Travel Around the World Without Flying

Travel Around the World The Shanghai Skyline at Night
We Travel Around the World
The Shanghai Skyline at Night

Around the World in 80 75 Days!

To travel around the world without flying! That was something I had wanted to do ever since I watched Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days television show. Palin’s journey was inspired by Phileas Fogg’s journey in Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days. As a literary researcher and an avid traveller, that’s the perfect combination for me!

So tempting but could we do it? We love travelling but we’d never undertaken a trip of this type before. Our longest time away from home until then had been around 3 weeks and we anticipated that this would take at least 2 months. Maybe even 80 days! The prospect was both very exciting and rather daunting. So the planning began.

How to travel around the world without flying

Planning the route

We decided that we should do it in less than 80 days because, well, we just felt we should. It’s the classic journey after all, so why not? Firstly, we had to work out what route we would take. Michael Palin made his journey in the late 1980s and quite a few things have changed since then. Although, remarkably many are still exactly the same. He made his way east through Saudi Arabia and we knew that wasn’t an option for us so we decided to swing a bit further north and cross to China via Russia instead.

Thus, this is very much our idea of how to travel around the world without flying. I had so much fun planning this trip and I can still vividly remember the day we finally set off from home by train. There is nothing quite like that feeling of heading off on your travels without knowing quite how it’s going to work out. I also loved the fact we were on our way and wouldn’t have to take a single flight. It was all very exciting.

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Itinerary for our world travel without flying

Travel around the world without flying means no hot air balloons. Just trains, buses, cars and of course on foot
Travel around the world without flying means no hot air balloons. Just trains, buses, cars and of course, on foot

No planes, just trains, boats, buses and automobiles! Oh, and of course, quite a lot of walking. Unlike Phileas Fogg, but like Palin, there will be no hot air balloon on our trip. Anyway, that would count as flying and we are going around the world without flying!

This is our plan of action:

London to Beijing

Day 1 London to Brussels by Eurostar then change to German ICE train to Cologne. Stay overnight in Cologne.
Day 2 Take the overnight train from Cologne to Warsaw.
Day 3 Arrive in Warsaw. Tke the overnight ‘Polonez’ train to Moscow.
Day 4 Arrive in Moscow. Stay overnight.
Day 5 Take the ‘Vostok’ train from Moscow to Beijing. 6 nights on the train.

Across China

Day 11 Arrive in Beijing. Stay for 3 nights.
Day 14 Take the overnight train to Xian.
Day 15 Arrive in Xian. Stay for 2 nights.
Day 17 Take the overnight train to Nanjing.
Day 18 Arrive in Nanjing. Stay for 2 nights.
Day 19 Take the bullet train to Shanghai. Stay for 2 nights.

Japan to Canada

Day 21 Take the ferry to Japan.
Day 23 Arrive Osaka, Japan. Stay 2 nights.
Day 25 Take the bullet train to Tokyo. Stay for 2 nights.
Day 27 Take a cruise from Yokohama, Japan to Vancouver via Alaska (17 nights). Crossing the International Date line and gaining a day.
Day 43 Arrive in Vancouver. Stay for 2 nights.
Day 45
The the bus and ferry to Victoria Island. Stay for 2 nights.

Road trip across the USA

Day 47 Take the fast ferry to Seattle. Stay for 2 nights
Day 49 Drive across the USA to Orlando, Florida.
Day 60 Arrive Orlando. Stay for 2 nights.

Back to Europe

Day 62 Take a cruise from Port Canaveral to Barcelona (12 nights).
Day 74 Arrive in Barcelona. Take the train to Paris. Stay overnight in Paris.
Day 75
Take the Eurostar train from Paris back to London and Home.

So that’s it! Sounds simple right? It does all look quite straightforward when you reduce it to a list like that. Did it work out like that? Well, of course, we’ll see- but that’s the bare outline of what we planned to do. Some parts of it were pretty fixed and other parts were much more flexible. I’ll fill in all the details as we go so watch this space!

If you’d like to read Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days you can get your own copy here. Last time I looked, the Kindle version was free so why not give it a go.

Preparations: Visas and Vaccinations

Of course, there is a lot of preparation for a trip like this and there were plenty of things to get organised before we could leave. Firstly, we needed visas for several countries, notably, Russia, China, Belarus and an ESTA for the United States. Fortunately, before we did this trip, none of the countries mentioned insisted we go into London for fingerprinting. Sadly, this has now changed and it does make getting visas for Russia and China more time consuming now.

Getting visas for travel around the world

Rather than spend my time travelling back and for to London to take our passports from embassy to embassy we actually paid a travel agency, Real Russia, to process the visas for us. They do charge a mark up so you can definitely do it cheaper yourself if you can get to London easily. Even for us, we’re a 40-minute train ride from central London, it’s still cheaper to pay the agency fees than pay the train fares into London. Indeed, I recommend them. We’ve used them several times now and they do all the running around for you, dropping your passport and applications at one place. Then picking them up and taking them to the next. You just need to post everything to them. They even check your application and photos to ensure your visa application gets accepted.

They let you know at each stage of the process where your passport is, which I find quite reassuring. Our Russian visas were obtained first, followed by the Belarus transit visas. We didn’t stop in Belarus but we travelled through on the train from Warsaw to Moscow so you need a visa. Despite the Chinese spring holiday which usually slows things down at the Chinese Embassy, our Chinese visas were also issued without any problems. Although there was never any reason that we would be refused it is always a relief to get these formalities sorted out.

Making sure our vaccinations are up to date

We had to have a tetanus booster and typhoid tablets
We had to have a tetanus booster and typhoid tablets

I’m always keen to make sure we stay as healthy as possible when we travel so we made an appointment with the nurse at our local surgery to get our travel vaccinations. Turns out we were pretty up to date already but we did need a tetanus booster and were also given typhoid tablets. Paul had a sore arm after the tetanus shot but happily, I was completely fine.

Crossing the oceans by cruise liner

I always admire people who just set off on their travels without a plan or a return ticket. One day I plan to do just that. However, this wasn’t that kind of trip. Since we were travelling across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans without flying, I had to find a boat to take us across. If I remember correctly, Michael Palin took a trip on a cargo ship. I think that sounds rather cool but we decided on a bit more luxury and found some cruises which would do nicely. In fact, the timings of the trip were organised around the two cruises as they’re the most difficult to schedule. When I first started looking there were two cruises across the Pacific in April but one was cancelled so that was an easy choice to make in the end.

Our transport across the Pacific Holland America Ship Volendam
Our transport across the Pacific
Holland America Ship Volendam

A cruise from Japan to Canada

Thus, I booked us onto the Holland American (HAL) cruise ship, the Volendam. It was initially scheduled to cruise from Osaka in Japan to Vancouver but the itinerary was changed after we booked to start from Yokohama, near Tokyo, instead. This actually suited us quite well as we were going to visit Tokyo anyway and it meant we didn’t have to make our way back to Osaka. We’d done a few cruises before but never with Holland America so it would be a new experience for us.

The United States to Europe

We travelled to Port Canaveral on the Disney Cruise Line Transfer Bus
We travelled to Port Canaveral on the Disney Cruise Line Transfer Bus

We also needed a ship to take us from the United States to mainland Europe. My initial plan was to take Cunard’s Queen Mary from New York to Southampton. It’s a classic journey that I’ve always wanted to do and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Two things changed my mind. They sell their Atlantic crossings with one-way airfare included but most of the time you can get a discount if you don’t want their airfare. For some reason, they didn’t offer this on the crossing we needed to make. I did ring them and ask if it was just an online oversight but was told no, even if I didn’t want their flight, I’d have to pay for it! That did kind of put me off although it’s not a huge discount so I’d probably have sucked it up and paid anyway if something better hadn’t come up.

Disney Magic

The Amazing Disney Magic
The Amazing Disney Magic

I discovered that the Disney Magic would be doing a trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise from Port Canaveral to Barcelona on 16th May. Now, I love Disney. At the time we had a house in Orlando, Florida and we used to visit all the time when the boys were younger. This seemed like fate to me and I eagerly awaited the prices coming out to see if we could afford it. Disney Cruise prices are notoriously high and I was a bit worried that it would be out of our budget range. We did Disney’s first Christmas Cruise to the Caribbean a few years before. It was amazing and also very expensive. I love cruising and without a doubt, the Disney Cruise Line is the best. Head and shoulders above any other cruise line we’ve been with!

Surprisingly, when the prices came out they were not only very reasonable, they were cheap! Yes, cheap! We paid £550 each for an inside stateroom for the 12-night cruise. I still look back on that as the absolute bargain of our trip. It was an amazing experience and a great way to begin the close of our journey. I’ll tell you all about it in excruciating detail as we go!

Sorting out our Train tickets

RTW Travel Japanese Bullet Train
RTW Travel Japanese Bullet Train

To travel around the world without flying also involved quite a few train tickets. It’s funny how little things like train ticket or passes arriving can be so exciting but every time something got booked or a ticket arrived it was as though the trip was getting more real.

So it was very exciting when our Japanese rail passes arrived. In fact, I ordered them in the afternoon and they arrived the next morning. So pretty impressed with the service from http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/. I believe it’s now possible to buy these when you’re in Japan but when we went you had to buy them before you arrived. They allowed us to use all the JR trains while in Japan including some of the bullet trains. We planned to use the bullet train for a day trip to Hiroshima while staying in Osaka and also for travelling to Tokyo. Depending on how late it stays light in April we hoped to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji as we sped by. Another real bucket list moment.

Trans-Siberian Train Tickets

World Travel without flying Snow and Ice in Siberia
World Travel without flying
Snow and Ice in Siberia

We also purchased trans-Siberian train tickets in advance. We used Real Russia for this as it’s difficult to purchase the international trans-Siberian tickets in advance without using an agency. Of course, this means paying an agency premium on top of the ticket price but the only alternative at the time was to turn up at the ticket office when we arrived in Moscow and hope they had space left. On the one hand, this was likely to be fine but on the other hand, we really wanted a 2 berth compartment to ourselves. In the end, we decided the smallish premium was worth it to know in advance that we were booked.

The two-berth compartments are categorised as First Class but don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t some luxury train at all. Apparently, there is a luxury train which does the trip now and again but we were booked on the normal passenger train. If your budget is tight then you can save a lot of money by sharing a four-berth compartment but we were going to be on the train for 7 days so decided a bit of privacy would be nice.

Chinese Train Tickets

Travel Around the  World Without Flying Our e-tickets for the train from Beijing to Xian in China
Our e-tickets for the train from Beijing to Xian in China

Buying Chinese train tickets presented something of a problem. There is no easy way for foreigners to buy tickets online for Chinese trains so it looked like we’d have to pay a hefty mark-up through an agency. Thankfully, I discovered China DIY Travel and they were able to arrange all our tickets for us. Helen was extraordinarily helpful so no wonder she has such a great reputation online.

We received our Chinese train tickets as e-tickets which is ideal when you’re buying from abroad. As Chinese tickets don’t come on sale until 30 days before the train is scheduled to depart it’s also handy because they needed to be purchased after we’d set off. As well as the e-ticket and confirmation number Helen supplied us with detailed instructions for picking up the tickets when we got to Beijing, including pictures of the train station and instructions in Chinese to hand over to the ticket clerk. This was fantastic because we didn’t have to look for the ‘English spoken here’ kiosk but could just hand over our piece of paper and receive our tickets. Absolutely fantastic service and all for the small fee of 10$Aus per ticket.

She also managed to secure our berths in a Deluxe 2-berth sleeper with private shower and toilet so this part of the trip promises to be a bit more luxurious than the 7 days across Siberia with no shower and a shared toilet! Still, it’s all part of the travel experience.

Travel Around the  World Without FlyingTerracotta Warriors in Xian China
Terracotta Warriors in Xian China

Route Map

I’ve created a map showing our travel around the world without flying route. So you can see exactly how it looks on the world map. Just hover over the dots to see each place we travelled through.

Inspirational Reading

Finally, I downloaded a load of new books to my kindle in preparation. Paul thinks I should read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment on the train but I am taking something a bit more lightweight. I have downloaded to my kindle though – just in case.

I have just finished reading the book Grounded by Seth Stevenson about his trip, with his girlfriend Rebecca, around the world without flying. Since I started thinking about this trip I have read countless blogs on the subject. Some more interesting than others but all somehow quite inspiring. After all, they’d already done what we still aspired to achieve. Stevenson’s book is well written, he’s a journalist after all, and full of little facts which are very informative. His commitment to getting around the world without flying, and with a minimum of advanced planning is quite something. Indeed, not something I aspire to really as I am an avid planner and anyway with less than 80 days to play with we really can’t afford to leave much to chance.

He left his girlfriend behind!

I was pretty shocked when I learned that he had abandoned Rebecca en-route and taken a cruise ship to Bali without her, thus making her take a flight on the basis that it’s ok as long as one of them gets around without flying. I’m not sure that Paul would be too pleased if I hopped on a ship without him. Although I’m sure he’d get over it eventually! My plan is certainly for us both to get around the world without flying.

On one point, however, Paul would agree with Stevenson. He is an avid supporter of situationally appropriate reading. Remember Dostoevsky? They can’t both be wrong so I’ve downloaded Crime and Punishment to my kindle along with Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. As the inspiration for Palin’s trip, it seems only right to read it en-route. I also downloaded a long list of audiobooks on my iPod from audible. As we left London, I was listening to the new Bridget Jones novel, which is hilariously funny and rather welcome light relief from my literary studies.

Travel Around the  World Without Flying St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow
St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow

How far is to travel around the world without flying?

Today’s fascinating fact!!! Just for fun, I thought I’d find out just how far we were travelling during our trip. Using a mix of google maps and some other online resources I worked out that we are travelling nearly 25,811 miles (41,539 km). The largest section of the trip is the trip across Siberia on the trans-Manchurian route of the railway which is a huge distance of 5568 miles (8960km). 

The circumference of the earth at its widest point is apparently 24,859 miles (40,008 km) – [thanks to geography.about.com for this useful bit of information]. So although we are staying in the northern hemisphere throughout our trip (just as Phileas Fogg and Michael Palin did) we will not only be circling the entire globe but we will be covering a distance more than its widest circumference. Seems an awfully long way to go.

The preparations to travel around the world without flying are now complete.

So this is the end of our preparations for our world travel without flying. To keep the size of these posts manageable, I’m going to continue the saga in separate articles. I’ll link to them all from the home page. Also, I’ve included an image gallery of links below which I’ll update as I go to include all the travel around the world without flying posts.

Around the World Without Flying

Index of Blog Posts

Overview
London to Moscow by Train
Cologne
Warsaw
Moscow
Moscow to Beijing by Train
Beijing
Beijing to Xian by Train
Xian
Nanjing
Shanghai
Ferry to Japan
Osaka

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14 comments

  1. Wow wow wow this is an incredible itinerary! I can’t wait to read all your posts about this!

  2. Traveling around the world without flying seems nightmare to me but it would be great to experience to do something unique. Combination of trains and ferries would be interesting and feel like living in an ancient world. The cruise from Japan to Canada must be very interesting and one day I would love to do it.

  3. All the best for this . Very impressed with the details that you have listed. You sure are living a dream that we all might have had for ourselves. And the most amazing part – all this on anything other than flights. I hope to follow this journey and get inspired to give it a shot for myself.

  4. This sounds like such a great adventure – from riding the bullet train to a cruise from Japan to Canada! I can only imagine how much time and effort went into your planning. It sounds like a fantastic trip!

  5. Wow! I am totally impressed with such planning. You are actually going across the world from your place and back to your place using just trains and ferries. This is really interesting. I wish I had a stronger visa to take this route.

  6. This will be epic! I can’t wait to follow your journey, especially reading all the people you will meet along the way, the traditions at places you are going to be, and all the food that are unique to the places you will visit.

  7. What a fantastic and relevant article – thank you! We are just about to embark shortly on a very similar trip. Like you I like to have my journey planned out in front of me ensuring I am happy with what I get. I’ll keep following in order to score some extra tips.

  8. This an interesting idea to travel. It’s true that you cannot buy Chinese train tickets online but you can buy it on the train station even in the same day. In most cases the train is not full as long as you don’t travel during the holiday seasons. The trains in China are like buses in the cities.

    • We travelled during a minor holiday and sleepers were sold out within days of going on sale so I’m sure it’s worse during the main holidays. We particularly wanted the First Class sleepers with their own shower and toilet and so it’s advised to book early at any time of year as there are not many of them on the train. Fortunately, we got exactly what we wanted for each journey. I’m a bit of a planner as you might have noticed so I do tend to book ahead if I can!

  9. Whoa! That’s something inspirational indeed! While this definitely sounds do-able, I can’t imagine the amount of planning that would have gone into it. Thanks for the recommendations of the agencies you used esp. in Russia and China. I’m looking forward to read your articles on the cruises across Atlantic & Pacific oceans. Spending 2 weeks inside the ship is such a long time and I hope there were many things to do in the ship to keep you occupied!

  10. Wow what a major undertaking! I think I would be pretty nervous taking such a long journey by boat, but I do love traveling by train. It is very cool that you plan to see places like Siberia and several landmarks along the way such as the Terra Cotta warriors in China. I can’t wait to read about how your journey ends up.

  11. Wow, I’m very impressed you were able to do this without flying! I’ve never really even considered that something like this could be done. The prospect of spending so many nights on a train is a little anxiety inducing, but I’m sure if you find the right train, it can be a comfortable journey. Props to you!!

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