Around the World in Four Easy Lessons

By Maryann Haggerty
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 13, 2009

We did laundry in Honolulu, Hong Kong and Madrid.

Oh, and in a bathtub in Bali.

This summer, my husband and I, both well past backpacker age, traveled around the world in 29 days. That's an average of less than four days in each of the eight countries we visited. It was exhilarating, exhausting and, of course, the trip of a lifetime.

I could drone on about the splendor of the Taj Mahal at dawn, the sensory assault of Tokyo's Shinjuku district at night and the welcoming off-hours ambiance of that dim little heavy-metal bar in Barcelona. But don't worry. I know what you really want to know: How did we plan this? And what did we pack?

We learned a notebook's worth of lessons: Fly east to west, don't take a trip like this unless your marriage is strong and, perhaps most important, yes, it's possible to travel around the world even when, like most Americans', your vacation time is scarce.

Lesson No. 1: When planning, remember: It's your trip.

Not surprisingly, we cooked up the idea of traveling around the world over a pitcher of beer.

Late last year, we were trying to agree on a really spectacular vacation to commemorate, among other things, a milestone birthday. Southeast Asia? The European Grand Tour? As we sat in our corner bar, we kept adding possibilities, making things more and more complicated, until my husband brought up the big one: Why not around the world?

Yeah, sure. Who has the time for that? Or the money?

Nonetheless, I began reading books and trawling Web sites. There is an accepted template for what's called RTW travel. You must do it slowly -- say, at least six months or a year. You must get off the beaten path, disdaining all those things that regular tourists are there to see, such as renowned museums or the Great Pyramids. You should probably carry a backpack, stay in the cheapest place in town and wash your clothes in the sink.

And you absolutely, positively must go to Thailand.

This didn't work for us. We had jobs we couldn't leave for long. And we didn't see the appeal in sharing cold-water showers in a $10-a-night hostel.

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