Plane travel sucks. Yes, it’s convenient to get anywhere in the world in the span of hours, but everything else — the security, the food, the uncomfortable seats, the grumpy passengers, the overworked staff, the diseases in the air, the fact that we’re somehow more prone to crying while flying — is a nightmare.
The quickness and the convenience also conversely means you’re missing the entire world that’s turning under your plane — if you were to fly from the UK to Australia, for example, you would miss out on literally half the world, and many of its most interesting parts. So why not take it slow and see the world while you travel? We’ve put together an itinerary from the UK to Australia that keeps you out of airports, and that uses as many alternative modes of transport as possible, allowing you to really see the world you’re traveling through.
London, UK to Venice, Italy — The Orient Express
There are probably an infinite number of train routes you could use to get across Europe, and almost all of them would be cheaper than this — the Orient Express has a hefty price tag of $3,300 per person one-way. But good god, is it a cool way to travel: the route takes you through the Alps, the cars are 1930s vintage Pullmans, and you’re basically treated like you’re in a 5-star hotel. And you get to say you didn’t get murdered on the Orient Express (hopefully).
If you don’t want to pay for that, Eurostar and the continent’s extensive rail network will do just fine in a pinch.
Venice — Gondola
Back in the day, gondolas were the primary means of transportation around Venice. Not so anymore — they are mostly just for tourists. But you’re a tourist, and gondola rides can be both touristy and pretty damn cool at the same time, so lean into it.
Venice to Istanbul, Turkey — Car
We won’t fudge the route with a car at any other portion of the trip, so bear with us, here — while you could easily take a train or a bus from Venice to Istanbul, neither of those allow for the same flexibility, and flexibility is what you’ll want while crossing the Balkans. The region was known 20 years ago for the violence that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union, but now, it’s one of the best up-and-coming travel spots in the world.
This is, in large part, because the region is physically stunning. You could stop by Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, or visit King’s Landing in Dubrovnik, or drop by an actual magical wonderland at the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. The end goal is to drive across the Bosphorus Bridge, one of only three that connect Asia and Europe.
Istanbul to Cappadocia, Turkey — Bus
If you don’t want to take a detour south to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, where you can add sailboat to your modes of transport for this trip, catch a night bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia for this leg of the trip.
Cappadocia — Hot Air Balloon
Hot air balloon is possibly the least efficient way to get from one place to another (it relies a bit too heavily on the direction of the wind), but the view of Cappadocia’s bizarre chimney rock formations is particularly cool from the hot air balloon. It’s not gonna take you far on your journey, but it’s a good mode of transport to add to your list.
Cappadocia to Tabriz, Iran — Bus
This part of the world is seldom visited by tourists these days because of its proximity to Syria and Iraq. But the Caucuses are a beautiful part of the world, and the people are lovely — take a bus and take your time. This is an amazing spot for slow travel. But if you are in a rush, you can break up some of the longer bus stretches by hopping on Turkish Railways instead.
Across Iran & Pakistan — Hitchhiking
From the way Iran is typically portrayed in Western media, you could be forgiven for thinking it is not a place you would want to hitchhike across. But Matador contributor and consummate budget backpacker Will Hatton believes it is one of the better places in the world for this most low-budget of travel options, thanks to its extremely friendly people and its low costs. Hatton wrote a guide to both budget travel and hitchhiking in Iran (don’t do the traditional “thumbs out” for example, as it is an obscene gesture there), but if you are uncomfortable with the thought, the country has an excellent rail system, too.
Pakistan, if anything, has an even worse reputation in the west. But Hatton stands by hitchhiking and Couchsurfing across Pakistan. Often in Pakistan, tourists are required to have a police escort — but this can actually be a really cool cultural experience. He has a guide for hitchhiking Pakistan as well. For our trip, you’ll want to cross into India at Munabao so you can catch a cab to Jaisalmer for our next leg.
Jaisalmer, India, to Kerala, India — The Rickshaw Run
This is a bit of a detour, but it is one of the coolest detours you could possibly go on. Tour operators The Adventurists run a breakneck week-long race across India from Jaisalmer to Kerala in a rickety 3-wheeled auto rickshaw. There is no set route — you are merely given a starting and an ending point, so you will probably get lost and your rickshaw will probably break down — and they hold a giant party for you at the end. It is like the Cannonball Run, but with less reliable vehicles and in India. It is a must on any bucket list.
Kerala to Chennai, India — Train
Kerala is a favorite in India among travelers, and is one of the best spots in the country for eco-tourism (which might be a worthwhile cleanse after your rickshaw run). Chennai, on the other side of the continent’s lower peninsula, is one of the biggest cities in the country, and the capital of Tamil Nadu. We recommend popping down to Mahabalipuram or, if you’re into Life of Pi, the old French town of Pondicherry.
Chennai to Yangon, Myanmar — Cruise
It’s time to take to the sea — most travelers are fairly cynical about luxury cruises, but they’re just going to beaches in the Caribbean. You, instead, will be taking the Silversea Discoverer from Chennai to the Sundarbans Reserve, one of the last remaining homes of the endangered Bengal Tiger, to Bangladesh, and across the Bay of Bengal to Myanmar.
Yangon to Bangkok, Thailand — Bus and Cab
This is one of our more convoluted legs of the trip — check out the itinerary on the excellent trip-planning page, Rome2Rio. Myanmar is a tricky country to travel in — it’s (supposedly) coming out of decades of military dictatorship, and has recently been undergoing a horrific ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. Some have called for a travel boycott to the country, while others have argued against a boycott. We’re taking you through Myanmar because a) travel boycotts need to be broadly organized to be effective, and this one is not yet, and b) because otherwise, we’d have to throw in a pretty huge detour through Nepal and China. Regardless, this route is a hectic cab and bus past the beaches and through the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Bangkok to Singapore — The Eastern & Oriental Express
If you wanted to skip the Orient Express in Europe, try the (slightly) cheaper Eastern & Oriental Express from Bangkok to Singapore. It is, again, very cool and very expensive, and again, there are much cheaper ways of getting from place to place. If you decided to go bus or train, take pit stops at Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia before crossing to Singapore.
Singapore to Sydney, Australia — Freighter
If you don’t have time to island hop down to Australia, consider taking a luxury freighter. These are the freighters you’re thinking of — big box ships that deliver cargo to countries all over the world. But many of them offer spots to tourists, and they’re actually a pretty cool option — the ship from Singapore stops in Jakarta, and then loops around the western side of Australia to Fremantle, Adelaide, to Sydney.
It’s worth noting that if you don’t want to end the trip there, you could continue your journey by the same freighter line from Australia to Antarctica.