10 Common Stops on an Around the World Ticket (and where you should go instead)

around the world ticketThere’s a lot to be said for Number 2 on an around the world ticket. It can even outshine Number 1 simply because it’s passed over by those looking for “the best”. Number 2 is your own private thing, the choice without the noise and chaos that comes from being on top.

Let it be known I don’t mean to say that the common stops should be omitted because they’re popular.

The reasons for going there leap out at you in full color from brochures and posters everywhere. But while the Number 1s may have time-tested reasons to visit, those looking for authenticity may end up disappointed.

Expectations are tough to live up to when cutting through the other travelers—the mobs and the industry built to accommodate them can taint your experience pretty quickly.

I’ve put together a list of commonly requested cities in RTW itineraries, followed by those you should visit as an alternative (or even an addition).

While these recommendations may be more expensive to have in your itinerary (major cities tend to have least impact on price) the experiences gained by visiting these alternatives can be priceless and should make any added expense completely worthwhile.

 Sydney

(Try Melbourne) – when people decide on Australia they immediately flag Sydney as their point of interest. The Sydney/Melbourne rivalry has been around forever, but here’s why you should visit Melbourne: it’s not Sydney. Where Sydney is flashy, Melbourne is earth-toned. It’s more community-centric and has a definitive laid back vibe. It’s compact and walkable/bikeable and in a lot of ways more “European” than its east coast counterpart.

around the world ticket

Auckland

(Try Christchurch) – It’s a South vs. North scenario! But many people say the South Island wins this contest, hands down. Auckland is the typical gateway to New Zealand but lacks the superior scenery of the South, and a lot of travelers fail to venture there, simply because they don’t think to. Christchurch will never cease to impress. It has a small town feel, a friendly populace and majestic surroundings not far from the city limits. It’s also easy to continue on to your next country with nonstop flights to Australia.

Catholic cathedral and Port Hills, Christchurch, NZ

Bali

(Try Lombok) – Bali is usually Indonesia’s solitary stopover, which is unfortunate due to the wealth of scenery outside of that single island. Cross the strait east to Lombok. As the tourist board promotes, Lombok is “an unspoiled Bali” and embraces it casually, with loose hands. While not on par with Bali’s nightlife or development, if you want authentic Indonesia without the westernization (or the clubbers), you’ll get it here. Nothing happens quickly in Lombok.

Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia

Bangkok

(Try Chiang Mai) The typical Bangkok itinerary goes, arrive in Bangkok, then go to Phuket. Do yourself a favor: avoid the parade and take the hour flight or a train ride to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s “Rose of the North”. High mountains, rivulets and waterfalls surround the city, so you can trek to your boots’ content. Or else stay in town and take in the Night Bazaar for some shopping, sample the street food and get that “Land of Smiles” experience you couldn’t find in Bangkok.

Sunset at a temple, Chiang Mai

Tokyo

(Try Kyoto) Kyoto is Japan’s ancient, historic capital and is in many ways the postcard perfect city you envisioned when adding Japan to your RTW trip. Since it was spared the bombing raids of WWII, much of its architectural beauty was preserved. Countless shrines, temples and historic structures make it the better Japanese alternative. Also very close is Nara (less than an hour by train) and this year is celebrating its 1300th anniversary.

Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan by syvwlch.

Read this post about how to keep your expenses down when visiting this somewhat expensive country.

Delhi

(Try Jodhpur and the Rajasthan region) Delhi is usually people’s automatic reaction when thinking of India, but the brightly colored, aromatic India you dreamt about when planning your trip is along the bottom of the Golden Triangle. Jodhpur for some respite from the chaos of the city, explore the villages of the province by train or bus. Don’t forget to bring your camera (and your taste buds).

rajasthan family

Nairobi

(Try Addis Ababa) Contrary to popular belief Ethiopia is actually a very low-crime country, and Addis Ababa is generally considered to be one of the safest cities in Africa, with most of the crimes reported to be of the non-violent variety. This ancient town is an excellent alternative to the common choice of Nairobi be it for history or exploring the depths of the East African culture. Explore it, and give it a few days. It has a bustling arts scene and the largest open air market in Africa, the Mercado, which is reason alone to appreciate the choice. Per Lonely planet: “It won’t be long until you say ‘Addis’ like you were talking about an old friend..” On the streets of Addis

Istanbul

(Try Cappadocia) Sure, it’d be foolish to visit Turkey on an around the world ticket and not go to Istanbul, but there’s much more to the country than the famed city of the North. Cappadocia has been an important population center since the time of the Hittites (dating long before the birth of Christ) with its surreal landscape being its centerpiece. Volcanic upwellings and wind erosion helped to create the trademark “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia. Caves and clefts were built as “cave churches” and many nooks in the Rose Valley have been transformed into residences and pensions. Stay in a cave suite and have all the conveniences you’d expect from a 21st century accommodation.

around the world ticket

Tel Aviv

(Try Aleppo) While Tel Aviv is striking and a vastly important city in world history, the Syrian alternative should be considered, if not simply to experience a friendliness and generosity you may never see again. There’s a wealth of ancient and beautiful tourist choices in Aleppo, from the Citadel to the Souq and without even considering its age (it hails from the 3rd millennium BC) you’ll still be rewarded with its welcoming vibrancy.

More shops in the covered suq, Aleppo

UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, Syria has descended into war-torn chaos. It would be advisable to skip Syria altogether at the moment and try a place like Amman. Jordan is a stable and thriving country and well worth a look.

If you’re traveling to Israel before other points in the Middle East, read this post about the Israeli passport stamp and what it means for crossing borders into neighboring countries.

Casablanca

(Try Fes) Head to Fes, it’s the authentic Morocco you’ve been looking for. Get lost in the old town, Fes el-Bali, with its high medieval walls and labyrinthine streets – it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site. For great day trips out of Fes go to Meknes, the Roman ruins at Volubilis or the desert dunes of Erg Chebbi.

place boujloud by protographer23.

Rio

(Try Salvador) It would be a crime to go to Brazil on your around the world ticket and not stop in Rio, but to get a taste of the true spirit of the country, fly north 2 hours to Salvador. They call it Brazil’s “capital of happiness” with its easygoing citizens and crazy flamboyant parties. Perfectly swimmable beaches are in and around Salvador and are sure to etch your memory banks with their lazy sun-licked days. According to the Guardian in 2007, Porto da Barra Beach was ranked the 3rd best beach in the world. Salvador’s Carnaval is definitely the nation’s biggest, averaging two million people all converging on the streets, avenues and squares for the week-long February celebration.

Old City by Kaunokainen.

If you have any suggestions about off-the-track destinations, leave your hints and secrets in the comments section, or if you want to include any of these places in a Trip Planner itinerary, click the banner below (sometimes smaller towns may not appear on the map. If not, call a travel consultant to add the city to your quote).

* All images are credited with a link back to their Creative Commons source page.

30 responses to “10 Common Stops on an Around the World Ticket (and where you should go instead)

  1. Really like the way you organized this. Question, though: How easy is it to get to Cappadocia? I’ve heard mixed reviews about overland travel in Turkey.

    • I’m not sure what you heard, Adam, but I do know train travel within Turkey is super easy and comfortable. There’s really no reason to travel to Cappodocia by bus, which would take 15 hours. Might as well take the pleasant way!

      You can get a sleeper train to Goreme or Kayseri and then a local bus (or tourist bus) to the site. The one way ticket shouldn’t cost more than $50.

      Here’s a great resource on train travel in Turkey:
      http://www.seat61.com/Turkey2.htm#Istanbul%20to%20Ankara

      About halfway down the page is the info you want.

      • Until recently, I lived in Turkey for 6 years, including in Cappadocia for 2 years and Istanbul for 4 years. The bus doesn’t take 15 hours- it’s more like 10 hours. Some bus companies are faster than others and some go direct from Istanbul to Goreme while others stop in Nevsehir (near Goreme) and you need to take local buses (which are easy).

        There are also a number of cheap flights to the region, on several airlines. Some go to Kayseri, which is about an hour by bus from Goreme/Urgup/Avanos/etc (the main towns there) and some go to Nevsehir.

        I wouldn’t recommend taking the train, even if it’s overnight and you have a sleeper- unless they’ve magically overhauled it in the last year or so, it takes about 19 hours because the track is very indirect.

        Travel in Turkey is super easy and very very affordable. I’d also recommend places like Mardin and Sanli Urfa in the East and Bozcaada in the north Aegean and Butterfly Valley (kelebek vadisi) near Oludeniz. Don’t be afraid. I’m a single woman and I travelled all over Turkey on my own.

          • I should also add that if you can leave from the Harem otogar (bus station) on the Asian side of Istanbul (a quick ferry ride from Eminonu), you’ll cut at least an hour off your journey to ANYWHERE in Anatolia. Also, a lot of buses have offices in Taksim where you can catch a bus and save you a trip out to the Esenler otogar (which is out in the middle of nowhere on the European side). Some have the bus itself parked in Taksim and other have a shuttle service. Both are very useful.

  2. I’m a frequent traveller because of the development work that I do. Here are some unexpectedly wonderful unusual places that I’ve been to in Africa, and definitely ‘includable’ in an around the world trip.

    Lamu Island Kenya; Zanzibar Tanzania

    Both of these towns share Swahili culture and traditional East African / Muslim culture. I prefer Lamu for its remoteness, and the fact that there are no cars on the island. Zanzibar is bigger, more developed and easier to get to.

    Kabale Uganda
    Western Uganda is lush and green with scenery that looks it is taken from the Lord of the Rings. Though there is nothing to see in Kisoro (though you could probably go and see gorillas in the nearby National Park), I thought the ride from Kabale to Kisoro was the most beautiful ever.

    Bolgatanga Ghana, I enjoyed this town because of the interesting architecture and paintings on the buildings.

    Maputo Mozambique
    Though when I visited the effects of the long civil war were still evident on the buildings, Maputo is a very pretty city set on a wide river, so it has a coastal ‘vibe’, with tree lined streets. The Portuguese and Brazilian influence are very strong, which gives the city a very laid-back ‘Latin American’ feel, even though it’s in Africa. The warm people, music, dancing and beach culture make it worth the visit.

    • Thanks a lot Lesley-Ann. Great suggestions! I’m sure our readers and those people interested in traveling to Africa will find it interesting.

      We do get people looking to travel to Maputo but not as many as you’d think based on how you’ve described it. Sounds amazing! I hope it will encourage more people to try it out. It’s only an hour flight from Johannesburg!

      Nico

  3. I love this article! I also generally agree with your suggestions, except I’d perhaps quibble that both Nairobi and Addis Ababa should be skipped all together. As Delhi has been dramatically cleaned up over the last ten years, I think it’s now a good place to visit…if you can handle India. I’ve always loved Jaipur, though the pollution in the Old City continues to be a major drawback.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Bob. And admittedly, traveling in Africa isn’t for everyone. But to be immersed there can be an incredibly gratifying experience. Just see Lesley-Ann’s comment above!

      It may be that you need to leave the big cities to better connect with the rich culture and color of the continent.

  4. Yes, the alternatives are all on point. The main cities generally have to be passed thru due to the fact they are the Int’l gateway airports cities. Having been thru all countries cited, save Japan & Turkey the travel advise rang true each time. Generally, one should attempt a circular route, as a circle is be most efficient route. Rough Guides tend to be very well balanced & informative. Seek out seasoned travelers & pick their brains at length…

  5. Love this article – wish I’d been to half the places on the list!

    Just to add my two pennies worth, for people seeking the ‘terracotta warriors’ in Xi’an, try Pingyao in Shanxi Province. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and an amazing example of a Chinese Walled City. No cars are allowed inside the walls but there are guest houses where you can stay, some situated in buildings dating from the 1600 & 1700’s

    But hurry, more and more travellers are finding their way there.

    • Great tip, Joe. A lot of people only think of the terracotta warriors when they think of Xian. Thanks for reminding us there’s a culturally rich and interesting town to visit along with it.

    • While on the subject of China, I recommend Putuoshan as a nearby alternative to Shanghai and Hangzhou. An island in the East China Sea, not far from either, it’s a world away from the bustle of the mainland. It is the earthly home of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, and is a beautiful and serene little island.

    • I agree with you on that one. Even after living there for 4 years (and having visited it often for the two years before that when I was living in Cappadocia), I still found it fascinating and riveting. Just don’t put all your focus on Sultan Ahmet and the traditional tourist sites. There’s a lot more to the city than that area.

  6. Great post – I agree with almost all of your points! Though I would pick Queenstown of Christchurch in NZ, Jodhpur instead of Jaipur in India, and I would stick with Bangkok over Chaing Mai (I don’t know why, just have a thing for BKK!).

    • Thanks for the insight, Cam. Really any town on the South Island is worth passing through. I chose Christchurch because it’s a little easier to get to. But Queenstown is an adventure lover’s paradise and certainly not to be missed if you’re spending any time there.

  7. Good list! I haven’t been to most of these places, but I’ll have to keep your suggestions in mind should I ever make it to them.

    I have been to NZ, though, and I totally agree that travelers should venture beyond Auckland. Auckland is not New Zealand. But, instead of Christchurch, I think I’d suggest Wellington. It’s one of my favorite cities ever, and has a friendly rivalry going with Auckland.

  8. I think it’s always important to look outside of the tourist traps, while they’re popular for a reason and generally worth a visit, staying outside in a more authentic and less tourist driven area will always result in a better experience of both culture and people…

  9. Great tips and ideas..

    I´m from Brasil, and Salvador is really a good idea, but i should say that instead of rio or salvador, there is Florianopolis too, an island, capital of Santa Catarina, at south brazil. Most famous for the beauty of Lagoons, beaches, many good options and reference of sports like, kite surf, surf at joaquina, paragliding, and others stuff like sailing… or just chill out and enjoy the magical island.

    Close to Floripa, there is Balneario Camboriu, great summer parties at the south is over there…

  10. Interesting post! I like the format and straightforward writing style. As a former RTW traveler, I’d have to respectfully disagree with your advice to skip Bangkok. If you avoid the backpacker ghetto of Kao San Road and stay in more residential areas, a few days or a week in Bangkok will help you familiarize yourself with Thailand and see how locals live. I wasn’t a huge fan of Chang Mai– it is overrun with backpackers. However, it is a great launching point for train trips further north. Happy travels!

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  12. Such exotic places – and all I’m about to do is visit the USA ;)

    I really don’t see how Aleppo can replace Tel Aviv though. Jerusalem, maybe. Hardly on the same scale, but same “old city” experience perhaps (not that I ever visited Syria, obviously – if I were to visit I’d probably be given a tour of the dungeons of the local secret police). Tel Aviv is a vibrant, modern, gay-friendly and quite liberal beach city. No old city feel or look anywhere – the city is barely 100 years old.

  13. I was in Sydney so many years ago that it probably looks like a totally different city by now.

    I have been to both Bali and Lombok. I like both, but prefer Bali. I found Lombok very difficult to get around. I may have found it easier , if I had been traveling with someone but as a solo female travel it wasn’t easy.
    The thing about Bali is choosing where to go. I love Ubud, although that may change now that the move Live, Pray, Love has hit the theaters. Kuta Beach is a dive. Padang Bag is a great laid back alternative. Lovina, in the North, is also worth a visit.

    I love both Chiang Mai and Bangkok, but different reasons. I should be living in CM next year this time.

    Arrived back from Japan last week. I spent 6 days in Kyoto and 6 in Tokyo. I enjoyed both, but would probably opt for more time in and around Kyoto the next time. It’s not nearly as busy as Tokyo, so much more laid back.

    • Thanks for your great feedback, Nancy. I really love Kyoto as well. Such a beautiful city.
      Good luck with your move to Thailand. Couldn’t have chosen a nicer country to settle down in.

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