How do you choose where to go when your options are endless?!
Oftentimes, one of the most stressful aspects of traveling can be choosing the destination. If you know you want to plan a trip but don’t have a particular reason for traveling, it can be difficult to make a decision when there are seemingly endless options. So start by considering the following questions:
What are you comfortable spending?
For me, it’s daunting just setting the budget! To be honest, I don’t typically set a hard limit. I just know things like, “okay, a $500+ flight is not doable right now. So I’m not going to Europe this go round.” This is a starting point. Break your trip up into payments over time if money is a concern. I’ll often buy flights three to four months out. A month or so later, I book a hotel or Airbnb. Before making a purchase, I’ll say to myself, “$250 per person for flights is manageable right now.” Depending on the destination and trip length, I’ll spend $300-$1,000 on accommodations. If you’re traveling with others, these costs become more manageable. Then all that’s left is your “fun” money for eating, entertainment, and excursions.
These are some initial numbers I’ve worked with when planning, but you may be comfortable spending more or less. Maybe you’re okay with a shared hostel or Airbnb—I’m often too high maintenance for that. If you can handle a shared space, you can spend far less on accommodations. Yes, all these costs add up. But don’t you need a break from reality every once in awhile?! It’s easy to justify the spend once you arrive at your destination!
What sort of destination are you trying to visit?
What’s most important to you? Sandy beaches, vibrant nightlife, hiking, scuba diving, theater and live performances, high-end shopping, cultural diversity, walkability, amazing food? The list goes on and on. I’m usually looking for lively nightlife, plenty of sites and excursions, and walkability (to save money on transportation). These trips are easier for me to plan. No rental cars, low occurrence of boredom, and lots of options for food and entertainment.
Once I know what I want to experience, I start Googling away. I search terms like “cities with the best nightlife”, “best beaches in the world”, or “most walkable cities in the U.S.” Then I visit TripAdvisor and similar sites to see what other travelers have to say about various destinations. Once I’ve narrowed my choices down to two or three options, I use Google Flights to compare the cost of traveling to these destinations with flexible dates. If there is one that’s far cheaper than others, that’s often the destination I choose. After I determine the cheapest overall destination with the most entertainment, I start watching videos from my favorite travel vloggers like Wolters World or Lonely Planet. I use these resources to learn about the culture and things to expect once I arrive.
Remember, you can’t visit every place you want to see in one trip… unless you are an endless wanderer who can afford to satiate your wanderlust 24/7 – 365. I only have 15 days of vacation per year, but I managed to travel to 10 cities and two countries in 2017.
Other things to consider when planning your trip:
- Will you earn airline miles or credit card points for this trip? If you’re trying to travel more, consider using an airline credit card or hotel rewards program to gain more points for future travel. But of course, read the fine print.
- Who’s going with you? A significant other, friend, family members, children, pets, no one? Be prepared to split the costs as you deem appropriate.
- How can you save money in the months leading up to your trip? You can temporarily suspend your Spotify, Netflix, or Audible accounts. Perhaps you can perfect the art of making an iced coffee at home instead of spending ~$20 per week on Starbucks. Cut back in small areas if you can because these little costs add up over time.
- What do you need to buy before the trip? Maybe you’re visiting a place that is much colder or hotter than you’re used to. In that case, you may need to spend money on new wardrobe items. Maybe you’re going to the Grand Canyon, but don’t have hiking shoes… add it all to the budget.
- Who will take care of your pets, plants, or children when you’re gone? If a friend or family member helps you out in this area, consider giving them payment, a nice gift, or returning the favor.
- How will you get around your destination? By foot, Uber/Lyft, taxi, rental car, train, plane, bus, or a combination?
Thanks for reading! Look for upcoming posts about how to use Google Flights, Airbnb, Priceline Name Your Own Price tool, and Hotwire Hotrate. I’ll also post about paying for travel, what to do where, comparing airline and credit card programs, and more. So keep checking back weekly!