A few weeks ago, Fly.com conducted a survey to identify the top 10 destinations where American travelers would most like to travel to in 2013 if money and time were no object. At the top of the list was Italy, followed by Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and France. South Africa brought up the rear in the number 10 spot.
This got us to thinking. If money and time were really no object, why select just one destination for your trip? Isn't there a way to efficiently package up several destinations at once? And what if you had a desire to visit all 7 continents...how many trips would that take?
It turns out, according to our math and some very savvy planning, you can visit all seven continents in just three trips - assuming you depart from North America (and eliminate the home continent). Here is how it can be done:
EUROPE & AFRICA
You can easily stop off in both Europe and Africa in a single vacation that requires just one roundtrip flight. The trip includes Spain's southern coast and Tangier, Morocco. And while it might not be the African-safari adventure you had envisioned, you will get to step foot in an exotic North African city - not to mention soak up some sun in Spain along the way.
First, fly to Malaga, Spain. This will require at least one connection in Europe if you are using a major airline carrier. You can also opt to fly to Madrid or Barcelona and then make your way south. However you eventually want to end up in Tarifa on the southernmost tip of Spain, where daily ferries run to Tangier, Morocco. There you can spend a delightful day exploring sights like The Caves of Hercules and the Palace of the Kasbah. But why spend just a day when you can stay for a couple nights before heading back to Spain?
One thing to remember for this trip is that Spain's peak summer months (June-August) are very crowded and this can drive up the cost of both flights and accommodation. Instead September and October, when the weather is still warm enough for sunbathing (temperatures in the mid 70s), can often result in cheap flights, better hotel deals and quieter Mediterranean beaches.
AUSTRALIA & ASIA
Due to the long distance and expense of getting to Asia or Australia, it makes sense to combine these two continents into one trip if you are interested in visiting both destinations. And the great news is that there are literally dozens of itinerary options.
If you are planning the trip on your own, you might want to check out some of the air passes that different airlines offer so that you can visit multiple cities and save on flights. Virgin Australia has an air pass that allows you to fly to several cities within Australia and Asia starting at about $100 per flight. The oneworld alliance also has a similar pass for travel within Asia. Its Visit Asia Pass covers 50 cities and, best of all, you only have to confirm the first segment of your itinerary - so you can leave the other elements of your trip open ended and travel around at your leisure.
However this type of vacation is definitely one that you'll want to dedicate a couple weeks to because a lot of time will be spent in the sky, as well as acclimatizing to different time zones.
The best time to travel depends on what you'd like to get out of the trip. You'll find better airfare deals from the U.S. to Asia during the winter months, but keep in mind cities like Shanghai and Beijing will be quite cold. On the plus side you will be able to warm up in Australia afterwards, where the summer months take place from December-February.
SOUTH AMERICA & ANTARCTICA
Ever wanted to dance the tango and then hang out with penguins in the South Pole? It may seem strange to put these two very different experiences together, but Antarctica cruises from Argentina are becoming increasingly popular.
One of the best ways to make this trip is to fly to Buenos Aires and then spend a couple nights in town before catching an internal flight to Ushuaia on Argentina's southernmost tip. Most of the smaller ships that sail to Antarctica depart out of Ushuaia. And taking a smaller ship (less than 100 passengers) is a good option if you are interested in shore landings, because groups of more than 100 passengers are prohibited from going ashore in Antarctica at one time.
That said, if you would rather enjoy Antarctica from the comfort of your cruise ship, several large vessels do "cruise-only" trips to Antarctica directly from Buenos Aires. With this option you also avoid the cost of an extra flight to the port in Ushuaia.
The best time to travel is January or February. This is Argentina's summer, as well as the tourist season in Antarctica. Plus the weather in Antarctica at this time isn't as cold as you would think. In fact, temperatures range from 30 degrees to the low 40s (warmer than most places in the U.S. during the winter).
However the catch is that flights to South America aren't cheap. From New York City to Buenos Aires, expect to pay around $1,000-$1,200 roundtrip with tax, or $1,300-$1,400 from Los Angeles. When it comes to the cruise itself, the cost varies greatly depending on the type of cruise ship and the itinerary involved. A cabin on a small ship starts at $5,000 per person. Large vessel ships with departures out of Buenos Aires are less expensive (around $2,000 per person) but are longer and make multiple stops in South America.
You can off-set some of the transportation costs when on the ground though. Favorable exchange rates in Argentina mean that you can drink Malbec wine, dine at mouthwatering Argentinian steakhouses and see the sights -- all for a fraction of what you'd expect to pay for similar experiences back home.
-- Allison Hollins and Michelle Erickson