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Fly to 6 Continents in Style (flightfox.com)
240 points by laumac on Aug 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

But what about that elusive 7th continent? Here's one possible way to check that off your list. Find a research lab that is doing Antarctic Research and apply to join them as a volunteer. There are often positions for volunteers. As you can imagine, these are quite popular so it may be a difficult route, but it seems like there is always a need for people with electronics and computer skills. There are also job openings, eg http://www.usap.gov/jobsAndOpportunities/.

It may cost you your time, but possibly not much else. I went to Palmer Station as a volunteer on an oceanographic research cruise and was able to use my travel stipend to stay in Chile for a few weeks afterward. For all my hard work I also received the Antarctic Service Medal [1]. (Not exactly sure why since I was not affiliated with the Military!). Definitely one of the best deals of my life.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctica_Service_Medal

My friend Phil Jacobsen has worked for several years in Antarctica at McMurdo, starting as a dishwasher, and moving up to better jobs in subsequent years. He wrote a very interesting account of a side-trip to the South Pole here: http://www.salon.com/2003/01/23/bigchill/

For those interested in working at Antarctica, check out the Big Dead Place:


From the old Antarctica FAQ on working there:

  First time is for the adventure, 
  Second time for the money, 
  And third because you can't work anywhere else 

How many continents are there, really. The answer isn't necessarily 7.

“Remove the ice sheet that covers Antarctica and you reveal it for the archipelago it really is, not the single land mass it pretends to be. And, to complicate matters, the largest of these Antarctic Islands is smaller than Australia. So if you want to keep calling Antarctica a continent, then there’s a bunch of other islands that might want to be continents too. Islands like New Guinea, Borneo, Madagascar, Baffin Island, Sumatra, and Honshu.”


Would love to read a bit more about your experiences, that sounds like a ton of fun! Consider this a request for a blog post.

Agreed, I would absolutely love to read this and share it with my mother. She's a huge nerd for expeditionary travel and research.

Seconded, this sounds like a fascinating read.

I was looking at the winterover Raytheon satellite engineer job for a while, too, at McMurdo. Unfortunately I can't justify taking a year off of my life now, but it would be really fun to do someday. (winterover would be more attractive than being part of a huge manned outpost in the austral summer, to me).

So this is pretty cool and everything, but the frustrating thing for me is I would love to see the itineraries that won, but I keep getting greeted with a "only the contest owner can view flight details." I'd love to see this opened up - I think it would build a lot more trust in their platform.

Hi rj,

Here are the details for the economy itinerary, which was $1730 for 6 Continents. We're working with the expert of the business class itinerary to see what details he's happy for us to post.

   JFK 18-Oct-2012 GEO 18-Oct-2012 Delta (New York, US to Georgetown, Guyana)
   GEO 25-Oct-2012 JFK 25-Oct-2012 Delta (Georgetown, Guyana to New York, US)
   JFK 14-Nov-2012 TXL 15-Nov-2012 Air Berlin (New York, US to Berlin, Germany)
   SXF 29-Jan-2013 AGA 29-Jan-2013 EasyJet (Berlin, Germany to Agadir, Morocco)
   AGA 05-Feb-2013 LGW 05-Feb-2013 EasyJet (Agadir, Morocco to London, UK)
   LTN 26-Feb-2013 SAW 26-Feb-2013 EasyJet (London, UK to Istanbul, Turkey)
   SAW 18-Mar-2013 IKA 19-Mar-2013 Pegasus (Istanbul, Turkey to Tehran, Iran)
   IKA 29-Mar-2013 KUL 30-Mar-2013 AirAsia (Tehran, Iran to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
   KUL 02-Apr-2013 PER 02-Apr-2013 AirAsia (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Perth, Australia - YAY!)
   PER 07-Apr-2013 KUL 07-Apr-2013 AirAsia (Perth, Australia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
   KUL 09-Apr-2013 BKK 09-Apr-2013 AirAsia (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand)
   BKK 18-Apr-2013 KBP 18-Apr-2013 Aerosvit (Bangkok, Thailand to Kiev, Ukraine)
   KBP 18-Apr-2013 JFK 18-Apr-2013 Aerosvit (Kiev, Ukraine to New York, US)

Would it not make sense to enable public viewing for it on the site - at least in instances like above where you are happy to let people know?

I feel the rough cost should be promoted up front, I remember the last time you did one of these promo contests (or at least the last time one was on HN) I found it interesting, then was put off by the fact that you didn't allow viewing of the winning itinerary, and the fact that information on the service didn't seem to be as accessible as it could have been... I then completely forgot about you.

This time I clicked around, entered some information and saw the prices - and signed up to pay for a search. If the results are good, or even suggest promise for the future, I'll be sure to remember you. But I'm not sure I would have done any of this if a.) I wasn't sat here watching a football (soccer) match that's boring the hell out of me and b.) Next week I need to go on a trip to two cities in hopefully a single day, i.e. good timing

Edit: More feedback, would be nice to have more flexibility in requesting flight details. For example my trip next week, I don't care what day it's on (any of Mon-Fri would be fine), but I don't want to put +/- 3 days because I don't want one flight Monday and the next on Friday. Additionally I want to go to two cities, I don't care in which order. Maybe you could take a look at my notes on http://flightfox.com/contest/23238 and tell me a.) If it's OK that I specified them there and b.) If it might be possible to be able to specify them somewhere more efficient rather than just writing prose

Hi corin_5, coincidentally we're working on improved date flexibility right now. You'll be able to specify before/after and many more day period options. We're doing the same for passenger type. Not just adults, but students, infants, etc.

We can't enable public viewing because the experts don't want to divulge their most prized tips and tricks to the wider public. This is their livelihood, and we are mostly holding these contests to test their skills and proving something more interesting that the typical simple return trips.

Glad you're giving us a go. Please let us know if you have any issues or questions.

Another piece of flexibility feedback - wildcard destinations, for finding a decent priced holiday (obviously with some guidance on rough location). I guess this is possible from the competition you just ran, but I must have missed the option.

As to the reasons for not enabling public viewing... as you've publicly shared here on HN, could you not at least share that much on the site? Alternatively could you not offer an option for people to "buy it now", to use an ebay phrase? Or would the necessary price tag be too high for most people to be interested?

p.s. The 5 was attached to the number of minutes, not my name! ;D

Great point re destinations. You can actually do wildcard destinations right now, but it's just not obvious. We have an autocomplete function on the airport box, but you can enter anything you want. As you'll see on the RTW contests, we just entered "Round the World" for 'from' city and "6 Continents" for the 'to' city.

That said, we need to make this more obvious and probably tease out more adventurous use of this feature. Thanks for the feedback.

I think corin_5 was suggesting more that you have the option to display more info on a case by case bases. I understand why you don't show detailed information for all contests by default. But on high profile contests, that you have permission from the expert, it would make sense for you to have the option to show detailed information.

I agree - if you could put this on the site, at least for your FlightFox sponsored contests, I think that would be pretty powerful marketing material.

I was curious to see how the prices broke down and made a spreadsheet:


My total was $2617. I know flight prices change over time, but I'm guessing that whoever found this took advantage of some promotions or booking methods other than buying directly from the airline?

The rules for economy were that to be freely bookable online. The contest was a while ago now though so the same deals they took advantage of probably ended.

So, this requires essentially being gone for 4 continuous months in order to get these prices?

I'm not sure how amazing that is really. That's also 4 months of living on the road, hotels, meals, etc.

If you wanted to visit all 6 continents, it seems like you could do it for a cheaper overall rate by just book 6 individual flights over time taking advantage of various promotions.

4 months traveling the world, having to eat "meals"... sounds terrible! :)

Well, it is for almost anyone with a halfway decent/steady job.

What I'm saying is that it's kind of impractical for a lot people. I would expect a "contest" like this to have a winning result that was a little more practical from a total travel time perspective, or at the very least have 2 winning options, one for "Total trip time of 2 weeks or less" (granted this might have to be 3 or even 4 weeks if you're going to be spending at least 12 days away anyway) and one for "Lowest cost overall regardless of duration".

I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to take an around the world trip in just 2 weeks. You'd end up spending the majority of your time on planes and barely being able to enjoy each stop.

Doesn't sound like very much fun to me.

For people who would actually book an around the world trip, 4 months is probably a much more realistic duration.

The contest had a specific set of rules and a 4-month itinerary was permissible within these rules. The point wasn't to create an itinerary that would be advisable for a particular individual, it was to demonstrate that FlightFox is a good tool for finding rock bottom prices, so any set of fair rules would work.

If you were actually making an itinerary for someone, you'd probably have even more pressing questions than trip duration, such as "Where would you like to go?" Do you even want to go 6 continents? :)

Yeah, I was interested until I found that part.

I think for most people, if they could afford 4 months off work then they wouldn't be too concerned about finding the cheapest possible flights.

It's still interesting in a theoretical way, but far less useful than the headline makes it sound.

At least here in the UK (I know slightly less so in the US, so your mileage may vary) it's extremely common for students who are either between high school / university or just graduated to take a 'gap year', or some other period of time to travel. For them price is clearly a very important factor, and the four months isn't a huge problem!

I'm American and I just got back from 5 weeks backpacking in Southeast Asia. I through my trip was long until I met legions of Brits on gap years...

I can see this working out better for remote workers (like so many of us are). I don't know about other people, but I can pretty easily bring myself down to part time and work on the road -- on planes, in coffee shops around the world, etc. Enough so I can still enjoy the travels and yet make some income while I'm doing it.

I'm on month 7 of 12 of doing just this, really enjoying it. About $3500/mo expenses on average (includes my wife and I), mostly in south/southeast Asia (lower cost) but housesitting is making Europe doable on the same budget. Current house even has an LCD to plug into, so I'm back in the warm embrace of vsplits :)

Edit: clarify expenses, not income; so utilization is <100% of a 40HWW.

Why would you try to visit the entire world if you only have 2 weeks of vacation available? At best you would have time to visit a handful of landmarks per city before getting right back on a plane. That's a complete waste of money.

So pessimistic. Four months of new adventures, pushing your boundaries, learning new things, meeting new people, new stories, great memories.

Thanks! In my personal opinion I think that seeing that actual itinerary really boosts the 'WOW' factor.

Very cool, but I'm not clear who your site targets. That price is amazing but the itinerary involves a lot of flying around on terrible airlines. I usually have a lot of restrictions: I want to fly on these dates, with the fewest travel hours possible, on good, dependable airlines. How much leeway is in there to save money?

Less leeway, but flightfox is about saving you time and money. Even if you build a 6-continent itinerary with a lot of restrictions, it will take many hours. The tips and tricks the experts provide, even for getting on better airlines or other perks, really comes in handy. There are of course sometimes we just can't help. That's normally with simple itineraries and inflexible flyers.

And here are some of the details of the business class itinerary for $3,630. Keep in mind that a similar itinerary from the same expert came in at $2569. That itinerary didn't win because we couldn't verify it online. The expert suggested it required a quick phone call.

   Los Angeles LAX to Sydney SYD
   Sydney SYD to Bangkok BKK
   Bangkok BKK to XXX
   XXX to XXX
   XXX to Cairo CAI
   Cairo CAI to London LHR
   London LHR to XXX
   XXX to Bogota BOG
   Bogota BOG to XXX
   XXX to Los Angeles LAX
Apologies for the missing details, but these details are the experts' secret sauce. If you actually want to take a trip like this, let us know and we can hold a content for you and make sure the best experts know about it.

Not personally interested in that deal, but wondering: what would it take to get that trip. Could create a contest, but would it need paying more than the minimum fee to get that same deal? Do some experts not get out of bed for less than $x?

To get the business class itinerary, it would take a significant finder's fee. If you are seriously interested in an itinerary like this, please email us, team at flightfox.com and we'll work directly with you. Like we mentioned in the post, this would be an unforgettable trip without a doubt.

What is "significant"? $100? $500?

So who are these "experts"? Travel agents? What is the motivation to them to keep certain details secret?

Not sure if it applies to this particular one, but there are a lot of pricing quirks in international, multi-airline itineraries that one can exploit: airline fare rules are fairly complex lists of requirements/exclusion/combination/stopover rules etc., and the combinatorial complexity and ancient IT infrastructure it's all coded in sometimes produces results the airlines might not have intended had they realized it. Particularly lucrative combinations tend to get shut down once airlines notice them, so there's sort of an ethos of not talking about them openly in public. One exploit that was going around for a while, for example, was that certain combinations of cities/airlines would result in the fuel surcharge not showing up on a fare like you'd expect it to ("fuel dumping"); you could sometimes purposely add weird legs to make that situation come about, but weren't supposed to publicly post such a leg if you found one, lest it go away.

Hi _delerium, just for the record, these RTW itineraries do not contain fuel dumps. The prices have mostly come about from intelligent routing, which you rightly suggest is the work of humans better recognizing efficient combinations than websites using existing rigid algorithms and limited data sets.

We built Flightfox after living across 6 continents and learning this for ourselves. Often we'd save thousands just by spending a few hours on routing. Like most people who travel wide when they're young, the costs of flights became a primary expense. But even after we'd traveled for a while, it didn't get easier because for the most part, local knowledge is what makes the difference. Always traveling somewhere new meant we were always starting from scratch. Then it hit us... crowdsourcing.

how long is the trip from LA to LA, how much would the finder's fee be, on each continent and could it be made to include at least a stop of 48 contiguous hours?

The deal with official RTW fares, at least in 2000-2008 when I was checking them, was to buy them ex-interesting country vs. ex-USA. They have a price set in local currency, so when a currency drops vs. the USD, it takes them 6-12 months to adjust prices. ex-CAI, ex-BKK, ex-KUL were all excellent places to buy for a long time.

A guy on flyertalk would maintain a list of ex-various *A RTW prices. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AuTBktAWbGhwdHd...

sbm13 (Another Flyertalker) maintains a version on that mashed up on Google Maps: http://www.wandr.me/RTW_Fares.aspx/

Wow, I remember when FRTWSTAR3 were <$7k, now they're about $20k. (post-9/11)

Six continents for what I spend per month on rent? Pretty amazing. Even at three grand it would be a great deal...

This seems like a useful service. I wonder how often it produces results this good.

I drove from Alaska to Argentina in 22 months, and my expenses on the road were identical to what they had been for the previous two years going to work every day.

It's very common to go traveling the world for basically the same amount of money you spend just going to work.


Damn, that really has me thinking about doing something similar. One advantage of being in Web development is I (and many others here) can work from anywhere as long as there is an an occasional Internet connection. Certainly nothing full-time (defeats the purpose of traveling), but a few hundred dollars here and there probably goes a long ways.

Do it! I commented elsewhere in the thread, but for my wife & I together we spend 3500USD/mo and are quite comfortable. Travel's a blast. I found I really prefer contiguous blocks of work (several-week chunks) so work and travel don't each distract me from the other.

Travel slowly, immerse yourself in the daily in-and-outs. Rent apartments, do housesitting. Stay at least a month in a big city, use it as a "home base," and make shorter excursions out from there.

At the same time, there's adventure to be had coding and traveling at the same time... had to mute myself in a Google Hangout daily standup once because the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lohri drums from the Delhi streets below were drowning me out. Brushed death on a Bangkok mototaxi in rush hour traffic en route to a give a meetup talk. Most exciting of all: found novel timezone bug in an app once by working in a zone (India Standard Time) with a 30-minute offset.

Absolutely, go for it.

I'm a software engineer, so I work online too, irrelevant of the country I happen to be in.

If you seriously think about driving (you should!), you'll find http://wikioverland.org very helpful.

How'd you cross the Darién Gap?

I shipped the Jeep in a shipping container from Panama to Colombia.


Everything you want to know is on my blog. If you have any specific questions, feel free to post a comment there, I'll reply. I really like to help out others doing the same thing in any way I possibly can.

Your blog is awesome! I'd love to try this someday - so jealous. :)

Thanks :)

I'm dead serious when I give the offer of help in any way I possibly can.

Also, there is no need to be jealous. It's not expensive, or overly difficult. It was also by far and away the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. If you want to do it bad enough, change a few things around in your life and you can do it!

Well, unless you are living, eating and travelling on each continent for free over the 6 months, it's going to cost much more than the stated price.

I really want to submit my upcoming trip to FlightFox but I'm not sure of the best time to do it and there also isn't a date range that is wide enough for what I want.

I want to travel anytime in late October or November (5 week window vs the 6 day window the site allows). I have 2 adults and 1 lap infant. I am going one-way from Berlin, Germany to Orlando, Florida.

When would be the best time to submit this trip? Is it even worth it given the best price I can find online is about 1200 EUR total?

Hi tayl0r, yes, you can mention your extra flexibility in the description section of your contest. We're working on better handling flexibility, such as in your case around dates/times.

The best time to submit is sooner rather than later since, for the most part, fares go up, not down. 1200E is a fairly good price. However, if you want absolute rock bottom prices, make sure you say that in your contest and our experts will really go to work.

As you can imagine, not everyone wants the lowest price, especially traveling with an infant. But I highly recommend you give Flightfox a go and see how our experts can help you.

The great thing is it's often just $20 or $30, which is not a lot compared to the price of your trip. At worst, we can refund your fee, but more likely, you'll see how the experts work and may save a couple of hundred dollars.

I just booked it from Flightfox. Only 1080 USD and the flight is shorter with less stopovers than the one I found for 1200 EUR. I'm pretty impressed and will definitely be using Flightfox again.

I really like how you can talk back and forth with the experts via the comment system.

Awesome, just submitted the contest.

OK, I don't get it (granted I didn't spend a ton of time reading through all the details).

What I was hoping for is some way I could book the "winning" itinerary through some means. I was ready to buy 2 of the business-class trips instantly, but it seems this is more of a "bragging" site (in a good way), showing how cheaply you've managed to book a given itinerary?

Hi brk, This was an in-house contest to test the skills of our experts. You can absolutely put up a similar contest to receive similar results. Love the idea about being able to book other flyers' itineraries. We're in a heavy product dev phase, so I'll share it with the team. Yes, in one sense we are bragging what real travel experts can do. The premise of Flightfox is, especially for high-value trips, you should leverage the skills and local knowledge of experts. Best.

OK, thanks for the explanation.

So, how exactly would I use the site for my benefit (honest question from someone who books about 50-70K flight miles per year)?

If you visit the homepage, there's a "Get Started" button. The next page is a form asking for your trip details. Once you complete the form and pay the finder's fee, experts start competing to build you the best itinerary. You can communicate with the experts during the process to specify preferences. Clearly it works best with higher-value itineraries.

A more high level explanation is that Flightfox is a marketplace for freelance travel agents (and flight experts). We're bringing human travel experts online with a new crowdsourced model. Because customers pay a fixed fee upfront, we hope to remove the dependence on commissions. With diminishing commissions on flights, it's difficult to find agents who'll take the time to find you the best flights. That's what we're aiming to fix.

For frequent flyers like yourself, we're currently building out features to also earn/spend miles. I'm not sure if you do mileage runs or book award flights, but this is where we could become much more interesting for you.

So does the travel agent book the flight for you when you award him the finder's fee?

I mean I know it says in your FAQ: "Our experts provide detailed booking instructions for you to buy those flights."

But I am just not totally clear on how this works and how the prices listed are provided. Could you elaborate? Also, is there potential for price differences when an agent finds prices for someone in another country?

Thanks for the explanation, I understand the logistics of it now.

Wow, this makes me want to book a flight in the near future just to get flightfox to find me an awesome routing.

What I'd really like is if they could take into account FF status, and also hotel pricing (at the particular chain I like, Starwood).

Book me a 3-8 week trip visiting as many places as possible from a set of N cities (plus transits anywhere) staying at Starwood properties (as nice as possible), using CX preferentially, with at least 20k miles on Star Alliance carriers, and avoiding UAE transit or stops, and willing to pay certain multiples for business class flights or upgraded hotels (St. Regis vs. Aloft).

Combining hotel and airfare bookings would make the whole thing a lot more valuable for multi-stop itineraries. E.g. spending $500 more for a BKK transit (and 3-5 day stop) vs. a SIN transit, since BKK has 5 star hotels for $120/night vs. $300/night.

FlightFox allows you to specify frequent flyer miles and apparently some experts do take that into account.

i am curious about what you find wrong with UAE transit or stops. was fun to me.

Several people I know have gotten arrested on BS charges (related to being journalists/grad students and investigating the slave-labor-of-subcontinentals thing).

There's some other reasons too - as much as I'm sure I could avoid any public displays giving myself away, I'm not a fan of the idea of going to a country where the fact that I'm gay is enough to get me arrested. I've turned down work in Dubai for this reason in the past (twice) and would do it again.

If I am interested in the business class itinerary - do I have to recreate the entire contest or is there a chance I can jump on this deal by paying the same finders fee?

Hi ashbrahma, please email us at team at flightfox.com if you're interested in this specific itinerary and we can help you get booked. Alternatively, if you're after something similar, but equally adventurous, also get in contact and we can work with you to post a new contest.

In October of 2000 I took a 5 month sebattical trip to backpack through SE Asia. The ticket was called a pan pacific ticket, it allowed for up to (I think 7) stops. You just called and scheduled the flight you wanted when you wanted it. It had no set itinerary, and the ticket cost $2,300.

I went from SFO to HK, and then hopped all around Tom Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and was planned to go to Sydney for the last stop, but had to come back early.

I spent five months total, most of the trip was in hostels and beach bungalows, I stayed in a hotel in hong long and spent nearly $3,000 there over two weeks.

I spent over a month on Koh Phangan in Thailand, at Haad Yao beach - all my meals, drinks and bungalow for that month, as well as all the meals and drinks for a girlfriend from germany who stayed with me a week: $250.

I'd love to do this again, but now I have kids and it will be until they are in their teens before I can take them on a similar trip.

Hi Sam, we met a few couples traveling the world with young children. One of our friends even gave birth in Thailand and after a short break, just kept traveling. When you speak to their children, even though they're young, you sense a real difference. Anyway, just wanted to say that people do still do this. Here's a blog of the aforementioned friend: http://almostfearless.com/ (update: she's expecting a second and is currently in Lebanon).

This post confused me in terms of itinerary options available. If you decide to setup a trip "contest", is there any way to specify whether you want economy or business class?

Also, in terms of experts guarding their tips, what's to stop users sharing/comparing/aggregating their contest and tips/tricks behind them elsewhere? Eg if someone asks on quora and several customers answer with details of their bookings...

Here's a 25% affiliate discount: http://flightfox.com/referral/16686

Did the trip span the entire month of October? This seems like a pretty awesome itinerary. I wish you could post the dates too, so people could see how many days they got in each city.

Great stuff Todd! Is there any way to ensure that the best experts bid on the flights submitted. Seems like a few people really are crafty with their details!

Hi there, really it comes down to the size of the finder's fee. For a trip that will cost a lot regardless, it's worth submitting a large fee to attract the best experts. We have almost 1000 experts, and the ones who win these RTW contests aren't necessarily the ones that can help you. Some people know certains countries or airlines better that others.

Is the price of the business trip in anyway linked to certain political 'disagreements' in Cairo which happens to be one of the locations.

Why not use http://www.orbitz.com/ ?

This site supposedly lets one do complicated trips for less than one might spend on orbitz and the like. It's essentially 21st century travel agent mixed with a competition.

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