Picking a Place and Deciding to Go
Sometimes it’s very simple to decide on a travel destination, because an opportunity pops up or you’ve been dreaming of it forever. Other times it feels like there are a million places in the world that you haven’t been yet, and choosing between them isn’t easy. If you do not have someplace in mind, look at airfare prices and consider what’s the most affordable and what fits with your schedule. For me, the transport to and from a place is usually the most expensive part of the trip, so minimizing that can save money for experiences, accommodation, and food.
The other way to figure out where to go is to get advice. You can skim Pinterest (check out my boards for some major wanderlust) for a particularly intriguing and beautiful place. Ask someone who has visited the region that you are thinking about, maybe they recommend certain countries above others. However, keep in mind that other travelers may have different priorities and tastes when it comes to travel than you do. Honestly, I find that while I do prefer some destinations to others, every country has a lot to offer, so there will always be adventures.
If you already know where you’re going, check out the easiest and cheapest ways to get there. Which city will you fly into? Are you buying a roundtrip ticket? It’s true that often a roundtrip ticket is cheaper, but not always. When you plan on travel for over a month, it can be cheapest to buy a one-way ticket to a place when the time is right and then wait until the return prices drop and buy the other half. This is also helpful if you are not flying out of the same place you flew into, which is most likely when you are away for an extended period of time.
Lastly, I have one travel secret to share with you: Rome2Rio. What is that, you ask? The best way to see all of the options that can get you from point A to B. Type in two places and you will see bus, train, plane routes and prices. While not all of their options are viable (a 40-hour flight with three layovers?!) it’s worth considering different modes and combinations of travel. Maybe you can break up the many layovers and stopover in a few more places, or maybe you didn’t realize there was a local ferry as well as the expensive tourist speedboat. Seriously, try it out. But be warned, I’ve spent quite a bit of time planning trips on Rome2Rio to procrastinate work!
Finding accommodation is often the hardest part of trip planning. It often feels like you have to choose between price and quality. Not to mention, there are now many more options beyond the standard hotel, so there are multiple search engines and companies to scroll through. I usually go straight to hostelworld.com when I’m looking for a place to stay, and airbnb.com after that. It all depends on the place. If it is in the middle of a European city, there are tons of cheap options, often pretty well-rated and reviewed. But recently I was looking for someplace to stay in Boston, and found everything was expensive as a hotel, and the selection was limited because there are so few hostels in America. In rural areas or with big groups of people, it’s worth looking into renting a house for your stay, either through vrbo.com or airbnb. For solo travelers or duos, hostels or even couchsurfing may be the best option, or a private room in someone’s house via airbnb.
There are some main points to consider when booking a place to stay: price, proximity, quality, and extras. (You can find my guide specifically for booking great hostels here.) The first thing I usually do on any of the above search engines is filter and sort the selection. I focus the map or area within a short distance of my location and well-connected to public transportation. So then I use the sliders or other tools to only show me options in my price range and I sort them so I see the highest rated at the top. I believe I have only stayed at places that have solid ratings and reviews, never at a place without reviews as I want to ensure a certain level of cleanliness and security before I go. Depending on where you are heading the prices will differ greatly, as I recently found planning to go to Stockholm from Poland (hostel prices hit a low of 9 USD a night in Warsaw and a high of 50 USD for a dorm bed in Stockholm). And lastly, when I speak of extras, I look to book hostels and hotels that include as much as possible for their prices. Some hostels will charge you to rent sheets and towels, while others will provide them for free, as well as tea, coffee, and city tours. It’s easy to figure out which one to choose, if you check what is included in the price of your stay.
Creating a budget for a trip seems reasonable, until you try and follow that budget. There are often extra expenses that pop up in real life. It’s helpful to look at budget posts on travel blogs or look at a menu and it’s prices of a popular restaurant wherever you are going to get an understanding of what a typical day will cost. Also you should always build in a few extra dollars to your budget for that dessert that you didn’t quite plan on buying. In the end you want to roughly know how much you will spend on four categories: transportation (from flights to metro rides), accommodation, food, and fun things.
The best part to plan: what you’re going to do when you arrive at your destination. However I caution against planning too much--you don’t want an hour-by-hour guide to your entire trip. I go through TripAdvisor.com and forums to find the tourist ‘must-dos’ and I write down anything that catches my attention. If I know anyone who lives in the place I’m visiting, or has been there, I ask them their favorite restaurants, museums, etc. I also check out some of my blogger friends, because they’ve been pretty much everywhere and can give me the ins and outs of a place.
Personally, I know what I like when it comes to traveling. I enjoy museums, art galleries, markets, green spaces, and anything featuring the history of the place. While there are a few things that must be checked off your list, don’t do something to simply say that you have. I do not enjoy standing in lines, so while I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, I’ve never been up. I’d rather spend my time eating a crepe in a nearby garden. So choose what you’ll do and who you will do it with carefully.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: plan well, but not too much. Be open to serendipity and surprises from the universe. I used to plan day to day, where I would be before I left. On part of my gap year in Europe, I had the entire three months planned in advance, exactly when I would leave one place and where I would be staying at the next stop. But I learned that life happens and sometimes, my plans constrained what I could do or see. In Thailand, I was in a Chiang Mai hostel when I heard a guy speak about how awestruck he was by the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, in Chiang Rai. He convinced me that it was like no other temple--and I had to see it for myself. So I switched around my reservations to head south, luckily without losing any money, and I bought a three-hour bus ticket and booked a great new hostel in Chiang Rai. The temple was amazing, the city was uncrowded, and I had the hostel pool to myself. It was so worth a quick divergence from my planned route, and so I made a promise to myself to not over-plan again.
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