Planning your trip

So you’ve been bitten by the travel bug and want to leave the country. Enough scrolling through your friends’ Instagram photos from trips to Iceland and Amsterdam and Berlin. Now it’s your turn. But where to begin?

Poll the audience

If you’ve been secretly (or not-so-secretly) envious of the travels of your friends, family, and coworkers, use their vacations as a source of inspiration. Talk to them about it, look through their photo albums, and don’t be bashful about asking for recommendations. Keep an informal log of where your extended social network has traveled and note the places that wowed you.

And if you solicit travel advice in a status update, Facebook will automatically add links and map the locations of places based on the specific recommendations you receive from friends.

Choose the right season

So, you’ve picked your travel dates and have settled on a destination — but have you made sure that the two work well together? Costa Rica in June may seem like the perfect summer adventure, for example, until you realize it’s the country’s rainy season. Or, perhaps you’ve longed to swim along the coast of Croatia, only to discover that the water is still too cold when you visit in April. Here are just a few considerations to make when selecting travel dates:

  • Will you travel during peak tourist season, and how will that affect prices and overcrowding?
  • What are the average high and low temperatures for that time of year?
  • What is the average precipitation for the region during your travel dates?
  • How many hours of daylight will there be?
  • Are water temperatures suitable for swimming?
  • What flora and fauna can you expect to see?
  • Will roads be passable?
  • Will your trip coincide with a special occasion, such as a national holiday, annual festival, or local event?

Know your budget

It’s easier to splurge during a short vacation, but you may need to set a stricter budget for extended trips. Scoring a cheap flight can go a long way towards keeping your costs down. Still, you’d be wise to think more deeply about your travel preferences and associated costs.

  • How strong is the U.S. dollar compared to the currency of the country where you’ll be traveling?
  • Does the country have a relatively high or low cost of living?
  • How expensive are the hotels? Would you consider staying in a hostel or Airbnb to lower costs?
  • How do you plan to get around? Can you rely on public and mass transit or will you need to rent a car?
  • Do you plan to frequently eat out or can you prepare meals?
  • Are the activities you’re planning free or is there an admission charge?
  • Are you traveling off-peak or during the height of the tourist season?

Give yourself flexibility

You’re far more likely to score a great travel deal if you can be flexible about your travel dates and destination. If you start scouring the sites (and Twitter feeds) of The Flight Deal, Airfarewatchdog, Secret Flying and others, you might just find that $250 round trip flight to Mexico City you were looking for. But act decisively, because incredible deals can book up quickly. Alternatively, if you already know your destination and travel dates, you can also set up alerts on various travel search engines to notify you when fares drop.

Borrow before you buy

Once you’ve settled on a destination — or perhaps if you’re still looking for inspiration — head to a nearby public library and browse their travel section. The selection may not be as up to date or extensive as your local bookstore, but can nonetheless be useful to travelers who balk at the price of buying a brand new travel guide for a one-time international trip. Older editions of travel guidebooks won’t feature the hot new restaurant or just-opened hotel, but they can help orient you to major tourist sites and provide regional context as you plan your itinerary.

Set your pace

Once you lock in your travel dates, it’s time to start fleshing out your itinerary. Consider whether you and your travel companions like to change locations frequently or prefer to stay in one place as a home base for day trips and local outings. Do you need to see all of the sites on your list or are you willing to take a more leisurely approach to sightseeing? Are you hoping to have an adventurous trip, a relaxing vacation, an immersive cultural experience, or some combination of the three? Answering these questions will help you determine where to go and how best to spend your time.

Don’t overdo it

The benefit of fully planning an itinerary in advance is that it eliminates some of the day-to-day rigors of international travel. You’ll already know where to stay each day, what activities to pursue, and where to eat. The downside, however, is that you risk having too rigid a schedule in which every minute of every day is accounted for. You might not have the flexibility to spend an extra night in your new favorite place, linger at a museum for a more immersive experience, or simply take off a day from sightseeing. A balance of planned activities and unscheduled time may give you the freedom to more fully experience a new city or country during your travels.

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About The Author

Jeff Rechler is a marketing communications professional whose travels have taken him across the globe to destinations as varied as Bolivia, Croatia, and Morocco.

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