East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Money, or courage (maybe recklessness, imagination for sure)

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Looks like I might need 15.000 euro, at least according to yesterday’s local newspaper, that did a short piece about a railway travel company that’s offering an Around the World by Rail package, covering 20 cities in 14 countries over a period of 56 days.
And really, to travel around the world by train?
That would be a great way to spend my final days (because really, putting together that kind of money by saving on books and movie tickets might require a few decades).

The trip as presented touches London, Geneva, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Moscow, Ulaanbaatar, Beijing, Xian, Hong Kong, Perth, Sydney, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Grand Junction, Zion National Park, Chicago and New York City. It is not clear if once in New York you’re on your own, or if they’ll pack you back to London, this being hypothetically a round trip.

The 15 grands ticket is the most basic – if you want all the perks, the Museum passes and the guided tours, a private room and various whistles and bells you’ve got to double that figure.

So yes, it would be my sort of thing.
More or less.
I don’t like package tours because when you take a package tour you basically trade part of your freedom for practicalities such as, in the case of this around-the-world trip, visas and related bureaucracy.

Also, while I like the general plan of the trip, I’d rather avoid Venice and go to Trieste instead. And also, it would be fun to cross the pacific from Sidney and get to Peru, and then travel up the Andes Cordillera, across Central America and finally to Los Angeles. It would probably make the trip longer by a week, and it might lead to a few “hot” places, and probably that’s the reason why the planned route goes the way it goes.

Sadly, in the last two decades the conditions that would allow a proper ’round the world train trip have deteriorated.
And this is a pity, because while the all-in-one package mentioned above is quite good, I have this idea that with a modicum of work it would be possible to do the same trip for much less, or even plan a better one, touching more interesting places.
Indeed, it’s the sort of thing that I, were younger and unattached, might even try given my general situation.
After all, one of the reasons why I wanted to be a geologist was to travel the world. I hope you all appreciate the irony, me being now stuck in this backwater country village in which there is not even a train station, for the rest of my existence.

But dreaming is free, like Blondie used to sing, and so why not?
There are the tools to set up such a trip independently.

Like, the California Zephyr train connects Chicago with San Francisco, takes about 52 hours, and costs about 200 bucks.
That’s one leg of the trip. One of the easier and cheaper, of course, but hey, it’s a start! All it takes is research, and a modicum of courage.
Possibly a bit of recklessness.

And I mention recklessness because, while package tours love to describe their offer as “an adventure”, the true adventure starts beyond the package. Planning such a project is an adventure in itself, and it requires imagination, resourcefulness, adaptability and yes, courage.

In my case, I’d start by looking for sponsors, while I plan my route and check the visas and permits and everything else.
I could blog about my trip as I go (affiliate marketing).
I could take photos (might look for a magazine interested in the material), interview people on the road (ditto) – and that’s a book in the making.
Given my general philosophy, I’d try and travel light (check with a sportswear retailer for a sponsorship) and possibly follow a literary route of sorts: that’s why I’d prefer to touch down in Trieste rather than Venice, and why I’d take a detour to Shanghai. And I’d have to find a way to work India into the tour.
The point, in looking for sponsors – this is something I learned from my brother, that used to work with sponsors organizing concerts – is you don’t want the sponsors to take control of your project. It must never come to the point where you say, OK, I’ll go to that place because I don’t give a damn, but the sponsor would be happy.

There would be books to read, maps to check, languages to discover.
Just think about the foods one might taste – indeed, one could plan a trip around the world only following a gourmet itinerary.
Or a literary one.
There’s a company offering a package tour that touches movie locations.
Or one could use history as a guide.
Echoes of Travels with Herodotus

I would also start, while I look for trains and places and ideas, to work out and get back on my feet – because traveling is a physical activity, and you can’t face a travel around the world with bad feet, short breath or joint pains. But getting back in shape would be another adventure in itself, and might lead to further developments.

Because as soon as you leave the package behind, you are in an uncharted territory – and we have already discussed how in the last few years I have started adapting to a course that is by all means uncharted (and I find it funny that I end up talking about uncharted routes in a post illustrated only with maps)

So yes, I would love to do this sort of thing, and it would be great to live in a world in which picking up your bag and go was easier, and considered more normal.
I’d do it, if only I could. I would not be the first, and hopefully I would not be the last, trying to do something similar.
It would be – I believe – a lot cheaper than the full package described above. After all, that’s true with a lot of things in this world – you need money, or you can use a bit of courage and imagination.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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