Oh, the places you can go. It can be overwhelming to think about how much world there is to explore.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position where you have time and funds set aside for travel, it can be tricky to figure out how and where you should use them. And then once you’ve decided where to go, beginning the planning process can be a challenge, especially if you’re doing it yourself.
Last summer, having the opportunity to coordinate a month of independent travel helped me figure out how to go about that process in a way that allowed me to keep my anxiety level to a minimum. Here are some tips:
» Deciding Where to Go
Weather may seem like a no-brainer, but I am amazed at how often people overlook things like seasons being reversed on the other side of the equator. If you have to travel during a set period of time, consider potential natural disasters or the affect weather might have on your ability to move around the country you visit. If a place is likely to get flooded or have roads wash out during heavy rain, you don’t want to travel there during the height of their monsoon/hurricane season. Some weather situations can be tolerable, even if uncomfortable, but it doesn’t make sense to travel to a place at a time when predictable extreme weather can lead to natural disasters.
Find out if there are any serious travel warnings.
New Zealand has one of the more user-friendly and less fear-mongering travel advisory websites. It breaks down the countries in to Extreme Risk, High Risk and Some Risk and has the most recent important news on its front page. For each country, it also provides links to the travel advisory sites of Britain, U.S.A., Canada and Australia.
Figure out your travel style.
Know what kind of activities you want to partake in and the level of comfort you want in order to narrow down your potential destination list. Do you want to do adventure sports? Check out some nature and wildlife? Be a beach bum? Observe a unique culture? Which culture’s food, music, art, religion or history appeal to you the most? Are you willing to rough it or do you have higher travel standards?
How much time do you have?
If you pick a spot you want to visit, think about whether or not there is somewhere nearby you’d really like to visit as well. If you’re itching to see a lot of places in a relatively small area (South East Asia, for example), you may want to visit when you have a large chunk of time. If you have a short amount of time, you’ll probably want to limit the amount of places to see. No matter what your travel style, jam-packing your trip can make travel stressful and take away from your overall experience.
Watch travel TV and documentaries and read travel memoirs.
I tend to get a lot of ideas about where I want to go this way. Shows and books can take you beyond the limitations of what you learned in school and beyond the well-known destinations to find out about interesting cultures, subcultures and landscapes you’ve probably never heard of.
Remember that pictures only tell part of the story.
It’s easy to look at a wonderful photo of a location and say, “I am dying to go there!” Popular destinations can often be photogenic but are not always as impressive or worth the money and effort when you see them in person. Reading recent travel blogs and articles about someone’s actual experience is great way to go instead of relying solely on pictures.
» Taking the First Steps Towards Planning Your Trip
Buy a guidebook.
I’ve started to buy guidebooks before I book trips because it helps me get acquainted with possible itineraries and get a sense of more specific locations I want to visit. Guidebooks are also great for figuring out how to get from one destination to another and finding out if the route you are planning is feasible. I spend a lot of time flipping through the “how to get there” sections and pay attention to whether or not a bus goes by where I want to go, how long it takes to get from place to place, etc.
Talk to people who have been to where you’re going.
Talking to people who know the destination has been the most helpful thing I’ve done before booking a trip. It’s even better if it’s a person who knows you well and/or someone who has a similar travel style to you. Talking to these people can be the best way to get a sense of which places to go, which places to skip, and how much time you should stay in a certain place. And both parties benefit because people are happy to help like-minded people discover the places they’ve enjoyed and they love having a chance to relive some of the moments they had there.
Keep in mind that you can’t see it all.
When I start to get a sense of all of the places I can visit in a destination, my first instinct is to start cramming my schedule. But that is not a fun way to travel, and trying to stick to a concrete schedule with limited time can drive you crazy when you’re abroad. I recommend coming up with a list of the places you’re super pumped to see and the places that you’ll logistically need to visit for flights or stopovers. Organize your schedule accordingly, leaving room for error and for visiting other places that sound interesting to you. Then leave the rest to the wind…