East vs West: Which is Best for Your RTW?

| June 7, 2010 | 9 Comments
compasseastwest East vs West: Which is Best for Your RTW?

Your personal preference is the most critical component in choosing a direction of travel

“Go East, young man” — Elvis Presley
“Go West, this is what we’re gonna do” — The Pet Shop Boys 

Is there any benefit to going in one direction over the other? This is a pretty common question among round-the-world (RTW) travellers. It was recently posed by a fellow Bootie on the BootsnAll forum who asked: 

My wife and I are planning a RTW . . . I’ve planned a tentative route leaving the US and heading east. This seems to be pretty common; in fact, I can’t recall reading a travel book or blog or post or anything where the travellers move west. My wife suggests we travel west, and she had a logical reason for wanting to go that way. I know conventional thinking isn’t always the best way to go but I have to ask the question: Is there any benefit to going one direction over the other? 

If you’d like to check out the thread that inspired the post, click here. In our opinion, there is no right or wrong direction—it all depends on factors such as where you start, the time of year, speed of travel, money, weather, routing and most importantly, personal preference. But you may want to consider the following few points. 

Starting Point

Asking our readers

Which direction is best for a RTW trip?

View Results

loading East vs West: Which is Best for Your RTW? Loading ...
 

A RTW trip’s direction of travel is often influenced by the region from which people are booking. We’ve found that the vast majority of Australians embarking on RTW trips travel east to west. On the other hand, a lot of UK travellers choose to travel west to east. This is of course due to a number of reasons—but one influencing factor is the availability of working holidays visas down under—which a lot of people use to continue their travels through Asia. Travelling west from Europe may mean that your itinerary could become front-loaded with relatively more expensive countries like the US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia—which might be the most expensive part of your trip. On the other hand, for people who start in South America, there’s a a greater selection of eastbound flights. Writes Neil from the BootsnAll forum: “There’s only one flight to Australia (or maybe New Zealand) from South America—and it’s expensive.” 

For our own RTW trip, we’ve decided to start in Central America before taking on South America—thanks to the advice of our readers to which we posed the following question: “Faced with the prospect of leaving North America in July on a long-term trip, where would you go?” (check out their answers in this post here). We were hoping to determine the best region to start from that would allow for easy onward travel while incurring the least expense. Hence, it looks like we are likely going to head east to Europe after Central and South America—which is in the direction of cheaper fares. 

Money

Western Europe, Japan, and North America can be the most expensive part of your trip. Eastern Europe can be both one of the cheapest and most rapidly changing parts of the world. Writes Twowander, from the aforementioned thread: “We figured our money would last longer if we hit Europe near the end or our trip. And money goes a lot farther in most Asian countries”. Another consideration is the cost of airfare—prices for RTW tickets often depend on the number of continents (or regions) you’re visiting. Some have limits on the number of flights that you can take in a given region. All of them (that we found, at least) don’t allow you tobacktrack after you’ve started, which could add incrementally to your costs. 

It looks like we’ll potentially be travelling through Europe in the middle of our year abroad—which concerns us a little bit owing to our budgetary constraints. We do take a little comfort in the fact that we are likely to arrive in Europe near the end of the summer; hence, costs will be mitigated somewhat by the fact that we’ll be travelling around the continent as shoulder season starts to take hold. For Western Europe, the months of April, May, September and October are considered prime travel time for those of us (ie backpackers, vagabonds and long term-travellers) who don’t have to worry about schedules and holidays. For more information on timing your itinerary, click here

Routing

If your RTW ticket requires you to head in a constant east or west direction, you’ll need to decide which direction you will choose before you depart. These fares require all travel be in a single continuous routing around the globe—and the itinerary must cross both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The trip may be in either east to west or west to east, and oftentimes backtracking is severely restricted. However, most directional fares allow for unlimited stopovers. 

Travelling west to places such as New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific from North America means that you can take advantage of the two-piece luggage system which allows for 64kg per person compared with a limit of 20kg elsewhere in the world. We suggest you pack your heaviest guide books. 

We’re still not sure whether or not we will choose to book a tradition RTW ticket. The emergence of long-haul low cost routes means that we might try to arrange and book their our RTW itineraries on the cheap, costing much less than a traditional RTW ticket—without the restrictions! Otherwise, we might consider using Air Treks (which we’ve enjoyed using in the past). 

Speed of Travel

A major factor in deciding which direction you take can be the speed with which you plan to travel. If you are on a quick RTW trip, then going westward may be an important considering, primarily because you won’t  have to successively get up earlier to catch your next flights. If you are going for, say, a year or more, this is all pretty meaningless, but if you are going for six months or less you’ll likely notice the difference and might want to consider travelling westward. 

Weather

When choosing your direction of travel, it’s likely that weather will be one of your considerations. Writes fellow Bootie Andromeda in the aforementioned forum thread: “Weather is by far the biggest factor—often it’s a lot easier to nab the better seasons in one direction or another, and this should take priority.” 

In an effort to make such planning easier, Babakoto.eu has developed an Excel travel planner. Their travel planner encompasses weather data from a number of countries and includes information about the best periods to travel in respect to average temperature and rainfall. Hence, the travel planner allows you to plan your trip through one or more destinations and can provide you with a starting point from which to consider your direction of travel—from the perspective of weather at the very least. 

Personal preference

Your personal preference is the most critical component in choosing a direction of travel. Direction of travel should suit—and complement—your individual needs, interests, hotels preferences and budget. However, do not base your direction on expenses alone, or you might let a few once-in-a-lifetime opportunities escape you! 

Conclusion

So what do you think? Is there any benefit to going in one direction over the other? What’s you preference: East or west? Have you embarked on a RTW trip in the past? Which direction of travel did you choose?


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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (9)

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  1. Alison says:


    We actually just wrote a post about our recent decision to switch our itinerary from going east to west from South America. While finding a flight from Argentina to Bangkok was a little more difficult than heading to North Africa, we’ll get the added bonus of a stopover in Australia, which we hadn’t really even considered before. The main reason we decided to change the direction of our trip was climate–we wanted to be able to trek in the Himalayas in spring (rather than winter, if we’d be going east), enjoy Morocco while it was warm outside, and avoid high tourist season in Egypt. If we’re lucky, too, we’ll be in Japan when it’s cherry blossom season. Going west isn’t all that much more expensive than going east, and having a perpetual spring of sorts is certainly worth a few extra dollars :)

    • Daniel says:


      Great insight, Alison—thank you very much for posting! Perpetual spring sounds ideal. I didn’t realize that Qantas flies direct from Buenos Aires to Sydney and, as you mentioned in your blog post, with reasonable rates if continuing on to Bangkok. We’ll have to look at this option when the time comes!


  2. I dont think it matters… just GET YOURSELF OUT THERE :-)

  3. Skott and Shawna says:


    Well, after much consideration, we have decided to go….south!!! It looks like our first stop will be somewhere in Guatemala…and after that East seems to be the way to go, as flights from South America to Oz are crazy expensive!!!

  4. Jill says:


    We decided to go hit China first… that’s West, right? Initially, we were going to south first to South America and head East. Anyway, after we came up with the itinerary and departure date, and laying out the countries against how long we’re planning to stay — we found out that by going east we’ll hit Russia in the middle of the winter.

    Hah, that’s no good… so that’s why we flip the list and will be heading to China in April.


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