Tip: Picking A Travel Destination
People have often asked me “how do you decide where you are going to travel?” Although I had not previously thought about the process I go through to make that decision, I soon realized that I do indeed have a process. I also realized that my thought process is rather consistent. Before deciding on a travel destination, I always think about and/or research the following things:
1. How Much Money Do I Have to Spend?
You have to pay to play. Taking a trip can get costly. Even if you are able to use airline miles or cash in points for accommodations, you still have to account for ground transportation, housing, food, and entertainment. Take a realistic look at your finances and estimate how much money you have to spend for the entire trip. In the past, I have often used “windfall money” for trips. My “windfall money” has included income tax refunds, bonus checks, or extra paychecks (I get paid every other Friday–but about twice a year there are three Fridays in a month instead of two, which equals extra money in my pocket.)
2. Where Can I Get the Most Bang for My Buck?
When taking an extended trip, this is one of the most important things that I consider. But how do you know how far your dollar will stretch? First, you can browse the internet to get an idea of how much the trip will cost. Looking at hotel sites like Booking.com, Orbitz, or AirBnB can give you an idea of how much hotels or hostels will cost. Although hotel costs is an initial indicator–I don’t think it’s the best. The price can increase based on the location within the city or just because the demand is high on a particular day.
I also look at a currency converter website to see the exchange rate. If the exchange rate is 1:1, you can probably assume that the cost of your intended destination will be similar to what you are used to here in the US. If the cost is 2:1 (with the US Dollar being the smaller amount), you can expect a pretty pricey trip.
Although the exchange rate is a better indicator than the hotel rates, the exchange rate alone will not necessarily give you an idea of the affordability of a destination. So what do I think is the best indicator of whether I will get the most bang for my buck while traveling? Surprisingly…it’s knowing the cost of a Big Mac and the cost of living in general. Since I don’t frequent McDonald’s as often as I did as a 22 year old and I would like to have an idea of how much a country costs BEFORE I get there, I now rely on Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index. This website will tell you how much a bottle of water or gallon of milk costs. Having an idea of what locals pay for everyday items can give you a pretty good idea of the affordability of items. Make sure to take the currency conversion into account when estimating the cost of living.
Combining these tools can usually give you a pretty decent idea of how much bang you will get for your buck.
3. How Much Time Do I Have to Travel?
If I only have three or four days, a 10 hour flight probably won’t work for me. I factor in flight times and time changes when deciding where to go. I generally like to spend as much time as possible in a location–so if I am short on time, I usually tend to travel closer to home.
4. What Will the Weather Be Like When I Want to Travel?
After graduating from law school, I wanted to go to India. I have several friends from the country and asked their advice on taking the trip. They all advised me not to go. Specifically, one friend said, “my mother was born and raised in India and she will never go in August. It’s way too hot!”
On the opposite end of that, I ended up taking a side trip to Istanbul in January and did not realize that it would be colder than any winter I had experienced in my city of residence. I was MISERABLE. My pictures were terrible because I was either bundled up or the wind was so piercing that I was squinting. Nothing can ruin a dream vacation faster than expecting sunshine but getting snow. Investigate the weather of your intended destination well in advance.
5. I am Already Traveling for Work/Family/Leisure: Do I Have a Few Days for a “Side Trip?”
Sometimes, you may know that you have to travel for a work or family obligation. If you have some extra time, why not go someplace nearby that you have not been to before? In 2012, I traveled to Tel Aviv for a wedding. I had already spent two weeks in Israel a few years prior–so I decided to take some time to visit a nearby country. A side trip can be as long or short as you desire and can be as close as a neighboring city or as far away as another country. If I have a few days to spare, I always consider nearby travel destinations.
6. What Can I Experience While I Am There?
Although many prefer carefree vacations–you have to have an agenda for traveling. The agenda can be as simple as laying on the beach all day or having a detailed, minute by minute itinerary. Whether it’s a shopping experience, culinary adventures, outdoor activities, or site seeing, make sure to do some research on the country before you go. Googling “what to do in XXX” will give you ideas. Trip Advisor also ranks the most popular destinations in each city. If you do some research and nothing seems exciting, look for another place to go.
There are several other factors that may determine where you travel, but hopefully this list will help you narrow down your list. Happy Travels!