Surface Sectors

Once your round the world (RTW) itinerary and dates are finalized and tickets are

Front wheel drive in China!

Surface Sector! ;-)

purchased, it’s time to start planning or finalizing the surface sectors, if you have any.

Surface sectors are portions of travel that are outside of the RTW ticket.

When to use a Surface Sector:

  1. They allow you to extend your trip beyond the cities in the RTW itinerary.
  2. You can fly into and out of a country from different cities (e.g. in to Beijing and out of Hong Kong)
  3. You can fly in and out of the same city and take day-, week-, or month-long trips to explore by foot, car, rail, plane, or boat.
  4. When you run out of RTW ticket segments, you can extend your reach outside of the RTW itinerary.

For example, you may have a RTW ticket that flies into and out of Sydney, Australia with a month-long layover.  During this layover, you may want to rent a car and drive up the coast to Brisbane, or fly to Ayers Rock, Perth, or Cairns, or go on a live-aboard diving adventure on the Great Barrier Reef.

Our surface sectors (by air):

  1. Flights inside of China (Beijing to Xi’An, Xi’An to Lhasa, Lhasa to Chengdu, and Chengdu to Hong Kong)
  2. Flights from Maldives to Johannesburg
  3. Flights inside of Brazil (Rio de Janeiro to Iguassu Falls, Iguassu Falls to Porto Alegre)


Surface Sectors in China

Flights within China: The flights in and around China were straight forward based on our planned itinerary (see this post).  The surface sectors allowed us to add 4 additional stops including Xi’An (Terracotta Warriors), Lhasa (Tibet!), and Chengdu (Pandas, awww).  These legs could have been traveled by train or bus, but our speedy schedule required flying.


“Surface” Sector between Maldives and S. Africa

Maldives to S. Africa: We chose to do a surface sector from the Maldives because the only flights available on Star Alliance that routed us back through Singapore (4+ hours) before heading to Johannesburg (11 hours) or routed us from the Maldives to Istanbul, Turkey and up to Frankfurt, Germany before flying south to J’Burg (25+ hours of flight time).   All these stops or legs would have counted towards our total number (15) of segments, so we opted for a “surface sector”.

Ultimately, we decided to fly Emirates from the Maldives to Dubai (4 hours), giving us a chance to visit Dubai for a day and experience the heat (40C/104F).  It also allowed us to stay in the Maldives almost a day longer because the flight departs at 11PM.  To get from Dubai to J’Burg (8 hours), we fly South African Airways that is actually flown by Emirates.


“Surface” sector in Brazil between Rio -> Iguassu Falls -> Porto Alegre

In and around Brazil: For Brazil, our RTW itinerary flew into Rio de Janeiro (via Sao Paulo) from J’Burg, and out of Porto Alegre.  Between J’Burg and Machu Picchu, we had to fly through Sao Paulo, so we decided to make it a layover and explore Rio for a couple days and see Iguassu Falls for a day.

Azul_Brazilian_Airlines_logoTAM and LAN which have now merged are the primary airlines within South America.  Azul is a relatively new airline that was started in 2008 by ousted JetBlue founder David Neeleman.

For all of these legs, Expedia, Kayak, and Skyscanner are your friends.   You can base your flights on schedule, cost, convenience, etc.  Maximize your stay, sleep on the plane (in theory).

Bottom Line: We added 5 additional stops to our maxed out 15-leg RTW itinerary, not to mention the bush plane that we’ll take in South Africa from JNB to Kruger National Park and the various tours that we’ll take in each city.

Once all the air travel is booked, it’s onto hotels and accommodations…