PART III: CHOOSING YOUR DESTINATION
Let’s be real…you probably already have a bucket list of places you want to go. If you are a dreamer like me, you have already googled yourself crazy with searches of your dream destinations. Your computer desktop is a constantly rotating slideshow of dreamy National Geographic photos. Your heart pitter-patters when you see a Lonely Planet Guidebook. You follow, maybe even stalk, every travel blogger out there.
A lot of people start off their travels with a trip to Europe. It’s easy. It’s similar enough to America. The food is (mostly) safe. It makes sense. However, while Europe is fine and dandy (Ok…AND gorgeous and culturally impressive) it is NOT cheap. If you’re wallet is tiny to medium-small, you should probably consider somewhere cheaper such Asia or Central America. However, everyone wants something different out of their trips. Below are some questions to ask yourself…
What do you want out of your travels?
- Do you see yourself lying on a beach? Snorkeling? Reading? Writing the next best-seller?
- Do you want adventure? Maybe you want to rock climb or surf in some exotic location?
- Do you want to explore cities or stay in more rural areas?
- Do you prefer solitude or do you like to be around lots of people?
- What type of weather are you looking for?
- Do you want to volunteer or teach?
Make a list of the things that are most important to you. Also, make a list of the things you DON’T want and things you can’t deal with (ie. big spiders, squat toilets, rainy weather etc). Check out the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. You can read about almost any destination out there plus you can join the forum and ask questions of other travelers.
How long to you want to go?
One month? Six? Two years? This will guide your financial planning and might be wholly determined by your savings account AND by the amount of time you can negotiate off.
Clearly, the cheaper the place you choose, the longer you can go (if you can get the time off/quit your job). Maybe you can only get one month off. In that case, you might be able to afford a larger budget per day. Europe might not be a bad choice for you after all.
When do you want to go?
Today? In three months? Be reasonable. Yes. You probably want to go right now. Hey, I do too! But realistically look at your finances and determine how much you time you will need to save.
Some other things to consider…
1. Can you deal with a language barrier? For most places..it does not matter as much as you might think. Being born an English speaker is a gift to travel-hungry people like you and I. Loads of people speak English all around the world. When they don’t, hand gestures and pointing at your guidebook can get you pretty far. If you still want to go to an English-speaking country, consider places like Belize, New Zealand or South Africa. There will still be plenty of adventure to be had!
2. Can you deal with the weather? You might like hot weather. I know I do. But can you deal with heat, humidity and pollution of a city, WITH a backpack on your back? I think you can. But just know that you won’t find A/C everywhere and might just have to embrace sweatiness. The locals do it…you will adapt. On the other hand, if you go to a cooler place, remember that you will be packing around heavier stuff and probably be spending more time inside (READ…spending more money).
3. Are you an adventurous eater? Again, in many places, you can get Western food. However, it is usually more expensive, and, is that really what you want? Travel is about adventure. This includes eating adventurously!
4. Do you need access to internet? I’ve found that internet cafes are more readily available in developing countries than in Western countries. If you need access for work or to talk to family, then this is something that is important and needs to guide your choice of places. If you head out to more rural places, consider that you might not have internet access while you are there. You will be OK. In fact, it’s pretty liberating.
5. Do you want to travel around or stay in one place for awhile? While you may want to fit in as many places you can, moving around so much can really be a drag. Staying in one place saves you money and allows you to really soak in the culture of a place.
SO, Where should you go?
Really, the world is your oyster! Review your list and pick a place that best matches what you want out of your trip (beach, mountains, city, hot, cool, tasty food etc.), with what you can afford and the amount of time you have off. The cheaper the place, the sooner you can go and the longer you can go. Again, I highly recommend the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. (And no, they do not pay me for this plug.) The internet is your friend. Use it!