It's not too late to get the traveler on your Christmas list the mother-of-all-travel-gifts: a round-the-world airline ticket.
Sean Keener founded BootsnAll Travel Network 17 years ago because he believed in travel as a learning tool. Whether it's for a "gap year" between high school and college or a breakaway moment for grown-ups, travel opens up many doors for people to learn about the world's cultures and people.
"We see an opportunity for the gap year and an accompanying round-the-world trip to be as ubiquitous as a college education," said Keener.
The BootsnAll network includes a couple of sites, including AirTreks.com, which features round-the-world specialists to help plan out the specific dates and flights for your itinerary.
A big part of the BootsnAll site is devoted to folks who want to drill down and do their own planning for their journey. There's a free "world airfare report" which offers some valuable perspective on changes, fees and mileage issues. There also are travel guides and even a free video tutorial on planning your round-the-world adventure.
Of course, airfare is just one component of an around-the-world trip. "Many of our travelers are drawn to South America and Southeast Asia," said Keener. "Your money goes so much farther there. You can budget $18,000-$20,000 for a year on the road," he said. "Of course, that's budget oriented. But you're getting a real education for that price," he added.
All of the major airline alliances offer round-the-world airfare planning tools: oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. "Once you compare their published prices, we can do so much better," said Keener.
"We add a lot of value to the process because we have round-the-world travelers on staff," said Keener. "Plus, with our AirTreks website, all of the tickets we offer include travel insurance."
Travel insurance, frequent-flier mileage and prospective itineraries all are part of the matrix included in a round-the-world adventure. Because there are many variables on where to go and how long to stay, the tools available on BootsnAll encourage travelers to nail down where they want to travel and when they want to go. Of course, that's the hardest part. Keener's company offers online planning tools to help you do the research and booking on your own. Or, through AirTreks, travelers can work with experienced round-the-world travelers who can collaborate to narrow the options and get started.
Stuart Lodge likes to think he lives at ground zero for round-the-world tickets. "London and Hong Kong are the most popular starting points for round-the-world tickets. That's because so many different airlines fly to and from these destinations," he said.
Lodge runs RoundTheWorldFlights.com, a site dedicated to travelers getting the most for their round-the-world investment.
"The round-the-world format is much more flexible than traditional tickets," said Lodge. "The tickets are valid for 12 months and you can make date changes at no additional charge," he added.
"Most of our business is from the UK," said Lodge. "But about 10 percent is from the U.S., because they realize that London is the best departure point."
"Whether they use miles or just buy a ticket to London, it works out well for travelers to start their round-the-world trip here," he said.
Lodge added that you can plan your itinerary to include the last stop in any U.S. city. "Your return ticket to London is included, but you don't need the last leg if you're headed back to the U.S.," he said.
Lodge had a chance to price out a great itinerary from Anchorage: Anchorage-San Francisco-Lima-Easter Island-Tahiti-Auckland-Sydney-Tokyo-Hong Kong-Delhi-Europe and back to the U.S. The cost is $4,380. Keep in mind these tickets are valid for 12 months.
Lodge's company also offers round-the-world tickets in business class. One itinerary he likes features departures from London to Buenos Aires, Santiago, Auckland, Sydney, Bangkok, Singapore and back to London for $7,390.
"The biggest challenge," said Lodge, "is to get travelers to decide what they want to do. We aim to help travelers decide what they want to do and to decide on their dates of travel." From there, the process is pretty straightforward. Videos, blogs and step-by-step instructions help travelers address the issues of a round-the-world journey. This includes getting shots, arranging for communication on the road, sending and receiving money, passports and visas, working during your trip, packing light and other issues for long-term travelers.
"You can budget $2,100-$3,000 for a round-the-world itinerary with 10 stops," said Lodge. "You have 12 months to use the ticket and you can change the dates at no charge. Plus, we use top-tier carriers like Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand and Singapore Air," he said.
For travel insurance, both Keener and Lodge recommended World Nomads as a good choice for independent travelers. Both BootsnAll and RoundTheWorldFlights.com offer resources for travel tools: health issues, visa questions, budget concerns and other planning tools.
If you don't like to fly, you can follow in the footsteps of earlier explorers and sail around the world. Captain Cook did it. So did Magellan. But they never enjoyed such luxurious accommodations as now are available.
Sail with Holland America next month on the Amsterdam. The ship leaves on Jan. 5 on a 115-day journey from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Sail south through the Panama Canal to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, Hong Kong and Singapore. Make your way over to Sri Lanka, to Dubai and then up through the Suez Canal. After sailing around in the Mediterranean for a while, the ship makes its way back across the Atlantic to Florida.
You're probably better off to plan now for the 2017 departures, according to Phil Stutzman of iCruise.com. An interior cabin on the Amsterdam costs $17,000 for the round-the-world itinerary, writes Stutzman. Several other ships offer round-the-world itineraries, including the Pacific Princess, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Crystal Cruise's Crystal Serenity.
There are no airports to deal with once you board the ship. Of course, you cannot plan an extended stay at the ports, since the ship will sail on with or without you. The cruise lines also offer travelers the chance to sail on select segments of the round-the-world itinerary without going all in. Check online at iCruise.com or call 800-427-8473.
Sure, it takes some time to plan and execute your round-the-world trip. Is 2016 the year to do it? I think so!
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.