In this travel update, we’re announcing our new travel goal that will take us into our fifth year of Roaming Around the World:
To completely circumnavigate the globe without the use of flights!
We have a yearlong agenda planned to literally roam entirely around the world! We are so excited to pursue this dream and have dozens of new-to-us countries to explore during this grand voyage around the globe. Over the past few months while traveling through Canada, we’ve been busy plotting away at all the logistics involved to make this dream of ours an actual reality. The idea of making our way completely around the world by land and sea is a lovely thought, but there are financial, geographical, and political challenges involved. We have many borders to cross ahead, as well as some big oceans!
Additionally, in order for us to pull this off, we need to ensure that we complete the entire adventure on our typical modest travel budget. During this voyage, we hope to prove that it’s possible to take such a trip, stay on a low budget of about $50 per person a day, and still enjoy a comfortable standard of travel along the way. In fact, I’m writing this update now from a cruise ship that we embarked on from Vancouver; thanks to a great deal we scored on a repositioning cruise.
We are now on our way, cruising across the Pacific to Japan! By the time we arrive in Tokyo in a few weeks from now, we will have already made it about half way around the world from our starting point.
This flightless journey around the world actually began when we landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, back in July. That is the last time we were on a plane, making Halifax the beginning and ending point of this round-the-world trip we’re now pursuing.
(You can read here our post about: Top Things to Do in Halifax on a Budget.)
For those of you who’ve been following our adventures on Facebook, you already know that we’ve successfully made it across North America entirely using a series buses, one-way rental cars, and most recently on the Amtrak Empire Builder across the US, with a final jaunt up to Vancouver.
It’s been a great summer venturing from the Atlantic to the Pacific! But as the season changes from summer to fall, we’re changing continents. We’ll soon be roaming around Asia this fall and all winter long!
(Update: we have completed our trip around the world without flights since this travel update was first published. You can now read all about the journey here where we break down our strategies and budget here: Is A Cheap World Cruise Possible?
Where To Now: Crossing the Pacific!
Arriving to Vancouver was the end of our rail journey, so there’s only one more way to continue our westward travels without a flight. If you’ve been following our travel blog for some time, you know that we love to take advantage of repositioning cruises. These repositioning cruises act as our secret weapon to move across oceans, from one continent to the next, in an affordable way that is absolutely indulgent.
To understand the economics of our Pacific crossing, cruise lines base their ships in Vancouver and other ports in the Pacific Northwest for summer Alaska cruises. But Alaska’s summer cruise comes to an abrupt halt at the end of September. Therefor the cruise lines must “reposition” their ships elsewhere. Some go down to South America. Others cross the Panama Canal and base themselves in Florida for the winter. While a few others cruise across the Pacific to Asia. That’s what we’re doing!
Because these sailings are longer and have more exotic itineraries, prices are slashed from the ship’s typical rates in order to fill what would be an otherwise empty ship. This great example of supply & demand allows us to enjoy a taste of the high life as we cross oceans.
This is actually the sixth repositioning cruise we’ve taken during our world travels. Yet it’s our first repositioning cruise in more than a year now and this will be the first time we’ve ever crossed the Pacific!
The voyage is already off to a great start. We’re currently aboard the Holland America Volendam, which will be our “home” for the next half-month as we cross the world’s largest ocean. It’s an almost full ship of nearly 1,400 passengers that will likewise be making this journey with us.
After slumming it up in coach seats of the Amtrak Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, we’re now feeling all fancy from our comfy stateroom as we watch the rugged pine-covered coastline of British Columbia pass right outside out window. And OMG is this coastline beautiful!
We pulled out of Vancouver and waved goodbye to Canada as seaplanes buzzed by our ship. Then we took a northbound trajectory right along the coast of British Columbia, which has been stunning. Often on repositioning cruises you’re looking at nothing but blue ocean for days on end. So it’s been particularly nice to be able to gaze out upon the shores of British Columbia as we navigate through some tight passages. Here’s the glowing sunrise we woke up to this morning.
These transpacific cruises don’t just sail directly across the ocean. We’re going to be stopping at ports all along the way over the next few weeks. And our route to Japan takes us through America’s last frontier: Alaska! We’ve actually just reached our first port of Ketchikan! Alaska is one of the few states remaining that we’ve yet to roam around, so we are beyond thrilled to have this opportunity of stopping off at a few different Alaskan ports. I foresee lots of hiking in our future!
We’ll soon continue through Alaska’s scenic Inside Passage and even dipping into Glacier Bay National Park. We’ll eventually cross the Bering Straight and will hopefully port for a day out in the remote port of Dutch Harbor, which is rarely ever visited. I say “hopefully” because the seas while crossing the Gulf of Alaska are forecasted to be ferocious over these next few days. The Captain of the Volendam has already warned us all of the possibility of having to reroute due to storms and extremely high waves. I just checked the marine forecast and discovered that gale-force / tropical storm-force winds of 50+ mph are expected and seas topping 17 feet (5 meters). Yikes! Whatever the case, it should make for an interesting trip we suppose!
This Pacific passage will continue across the International Date Line and ultimately all the way to Japan! All in all, it’s a 15-night voyage spanning 8 different stops from Canada to Japan.
I imagine inquiring minds want to know what in the world it costs to take a 15-night cruise on a 4½-star luxury ship all the way from Vancouver to Japan. We’ve actually seen last-minute transpacific cruise deals listed as low as about $600! An absolute steal. Our exact sailing was priced as low as $969, although we ended up paying just slightly more because prices do fluctuate and we missed the rock-bottom offer earlier this year. We think repositioning cruises are some of the best values in all of travel and they seem to be greatly under-utlizied aside from a well-informed retirement crowd.
This is certainly not the cheapest repositioning cruise we’ve taken (that was this transatlantic sailing we took for $159 last year), but we still feel like this is a heck of a value! Consider that a flight to Asia alone can cost nearly the same as this voyage, yet cruising to Japan instead will cover our comfy accommodation and decadent meals over the next two weeks, all while stopping at some far-flung ports along the way and sea days full of lectures, broadway-style shows, games, and entertainment. These aren’t boring sailings across the ocean. They’re so full of activity, we usually find ourselves with little down time during sea days. If you’re intrigued about these deals or new to cruises as an affordable way to travel around the world, check out these older posts we’ve written in the cruise tips section of our blog.
Roaming Around Japan!
We have some interesting ports to call on in the country before ultimately disembarking in Tokyo, where we’ll spend a few days discovering Japan’s busy capital.
From there, we’ve been working on an exciting itinerary traveling by rail independently across the Land of the Rising Sun. We’ll be racing across Japan for a few weeks on a route towards the ancient city of Kyoto. En route, we’ll be visiting many of the cultural sites the country is known for. Yet we’re putting an even larger emphasis on exploring some of the natural treasures like the Japanese Alps. As the fall foliage begins, this should be a particularly pretty time to visit Japan’s mountains. After this fast-paced romp around the country, our plan is to slow way down to deeply explore Kyoto for an entire month. This lengthy stay in Kyoto brings us into mid-November.
Where to Next: A Half-Year in Asia!
After our month in Kyoto, the plan is to continue west without the use of flights. So after roaming around a bit more of southern Japan, our next logical move is to take a ferry to South Korea! We haven’t made any set agenda there yet, but we are tentatively planning to spend the month of December in the country. Unfortunately we’ll be there just a little early for the big Winter Olympic games that will be taking place beginning February 9-25 later next year. Yet hopefully we’ll be able to provide you all a bit of a preview for what’s to come there.
Our next connection from South Korea will be a ferry ride onto mainland Asia. That will take us into China by early January and our rough plan is to spend at least a full month independently traveling across that enormous country. Despite having roamed around Asia a few times before; Japan, Korea, and China are all countries we’ve never ventured to. So we’re quite excited to soon experience this part of the world.
How To Cross the Continent of Asia?
From China, there is a fork in the road. We still plan to spend a few more months in Asia, but by the time we get to China, we need to begin thinking about what direction to go, in order to ultimately cross into Europe. There are three routes that would get us back towards the Atlantic Ocean, but each of these tracks is not without its challenges:
Option 1 Crossing Asia to Europe: The Trans-Siberian Railway
We would love to swing into Mongolia and then pursue this classic rail journey across Russia. But the biggest obstacle here is that Americans cannot obtain a Russian visa while abroad. Russian visas are only obtainable in the US and have a short lifespan. We’ve read some old and unverified reports online of Americans successfully obtaining Russian visas at the embassy in Hong Kong, among other places in Asia. But we cannot rely on this hearsay, particularly so during a time when US-Russia relations are getting weird.
Another challenge with the Trans-Siberian Railway is cost. It’s not cheap. After accounting for expensive visas and other red tape, we’d be looking at spending several thousands of dollars for the two of us to sleep on a train for six days. For perspective, our two-week luxury cruise across the Pacific is much less than that.
A final obstacle would be our timing. Crossing Russia during the end of winter doesn’t sound particularly appealing. The daylight hours are short and we wouldn’t see much out the train window under the cloak of darkness.
But the experience of doing this rail journey and also being in Siberia during winter could be interesting. And once we worked out all the visa logistics, it would be a fairly easy ride across the continent. Plus I’ve always wanted to go to Mongolia and am interested in Russia too. So we’re still keeping this on the table as an option if we’re able to make it possible, both financially and logistically.
Option 2 Crossing Asia to Europe: The Silk Route
Another classic Asia-Europe overland route is to travel clear across China and into “the Stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc.) This is a beautiful mountainous region that we have always wanted to travel through. But again, there are some significant logistical challenges here.
The biggest roadblock for us would be in Turkmenistan, as we near the country of Iran. Despite how it’s portrayed in the media, we’ve only heard how lovely the country is from other travelers who’ve actually been there, which has left us yearning to visit. But unfortunately for us, Americans are not permitted to travel independently in Iran. We must be part of a tour, and such tours tend to begin and end at the airport in the capital of Tehran. So it seems that crossing the country from border to border may not be possible without organizing some sort of crazy expensive private tour guide to escort us every step of the way.
Alternatively, it seems there is a transit visa we may be eligible for, that could give us just enough time to cross the entire country. But if we were to miss a connection or if something like a bus breaking down delays our movement, that would put us in jeopardy of committing the serious offense of overstaying a transit visa in Iran. We certainly don’t want to see what happens then, potentially becoming Iran’s next political pawns.
The only other way to go around Iran would be to cross the Caspian Sea into the country of Azerbaijan. This seems to be possible by catching a ride on the unreliable freighters that make the multiday crossing. But there’s still much uncertainty with these cargo ships, and obtaining the Azerbaijan visa also seems a bit messy. If that all didn’t work out perfectly, there’s really no other avenue to continue on, aside from turning around or a taking a flight.
I feel like this Silk Route through the Stans would be the most difficult to pursue, yet also the most rewarding. So we’re keeping it open as an option. But an easier way is also appealing, which brings us to our final consideration.
Option 3: Cruising Through the Suez Canal
We mentioned earlier how repositioning cruises are our secret weapon to change continents. Well, there are actually a few ships that make the rare Asia to Europe voyage through the Suez canal. To pursue this route, we would first need to travel across Asia to Singapore, which is easily possible overland from China. A convenient southbound route into Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia would get us there. There are also some oceanic routes from Hong Kong to Singapore that we’re likewise looking into.
However we get there, once in Singapore there are spring repositioning cruises that journey around India and into the Middle East to Dubai, UAE. From Dubai, there are further repositioning cruises that voyage back around Oman and then do a full transit through Egypt’s Suez Canal. Some of these cruises even port in Jordan for passengers to go on the bucket-list journey to the ancient ruins of Petra. Israel is often another port call before ultimately ending up somewhere in Mediterranean Europe.
The awesomeness of such an itinerary excites us greatly and doing this all on a cruise ship will make logistics a total breeze. India is always somewhere we’ve wanted to travel to and this would give us an opportunity to quickly visit several towns along the country’s western coastline. The thought of visiting Petra and Israel also makes us giddy. We were enthralled with the Panama Canal transit we did in 2014, so would love to see how the Suez compares. And we absolutely loved watching Egypt pass by when we took that Nile River trip later that same year, so would love to cruise through Egypt yet again.
Given the logistical barriers involved in the first two routes from Asia to Europe, the use of repositioning cruises to transit the continents is beginning to look more and more attractive. Interestingly, it’s also shaping up to be the cheapest option even though it is by far the most comfortable option. Go figure. While on a mission to complete this journey on a low budget, we can’t ignore the cost savings these cruises would allow us. And after a half-year of independent travel across Asia, a cruise across continents should feel particularly refreshing to be able to unpack our bags as the ship moves us around. So we’re certainly starting to lean in this direction. That said, we’re still in the process of vetting out all options.
Returning from Europe to Halifax
The goal is to ultimately return to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where this flightless adventure originated.
As it’s the most common repositioning route, we’ve already completed transatlantic crossings four times now over the past few years. So our final push to return to North America will be the easiest to organize and the most familiar portion of this grand journey. We’re already eyeing a few ships that stop in Halifax while being repositioned to North America ports.
Most transatlantic cruises reposition themselves from Europe to the US during the fall. So we may spend next summer (2018) roaming around Europe once again. But this year there are a few brand new ships that are making the crossing in May, which is unusual. But with that taking place, we’re considering possibly catching one of these earlier ships too.
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves at this point. That’s all nearly a year a way from now. We first need to simply complete this voyage across the Pacific to Japan and continue moving west from there!
We Are Truly Roaming Around the World!
Just typing up this travel update has gotten us even more excited for the adventure ahead. It’s only a rough outline, so there will be so much more we’ll be fleshing out and diving deep into over this next year. Our plans from Japan forward are still flexible and tentative, so who knows where this journey could lead us! We are confident there will be some surprises along the way.
Bon voyage! We’re continuing now across the Pacific, but please let us know what you think of our crazy agenda to circumnavigate the globe. Our data/wifi is limited while crossing the Pacific, so we’ll try to respond and give updates along the way as best as we can. As usual, we’ll be giving our most regular updates over on our Facebook Page, so be sure to say hi over there too. We’ll see ya on the other side of the Pacific!