the trigger on what will be the longest cruise voyage we’ve ever embarked on, 29 nights and 30 days!
This itinerary fit too perfectly as a piece in this affordable luxury puzzle, we’ve been working on putting together all year long.
Yet all of our travels up until this point have been carefully and meticulously planned out. But given the super last-minute booking of this cruise to Africa, we’re now on a voyage largely into the unknown. Nearly every port along the way is entirely new territory for us to roam around, which we’re super excited for.
If you’ve been to any of these places, please let us know any tips or recommendations you may have. We’re actively planning right now! Here’s the full itinerary that we’re so thrilled for:
Side note: If this crazy itinerary looks interesting to you, this ship will be heading back from Africa to Italy in April. The reverse trip is a similar itinerary, and currently it’s nearly the same price. More here.
Where to After the Cruise to Africa?
Returning to South Africa
We have some ideas for South Africa that we need to flesh out during this next month, as we approach the country. We’ve traveled throughout South Africa once before. Back in 2016 we embarked on a month-long road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg, with many self-drive safaris in between.
It’s honestly been one of the best travel experiences we’ve had during the past six years of roaming around the world. This is our favorite pics from a game drive we did in Kruger National Park.
We look forward to reuniting with our lion friend and showing the adventures possible in this part of the world.
Africa, in general, is a place we’ve wanted to revisit ever since the day we departed, almost exactly three years ago. So we’re thrilled to now have a chance to be back. On our radar is potentially visit some favorites in South Africa, like Kruger National Park, while also checking out some new-to-us game reserves.
Side trips to the nations of Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) are also on the table.
We’ll be in South Africa primarily for the incredible wildlife that abounds. But we’ll have to add an element of affordable luxury to this journey, of course!
Completing this Round-the-World-Trip
One of our greatest hesitations for coming to South Africa is that it presents a logistical challenge for us to return to the US, given a lack of inexpensive connections that we’ve been relying on. We initially departed Florida back on January 6th. Each step on our itinerary has ultimately progressed us westbound using minimal funds on transport itself.
Yet detouring way down to South Africa gets us further, not closer, from our end-goal of returning to Florida. There is definitely no cheap repositioning cruise from South Africa back to the US. It simply doesn’t exist.
Flying back is always possible, of course. But we hate the idea of spending on flights. We last flew back from Africa for free using a stockpile of points. But our Skymiles point bank is nearly depleted. So what’s a roamer to do?
We’re now considering these three options to ultimately complete this round-the-world trip.
1) Stay in Africa – We’d love to prolong our stay on the continent. South Africa could make a particularly attractive place for us to linger, enjoy the pleasures of slow travel we’ve been missing lately, rent an apartment, and explore deeper while working online. But we have some personal reasons for not wanting to linger so far from home. So, although we’d love to stay, this is looking more and more unlikely.
2) Return to Europe for a late-season repositioning cruise back to the US. By the end of November, nearly all repositioning cruises have already begun their transatlantic voyages across the pond. But if we limited our time in South Africa to just five days, we could catch a $300 flight back to Europe to then catch a super cheap ($30/day) repositioning cruise right back to Florida. The price is right. But we couldn’t possibly stomach only spending five days in this country after traveling so far to reach it. As a result, we’ve nearly eliminated this idea.
But there is one more transatlantic cruise that departs Rome on Dec 5, giving us 2½ weeks to roam around South Africa. It would also deliver us back to Florida just before Christmas. We like the idea of squeezing in one more repositioning cruise into this trip, rather than enduring an uncomfortable long-haul flight. So, this is an option that remains on the table.
Yet that trip across the Atlantic is priced way more than the usual October-November deals we’re accustomed to scoring, for about $500 or less. At a current rate of $1,000 per person (before taxes and gratuities), it’s not the greatest deal for what amounts to a 17-night transatlantic voyage. So, unless that price magically drops, it’s looking unlikely we’ll pursue this route either.
3) Fly back to the US – We’ve found December flights from Johannesburg to Washington DC for under $500. While that would be the most we’ve ever spent on a flight during the past six years of non-stop travel, it’s a very attractive rate for such a far distance.
We could conceivably be back in the US by the holidays, which is appealing to us. If we return before mid-December, we’ll further be able to pick up a cheap rental car relocation deal in DC. This gives us a rental car to use for two weeks at a rate of $9 a day. It’s a tactic we’ve used almost every year when back in the US. Since we don’t own vehicles, it works out quite nicely for us to have wheels to affordably make our way around, visiting family and friends we dearly miss.
This final option also allows us to spend 3+ weeks exploring Southern Africa. As a result, this is becoming more and more a likely scenario as a way to complete this round-the-world trip, despite our reluctance and stubbornness to return by air.
The Roaming Continues!
So we’ll see how it all unfolds throughout the rest of the year. But for now, we’ve got some more roaming to do as we make our way from Italy to South Africa!
As usual, we’ll be posting daily updates on Facebook. So make sure you’re connected with us there. We also try to post periodically over here on Instagram too.
For those of you who have been chatting with us over on Facebook throughout this journey, we thank you! It’s made this trip way more fun for us, as we share those daily posts. So we’ll see ya back in Facebook world until we eventually slow down our travels again, when we do plan to write much more details about many of these affordable luxury experiences here on the blog.
Until then, happy travels to you all, wherever you may be roaming throughout the rest of 2019! Bon voyage! 🚢
-John & Heather
Stacey Connor says
Awesome post! Thanks for sharing the knowledge and keep up the good work.
Such a nice travel blogger. This is so amazing luxury trip around the world. Really it was a wonderful travel experience!
derrick rosenstengel says
I loved this post.I read your blog site fairly frequently, and you are
constantly bring out some fantastic content. I shared this on my Facebook page, aand
a lot of my followers enjoyed it. I hope you maintain the good work
mexico in my travel list, and till jan 2020 i will start the tour. Thanks for sharing wonderful article.
Jim & Katherine says
Hey John & Heather on Crete. We travel tomorrow am (25Oct2019) to Saranda Albania from Sofia Bukgaria-Athens-Corfu flights, then ferry over. Missed you by that much!
Katherine and I met on Paxos Island in Greece in 2003 … 15 months later we married. Have more great fun … enjoying your posts & pics.
Cheers, Jim & Katherine … aka The Mugglebutts
John Widmer says
Ahh, so close! Two ships passing in the night, literally! Hope you Mugglebutts have a great trip through Europe, Greece, and beyond! Sounds like an awesome itinerary. 🙂
Hi, which airline price comparison sites do you use to check the cheapest way to split tickets? TIA 🙂
Petra travel tip: Don’t bother with the ship’s tour, which is a rip off and restricts you time-wise.
There is a free shuttle from the ship into town, which stops at a taxi rank.
The taxi took us to Petra, waited 4 hours for us and then took us back to the ship. The cost of the taxi was 80 Jordanian money. ( He also pretty much demanded 20 tip, so prepare for that). 4 hours is the minimum you need to see the site. Check for seat belts before you get in… ours didn’t have any at the back!
At Petra, the guide is supposed to be free, but they try to make you pay extra for it. We managed to avoid getting a guide by saying our friend was getting one (the lady we were with said the same thing). Some poor man did try to guide us a bit, but we left him behind. The word from everyone that got a guide was that they talk a lot and you don’t get round to see everything.
The monastery is the furthest away, so if you do want to see it, I suggest heading straight there, refraining from taking photos etc, til the return journey, as you are going to walk past everything again on the way out. It takes about and hour each way (we were walking very fast) and involves climbing 800 to 900 steps. It is quite heavy going, but you can get a donkey… they looked a bit dangerous.
The horse ride on the way in is supposed to be free, but they charge you, so they will say it is included and then ask for money. We just walked in. If you’re running out of time on the return journey, there is the option of a carriage ride all the way back to the entrance.
There are souvenir sellers/tea/drink sellers all the way up to the monastery and a restaurant at the top. We really just had enough time to walk around and take pictures, not to really soak up the atmosphere, because we dawdled a bit at the entrance – well it is spectacular :-). The ship tour does not go to the monastery.
I hope this helps
Have a wonderful cruise and I’m so glad you are getting to explore more of my country, South Africa.
John Widmer says
We tend to use Google Flights the most these days for searching and comparing flights. They have some really flexible filtering and sorting functionality.
Thank you so much for the Petra tips! We are actively planning that out right now, so your advice is very helpful! 😀 We had read different taxi prices online, so glad to hear your on-the-ground account. That is how were planning to go for sure.
Good to know about the guide. We’ve been trying to read up a bit on Petra and want to maximize our limited time as much as possible. Straight to the monestary sounds like a great idea that we’ll be sure to follow. We’re up for the challenge! We weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it. So again, it’s great to hear from someone who was actually successful in doing so from a cruise stop. Thank you for that and all the tips!
We are so looking forward to being back and exploring more of your beautiful country!!
Try Kenia Airline and Turkish airline from Cape Town to US! Best prices!
John Widmer says
Thanks, will check that out! We had seen some inexpensive Kenya Airline flights from Joburg. Will take a closer look at the Cape Town connections and Turkish Airlines too. Thank you!
Kody Roach says
If you pick Option #2 Nov 9th out of Barcelona then Ashley and I from This Traveling Table will be aboard: Rhapsody of the Seas. We have a two wrek layover in Florida before continuing our travels to Chile, leaving 12/6.
Hope to see y’all!
Kody and Ashley
John Widmer says
We don’t arrive to South Africa until Nov 16th, so we’ll be missing most all those transatlantics and we’ll apparently be missing you guys too. Perhaps one of these days we’ll wind up on a ship. Until then, have a great voyage across the pond and then down to South America – awesome!