Adventure Planning: Getting the right airfare package

maps.jpgRecently, an AdventureLogue reader asked me for advice in planning an open-ended, unplanned trip to Asia for an indeterminate amount of time. This is actually much easier than it sounds. While it is true that the goal of the trip is the journey and not the destination, it is possible to do a little bit of open-ended planning in advance that can help save headaches and expense once you’re on the road. Here’s a few ways to get started:

  1. Identify a region: Unless you’re doing a round-the-world trip, the ultimate open-ended adventure, you’re going to at least want to start with a region. In our friend’s case, she has chosen a continent, Asia, which also happens to be the world’s largest. But our advice-seeker also mentioned to me that she was thinking of starting in India. Perfect, we’ve just identified our first flight, the one component of a trip that’s pretty damn hard not to plan in advance.
  2. Identify must-see destinations for a rough itinerary: The true adventurer may not have a list of spots that can’t be missed in his or her mind, but most people do, whether it’s world heritage sites or visits to friends and family. Here’s an example: On our 6-month trip to Asia, the Himalayas, Angkor and Thai beaches were on our must-do list. We also had a wedding to attend in Pakistan, a friend to visit in Shanghai and we knew we wanted to end our trip with family living in Japan. That gave us a rough framework for the trip, and plenty of room for adventure while connecting the dots.
  3. What kind of flight: Probably the most complicated decision you’ll have to make, because there are so many options. Fortunately, that means there’s probably one for you. BootsnAll has a flight travel planner for long-term trips involving multiple legs, different departing airports and other quirks that are unique to the adventure traveler’s itinerary.
  4. Look for flexible tickets: The fewer restrictions the better. Some fares may require you to complete all your travel in a 6 or 12 month time frame. Be sure you’re comfortable with that limitation before buying. Try to find a package that will allow you to change your flights on short notice and without high change fees. On our trip we were able to find tickets that could be changed for free until a week before the flight and for $50 after that. You want to be able to go with the flow without feeling too locked into catching that next flight.
  5. Travel over land as much as possible: You travel to experience places, not fly over them, so travel by land as much as your budget and timeline will allow. For us, we knew we wanted to end in Japan, so we planned to get from Bangkok to Tokyo without flying, including a boat trip from Korea. But we also knew that we would have to hoof it to get to the wedding on time in Pakistan, meaning we would not be able to have the time or expense to deal with traveling over land from Thailand via Burma and Bangladesh, so we included flights to and from Delhi in our package. (In the end, we were even more crushed for time and wound end up buying a flight to Karachi from Delhi, which brings me to my next point)
  6. Buy cheap and easy regional flights once you’re there: Domestic and regional carriers often offer much better fares than what you can buy in advance at home. When we became fatigued by China’s bus and train system and longed to be in the comfort of my friend’s Shanghai apartment, an Air China flight saved us 48 hours and our sanity for just a little more cash than the train.

Happy Trails!