Touring a chunk of the planet is expensive and eats up weeks of vacation time, which can be a deterrent to booking a trip. But check out cruises. Some cover a surprising range of ports for an affordable price in just a few weeks' time. (Airfare to destinations is not included in price estimates).
Australia and New Zealand
New Zealand's Lake Hawea is crystal clear; some New Zealand lakes are bright turquoise — Photo courtesy of Tourism New Zealand
If you're planning a New Zealand/Australia trip on your own, schedule at least three weeks. You'll fly from one country to the other, plus fly between New Zealand’s North Island and South Island. There's also a ferry that takes several hours.
After touring Sydney, build your adventures on driving, including visits to wondrous beaches or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. In New Zealand, visit geothermal sites, surreal mountains and fun sport scenes. (No car needed if you're backpacking New Zealand; see below.)
In both countries, check out self-drive tour operators which not only provide a car and interesting itineraries, but also book your lodging. DIY trip to Australia and New Zealand costs approximately $5,800 for two people on a three-week trip. (Cheaper version: Backpacker lodging and backpacker buses are inexpensive and widely available in New Zealand).
New Zealand's Fiordland is misty and magical; Milford Sound takes on an other-worldly look — Photo courtesy of Will Patino for Tourism New Zealand
Cruising takes in top spots in Australia and New Zealand for $3,364 for two, including taxes and port fees. Holland America's 14-day cruise on MS Noordam in November and December 2019 embarks from Sydney and visits Melbourne and Tasmania. Then, it sails to New Zealand's magical landscapes – bright turquoise lakes, long sweeps of empty beaches and mountains that look digitally enhanced.
You can find other cruise lines sailing an Australia/New Zealand itinerary for similar pricing.
Scandinavia; Saint Petersburg, Russia plus Baltic states
Scandinavia's natural beauty plus St. Petersburg, Russia's grand palaces and Hermitage Museum's spectacular art collection make this region a big draw. Add a few Baltic states and Berlin for a power-packed itinerary.
Norway's Eidfjord is a special place where small villages climb green slopes — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
To do this trip on your own, plan four or five plane flights and at least three weeks' time. Air travel can be inexpensive in Europe if you shop around, but car rental is expensive. Trains are a good option, but won't get you everywhere.
You'll see much more of Norway with a car, and Sweden and Denmark are worth exploring, too. Add a tour in Finland, boat tours of Norway‘s fjords, and you'll definitely want a guide for some things in St. Petersburg. Lodging and meals are expensive in Scandinavia. Visit delightfully restored Gdansk, Poland and Talin, Estonia. Take a quickie tour of Berlin. This rapid-paced three-week trip costs in the range of $11,000 for two.
Viking's ocean ships reflect Scandinavian design with blond woods and other touches — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
For just slightly more – $11,598 for two – you can score a luxury cruise. Beautiful ship, top cuisine, pampering –heavenly. Viking's Homelands cruise visits eight countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia, Poland, Estonia, Germany) and calls in 15 ports in 15 days. Ships sail April through November 2020 (sold out for 2019). There's a free tour in every port plus a free chartered train to Berlin.
There are also less expensive cruises to Scandinavia, St. Petersburg and Baltic states.
Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Netherlands
Iceland is many a traveler's passion, yet few cruises sail there. But we found one that visits several ports in Iceland, also sails to Norway and Scotland and disembarks in the Netherlands.
Blue Lagoon's thermal pools, seen here at night, are close to Reykjavik and popular with visitors — Photo courtesy of Visit Iceland
If you visit Iceland, Norway, Scotland and the Netherlands on your own, plan several flights plus a car rental in Iceland, Norway and Scotland. Iceland and Norway are pricey for meals, lodging and car rental. Cost for two on a three-week trip runs approximately $7,300.
Alesund, Norway and surrounding fjord make a pretty picture — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
See Iceland, Norway, Scotland and the Netherlands on Holland America's 21-day cruise in June,2020. MS Rotterdam departs Rotterdam and sails to Norway where it cruises stunning fjords and visits charming ports such as Alesund. In Iceland, the ship sails to Seydisfjordur, Akureyri and Isafjordur for waterfalls and fjords.
In this case, the cost of aDIY trip and cruise are similar, but the DIY trip will take more time, and at least six days of driving unfamiliar territory isn't as appealing as six lazy days at sea.
Europe: Barcelona, Florence, Naples, Sicily, Rome, Malta
Barcelona is a hot city in Europe, its popularity due in part to love of Antoni Gaudi's architecture — Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant
A trip you arrange yourself will require a lot of time on ferries and cost around $5,000 for two.
Bright oceanview stateroom on Carnival Radiance is a cheery place to return after touring — Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruises
Hitting popular cities in Europe is a treat, but not a cheap one. You can knock down costs with some cruises, such as a Carnival cruise visiting Barcelona; Dubrovnik, Croatia; island of Kotor, Montenegro; Florence and Pisa; Sicily, Naples (including island of Capri and Pompei); the Greek island of Corfu and the island nation of Malta.
A cruise on Carnival Radiance in May 2020 runs $2,000 for two, including taxes and port fees.