Around the world in 30 days - are you crazy?

Precision timing and sleep-deprivation enabled Fiona Terry and her husband to squeeze the trip of a lifetime into their annual leave
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The Independent Travel

Michael Palin and Philleas Fogg did it in 80 days; the Jules Verne Trophy winners sailed it in 64; Richard Branson tried it several times in a hot-air balloon. The question was, could we make it all the way around the world in just four weeks and still have time to enjoy it?

Michael Palin and Philleas Fogg did it in 80 days; the Jules Verne Trophy winners sailed it in 64; Richard Branson tried it several times in a hot-air balloon. The question was, could we make it all the way around the world in just four weeks and still have time to enjoy it?

You've heard of a gap year, well, welcome to the concept of the gap month. While many globe-trotters draw out their overseas experience to 52 weeks, not all of us can afford such a lengthy career break. And with round-the-world air tickets cheaper than ever, there is a feasible alternative to quitting work to fulfil any dreams of circumnavigating the globe. All you need is 20 days' annual leave, an adventurous spirit and little more than the price of a return flight to Australia.

The only worry for us was that the expedition would turn into a gruelling marathon, so exhausting we would never want to travel again. We decided to give it a go, safe in the knowledge that any extravagances en route would be more manageable thanks to uninterrupted salary payments. Luckily so, as it turned out, because we got off to a fairly comfortable start in India, which should have been our cheapest country. Somehow even the knowledge that the adventure would last twice as long as the average break is not enough to curb the "Well, I am on holiday" attitude. Not a hostel in sight on this particular leg of our journey, but instead luxurious overnight stops in some of the former maharajas' palaces that are now run as hotels.

It would be misleading to say that this kind of escapade does not need stamina, though. No time to nurse prickly heat or worry about Delhi belly when you have three trains to catch and places booked on onward flights to Timbuktu. But the buzz of constantly being on the move is more exhilarating than exhausting. Arriving somewhere new every few days is guaranteed to get the adrenalin racing and send any thoughts of fatigue to the back of the mind.

We learnt to snatch sleep where we could – usually in transit. I even managed to doze on a keenly anticipated drive along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, only to be woken by the voice of a police officer ordering my husband, Tim (who was at the wheel of the car and admittedly also tired), off the pavement.

Nor was it by accident that we had arranged mostly overnight flights. When you only have five days to explore a country, it goes without saying that the last thing you want to do is spend much of that time sleeping. We very quickly learnt tricks that helped not only to maximise airborne slumber but also to pinch extra time in each place. Pre-ordering vegetarian meals meant we were usually served first, enabling us to tuck in early then settle down for what we hoped would be more than 40 winks. Earplugs and eyemasks are essential – we carried our own, as they are not always given as freebies. And to clear immigration quickly at the other end, asking for seats near the front of the plane usually gives you the chance to be among the first off and avoid the long queues. On more than one occasion that made it possible for us to catch earlier buses, wasting less time at the airport.

"Travel light" had been our motto and that really helped us hit the ground running (I did worry Tim was taking this to extremes when I caught him squeezing out half the contents of a tube of Savlon in an attempt to get his bag below 10kg). Most of the weight we carried seemed to be in books. Never again. Half way through our journey we met an American couple who had downloaded more than 50 novels and sections of travel guides on to snazzy palmtops.

Don't skimp on alarm clocks, however. Three between two may sound extravagant, but when your sleep-deprived body does not know what time zone it is in, better to give it as many reminders as possible. We slept so late on our first day in Japan that we almost missed an entire Sumo tournament which we had paid nearly £100 to attend. But just when you are beginning to feel like you cannot keep up with the pace of continually racing time, travelling west to east presents a great psychological boost as you cross the International Date Line and gain a day.

The key to success of these four weeks was undoubtedly in the planning, and part of this had been our choice of a round-the-world ticket. We had opted for The Great Escapade, with Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic which, unlike others we found in its price range, offered unlimited stops. This enabled us to cover as much ground as possible in a short time, especially in New Zealand where, instead of driving for days between Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, we could fly without using up stops on our ticket.

Our aim in the weeks leading up to the trip had been to make sure we would not spend the subsequent months regretting missed opportunities. Wherever it had looked like our list of "must sees" would be impossible to manage, we had called in the experts. For our whistle-stop tour of Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan it was Cox & Kings which swiftly drew up a no- hassles itinerary, with timesaving plans and seats guaranteed on fast trains that we would never have known about.

The whole trip was filled with more highlights, colour and culture than we could ever have imagined. We may have spent 54 hours in the air, but we still had plenty of time to explore the six countries we travelled to. Even in Singapore for just two days and a night, we managed to see Little India, take a look at the city's famous shopping heart, enjoy a swim and a sunbathe at the outdoor, Olympic-size pool, have a few too many Singapore Slings at Raffles hotel and dance to the tunes of a local band.

Would we do it again? You bet.

Fiona Terry travelled using The Great Escapade ticket, courtesy of Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; www.airnewzealand.co.uk), Singapore Airlines (0870 608 8886; www.singaporeair.com) and Virgin Atlantic (01293 747747; www.virgin.com/atlantic). The ticket allows 29,000 miles of travel with unlimited stopovers. Fares start from £825, excluding tax. Visit www.thegreatescapade.com to design your own itinerary. Tickets can also be booked centrally (0870 0660114). Cox & Kings (020-7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk).

10 top travel tips

1 Read up on destinations prior to departure. Consult Lonely Planet's website www.lonely planet.com and Rough Guides website www.roughguides.com. Rough Guide to Travel Online (£5.99) is useful for planning trips on the internet.

2 Pre-book car hire to save time on arrival.

3 For accommodation ideas, try one of the internet's largest directories, www.ase.net, which links to 200,000 hotels.

4 For embassy information, visit www.embassyworld.com for worldwide information.

5 For up-to-date information on safety, contact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice unit (020-7270 1500; www.fco.gov.uk).

6 For health issues check Masta (Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad) (0113-238 7500; www.masta.org).

7 For travel insurance contact Trailfinders (020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.co.uk/insurance/split.htm).

8 For details about exchange rates visit www.thisismoney.com/tourist.asp

9 Round the World Travel Guide has useful tips for planning your trip. Visit www.travel-library.com/ rtw/html/faq.html.

10 Check out the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory, www.towd.com, which gives details for official tourism offices across the world.

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