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How to travel for an entire year with just a one-way ticket

Pamplona, Spain


So, you've done all the planning, saved a pile of money, and now all that remains is to book that Round-The-World ticket. It's a pretty committing step. Not only will it likely cost around $2,500, but it will essentially lock you into an itinerary for an entire year.

Locked in. An Entire Year. Yikes!

That's a pretty scary thing, considering the whole reason you're taking this year off is to remove all those obligations and be free to do whatever you want. Now they're asking you ahead of time exactly how many days you plan to spend in Cambodia. How could you possibly know this? You've never even BEEN to Cambodia. What if you don't like it and want to leave after a few days. What if it's amazing and you want to spend 3 months living in a monastery? It says right here on this expensive piece of paper that your flight to Singapore leaves on March 15th, and there's nothing you can do to change it. AAAARGH!!! Lemme out!!!

Plan B

Let's take a step back for a second. Way back. How about we look at a map of the Earth:

If you look closely, you'll notice these big land masses called Continents. These things are big enough that you could probably travel around on one of them for an entire year and not see the whole thing. Better still, many of them are connected to other continents by land. And they have major cities with international airports conveniently spaced at intervals that will take you to wherever you want.

Now imagine you were to pick one of those cities at the edge of a Continent. Say, Cape Town, Beijing, Quito, Cairo or Mumbai. Suppose you booked a one-way ticket to that city, and let the rest of your year unfold from there. Public transportation in most parts of the world is ubiquitous and cheap. You can get nearly anywhere for nearly nothing if you are prepared to go slowly. Ask anybody that's done a year on the road, and they'll tell you that moving slow is the best way to go.

There's no reason that you need to plan more than one flight before you leave. Heck, if you live in Europe or the United Kingdom, you don't even need to do that. The rail line that you take to work will get you all the way to Hanoi if you want. There are people here on Blogabond that have done just that!

The Hard Part

Here are two things to keep in mind that make life more difficult for those traveling without a fully booked itinerary:

1. Most countries have some form of silly rule that prohibits entering the country without proof of onward travel. With the exception of the United States and Russia, you can usually work your way around this requirement. I've personally flown one-way to Bangkok, Cape Town, Cairo and London without much in the way of hassle. In Cape Town, I was pulled aside and only given a 30 day visa instead of the standard 90 days, and I once had to buy (and later refund) a return ticket to Seattle when flying to Bangkok. But in general, if you keep a positive attitude, you should be able to get past any minor technical hurdles.

2. Visas are a little more difficult to deal with if you don't have a set itinerary. Places like China, Russia, the Middle East and Central Asia like to know exact dates for your arrival and departure. If you're traveling overland, it is usually possible to pick up a Visa for a neighboring country, so all it really takes is a few days stay in each country's capital while you sort out a visa for the next one. As always, there are exceptions to this rule. Russia, Iran and Tajikistan are notoriously stingy in giving out Visas. You might need to get Visas for those places before you leave home.

Coming Home

At some point, you're going to get tired of traveling. No, honest, you will. You're going to miss your couch. You're going to miss your friends. You're going to want to cook yourself a simple plate of spaghetti, made with that sauce they sell at your local store, and without having to sit in another little noodle stand and look like a tourist.

That's ok.

At this point, all you need to do is make your way to a major city, book a one-way flight home, and send off an email telling a friend when to pick you up at the airport. Round the World trip accomplished, and for way less than it would have cost you to book the whole thing ahead of time.

Of course, it's not against the rules to fly from place to place occasionally. I mean, maybe you don't have a month to spend busing your way across Ethiopia, and would rather spend a few hundred dollars on a ticket from Nairobi to Cairo. That's cool. You're still a seasoned traveler and nobody will think the less of you.

The whole point is that you can actually pull off a whole year of traveling around the world, without planning any of it ahead of time. As long as you don't go overboard on point-to-point tickets, you'll still come out ahead on the money side. All that's left to do is to pick a starting point and book that ticket.

Good luck!


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permalink written by  Blogabond Travel Tips on June 28, 2007 from Pamplona, Spain
from the travel blog: Round The World Travel Advice
tagged RTW, RoundTheWorld, OneWayTicket and OneWay

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How much would you suggest saving up for such a trip with mainly land based travel? I thought about taking a nice long trip in Europe. I know everything is pretty accessible via public transportation, but I wasn't sure how much I should put aside for hotels, etc.

permalink written by  Chris on June 28, 2007


A year in Europe would get expensive quick. I've done entire years abroad a few times, but always in places like Africa and Southeast Asia where living is cheap. Coming back to Europe would always eat up the remaining savings in a matter of weeks, and necessitate a trip back to the US to save more money!

I'm currently doing Spain for a year, but I've taken an apartment here, and am living like a local. I bet you'd burn through $20k easily if you tried to stay a year in Europe while living in hostels and traveling by train.

Do the same thing in Thailand and you'd last 3-4 years on the same money!

permalink written by  Jason Kester on June 28, 2007


That air route poster is awesome! Where'd you get it?

permalink written by  Dan L on June 28, 2007


Love the wing photo. Interested in submitting some pics to my blog?

permalink written by  Jon on January 16, 2009


Great advice. Just one thing though, my nationality is Filipino (Philippines), and that means that I have to apply for a tourist visa to almost anywhere weeks or months in advance showing financial proof and employment certificate. I've dealt with the financial part so no problem there... but taking an entire year off means that I will be unemployed for that time. (sigh) Any brilliant suggestions?

permalink written by  Jac Sy on February 2, 2009


Awesome post, I always think you may as well fly to the furthest point you want to go, then work your way back!

permalink written by  Sara on July 12, 2014

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