The ins and outs of planning an around-the-world journey

By Norman Dailey
This article appears on page 6 of the March 2019 issue.
This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

From December 2017 into January 2018, my wife, Susan, and I completed our second circumnavigation of the world, purchasing flights through American Airlines, part of the oneworld alliance of airlines.

Llamas in Sajama National Park, Bolivia.

Making plans

Creating and pricing an itinerary was easy using oneworld's Explorer website (rtw.oneworld.com).The website spelled out some rules for choosing flights, and as I picked destinations, the site notified me if I violated a rule.

After selecting our destinations, I chose dates and flights based on my initial expectation of the number of days we planned to stay in each city and the days on which I wished to fly.

After I picked all the flights, the website displayed the total price, including taxes and fees. I didn't have to purchase the tickets at that point; I simply hit "Save Itinerary."

Our plan included visiting three continents — South America, Australia and Asia — and flying 32,167 miles. The cost of the trip in business class was quoted as $12,840 per person and was initially projected to cover 45 days.

We wanted to go to Bolivia, Easter Island, New Zealand and Australia. I didn't visualize Asia initially, but to get around the world we had to stop off somewhere, so I chose Singapore and Sri Lanka, because I could, and, finally, Doha because Middle Eastern airlines, such as Qatar Airlines (another oneworld alliance member), enjoy a reputation for great service and comfort.

Putting the pieces together

Once I decided on the destinations and priced the airfare portion of the trip (and bit the bullet on the cost), then the hard work started.

I am a planner and am not comfortable with just going to a destination to sit around and "relax."

To plan this trip, I built an Excel spreadsheet, with the vertical axis displaying dates and days and the horizontal axis, city, lodging, activities and estimated cost. From there, it really was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, though with no actual picture, just a vision of what we wanted to see and do.

The first entry on this jigsaw puzzle was Jan. 27, 2018, for the Women's Australian Open tennis final, a bucket-list event.

From there, I pulled out a folder of clippings from International Travel News plus newspapers and brochures I had picked up at travel adventure shows and printouts from webpages such as TripAdvisor.com. I also looked for guides through www.toursbylocals.com and Viator Expert Tour Guides (tourguides.viator.com) as well as on numerous other sites found through Web searches.

I then entered our chosen activities for specific days and moved them around on my spreadsheet until everything fell into place.

Next, I contacted guides to see if they could give us reservations, and I selected places to stay. I made a few reservations at this point, but only if they offered free cancellations.

After roughing in my spreadsheet to include everything I thought we could see on this trip, the trip expanded from 45 days to 51, so I went back to the oneworld website and pulled up our saved itinerary. I added several new cities to it, but when I did that, I got an error message saying I had exceeded the number of allowable segments for this trip, which was 15. For the moment, I decided to drop the extra cities.

When I moved on to the next screen for selecting flights, I ran into additional problems. Although the website showed that we could fly from Calama, Chile, to Santiago, there were, in fact, no eligible flights. On Google Flights (google.com/flights), I found that the only flight available was on a subsidiary of LAN (not part of the alliance). I ended up buying additional economy-class tickets ($90 x 2) for that leg.

My original jigsaw puzzle also had us flying to Easter Island on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, no flights were available that day, which had a ripple effect on the itinerary, as I hoped to go to Santiago's Boragó, number 27 on the 2018 list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants (www.theworlds50best.com), on Dec. 27, our 10-year anniversary.

I also discovered I had one last problem: from Queenstown, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, the only oneworld flight available on the day I projected had several connections.

I resolved our scheduling issues by going to Easter Island one day later and having our anniversary dinner on the 28th. We lost a little romance, however, as, immediately after dinner, we had to jump into a taxi to go to the airport for a midnight flight to Auckland.

For the too-many-segments problem, and the lack of a nonstop Sydney flight, I ended up buying additional economy tickets for Queenstown to Sydney, Sydney to Cairns and Ayers Rock to Adelaide, ($993 x 2).

All other flights eventually fit under the Round the World Ticket, after going back and forth to adjust the itinerary, check flights and delete some segments.

It should be noted that when we skipped cities on our routing, either by buying a separate flight or driving, this still counted as a segment when calculating our allowed number of segments.

The itinerary

Norman and Susan Dailey having some fun on the Uyuni Salt Flats.

Once our around-the-world itinerary was complete, I could have purchased the tickets online, but I heard that it was best to call the Round the World desk at American Airlines (800/247-3247) and have them book the tickets in order to avoid running into any problems. (I should also note that I had previously called their number while working on the itinerary to ask questions, and the agents were always extremely helpful.)

To book, I simply read off my itinerary and flight numbers, and the agent finalized our trip. I also confirmed some additional rules, such as the fare being 100% refundable prior to the first flight and that changes to any flight's reservation date (space available) anytime after the first flight were free.

Another rule, though not a concern for us, is that you have to complete the itinerary within 12 months. These are not all of the rules, but most of the others are straightforward, and the website or an agent can explain them fully.

Our final itinerary had us departing from Washington, DC, for La Paz, Bolivia. From there, we traveled to Santiago, Chile, via a Bolivia tour and a flight from San Pedro. Then we flew round trip from Santiago to Easter Island and from Santiago on to Auckland, New Zealand. From Auckland, we drove to Queenstown, flying from there to Sydney and on to Cairns and Ayers Rock.

After stops in Adelaide, Launceston (Tasmania) and Melbourne, the Asian portion of our trip began, including Singapore, Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Doha (Qatar) before we finally flew home.

Maybe it was dumb luck, but everything on the trip went according to plan. Even the weather cooperated, only raining when we were in a rainforest.

The only thing we might have done differently is pack a bit lighter, as we found many more laundry facilities than anticipated and, at all of the high-end restaurants at which we ate, no one was dressed up.

Highlights

One of the reasons this trip was so special was that the guides, hotels and restaurants we encountered were some of the best we've ever experienced anywhere in the world.

The really special ones included La Paz's Gustu (Calacoto calle 10 N. 300 Casi Costanera; www.gustu.bo), which was featured on the 2017 list of the 50 Best Latin American restaurants (www.theworlds50best.com/latinamerica). The food there was wonderful, but even more special was the passion and enthusiasm displayed by the staff.

Their English may not have been perfect, but every server was proud of the dishes being presented, every ingredient of each locally sourced from Bolivia. Even the wine and spirits were 100% Bolivian.

After our 15-course tasting menu, we were given an opportunity to tour the kitchen and wander downstairs to see the bakery, and eventually we were taken upstairs to see the classroom and lab where new dishes are tested.

It was a wonderful culinary evening and cost $249 for our dinner for two, including beverage pairings.

When planning our visit to Bolivia, we decided that we had to visit the Salar de Uyuni, or Uyuni Salt Flats, but we read that the quality of tours could be hit or miss due to guides who spoke little English, SUVs in questionable mechanical shape and itineraries that were geared more to young backpackers.

After some online research, I finally found a recommendation for a tour operator, Banjo Tours (La Paz; phone +591 2 2417127, www.banjotours.com).

From our initial review of their website to the first email and until we said good-bye in Chile, our experience with them was outstanding.

Banjo only uses experienced guides and drivers and allows you to select the type of tour you want (private or group) and the standard of accommodation. We chose the "La Paz to Uyuni via Sajama National Park" 5-day tour with the Plus option (formerly called Premium). We also requested drop-off in San Pedro de Atacama to catch a transfer to Calama for a flight to Santiago.

The cost of the tour, including all lodging and meals, was $4,581 for two. On the website, you can book this tour in one of three ways: as a private tour, as a shared tour (being willing to allow one or two others to join, dividing the cost but paying the full fare if no one joins) or going only if someone else joins.

Included in our tour package was a stay at Palacio de Sal (Orillas Salar de Uyuni; palaciodesal.com.bo). This hotel ranks near the top as one of our favorite hotels anywhere in the world.

We had a huge suite with a salt dome indirectly illuminated over the bed. I can't quote a price, as it was included in our Banjo Tour cost, but, online, the rooms go for about $166 per night — an amazing price, in my opinion.

Throughout the hotel you walk on boardwalks, as the walls and floors are made of salt. There is also a roof deck where you can look out over the salt flats during the day or at night, enjoying a wonderful view of the stars.

Noteworthy in NZ

View from a helicopter of New Zealand’s White Island.

Another tour worth mentioning was in Auckland, New Zealand, with Claire Fergusson of Gala Local Tours (phone +64 21 675 757, www.galalocaltours.com).

Our flight from Santiago, Chile, landed in Auckland at 5:30 a.m., and Claire agreed to meet us at the airport and start a day tour at the unusually early hour of 6:30 so that we could avoid having to pay for an extra hotel day.

Claire conducts a number of tours, but we chose the 8-hour "Auckland West Coast Beaches" tour, customized a bit to include visits to several wineries. The cost was $650 booked through Toursbylocals.com, but it probably would have been 20% cheaper if we had booked with Gala Local Tours directly.

We saw a lot and felt we learned so much through Claire's great stories about history and local culture. She also provided lots of tips about traveling in New Zealand and additional things to do in Auckland.

While in New Zealand, we also took the "Black Labyrinth Tour" with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company (phone +64 7 8788228, www.waitomo.com/black-water-rafting) to explore the Waitomo Ruakuri Glowworm Cave (NZD142, or $98, per person).

This tour may not be for everyone, as you have to put on a wetsuit and carry, ride and jump with an inner tube. I thought the most difficult part of the excursion was putting on the wetsuit, but Susan thought putting the inner tube behind her, as if she were going to sit on it, then falling backward into a small stream inside the cave was cumbersome. Still, it was a great experience, floating in complete darkness… except for the glowworms we saw on the ceiling. They are not actually worms at all but fly larvae (also commonly known as maggots). If that doesn't make you squeamish, you will love the tour!

Another New Zealand adventure was years in the making. Way back in 2009, there was a Travelers' Intercom letter (Feb. '09, pg. 18) on a helicopter tour to White Island. I held onto that article for eight years.

The writer described a trip to White Island Volcano leaving from Waimana, which cost $345 per person. Prices have gone up significantly since that date.

While the company recommended by Robert Ringgenberg is still there, we found a company that flew from the Rotorua lakefront for about the same price (NZD845, or a little less than $583, per person) called Volcanic Air (Rotorua, NZ; phone +64 7 348 9984, volcanicair.co.nz).

The flight and tour were amazing! We flew over many lakes on the way to the coast, and as we came close to White Island, the chopper flew around the island so passengers on both sides could glimpse the active volcano and crater.

We then landed and walked for a little over an hour. We saw the active steam vents (fumaroles) and vibrant sulfur formations. We also walked through the remnants of an old factory that once supported sulfur mining and had closed more than 80 years ago.

In Queenstown, we loved staying at Queenstown House (69 Hallenstein St.; phone +64 3 442 9043; queenstownhouse.co.nz). This bed-and-breakfast had a great view of downtown Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Although the rooms were very comfortable and breakfast was fantastic, our favorite part of the stay was the nightly happy hour, during which guests gathered outside on the patio (weather permitting) or in the common area to share a glass or two of wine and delicious hors d'oeuvres. Sitting back with other guests from around the world was truly special.

Everywhere we went, the people of New Zealand were extremely friendly and helpful, but the staff at Queenstown House took it to another level.

Outstanding in Australia

At a dinner party in Washington, DC, we had met an Australian Embassy employee who highly recommended we visit the Blue Mountains if we ever went to Australia. When planning this trip, we found that there were a number of day tours to the Blue Mountains from Sydney.

The trouble with most of the tours was that they were large group tours and/or incorporated visits to Katoomba Scenic World and Featherdale Wildlife Park, both of which are geared to the masses.

My continued search finally led us to Blue Mountains Eco Tours (phone +61 424 752 967, bluemountainsecotours.com) and owners Paul and Jenny. Once we read the hundreds of "excellent" reviews (99.9%) on TripAdvisor, we realized that this was the perfect company.

Paul has no subcontractors, and only he or his wife runs their tours.

Paul has a Land Rover that comfortably seats six. You can book a private tour or you can just book two seats, and if additional travelers book the same day, you will be in a larger group. We were joined by a lovely couple from Switzerland. The cost for this shared tour was $325 for two.

In the Land Rover, we were able to get to many places that tour buses (and crowds) couldn't. The views were exquisite.

Late in the afternoon, we visited a secret spot where we could view kangaroos lounging in a field. It was a perfect day in the Blue Mountains.

For a day trip to Kangaroo Island, we used Kangaroo Island Hire A Guide (phone +61 407 978 680, www.kiguide.com.au), owned by Luca Lovison, who was also our guide for the day. We found the company on Viator (viator.com).

As with other companies we found, travelers could book two seats in an SUV, and if others joined, it would become a small group. Ours turned out to be a private tour just for us ($518 for two, booked on Viator).

We took the ferry from the mainland to Kangaroo Island in the morning, arriving about 10, and returned on the last ferry at about 7:30 p.m.

Luca met us at the ferry terminal and took us on an excursion through Flinders Chase National Park. Along the way, we found koalas, walked with kangaroos in a field, watched sea lions play in the waves and saw some Remarkable Rocks.

Luca was a great guide, with lots of knowledge of wildlife and the island. I can't imagine a better way to see Kangaroo Island.

Ending in Asia

Singapore skyline as seen from the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Susan and I have traveled the world and have met many different guides. We are now fighting over whether Anna Ong (facebook.com/pg/singaporeprivatetourguide), a private guide we hired for a tour of Singapore, was the best guide we have ever had or the second best. (Susan's vote is that she is the best.)

Anna's knowledge, her passion for her city/country and her love for food were clearly evident. No one else we've found has ever imparted a clearer vision of the past, present and even the future of a particular destination on a tour. My only disappointment was that we could only spend one day with her.

Before you meet her, Anna's communication style is all business; some might consider her a bit cold, but we thought it was more a testament to her organizational skills and to making sure there were no misunderstandings. But once you hit the ground, it is all about you and how she can make your tour everything you could possibly hope for.

We found Anna on Viator Expert Tour Guides. A full-day walking tour, using public transportation, cost us SGD400 ($284). We will be returning to Singapore on our third trip around the world in April 2019 and plan on hiring Anna for an evening food-and-nightlife tour.

In fact, we have completed the planning for that upcoming trip, but this time, rather than use one of the airlines' 'round-the-world programs, we have purchased individual flight segments, sometimes with cash and sometimes with miles. Google Flights was a huge help in putting this jigsaw puzzle together, especially when many flights flew only a few days a week.  

We are also using the help of Myriam Grest Thein of Myanmar Travel (Yangon, Myanmar; phone +95 9 7325 9401, myanmartravel.net), whose tours have had featured articles written about them in ITN.  

We have stretched her services, requesting help in seeing seven countries concentrated in Southeast Asia and the Himalayas over 26 days. Overall, we will be stopping in 12 countries over 36 days.

 

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

From December 2017 into January 2018, my wife, Susan, and I completed our second circumnavigation of the world, purchasing flights through American Airlines, part of the oneworld alliance of airlines.

Llamas in Sajama National Park, Bolivia.

Making plans

Creating and pricing an itinerary was easy using oneworld's Explorer website (rtw.oneworld.com).The website spelled out some rules for choosing flights, and as I picked destinations, the site notified me if I violated a rule.

After selecting our destinations, I chose dates and flights based on my initial expectation of the number of days we planned to stay in each city and the days on which I wished to fly.

After I picked all the flights, the website displayed the total price, including taxes and fees. I didn't have to purchase the tickets at that point; I simply hit "Save Itinerary."

Our plan included visiting three continents — South America, Australia and Asia — and flying 32,167 miles. The cost of the trip in business class was quoted as $12,840 per person and was initially projected to cover 45 days.

We wanted to go to Bolivia, Easter Island, New Zealand and Australia. I didn't visualize Asia initially, but to get around the world we had to stop off somewhere, so I chose Singapore and Sri Lanka, because I could, and, finally, Doha because Middle Eastern airlines, such as Qatar Airlines (another oneworld alliance member), enjoy a reputation for great service and comfort.

Putting the pieces together

Once I decided on the destinations and priced the airfare portion of the trip (and bit the bullet on the cost), then the hard work started.

I am a planner and am not comfortable with just going to a destination to sit around and "relax."

To plan this trip, I built an Excel spreadsheet, with the vertical axis displaying dates and days and the horizontal axis, city, lodging, activities and estimated cost. From there, it really was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, though with no actual picture, just a vision of what we wanted to see and do.

The first entry on this jigsaw puzzle was Jan. 27, 2018, for the Women's Australian Open tennis final, a bucket-list event.

From there, I pulled out a folder of clippings from International Travel News plus newspapers and brochures I had picked up at travel adventure shows and printouts from webpages such as TripAdvisor.com. I also looked for guides through www.toursbylocals.com and Viator Expert Tour Guides (tourguides.viator.com) as well as on numerous other sites found through Web searches.

I then entered our chosen activities for specific days and moved them around on my spreadsheet until everything fell into place.

Next, I contacted guides to see if they could give us reservations, and I selected places to stay. I made a few reservations at this point, but only if they offered free cancellations.

After roughing in my spreadsheet to include everything I thought we could see on this trip, the trip expanded from 45 days to 51, so I went back to the oneworld website and pulled up our saved itinerary. I added several new cities to it, but when I did that, I got an error message saying I had exceeded the number of allowable segments for this trip, which was 15. For the moment, I decided to drop the extra cities.

When I moved on to the next screen for selecting flights, I ran into additional problems. Although the website showed that we could fly from Calama, Chile, to Santiago, there were, in fact, no eligible flights. On Google Flights (google.com/flights), I found that the only flight available was on a subsidiary of LAN (not part of the alliance). I ended up buying additional economy-class tickets ($90 x 2) for that leg.

My original jigsaw puzzle also had us flying to Easter Island on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, no flights were available that day, which had a ripple effect on the itinerary, as I hoped to go to Santiago's Boragó, number 27 on the 2018 list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants (www.theworlds50best.com), on Dec. 27, our 10-year anniversary.

I also discovered I had one last problem: from Queenstown, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, the only oneworld flight available on the day I projected had several connections.

I resolved our scheduling issues by going to Easter Island one day later and having our anniversary dinner on the 28th. We lost a little romance, however, as, immediately after dinner, we had to jump into a taxi to go to the airport for a midnight flight to Auckland.

For the too-many-segments problem, and the lack of a nonstop Sydney flight, I ended up buying additional economy tickets for Queenstown to Sydney, Sydney to Cairns and Ayers Rock to Adelaide, ($993 x 2).

All other flights eventually fit under the Round the World Ticket, after going back and forth to adjust the itinerary, check flights and delete some segments.

It should be noted that when we skipped cities on our routing, either by buying a separate flight or driving, this still counted as a segment when calculating our allowed number of segments.

The itinerary

Norman and Susan Dailey having some fun on the Uyuni Salt Flats.

Once our around-the-world itinerary was complete, I could have purchased the tickets online, but I heard that it was best to call the Round the World desk at American Airlines (800/247-3247) and have them book the tickets in order to avoid running into any problems. (I should also note that I had previously called their number while working on the itinerary to ask questions, and the agents were always extremely helpful.)

To book, I simply read off my itinerary and flight numbers, and the agent finalized our trip. I also confirmed some additional rules, such as the fare being 100% refundable prior to the first flight and that changes to any flight's reservation date (space available) anytime after the first flight were free.

Another rule, though not a concern for us, is that you have to complete the itinerary within 12 months. These are not all of the rules, but most of the others are straightforward, and the website or an agent can explain them fully.

Our final itinerary had us departing from Washington, DC, for La Paz, Bolivia. From there, we traveled to Santiago, Chile, via a Bolivia tour and a flight from San Pedro. Then we flew round trip from Santiago to Easter Island and from Santiago on to Auckland, New Zealand. From Auckland, we drove to Queenstown, flying from there to Sydney and on to Cairns and Ayers Rock.

After stops in Adelaide, Launceston (Tasmania) and Melbourne, the Asian portion of our trip began, including Singapore, Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Doha (Qatar) before we finally flew home.

Maybe it was dumb luck, but everything on the trip went according to plan. Even the weather cooperated, only raining when we were in a rainforest.

The only thing we might have done differently is pack a bit lighter, as we found many more laundry facilities than anticipated and, at all of the high-end restaurants at which we ate, no one was dressed up.

Highlights

One of the reasons this trip was so special was that the guides, hotels and restaurants we encountered were some of the best we've ever experienced anywhere in the world.

The really special ones included La Paz's Gustu (Calacoto calle 10 N. 300 Casi Costanera; www.gustu.bo), which was featured on the 2017 list of the 50 Best Latin American restaurants (www.theworlds50best.com/latinamerica). The food there was wonderful, but even more special was the passion and enthusiasm displayed by the staff.

Their English may not have been perfect, but every server was proud of the dishes being presented, every ingredient of each locally sourced from Bolivia. Even the wine and spirits were 100% Bolivian.

After our 15-course tasting menu, we were given an opportunity to tour the kitchen and wander downstairs to see the bakery, and eventually we were taken upstairs to see the classroom and lab where new dishes are tested.

It was a wonderful culinary evening and cost $249 for our dinner for two, including beverage pairings.

When planning our visit to Bolivia, we decided that we had to visit the Salar de Uyuni, or Uyuni Salt Flats, but we read that the quality of tours could be hit or miss due to guides who spoke little English, SUVs in questionable mechanical shape and itineraries that were geared more to young backpackers.

After some online research, I finally found a recommendation for a tour operator, Banjo Tours (La Paz; phone +591 2 2417127, www.banjotours.com).

From our initial review of their website to the first email and until we said good-bye in Chile, our experience with them was outstanding.

Banjo only uses experienced guides and drivers and allows you to select the type of tour you want (private or group) and the standard of accommodation. We chose the "La Paz to Uyuni via Sajama National Park" 5-day tour with the Plus option (formerly called Premium). We also requested drop-off in San Pedro de Atacama to catch a transfer to Calama for a flight to Santiago.

The cost of the tour, including all lodging and meals, was $4,581 for two. On the website, you can book this tour in one of three ways: as a private tour, as a shared tour (being willing to allow one or two others to join, dividing the cost but paying the full fare if no one joins) or going only if someone else joins.

Included in our tour package was a stay at Palacio de Sal (Orillas Salar de Uyuni; palaciodesal.com.bo). This hotel ranks near the top as one of our favorite hotels anywhere in the world.

We had a huge suite with a salt dome indirectly illuminated over the bed. I can't quote a price, as it was included in our Banjo Tour cost, but, online, the rooms go for about $166 per night — an amazing price, in my opinion.

Throughout the hotel you walk on boardwalks, as the walls and floors are made of salt. There is also a roof deck where you can look out over the salt flats during the day or at night, enjoying a wonderful view of the stars.

Noteworthy in NZ

View from a helicopter of New Zealand’s White Island.

Another tour worth mentioning was in Auckland, New Zealand, with Claire Fergusson of Gala Local Tours (phone +64 21 675 757, www.galalocaltours.com).

Our flight from Santiago, Chile, landed in Auckland at 5:30 a.m., and Claire agreed to meet us at the airport and start a day tour at the unusually early hour of 6:30 so that we could avoid having to pay for an extra hotel day.

Claire conducts a number of tours, but we chose the 8-hour "Auckland West Coast Beaches" tour, customized a bit to include visits to several wineries. The cost was $650 booked through Toursbylocals.com, but it probably would have been 20% cheaper if we had booked with Gala Local Tours directly.

We saw a lot and felt we learned so much through Claire's great stories about history and local culture. She also provided lots of tips about traveling in New Zealand and additional things to do in Auckland.

While in New Zealand, we also took the "Black Labyrinth Tour" with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company (phone +64 7 8788228, www.waitomo.com/black-water-rafting) to explore the Waitomo Ruakuri Glowworm Cave (NZD142, or $98, per person).

This tour may not be for everyone, as you have to put on a wetsuit and carry, ride and jump with an inner tube. I thought the most difficult part of the excursion was putting on the wetsuit, but Susan thought putting the inner tube behind her, as if she were going to sit on it, then falling backward into a small stream inside the cave was cumbersome. Still, it was a great experience, floating in complete darkness… except for the glowworms we saw on the ceiling. They are not actually worms at all but fly larvae (also commonly known as maggots). If that doesn't make you squeamish, you will love the tour!

Another New Zealand adventure was years in the making. Way back in 2009, there was a Travelers' Intercom letter (Feb. '09, pg. 18) on a helicopter tour to White Island. I held onto that article for eight years.

The writer described a trip to White Island Volcano leaving from Waimana, which cost $345 per person. Prices have gone up significantly since that date.

While the company recommended by Robert Ringgenberg is still there, we found a company that flew from the Rotorua lakefront for about the same price (NZD845, or a little less than $583, per person) called Volcanic Air (Rotorua, NZ; phone +64 7 348 9984, volcanicair.co.nz).

The flight and tour were amazing! We flew over many lakes on the way to the coast, and as we came close to White Island, the chopper flew around the island so passengers on both sides could glimpse the active volcano and crater.

We then landed and walked for a little over an hour. We saw the active steam vents (fumaroles) and vibrant sulfur formations. We also walked through the remnants of an old factory that once supported sulfur mining and had closed more than 80 years ago.

In Queenstown, we loved staying at Queenstown House (69 Hallenstein St.; phone +64 3 442 9043; queenstownhouse.co.nz). This bed-and-breakfast had a great view of downtown Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Although the rooms were very comfortable and breakfast was fantastic, our favorite part of the stay was the nightly happy hour, during which guests gathered outside on the patio (weather permitting) or in the common area to share a glass or two of wine and delicious hors d'oeuvres. Sitting back with other guests from around the world was truly special.

Everywhere we went, the people of New Zealand were extremely friendly and helpful, but the staff at Queenstown House took it to another level.

Outstanding in Australia

At a dinner party in Washington, DC, we had met an Australian Embassy employee who highly recommended we visit the Blue Mountains if we ever went to Australia. When planning this trip, we found that there were a number of day tours to the Blue Mountains from Sydney.

The trouble with most of the tours was that they were large group tours and/or incorporated visits to Katoomba Scenic World and Featherdale Wildlife Park, both of which are geared to the masses.

My continued search finally led us to Blue Mountains Eco Tours (phone +61 424 752 967, bluemountainsecotours.com) and owners Paul and Jenny. Once we read the hundreds of "excellent" reviews (99.9%) on TripAdvisor, we realized that this was the perfect company.

Paul has no subcontractors, and only he or his wife runs their tours.

Paul has a Land Rover that comfortably seats six. You can book a private tour or you can just book two seats, and if additional travelers book the same day, you will be in a larger group. We were joined by a lovely couple from Switzerland. The cost for this shared tour was $325 for two.

In the Land Rover, we were able to get to many places that tour buses (and crowds) couldn't. The views were exquisite.

Late in the afternoon, we visited a secret spot where we could view kangaroos lounging in a field. It was a perfect day in the Blue Mountains.

For a day trip to Kangaroo Island, we used Kangaroo Island Hire A Guide (phone +61 407 978 680, www.kiguide.com.au), owned by Luca Lovison, who was also our guide for the day. We found the company on Viator (viator.com).

As with other companies we found, travelers could book two seats in an SUV, and if others joined, it would become a small group. Ours turned out to be a private tour just for us ($518 for two, booked on Viator).

We took the ferry from the mainland to Kangaroo Island in the morning, arriving about 10, and returned on the last ferry at about 7:30 p.m.

Luca met us at the ferry terminal and took us on an excursion through Flinders Chase National Park. Along the way, we found koalas, walked with kangaroos in a field, watched sea lions play in the waves and saw some Remarkable Rocks.

Luca was a great guide, with lots of knowledge of wildlife and the island. I can't imagine a better way to see Kangaroo Island.

Ending in Asia

Singapore skyline as seen from the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Susan and I have traveled the world and have met many different guides. We are now fighting over whether Anna Ong (facebook.com/pg/singaporeprivatetourguide), a private guide we hired for a tour of Singapore, was the best guide we have ever had or the second best. (Susan's vote is that she is the best.)

Anna's knowledge, her passion for her city/country and her love for food were clearly evident. No one else we've found has ever imparted a clearer vision of the past, present and even the future of a particular destination on a tour. My only disappointment was that we could only spend one day with her.

Before you meet her, Anna's communication style is all business; some might consider her a bit cold, but we thought it was more a testament to her organizational skills and to making sure there were no misunderstandings. But once you hit the ground, it is all about you and how she can make your tour everything you could possibly hope for.

We found Anna on Viator Expert Tour Guides. A full-day walking tour, using public transportation, cost us SGD400 ($284). We will be returning to Singapore on our third trip around the world in April 2019 and plan on hiring Anna for an evening food-and-nightlife tour.

In fact, we have completed the planning for that upcoming trip, but this time, rather than use one of the airlines' 'round-the-world programs, we have purchased individual flight segments, sometimes with cash and sometimes with miles. Google Flights was a huge help in putting this jigsaw puzzle together, especially when many flights flew only a few days a week.  

We are also using the help of Myriam Grest Thein of Myanmar Travel (Yangon, Myanmar; phone +95 9 7325 9401, myanmartravel.net), whose tours have had featured articles written about them in ITN.  

We have stretched her services, requesting help in seeing seven countries concentrated in Southeast Asia and the Himalayas over 26 days. Overall, we will be stopping in 12 countries over 36 days.