Since the times of Marco Polo, overseas travel has been a dream of many but with the influx of cheaper flights, development overseas and round-the-world tickets, tourism has become increasingly possible for the masses. Today you can travel around the world, stopping off in 16 countries or working or volunteering in Africa, or take a well-trodden route or plan your own: the choices extend as far as your imagination.
Travelling the world is not a modern phenomenon, but the sheer numbers of people doing it have grown massively in recent years. If buying a round-the-world ticket doesn’t appeal, you can purchase consolidator tickets, which are a patchwork of tickets, or you can simply buy as you go.
Tickets bought at local prices can often be a lot cheaper than those bought in your home country, and it will enable you to keep your options open and be fully flexible. If you do decide to buy as you go, you should be aware that it will not always work out cheaper, and you will need to keep adequate funds aside.
Hippie trail: Perhaps the most famous of all traditional routes is the old ‘hippie trail’, which gained momentum with European and American travelers during the 1960s. Families, couples or young solo travelers would journey through Istanbul, Tehran, Herat, Kabul, Peshawar and Lahore before reaching their final destinations of Goa or Kathmandu.
Since the end of the 1970s, the route has been impractical due to warring factions throughout the region. Travel through Iran has relaxed again in recent years, but conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and parts of northern India make travel a little hairier than most travelers are comfortable with.
For some travelers, the actual journey is just as exciting as the destination and its attractions. A number of famous routes throughout the world provide the ideal terrain for this type of traveler. Adventurers following these routes aren’t bound by a set itinerary; they simply follow the trail to see what it has to offer along the way. The most popular routes in Asia included the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Silk Road and the Banana Pancake Trail.
Banana pancake trail: Although it has no real fixed route, the ‘banana pancake trail’ is a tongue-in-cheek umbrella term for a number of backpacking destinations within South and Southeast Asia. Places like Thailand’s Bangkok and Pai, Laos’ Vang Vieng, Bali and Lombok in Indonesia and China’s Yangsu and Dali have become increasingly popular among travelers in recent years, and have consequently adapted their services to fit Western tastes. Banana pancakes, muesli and yogurt, and travel agents can be found all over these areas, making travel easy, if not exactly authentic.
Gringo trail: America has the ‘gringo trail’, which runs through parched deserts and icy altiplano, from Ecuador to Bolivia, following the incredibly beautiful ridge of the Andes. It was once the done thing to hitchhike along the trail, but more and more tourists are coming to see the trail by truck, finding that it’s now easier to get off the beaten track. Thousands of people enjoy some of the world’s greatest rainforests, most rugged beaches and vastest volcanoes along this trail each year.
Circle Pacific: ‘Circle Pacific’ is a more modern route which incorporates much of South Asia, the Southwest Pacific and North and South America. It is primarily travelled by Western tourists, and a number of travel companies and airlines offer round-the-world tickets that can be individually designed to fit particular needs and desires. Many of the schemes allow free stopovers in a variety of countries, and some packages can be crafted along the way, while others need to be planned at the time of booking.
Trans-Siberian: The Trans-Siberian Railroad is a network of railways that connect Western Russia, including Moscow, with the Russian Far East provinces, Mongolia, China and the Sea of Japan. Built between the late 19th and early 20th century, it became one of the most important routes in modern travel. The route is still a popular one today, particularly for those traveling overland from Europe to Asia.
Grand Tour: Mostly a route enjoyed by wealthy young British men, the Grand Tour was a popular route between the 17th century and the mid-19th century. This educational rite of passage carried the British nobility through Europe’s cultural legacy of the Renaissance as well as classical antiquity. Commonly, travelers would start their journey in Dover, England, and journey through France to Switzerland and then across the Alps into northern Italy, south to Florence and Rome and then back north to Innsbruck and Berlin.
These days, Eurail passes can be purchased cheaply for train travel throughout Europe. You can buy set routes or design your own, and if you are under 26, you are eligible for discounts on most routes.
Silk Route: Back in Asia, the Silk Route is a term used to describe the network of trade routes that spread across Asia, connecting the continent with Europe via North Africa and the Mediterranean since medieval times. It was not only silk that was transported along this route, but other goods such as satin, musk, pearls, diamonds and rhubarb. It was also an important route for nomads, monks and pilgrims, and remains a well-travelled region today.
Gap year: The idea of a ‘gap year’ came into being in the 1960s, but it was in the previous decade that the idea really exploded. Thousands of young people each year now take a gap year in between high school and college, before employment or marriage or as a work vacation. A gap year can mean anything from a working holiday to a year of partying and hundreds of agencies exist online and elsewhere to help create your perfect experience.