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Travel Tips Series: Where to Go
How to decide where to go on vacation
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My partner and I recently held a virtual event for The Nomadic Network about how we quit our jobs to travel the world full time for a year. In it, we spoke about how we did it, but we also shared travel tips, things like how we decide where to go, what to do, and where to eat when we travel. The event got me thinking that we should publish our travel tips as a series, so here we are :)
This is post #1 in the Travel Tips Series: Where to Go! I will share how we decide where to go on vacation!
Honestly, I don’t know if my opinion on this one will be satisfactory, but here it goes:
The world is HUGE. Every place on earth has something to offer. Don’t overthink it.
The truth is that we have never spent much time deciding where to go. In the past, much of our travel destinations have been based on some serendipitous situation - work takes us somewhere and we decide to explore the area, we have family or friends living in a place so we go travel there with them, we found a cheap flight somewhere, we don’t have much time so we decide to do a road trip nearby, we have a layover so we stay to explore, etc.
That said, there are things we enjoy, and that definitely plays a role when we need to pick a place.
We like being outdoors and active - hiking, snowboarding, kayaking, swimming
We like to eat - anything and everything!
We like history and culture - learning about the world through the history of countries, both past and present
So, in general, we like to visit places that offer these things.
First piece of advice: figure out what you enjoy!
Actually write down what you like! Think through what you usually enjoy when you go on vacation. What do you seek and are excited about doing? This is, to me, the most important aspect of deciding where to go. Your answer to this question will guide your decision, because you cannot find everything everywhere.
For our current sabbatical we did have to make some specific decisions, but they were not super scientific or well researched. We had three basic premises / requirements:
We wanted to see places we didn’t know much about, such as Central Asia, the Balkans, and the Caucasus
We wanted to spend time in Latin America, where we are from but we still have so much left to explore, like Ecuador and Colombia
We wanted to follow the sun, at least for most of the trip. We don’t like being cold unless we are on a snowboard going down a mountain :)
That is it. These requirements made figuring out our (general) route much easier.
Second piece of advice: determine your requirements
Figuring out your requirements will help tremendously in narrowing down your options. Basically, what are your non-negotiables? is there anything you absolutely want to see or do? are there any general principles you want to follow (certain weather, type of accommodation, areas, or activities)? For example, do you want to see fall colors and visit a new continent? are you looking for familiarity or an out-of-comfort-zone experience?
For our long term trip we also knew we wanted to travel for at least a year and we also didn’t want to “rough it”, meaning for example we didn’t want to share a room and we wanted to have nice meals often. In order to travel for that length of time and under those requirements we knew we couldn’t go to what are considered “expensive” destinations, such as Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc.
Having a budget (even if rough), in combination with knowing how long you want to travel for and what your requirements are, will help you narrow your options on where to go.
Third piece of advice: align to your budget
It’s easier to execute on this step once you have narrowed down your options with the first two exercises. Basically, work through your budget once you are deciding between a few destinations. If you are traveling for a 1 to 2 week vacation, just focus on the three big buckets of expenses: transportation, accommodation, and meals/activities.
Research costs for flights (or whichever method of transport you are using), the type of accommodation you would like to stay in, and the typical cost for a meal (and if you have activities in mind, look at those too). It’s important to think about these three buckets holistically, versus for instance just looking at flights and deciding X destination is too expensive. The flight might be expensive, but maybe every other expense in-country will be so much more affordable that in the end it will be a better choice for your budget.
Then, of course, you will need to make a decision! BUT, being flexible and willing to change pieces of your trip is imperative for having the best experience.
Fourth piece of advice: be flexible!
Maybe you wanted to travel for 2 weeks but based on your top location you will need to shorten your trip to 10 days to do it in the way you want to. Maybe you wanted to stay in a cute B&B but that will blow half of your budget and you would rather go see whales, or learn how to surf, or go to a cooking class, or do any other activity of choice, and instead stay in a more affordable hotel. Being flexible, both during the planning phase as well as when you are traveling, will make your trip more enjoyable.
Now, tools! There aren’t too many to assist with this step of the process, but here are some ideas:
SkyScanner lets you check flight prices to “Anywhere”, which can help narrow down your options to a few affordable places for you to get to
Weather and precipitation averages can be very helpful if you have a specific weather requirement for your trip. We often do - we like the sun! - so we check for this. For instance, last December we wanted to go somewhere warm that would be easy to get to for both my parents (who live in Thailand) and us (we would be coming from the US). We narrowed it down to the South of Italy or Canary Islands, both areas known to be warmish even in the winter. But, after doing this type of research the Canary Islands won by a lot, and we didn’t regret it!
Visa requirements can make or break a trip, so checking for visa requirements in different countries can be helpful in narrowing down your search. In many occasions we have decided on one destination versus another simply because the visa requirements for a certain country were too cumbersome, or because they were extremely simple or not needed for another.
Ok, that is it for this Travel Tips edition: How to choose where to go on vacation! When all fails, just throw a dart at a map. If you are open-minded and flexible, I guarantee you will find something worthy in every single corner of the world.
Next up on the series: where to stay, what to do, and where to eat when traveling!
Do you have any other advice? Please share!