3 Avoidable Mistakes I Made On My RTW Travels

by brian on December 24, 2009

Michael from The Mobile Lawyer nominated me to write about ’3 Avoidable Mistakes I Made’ on my round the world trip and what I learned from them.

What would I change about my round the world trip?

Honestly not much, but I did make a few mistakes that if I had the time machine to go back and fix, I would.
Mind you none of these are deal breakers and would jump on the plane to Hawaii all over again. Would avoiding these things have made my trip a little less stressful and save me some money? Absolutely.

Too many options can be a bad thing
I got used to booking tickets at the last minute in London. It was such a great jumping off point with trains from central London to both Heathrow and Gatwick airports that I reveled in the possibilities. Where should I go today? Athens? Paris? Amsterdam? Istanbul?

The bevy of options meant that I often booked last minute and didn’t always get the best deals. I paid more than I should have for flights. Hostels were inexpensive and abundant already so I never worried about finding a place to put my head at night. Planning that far in advance might have killed the spontaneity of the adventure but my wallet would have had a few more euros in it.

This is not just for planes. Eurostar was running a deal London to Paris for about $60US round trip when the usual price was significantly more than that. But you had to book at least 14 days in advance.

**Lesson 1: Get your tickets as far in advance as you possibly can. Or make a decision as quickly as possible and stick to it. It will work out!**

Thai tuk-tuk drivers and other scammers
There are all kinds of scams and semi-scams. By semi-scams I mean people are not outright robbing you, but they put you in situations where you normally would not spend money.
“I need to get a gas card. I take you to good shop, OK. You need suits?”
“You have girlfriend? Let me take you place with nice pretty stones.”

The Thai tuk-tuk drivers pulled that number so much that I created a video about it.

China has the young women who invite you into art galleries and pressure you into buying paintings or invite you to lunch and then leave you with a huge bill.
In Morocco, someone invited me to have tea…at his friend’s shop…which happened to sell jewelry and other baubles. Hmmmm…what do we think is going to happen here? The hard sell, that’s what.
In Barcelona and Rome, people engage you in conversation, act confused, feign a medical condition or play pretend football (soccer) with you to distract you. Meantime someone else is lifting your wallet or cutting open your pursue.
**Lesson 2: Research scams in the area you’re going to visit. Better yet, start talking to current visitors about what to avoid as soon as you arrive. The locals may not want to tell you, not to be malicious, but feeling it is impolite to talk badly about their countrymen and women.**

One Way Tickets are a No No
Flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong, I changed my scheduled a number of times. Since I didn’t know when I was going to leave Hong Kong, I didn’t bother print out a new itinerary.

When I got to my Thai Air flight check-in at the airport in Bangkok, I got the 4th degree in questioning…

Where are you going?

How long will you be in Hong Kong? – I’m in Bangkok still!

This went on for a good 20 minutes, with me explaining I didn’t have an itinerary and them wanting one showing I was going to leave Thailand at some point.

Then I learned you better have a departure ticket from anywhere you go in the world. I’m sure some countries are more lenient than others but Thai Air was not going to let me get on the flight to Hong Kong.

Illegal immigration is probably the prime reason. Too many people come with a one way ticket, overstay their visa and then they disappear into the populace. Bangkok is the air traffic hub for Southeast Asia, so many countries probably draw their line in the stand there before they land in their countries.

The Thai Air counter employees were extremely polite, but they were not going to let me on the flight. I had to run through the airport, use an expensive Internet cafe and then print the itinerary. Sucks yes, but it had to be done.
**Lesson 3: Have a departure ticket for any place you’re visiting and have the latest itinerary printed before you go to the airport/bus terminal/seaport/border crossing.**

468x60 3 Avoidable Mistakes I Made On My RTW Travels

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Lucanos December 24, 2009 at 10:55 AM

I have to agree with the first two points, but disagree with the last.

I spent 10 months wandering around South East Asia, into and out of Thailand a number of times, same thing with Macau, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Singapore.

I was never asked for proof of onward travel.

In fact, in many cases, trying to do so would have been impossible, as I had planned to (and did) travel between many countries by land crossings. Those few countries I had to fly into (Myanmar, or a jump from HK to Bangkok to avoid buying additional Visas) were on oneway tickets and the Immigration officials at all ends didn't bat an eyelid at it.

I know some airlines have policies where they want you to have a return ticket, or an onward travel ticket before they will board you, but that is rarely (and in my case, never) enforced.


Adia December 24, 2009 at 9:53 PM

I am collecting all of the advice so we can make our family world worn travelers. Thanks for the tips! Be blessed.


brian December 24, 2009 at 10:10 PM

You said it yourself:

"I know some airlines have policies where they want you to have a return ticket"

I'm here verifying it. It may have been because you used land crossings or Hong Kong/China may have stricter policies, but it has happened to me and it has happened to others.

A quick Google search will show others have been through the same thing.

Does not matter if the odds are low. There is still a chance to be stopped.

You are welcome!


Lucanos December 25, 2009 at 12:24 AM

@brian: I understand that it is a solid rule in some places, and has been applied in a more hit-and-miss fashion in others. I am simply saying it is not a certain, 100% guaranteed, stake your house on it rule that you cannot fly into places on a one-way ticket.

Maybe it is dependant on your nationality, or any one of a million other factors – I am just saying, for the sake of accuracy, that buying return or onwards tickets before setting foot out the door is not a necessity. And, in my experience, buying tickets as you go tends to allow you to 1) have a greater degree of flexibility, 2) pay alot less (tickets bought in Bangkok were half the price of the same ticket bought in Sydney and even cheaper than tickets bought direct from airlines online).

By all means, research whether the country (or countries) you are travelling to demand proof of onward travel, and check forms to see what the real story, on the ground, is. But saying that you must have all your tickets before you set out is incorrect, and, if anything, an even more common avoidable mistake people make when travelling.


brian December 25, 2009 at 12:52 AM

Yep I agree it's not a 100% hard and fast rule. The problem is that you have no idea where this issue might pop up.

I've looked since that time and I never saw any consistent policy, whether by airline or country leaving or entering where this might applied.

For me after nearly missing my flight, I would tell people the same thing, get the return ticket if you know your dates to avoid any hassles.

Travelers will have to take that chance if they don't get the departure ticket.


Lisa December 26, 2009 at 11:13 AM

Brian, I appreciate your comment on Twitter about leaving comments on blog sites with regular posts. As a blogger I appreciate it. I just wanted stop by today and check things out. You sound like a thoughtful adventurer–a nice blend. Good luck to you on your site. I will try to stop by now and again to check things out. I am a traveler but on a much more limited scope. I am a teacher and a single mom. I make a trek somewhere each year, so your advice just might be helpful. :) Have a great New Year filled with many adventures, Lisa :)


morganne December 26, 2009 at 10:35 PM

I recently tried to buy a one way ticket to South America not knowing when or from where I would leave. I was told by American Airlines I would be forced to buy a return flight when I checked in to leave from my home airport if I couldn't provide evidence of a return flight from any airline.

I went ahead and bought a r/t flight leaving out of the same airport I flew into (Lima) for four months later. What the agent failed to mention, is that I would need a visa since it appeared as if I was staying in Peru for longer than the allotted 90 days. I knew I'd be leaving the country well within 90 days but I didn't have any tickets or purchased itineraries to prove it. End result – I had to change my return ticket to within 90 days before they'd check me in. But I'll change it again later!


Adam December 27, 2009 at 12:20 AM

This is great information – thank you!

I've had to show proof of onward travel in various places, but I'm definitely planning on doing my RTW with one-way tickets and partly-unscheduled itineraries so I'll have to pay attention to that.


brian December 27, 2009 at 1:56 PM

@Lisa (aka LadyWanderlust)
Well thanks for stopping by Lisa. Here's to hoping you get out and see what you want to see in 2010!

Yup, I've heard of this and of people being sent RIGHT back on the next flight out to the place of origin if they didn't have proof of a departure ticket.

Literally, they were put back on the same plane they just got off of and sent back at the airline's/country's expense. The passenger did not have to pay, but he could not stay!

I'd be real curious to see how this goes over, especially with the bomber in Detriot coming over on a one-way ticket.

I feel a serious crackdown coming on…


Michael December 27, 2009 at 4:02 PM

I think mistakes are a good thing. Their a great way to learn and move forward.

1. Most of the time yes it's true booking in advance can save you tons of cash. I found most of tons of cash you'd be saving is on long distance flights. As soon as you book maybe 2 weeks in advance, you're going to get a great deal anyway on budget airlines. I'd rather pay a little more for a lot more freedom

3. I've travel all through Asia, SE Asia, Australia, and South America never getting questioned. Oz questioned me for 5 minute thing but I showed proof of my credit cards, cash, and statements that I have enough money to leave. It's not that they are scared you wont leave, it's that they want to make sure you have enough to even leave. Don't think this is required. Speak proper, dress well for customs, and be honest. No issues.


No Hurry Curry December 28, 2009 at 9:19 AM

Good advice! We have a couple posts coming up on Bangkok scams as well – we fell for the suit store scam ourselves (but fortunately didn't buy a suit). Wish we would have read this first!


brian December 28, 2009 at 10:11 AM

I think it is more than being calm and dressed nicely. I wasn't even dealing with customs or airport security. I was dealing with the Thai Air ticket agent to get on the flight. Hong Kong/China reasoning may be different than Australia but the possibility is there.

As someone else commented here, she was forced to buy the round trip before she was even allowed to leave her home country.

@No Hurry Curry
Yeah the tuk-tuk drivers will get you every time. They have the whole thing down to a science.


Dave and Deb December 31, 2009 at 4:02 AM

We always chance it with a one way ticket ourselves. Sounds like you had some bad luck with yours, or maybe we have just always had good luck. We tend to keep moving forward instead of back tracking so return tickets are kind of impossible. But people are warned all of the time about buying one way.
Bummer you had the tuk tuk scam happen to you. I have heard about it many times, but we have managed to avoid it ourselves. We have fallen prey to other scams however in our travels and all I can say is "at least we are all living and learning from the mistakes eh?"


AirTreks Nico January 4, 2010 at 4:46 PM

It's possible to use one way tickets to set up a RTW itinerary. As a company that sells RTW tickets I can say it allows us to have a business. At the same time, it's always advisable to have an onward ticket when you arrive in a country. If it isn't possible some harassment should be expected. Having said that, there are places that require the onward ticket and those need to be paid attention to.

Countries in SE Asia don't require that and the laid back attitude, especially at border crossings, makes leisurely country-hopping quite common. Perhaps that's why so many people love to wander around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, etc.

I absolutely agree with the advice on buying tickets far in advance. Sure it gives you a freedom you wouldn't have otherwise, but I always prefer to have the extra saved by taking advantage of cheaper fares.


brian January 4, 2010 at 5:09 PM

@Dave and Deb
The tuk tuk thing wasn't such a bad deal. Nice suits, but I didn't really need them.

@AirTreks Nico
Hong Kong is under Chinese control so that may be the reason why they had an issue.

If you know of any directories that show the requirements for entry for countries, one-way ticket or otherwise, please let us know. Being in the ticket broker biz you might have that info readily available.


Kristi January 10, 2010 at 6:55 PM

I encountered a similar issue even with a round-trip ticket a few years ago when flying to New Zealand from the US (where I'm from). My sister had made separate arrangements for us to fly from NZ to Australia which was where my return ticket departed from, but I didn't have the flight information for leaving NZ with me at LAX. American Airlines wouldn't let me on the flight until I called home & had someone email it to the AA counter. Now I make sure I have the info. with me!


David January 12, 2010 at 4:39 AM

I'm planning extensive travel and point #3 is an issue where there is a great deal of disagreement.

I am, however, confused a bit by your experience in that the issue was resolved not by your buying a forwarding ticket but simply by your printing out an updated itinerary.

Even in the D.C. Myanmar Embassy, where the policy is that all visitors need a round-trip/forwarding ticket to receive a visa, a printed out itinerary (even for an independent traveler) was enough to get the visa.

I would prefer to travel by surface as much as possible and buy plane tickets as I go but the chatter on this issue still has me undecided.


brian January 12, 2010 at 10:47 AM

That seems to be the case. If you don't have the information, you either have to get it verified by the ticket agent or buy a ticket before you get on a flight, as some people have been forced to do.

There is a lot of disagreement because the countries/airlines are not consistent. Some people have no problem with Australia and some people have not been able to get on flights. I had a problem getting to Hong Kong and others have not. I already had the ticket I just didn't print it out.

I wish I had a better answer for you. For every bad story there is someone who floated thru with no problem whatsoever and no one has any idea what the criteria for scrutiny is.

I think you MAY have less trouble if you are traveling by ground. In the air is a different story. No guarantee on that.

I still believe with the Crotchbomber coming on a one-way ticket to Detroit, many more nations will crack down on one way tickets. When the US makes a change in policy, many countries reciprocate. The one-way tickets I think won't be an exception.


Mosher April 21, 2010 at 4:06 AM

I managed to get into Oz without a visa (full story here: http://www.moshtour.me.uk/2006/08/so-i-do-need-a-visa/) pretty much by accident when I flew in for the first time from Singapore.

I actually *had* an onward ticket – one of the very few I purchased during 3+ years of travelling. I wasn't asked for it. In fact, while they were sorting out the visa thing I offered it and the chap dealing with me actually thought about it a while before saying "oh, go on – I'll take a copy as you have it".

This from a country that's – apparently – very concerned and has issues with illegal immigration.

A similar major issue I've had and heard people talk about is not having accommodation pre-booked on arrival. I got the third degree on another visit to Oz because I was staying with friends and didn't have the address on me – they were collecting me from the airport.

In Bangladesh it was a similar problem. Someone else was collecting us and had organised our hotel. We didn't know the details.

Another friend was held at a US airport for 4 hours as we didn't fill in an address on his immigration card – he was going to book a hostel from the kiosk when he landed. If he'd lied and put any old thing down then he'd have strolled right through immigration. Go figure.


brian April 22, 2010 at 11:58 AM

I like to have at least the accommodations set when I arrive in a country. Not interested in sleeping on park benches or airport terminals or being forced into am expensive and/or crappy place because all the decent places are booked.
Only time I remember being asked about where I am staying was arriving in London.


Linda June 28, 2011 at 7:03 AM

The same thing happened to us the last time we flew to Panama. We knew we’d have to leave within 90 days (visa restrictions) and but we hadn’t made the flight reservations yet. Fortunately we’d already purchased tickets for a cruise four months out and had an email confirmation. The ticket agent made us forward the confirmation email to him before he’d issue the boarding passes.

After he gave us the passes he mentioned that we could have given him a printout of any itinerary. So next time we’ll make sure to create a trip on Kayak and print it out.

Either that, or we’ll book and pay for tickets that will give us a full refund later.


brian July 3, 2011 at 4:54 PM

Thanks Linda. People still don’t believe that it does not happen but I’m glad there are other people chiming in. If it hasn’t happened to you, you’ve been lucky. As terrorism and immigration become bigger and bigger issues, they will have to addressed. Making sure you can/will leave the country is the only way govts and airlines can do it.


Luke March 13, 2012 at 3:08 PM

This is so frustrating, I would prefer a system where you deposit money into a locked account where you spend it on an onward ticket when you are required to leave(maybe that is a good business idea). I’m sure if some-one wanted to illegally immigrate or crutchbomb the extra cost of the return would not deter them.


brian March 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM

Interesting idea, but not sure if it is feasible. There is no incentive for the airlines to accept this. They want your money now, not in escrow.


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