How to Decide Where to Travel
As I’ve said before, the benefits of traveling are numerous, including a new worldview, opening of the mind, and personal growth. In fact, we believe this so wholeheartedly that we packed up our lives after graduating from college, left home, and haven’t returned since. But it takes a bit of pushing to force oneself out of his comfort zone. And once you've taken the leap and chosen to leave home, there’s a fair amount of planning before it all comes to fruition. Namely, with so many incredible places to see, particularly if you’ve never left your home country, how do you choose where to start and decide where to travel?
Typically when preparing for a trip I start with any constraints I may have like budget or trip length before looking for inspiration. While it can be tempting to pick up a map (or, uh, Google) and begin dreaming, starting with a solid idea of the realistic factors that will underpin your trip is always a good idea. It hasn't been until fairly recently that I've had complete freedom to choose my own destination while heading abroad, so I'm used to working within limits. Still, paying for the trip is always a component. But I assure you, given any limitations you may have, there’s a destination to fit your needs.
It might be useful to start with a basic question: how long do you plan to be gone? It should be a simple answer, but it’s important to consider how far you can get within that time. If you have less than two or three weeks, consider staying closer to home to make the most of your trip. This isn’t to say in your country, rather pick a destination in closer proximity. Flight time and jet lag can take a lot out of you and you don’t want to waste the first few days of a short trip in bed sleeping. If you’re from North America or Europe it’ll take about a day to get to Australia, so I recommend coming with at least three weeks to spend. Otherwise you’ll definitely feel the time crunch and regret not having more time as you’re sitting on a plane back home. Start with a simple Google search of flight time if you’re not sure.
If you’re planning on leaving indefinitely, consider starting in an extremely affordable destination like Southeast Asia, or somewhere you can obtain a working holiday visa like Australia, Canada, or the UK. This gives the holder working rights in the host county and can be immensely helpful because it provides the opportunity to find work to sustain your travels. Many people will base themselves in Australia like we have because wages are high and proximity to Asia and other exotic destinations is so close. Of course, visa eligibility depends entirely on your home country. Americans can’t get working holiday visas for Japan, for example, which put a damper on things for us.
No one likes to think about it, but budget is a major factor in planning any trip. The amount you have to spend affects the flights you can take, where you’ll stay, and what activities you’ll be able to comfortably fit into your visit. Not to mention how you’ll pay for necessities like food and alcohol (a true necessity). But even if your wallet is tight, don’t stress. Tons of travelers, ourselves included, make it by on very thin budgets. Staying in affordable accommodation is one way we’ve managed to stretch our budget.
You may find it helpful to pick your destination based on cheap flights. It’s especially helpful if you’re flexible on when you travel. If you’re organized and start researching early, many airlines offer great deals on specific routes. Flights are often the most expensive part of the trip, so saving here can really help out. Look into travel hacking or cash in those airline points you’ve been saving.
Airbnb allows customers to search using the factors “anywhere” and “anytime.” In most occasions this is completely useless, but check it out as a guide if you’re not tied to any particular place. You could find a deal on a unique space in a city you’ve never considered. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, get $34 USD (or $45 AUD) towards your first booking.
What do you want to get out of your trip? Do you want to learn a new language, see a historical sight you’ve always dreamed of, or just see what’s out there? Keep your end goals in mind when looking for destinations, because what you find will differ in most respects. My time in Australia, for example, has been much easier overall than my visit to Cuba. Certain environments are much more challenging than others, although sometimes this is exactly what you want. If you’re traveling to a country that speaks a different language than yours remember that even the smallest things you would never struggle with at home will likely be difficult. Having said that, they’ll also make you feel the most accomplished. Setting up a SIM card in Spain (three times) was such a stress, but it gave me the courage to move abroad several times over.
Once you have a pretty good idea of what you’re working with, start researching and narrowing down possible destinations. If you’re planning to travel for an extended period, keep in mind it’s much cheaper to stick to a region and see everything you plan to see before heading to a new part of the globe because, obviously, long international flights are usually much more expensive. We’re currently based in Australia with plans to see all of Southeast Asia before moving on. Here are some of my favorite resources:
- Instagram: By far my favorite social network, the ‘Gram is full of incredible photos from all over the world. I tend to use it for general research because I’m passively browsing everyday even when I’m not specifically researching for a trip. When I see a place I need to get to, I either commit it to memory or use Instagram’s new saved posts feature to bookmark it for later. (Follow us: @thetravelgays)
- Pinterest: Admittedly, I’ve been a Pinterest holdout until we started this site. I just never really understood the point. But like every other social network I’ve tried to avoid (sorry, Snapchat), I eventually came around and now spend way too much of my life on it. Pinterest is cool because not only do you get to browse through tons of great travel photos and tips, but each Pin links to the original source, which is usually a site with more information or a blog post about the photo. A traveler’s best friend. (Follow us: @thetavelgays)
- Word of Mouth: Incredibly underrated in the Age of the Internet, but try putting down your phone and talking to someone. Or if you can’t, use your phone to talk to someone. Most of the best tips I’ve gotten have been from friends or friends of friends who have been someplace cool. Even better, take a second to talk to locals while you’re actually on the road. They know the place best and can get you off the beaten path and to some incredible sights. We found an amazing watering hole to spend the afternoon in the Daintree Rainforest by following the advice of a woman we met in a shop that day.
- Travel Blogs: Read our site. Always. But in a non-shameless plug way, travel bloggers are an awesome resource when planning any trip. Not only have they done it before, but they’re just like you only in the future. Some of my favorites include: Nomadic Matt, Lost with Purpose, PsychoTraveller, and the Points Guy.
- YouTube: While I’m not really one to follow YouTubers religiously, I do use YouTube once I’ve settled on something specific and want to know more about it. I have to give PsychoTraveller another shout out here for preparing me for my own trip to Australia. So happy to follow in her footsteps.
So there you have it—our guide to choosing a location for your next adventure. Just remember, there’s only so much planning you can do. Part of the fun is going with the flow and expecting the unexpected. Once you’ve chosen a destination and booked your flight, head on out there and let the experiences come to you. And be sure to let us know how it went!