This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about planning a trip, from figuring out your destination to choosing a hotel to exploring.
Deciding Where To Go
The world is a big place, so figuring out where to take a vacation if you don’t already have a place in mind can be daunting. A lot of friends ask me where I think they should go on vacation, and that’s hard to answer because everybody is different and wants different things out of a trip.
Generally speaking, however, if you’re completely undecided and open, I find it helps to figure out the answers to a few basic questions:
- When will your trip be?
- How long will your trip be?
- How far are you willing to travel?
- Do you want to limit it to one place, or do you want a multi-destination trip?
- What is your overall budget? Include flights, transportation and hotel costs, meals, and attractions.
- Do you want an active/adventure oriented vacation? A relaxing vacation? Or some combination of both?
These are the important questions and can help you narrow down your choices. If you’ve only got a week, traveling to Australia from the United States might not be the best use of your time, for example; if your budget is on the lower side but you’ve got some time, a road trip or choosing your destination based on available flight deals might be a good option. If you’re like me and hate the cold, you’ll want to stay away from Helsinki in December.
You also have to decide whether you want to stick to one place or visit multiple places, because this will affect your budget the most. In Europe specifically, getting from one city or country to the next is decidedly easier because there is a great railway system and very cheap budget airlines, so it may be doable to do two or even three cities in the span of 7-10 days without breaking the bank.
Harness the Power of Social Media
There is no shortage of travel information available on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It takes a few minutes of effort, but try to follow some travel accounts online and read some good blogs. Here is a short list of some of my favorites: Travel + Leisure, Budget Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR Media, National Geographic Travel (and its various off-shoots), Matador Network, Jetset Extra, Nomadic Matt, Landlopers, The Frugal Traveler, and Digital Nomad Andrew Evans of “Where’s Andrew?” fame.
If you search the #travel or #destinations hashtags on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll find a bevy of information. Pinterest is also great for travel inspiration. You’ll probably see places you’ve never even dreamed of going. For me, Instagram is where I get most of my inspiration. I browse the photos and can see what travelers are seeing during their trips. It has given me so many ideas in the past and it’s a simple thing you can do, since most of us are on Instagram and browsing photos on there anyway.
Figure out the Logistics
Do you need a Visa from the country to which you’re traveling? What about vaccinations? Is there a State Department Travel Advisory? Figure this stuff out before you go any further. It can take a while to get Visas to certain countries, so start the process immediately if you decide you want to go to a place that requires one.
Also, now is the time to check your passport if you plan on traveling internationally. The general rule is that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months past the date on which you plan to enter your destination country. I almost got burned by this when I went to Turkey, as my passport expired 6 months and 2 weeks after I planned to enter – too close for my comfort. If you’re not sure of requirements, check the government travel website of your destination; it will have visitor information for entering the country. The US State Department also has some information that might be helpful in answering your questions regarding visas, vaccinations, and any movement limitations within the country.
Do Your Research
Once you have it narrowed down to a few places and you’ve ticked off all the government travel requirements, use your resources to help you decide. Ask friends and family via Facebook if they’ve been to any of the places you’re considering. Use the internet to find out what travelers before you thought of your destinations, as sometimes places are very different than they seem and your expectations might need to be adjusted. Sites like TripAdvisor let you search forums for discussions about cities and activities in those cities, including a ranking of attractions, reviews, words of warning, and must-sees. After reading about your choices, one may stand out as the best, or you may decide that they all sound great and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
The travel sites i listed above also have lots of information from fellow travelers. The travel world is full of information on pretty much any destination you can think of, no matter how remote; travel is a multi-billion dollar industry, after all. Tap into the hard work of hundreds of travelers before you; there’s no need to start from scratch!
So Now You’ve Decided….
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, which will focus on finding and planning flights and transportation, lodging, and activities.