My Ridiculous Adventure: Travel Around The World Without Flying

 

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Hola from Portland, Oregon. I’ve been here having a blast at The World Domination Summit (just as legendary as it sounds) for the past few days. On Wednesday I’m flying back to Spain, and it may well be my last flight for a few years.

You may remember back in February I wrote about the grand adventure I’m planning to embark on later this year. In short, it’s to be a three-year, round-the-world trip, during which I’ll spend 3-4 month stints living in several different countries.

I’m still up for that, but I’ve added a small twist: I’m going to try do it without flying.

Why no fly?

Mostly just for the hell of it. I figure the challenge of circumnavigating the globe without stepping foot on an airplane will make for a bigger adventure and a better story. Rather than flying over huge chunks of land and sea, I’ll be forced to take my time and savor the journey, explore towns I’ve never heard of, and meet more random people.

There are also environmental reasons, though those are more of a bonus than anything. I can’t pretend to be some kind of eco-warrior here. It’s a bit like when I went vegetarian: I was mostly just curious to see what I could get out of it, and it was only later that I came to appreciate all the traditional arguments made in favor of plant-based diets.

As mentioned, I hope to live for 3-4 months in several different countries as I make my way around. I have in mind such places as India, Vietnam, Japan, New Zealand and Brazil. I love the idea of staying put for a little while, taking the time to find an apartment, make some friends, suss out the local hot spots. That appeals to me much more than just dropping into a place for a quick week or two before moving on to the next landmark (though I will be doing quite a bit of that as well).

But wait! Is this even possible?

Sure. A quick bit of googling turned up a bunch of people who have done it recently and blogged about their experience. Such as…

  • Lara and Tom from World In Slow Motion. They started out from London in May 2008 and made it back within a year.
  • Ed Gillespie and his girlfriend Fiona managed it a year earlier, their trip taking 12 months or so. Ed not only blogged the whole trip, but also wrote a column about it for The Observer.
  • Nick and Holly, yet another couple from the UK, averaged a speed of 3.6mph as they circumnavigated the globe in 20 months, arriving back in London a little over a year ago.
  • This Michael Hodson chap, who I believe is American. He made it around sans aircraft in 16 months, starting back in late-2008.

So yeah, definitely doable. But that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy ;-)

Major challenges

I haven’t done a helluva lot of research for the trip yet, so it’s likely I’ll over or understate a few things, but here are what I believe will be the primary challenges along the way:

1) Getting through the Middle East

I’ll need to get from Turkey to India somehow, and Iran is the easiest and most direct way. Or at least it should be. But visa regulations and such make that leg of the journey a tad tricky. I’ll have to do a bit more investigating to see if it’s a plausible route for me.

I couldn’t help but notice that all the folks I listed above opted to avoid traveling through the Middle East, taking the Russia-Mongolia route instead. I may end up doing that myself, though it would be a hell of a detour traveling to India that way.

2) Japan to New Zealand

Once I’m in India, getting to Japan is pretty easy by all accounts. Getting from there to New Zealand however is a different story. Ideally I’d like to travel by sea via Taiwan, then down through the Philippines and Indonesia, stopping off for a few weeks in each place, no major hurry. I’m just not sure how plausible that is.

3) Crossing the Pacific

Sure, there are plenty of cruise liners that traverse the big P, but how to get on board one without spending a fortune or becoming a cabin boy? An alternative is to travel by freighter, but that appears to be just as expensive and a lot less fun.

One other possibility is latching on with a private sailboat. If I learned how to sail while in New Zealand, I might be able to convince some wily old sea dog to bring me along on his next crossing. It would still cost money, but would likely work out cheaper, plus there would a greater likelihood of stopping off at some places like French Polynesia and the Galapagos Islands.

But hey, it’ll be at least another two years before I set eyes on the South Pacific, so I won’t worry too much about this part of the journey just yet.

4) Long time gone

The most continuous time I’ve ever spent away from Ireland is 11 months. This whole RTW trip would mean I’d have to be away from home and not see family or friends for at least three years, maybe more. And that’s the best case scenario.

The worst case is that someone dies or becomes seriously ill and I need to get back home asap. If that were to happen, and as long as I could afford it, I’d have to break my no-fly rule.

5) Money

Oh yeah, the money bit. I imagine I’ll have to pay for things like food and accommodation along the way ;-)

How I plan to do that, I’m not exactly sure. Hopefully the projects I’ve been diligently working on here in Spain will result in a few low-maintenance income streams for the coming years. That would be the ideal, allowing me plenty of free time as I travel. However, I’m also fortunate in that I have some nifty web design skills, so I can always knuckle down for a month or two when needed and do some freelance work to bring the ching-ching in. I figure I’d have to earn at least $10k per year on average to make ends meet.

Of course, I’ll be happy to share with my email subscribers exactly how I earn and spend my money along the way.

What’s your ridiculous adventure?

So I’m shooting to do a lap of the globe without flying, Tyler Tervooren is aiming to climb the highest mountain on every continent, Chris Guillebeau is trying to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday, and Nate Damm is busy walking across America.

Such goals sound a bit crazy, right? You might be thinking, “What’s the point?”

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if other people think your goal is ridiculous, or that you’re crazy for trying. You don’t have to justify your ridiculous adventure to anyone. All that really matters is that it’s meaningful to you, that it excites you and makes you feel alive. I definitely feel that way when I get to thinking about my upcoming journey ;-)

How about you? What’s your ridiculous adventure?

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75 Comments

  1. I admire your spirit. Bold and beautiful. When you pass through India, get in touch with us. Maybe we can host you for a few days and help you around.

  2. I LOVE IT MAN!!!!

    There are many who DREAM of doing something like this…and very few who ACTUALLY do it. Everyone else lives vicariously, which isn’t bad, it just is. Challenges will come, and you’ll overcome them. Amazing things happen when someone has a goal and makes it a reality – AMAZING things! Viva Espana (for now)!!

  3. Niall! You did it again.

    I hope WDS was amazing! Looking forward to having you write a post all about it eventually :P

    My ridiculous adventure has to do more with people.

    I have something planned (in about a month?) that will reveal my adventure plans.

    You’ll be one of the first to know.

    This is just more motivation to do it! Thanks.

  4. 3 years is a long time. My longest trip was 1.5 years long and towards the end I was getting lonely. I met new people every day but I wanted to have permanent friends and a permanent life.

    And once you hit the road… all plans go out the window. Just saying.

    • Thanks, Neill. I appreciate that, and I’m not going to stay married to the plan if it becomes too impractical. Just wondering though: Were you constantly traveling for those 1.5 years, or did you stop at different places for a few months at a time?

  5. I have been reading quite a lot about traveling overland, and I can advise you to read “Grounded” by Seth Stevenson and “Back in 6 Years” by Tony Robinson-Smith.

    You should not worry so much about Iran, I think. As long as you make sure that your papers are fine and you don’t do anything stupid, you should be fine. The government mostly worries about spies and journalists, so keeping low profile is the trick.

    But Pakistan is a different story. I have not been there, but I have heard that it’s the most scary and dangerous country in the world. And you’ll have to cross it if you want to make it to India.

    Crossing oceans will always be a big bite from your budget, and I think that freighters are the cheapest solution (still 80 – 100$ a day). But if you can be of any help on some rich guy’s yacht you might even make it for free. But then you’ll need a lot of patience and an incredible lot of luck.

    Anyway, I like your courrage and I hope to do the same one day…

    Good luck!

  6. May favourite book of all time is Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers. He drives around the world. You should definitely check it out.

  7. Awesome idea, will be interesting to see how it pans out. The faster we travel, the less we see. By slowing down I’m sure you will see and experience more.

    As for me, I’m going to walk 177 miles for charity next month, and I also have mental plans for bike tours and other random stuff.

  8. Hey Niall, that’s an awesome goal thanks for sharing!

    My ridiculous adventure is to round south-east asia during 1 year with no plane too.

    I’m working as a flight attendant to fund my travel and then I leave France in October,

    starting by New Delhi, India.

    I hope I’ll have the chance to see you on the road!

    Take care,

    Valentin

  9. A great idea. I feel it’s too standard to get on the usual flights to the usual airports just to say ‘I’ve travelled the world’.

    The ultimate way to do it is the way Karl Bushby has been doing it for the last 13 years http://www.odysseyxxi.com/ Are you prepared to cross the semi-frozen Bering Straits in a full immersion suit?

    • Wow, Simon. I hadn’t heard of Karl Bushby before. His journey is incredible. Makes my proposed trip sound like a trip to the local :-P

      Don’t think I’ll be doing anything close to that hardcore. Fair play to him though.

  10. Great idea Niall, quite envious. If you get lost and end up in Zimbabwe or South Africa then I have family and friends there you can stay with. Also my sister in Auckland, New Zealand if you need any help at all.

    You didn’t mention sponsorship at all. Might be something to think about when it comes to crossing oceans.

  11. To blur the lines between life, work and Travel.

    My goal is to engage a life where I can travel and explore in an open–ended fashion. No set goals, only ultimate exploration.

    Oh, and I want to live a Mongolian tribe.

    Debating biking everywhere I travel.

    I’ll let you know. Beyond that, pure exploration and adventure.

  12. Niall, this is truly an inspiring adventure you are planning! There are many days I wish I was in a foreign place, but then realise i have work tomorrow! It sounds like an amazing journey that you will be setting out on and I will follow it with excitement!

  13. Wow you GO Niall! I’m loving watching your journey unfold and the direction you’re going with it now! You are a shining example of courage! It’s been almost a year since CGW and you have really gone for it…very inspiring :) Look me up if you need a place to stay in San Francisco!

    • Thanks, Carolyn! Will definitely look you up when I pass through the Bay Area again. Just been to another conference that reminded me of CGW. Met so many great people. I hope everything’s going well for you, too!

  14. Maaaan I effin love this post, so I do!!! Good luck mate, I love flying too much to even consider it, but I bet the environment loves you more than it does me :)

  15. Good luck as always Niall. Looking forward to reading about the adventures.

    I have some contacts in the shipping business, and a good friend whose daughter works as crew on sailing vessels. He may be able to give you some advice, let me know if you’d like me to connect you.

    Oh, and do you work on WordPress? If so I can possibly use some help in a bit :)

    Jude

    • Hey Jude, thanks so much for that offer to connect me. My sailing days are still a long way away, but I’ll likely take you up on that offer when the time comes closer.

      And yeah, I work on WordPress, happy to help. Shoot me an email and let me know what you need.

  16. Hey Niall,

    I think if there would be real problems to pass through Iran or Pakistan you could possibly sail through Egypt or UAE to India. I am not sure that there are transport from Egypt to India but I know that many Indians work in UAE and need a cheap way to visit home.

    • Hey Pavel. Thanks for that suggestion. I’ve been doing some research recently and it looks like I might not visit Egypt at all. As of right now, the only passenger ferry I can get from Southern Europe to there sails from Venice, and that would mean a bit too much backtracking for me (I’m hoping to take Bunkabus direct to Istanbul for the first leg of my journey).

      Plus, I wanted to visit Israel, but apparently they’re pretty insistent on stamping your passport at the land-border crossings (not so much at airports), and that would mean no passage through places like Iran or Saudi later, at least one of which I must pass through. So I’m thinking I’ll just have to leave places like Egypt and Israel for another time.

  17. I’m 15, living in Brighton, UK. I’m going to walk and row around the world; and it’s gonna take me 17 years. I’m going to walk an unbroken human-circumnavigation around the globe because that’s my dream. I want to be one of those few people who will live a thousand lives, and I’ll do it with my brother by my side. :)

    • Holy shit, Haydn. That’s awesome! You’d definitely be remembered through the ages if you did that.

      You might be able to get a few tips from Karl Bushby (see Simon’s link above). When do you plan to start?

  18. anytime between 2-10 years time from now, I have to finish my education and get some ground support before I can even attempt it. I’m hoping to have walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats by the end of next year, so that’ll get me some experience. In all, it will give me time to research, get support and meet with people that will help. Would love to meet as many people as I can on the trip.

  19. Of course I will, it’ll be the only thing keeping me in contact with the rest of the world :). I’ve contacted Karl Bushby before, met him once too actually, nice guy. If you want other suggestions, try looking up people like: Colin Angus and his wife, and Hawk McGinnis. All walked or human-powered their way around the world. If you wanna talk more, I’ll start e-mailing you.

  20. Can’t wait to see how your trip turns out, Niall! My own crazy audacious travel plan has been put on hold more times than I can count at this point. But I’m determined to get it back on track before the end of this year. I’m really starting to feel the constriction and suffocation from letting it slip and slide for so long. Great chatting with you in Portland. :)

  21. Hello!

    It’s my first time here in your blog and this post made me really smile :D I really love reading about people planning their trips in a ‘crazy’ way. Crazy in a good way though :D I originally planned to go around the Philippines through bus and boat (since we are divided into many islands), but didn’t push through with it. Send me an email when you pass by the Philippines and i’ll treat you for coffee :D Goodluck on your journey :D

  22. Yo Niall!

    This sounds like a RIOT! I love it.

    Not sure what my wild crazy adventure WILL be (I always have a tough time picking 1 thing). I want to do something hardly anyone has every done and yet isn’t too likely to kill me and is something that would help me be even more rocking than I am. Not to mention, would be fun.

    I’m open to suggestions. :)

    Rock it, Niall!

    • Thanks Benjamin! You’ve already done one wild crazy adventure by hitchhiking across the US. How about trying to do the same around the world? Found these folks recently, they just hitched from Poland to India, chicken dancing as they went.

  23. Niall, this is epic! I can’t wait to start following your adventures.

    When I took a train from Massachusetts to Florida a few weeks ago, it took 6x as long as doing it via plane (which I had done half-a-dozen times) but I actually felt like I traveled 1,500 miles. I was able to look out the window and see the landscape change. We miss so much traveling by air!

    I have no doubt your journey will be a life-changing experience and I look forward to hearing more. :)

    • Thanks, Raam! 1,500 miles by train = awesome. Can’t wait to see the landscape change myself :-)

      I’ll actually be heading back to Ireland from Spain via land and sea in two weeks, which will prove to be my biggest no-fly journey yet. Should be fun!

  24. What an amazing adventure! I hope everything goes well. Will look forward to following along!

    As for my ridiculous adventure? Is getting married ridiculous enough? :)

  25. I came across the site via the coda slider, but found this great idea of yours. So many years I’ve been dreaming of the same :( But now married and kid on the way, no chance of it happening.

    I would say don’t be afraid of the Middle East, the key thing is papers and playing by the cultural rules, everything else is fine. Aside from the the revolutions, the Middle East isn’t some crazily unstable place as the western media plays it out to be. Most problems or daily issues occur in Israel/Palestine, while the rest is relatively calm. Same with Iran. Obviously check with your Foreign office before going.

    It would be good for you to go from Turkey > Iran > Pakistan > India. I would say get in touch with Iranian embassy and Iranian groups/people to help you out. Pakistan is only ‘dangerous’ if you go into bad areas, so again best to find help before you go.

    Avoid any countries with revolutions going on, generally security will be tight. At the time of writing it would be Syria.

    Have a look at this blog: http://www.ibnibnbattuta.com/ – a traveller who comfortably traverses the Middle East – based on the famous Muslim traveller ‘Ibn Battuta’.

    • Hey Omar, thanks for the comments. I’ll definitely check out that link.

      Turkey > Iran > Pakistan > India is the route I intend to take. I was encouraged recently on hearing about this couple hitchhiking from Poland to India in just a few months. They had a blast. I expect you’re right that the Middle East isn’t as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. I’d probably run into more trouble in many parts of the Western world.

      Regarding traveling with family, don’t rule out the possibility. Just came across this video interview yesterday, about a family with five young kids traveling from Alaska to Argentina. I know there are also many blogs out there about traveling with kids. It’s definitely doable.

      Cheers!

    • Thanks for that idea, Kevin. I didn’t know that route was a possibility. I’ll try go through Iran and Pakistan first though, as that would be a much faster way to India, which is high on my list of places to visit.

      Cheers!

  26. Hi Niall,

    ARE YOU CRAZY??? INSANE??? FREAK? hehehe I guess a bit of all. Or a lot of it all…:-)

    Since you are such an adventure junkie, I would suggest Long Way Round and Long Way Down, two excellent documentaries about cross continent bike trips undertaken by two brits…..M pretty sure you must be knowing about them already but still sharing my two bits.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Way_Round

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Way_Down

    They also got hassled cause of Visa issues. I am in Delhi, India and can host you. Not can, I will host you whenever you are here…..

    Cheers

    Anshul

    • Haha, yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m crazy. But that’s okay. Normal is overrated ;-)

      I have seen bits and pieces of those documentaries. I’d love to do something like that in Africa in a few years. I won’t be seeing that continent at all on this trip.

      And I’m planning on being in Delhi, so I’ll definitely look you up when I get there. Thanks so much for the offer.

  27. It’s very easy and cheap to go from China to South Korea to Japan.

    You can take a boat from Fukuoka Japan to Busan South Korea. Take a train or bus through Korea, stopping off where you want. Just outside of Seoul is Incheon, you take a boat from Incheon to either Qingdao or Dalien. You could even take a boat to Beijing but it would be pretty long. You can then travel overland all the way to Singapore.

    If I was doing the trip you’re doing and was starting in Ireland, I’d probably go North first, from Finland through Russia on the trans-Siberian railway, and see if I could take a boat from Vladivostok to Hokaido. Go down Japan and through South Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia. The hard decision would be getting to India after that. Once you figure that out, go through India, and then the Middle East (you could alternatively decide to go North to central Asia and back through Russia again) come out at Turkey, travel down and see Israel and North Africa then back up through Spain across the straight of Gibraltar, France, then Ireland. It would be a big circle.

  28. Oh and remember this comment so you can email me when you get to Seoul if you want a tour. I’m there most of the year usually.

    • Hey Bryan, thanks a mil. I may just do that :-)

      I like your circle route, especially since it would take me to Africa. I prefer the idea of completely circumnavigating the globe though, and the challenge of getting across the Pacific. I expect I’ll give Africa my full attention another time.

  29. Wow man..

    Actually, i’ve been planning about traveling around the world without flying as well.. For years now

    Although it’s a different route (i’ll start from south-east Asia since i’m from Indonesia), i’ll do that in 2013 the earliest. Still figuring out the budget.

    Guess you beat me to it :)

    But i’m glad i’m not the only person who is crazy enough to even think about it :D

    Good luck!!

  30. This is mind-blowing! I’ve been thinking of doing wanting to walk across India after learning of Nate Damm’s project, but your idea is waaaay awesome. I’m going to use the cliched ‘I wish I could’ here =P No, wait, this is inspiring, I should get my act together & go have a big adventure =) =P But also, as with the 1st comment, if you’re ever in India, let me know if there’s anything you need =)

    Cheers!

  31. cheers niall,

    let me know if you come to berlin one day! maybe i can host you for a few days and we can share some thoughts!

    good luck!

  32. I’ve just got back to England after a circumnavigation of the world without flying. Always good to hear of other people doing the same thing. It’s a great experience. Enjoy it and good luck!

  33. We got back from a successful westward circumnavigation without planes last year – we left Tamworth in the English West Midlands in August 2010 and arrived back in Tamworth in the English West Midlands in July 2012 – we spent a year working in New Zealand. The bits requiring a bit of preparation are Australia – Indonesia and Central Asia (if you refuse to just Trans-Siberian it from Beijing to Moscow.) We took a cheap cruise from Fremantle to Bali and went through Turkmenistan and crossed the Caspian in a cargo boat.

  34. Hi Niall, are you back yet? Is there a chance to get some more advise from you as we are planning something similar as you are do, and any help from experience you did will be helpfull:)

  35. i have same idea like u but in detail,i don’t agree with continuous.My new idea came from making a movie,cut in episodes,finally combine together.Please wait for the route in my fb.