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Around-the-World Ticket Specialists Flying High

TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

While you sit home on a Sunday, scanning these pages and waiting for another workaday week to arrive, a few of your neighbors and co-workers are laying altogether different plans. Around-the-world plans.

Specialists in the field of round-the-world air fare planning say more Americans than ever are setting off on these global treks--including at least 650 departures per month through the three leading discount agencies in the field.

These travelers’ itineraries generally range from one month to one year. Their air fares usually run $1,200 to $2,200. And their demographics have never been more diverse. Consider these case studies:

* In Seattle on May 6, a couple of early-30s computer-company workers, having secured leaves of absence, will board a London flight. Then they will go by land to Istanbul, by air to Egypt and South Africa, by land to Zimbabwe. Then on to Mauritius, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tahiti and LAX, returning to Seattle in June 2000 after 13 months. Their air fares are about $3,600 each, spread among seven airlines.

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Travel agent Nicholas Kontis, whose San Francisco company booked the trip, reports that the Seattle couple’s overall budget calls for a mix of luxurious and spartan lodgings and works out to $20,000--about $50 per day.

* In San Francisco on July 2, a single, self-employed woman in her mid-40s will board a transpacific flight to Bali, Indonesia, then continue by land to Jakarta, Indonesia. Then Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, India (New Delhi, Cochin and Bombay), Egypt and--disdaining Europe entirely--a transatlantic flight back to San Francisco. She returns shortly before Christmas, after a little more than five months.

“The majority of our travelers are doing this as a couple,” says her San Francisco travel agent, Edward Hasbrouck. “But we get almost as many solo women as men.”

* In New York on May 1, a couple of 29-year-olds will set aside their jobs in finance and board a flight to London. Then they’ll cross Europe by land and board another plane from Greece to Turkey. Then to Jordan, then India and Nepal and Thailand and Indonesia and Australia (Brisbane and Melbourne) and New Zealand and Fiji and Los Angeles. The air fares for their six-month itinerary come to just over $3,000 each.

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“I don’t know if they’ve given notice or taken a leave,” says Hasbrouck, who booked this trip too. “But these are just the sort of people you’d think wouldn’t be doing this.”

The typical round-the-world customer these days, Kontis says, is “anybody 18 to 80. It’s not a bunch of kids bumming around the world. Kids don’t have [enough] money.”

Hasbrouck notes the growing numbers of self-employed and contract workers who are no longer limited to two or three vacation weeks yearly. Eimerd Evertsen, yet another San Francisco around-the-world specialist, recalls that when he started booking tickets in the 1980s, “a lot of the people who were traveling were the backpacking type, and younger. But I’ve seen a gradual change toward older people"--including many recent retirees.

Consumers and travel agents can book around-the-world itineraries (RTWs, in industry shorthand) through major airlines, which pass travelers on to their alliance partners to get them around the planet. A Consumer Reports Travel Letter survey showed economy-class RTW bookings via the airlines typically cost $2,570 or more. Discounters often have similar bookings for half that price.

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Indeed, discounted RTW bookings are a niche for the most ferocious travelers--and also for a uniquely well-briefed and logistics-happy breed of travel agent.

Hasbrouck, for instance, has been selling round-the-world tickets for nine years, and in 1997 wrote “The Practical Nomad,” a global travel guide published by Moon Publications. Hasbrouck has not only gone around the world twice, but he did it once on the much-maligned Aeroflot, the still-massive flagship of the former Soviet empire. (“I’d do it again,” Hasbrouck says. “San Francisco, Anchorage, Khabarovsk, Vladivostock, Irkutsk . . . ")

Three of the leading sources of RTW tickets, discounters who specialize in mixing and matching bookings on half a dozen or more airlines on a single itinerary, are all in San Francisco near Union Square. And the experts at those companies largely agree on many nuggets of advice for the prospective globe-spanner:

Don’t book less than a month in advance. Do a lot of research, both cultural and logistical. Get your shots and visas. Stay flexible. Don’t expect to travel using frequent-flier miles (several air carriers are usually involved) and, for the same reason, don’t expect to earn mileage in one tidy pile.

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Try to avoid peak flying seasons like late December and summer school vacations. Expect to pay as much as $1,000 extra for an itinerary that dips into the Southern Hemisphere, to Africa or Australia. Don’t expect everyone everywhere to speak English, but also don’t let language concerns scare you away.

Book lodgings as you go.

If your time is tight, says Evertsen, go west with the Earth’s rotation to minimize jet lag. Expect your stops to include a few of the most likely RTW suspects: London; Athens; Bangkok, Thailand; Sydney, Australia; Nairobi, Kenya; New Delhi and Bombay, India.

Also, if you’re eager to make cultural connections, give yourself at least one substantial overland portion. Remember that the less you hurry, the less it’s likely to cost. “The more continents you touch, the higher the price,” adds Evertsen. Also: “The more miles you travel, the higher the price, and the more airlines involved, the higher the price.”

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A list of three firms specializing in round-the-world trips follows. Keep in mind, however, that many other agencies book RTW itineraries on occasion.

* Air Brokers International, founded in 1987 by owner Eimerd Evertsen; telephone (800) 883-3273 or (415) 397-1383, Internet https: //www.airbrokers.com.

* High Adventure Travel Inc., where Edward Hasbrouck works, founded in 1987 by Jim Pilaar (now president); tel. (800) 350-0646 or (415) 912-5600, Internet https://www.airtreks.com.

* TicketPlanet, founded in 1997 by Nick Kontis after a falling-out with Evertsen; tel. (800) 799-8888 or (415) 288-9999, Internet https:// www.ticketplanet.com.

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Christopher Reynolds welcomes comments and suggestions, but cannot respond individually to letters and calls. Write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or send e-mail to chris.reynolds@latimes.com.


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