Some of us know exactly where we want to travel to while others just know they want to go someplace. So, how do you decide on a destination?
1. Figure out the type of vacation/trip you want to have (i.e. adventure, relaxation, beach, ski, etc.).
2. What’s your budget? This will help you to determine the length & locale. Some people think that international travel is too expensive to consider. But, smart travellers can save a lot of money by travelling during the right months (shoulder or off-peak season) & with proper planning (staying in a vacation rental instead of a hotel, buying tickets in advance, taking trains, buses & shuttles, etc). Travel Tip #2 will focus on how to travel overseas on a budget.
3. What time of year? Keep in mind that southern countries & islands have opposite seasons than the US (i.e. South America & South Africa have their summer season during our winter season). So, if you are looking for a tropical vacation during the holidays, check out the Caribbean, Mexico, South America & Africa. If you want to save money and travel off-peak to Europe (including the UK and Asia), it will be cold there (maybe even more so) than it is here and there are less hours of sunlight but you can still have the trip of a lifetime.
4. Travel as part of a tour group or on your own?
a. The advantages of a tour group (especially in foreign speaking countries) is that you have a set schedule with an English-speaking guide and are pretty much guaranteed to see the big tourist attractions. I strongly recommend going with a tour group (i.e. Ambassadair) for Asian countries (the language barrier is a killer) or if you want to experience the “typical” tourist adventure in any country without the pressure of planning it yourself. These “pre-packaged” tours are pretty easy to do. Just sign up and go.
b. If you are comfortable with planning your own logistics & want to have a bit more flexibility to your trip, doing it on your own can be cheaper & more exciting. I would only recommend doing this on shoulder & off-peak seasons for major trips (i.e. visiting Italy for the first time). Peak season brings loads of tourists and you’ll end up spending a lot of your time standing in line.
5. Buy a guidebook. I never travel without one. Rick Steves is my best friend when I go to Europe. Most of his books are updated annually (however, I only replace mine every 3 years as you can go online to www.ricksteves.com and get the updates). This is great because you have the most up to date information before you travel. Just know that Rick only covers Europe, the UK and Istanbul. For other locales, try Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel & Frommers. Before planning a European trip, I suggest you pick up Rick Steves “Europe Through the Back Door” as it has a lot of great travel tips (buy it on amazon.com to save $).
6. Verify that you have a valid passport. U.S. passports are valid for 10 years. I believe they cost approximately $165 (passport book & card) or $135 (passport book only) for a first time adult applicant (16+). Renewal is approximately $140 (adult passport & card) or $110 (adult passport only). Minors are charged $115 for first time applicant. However, check the website for the most current fee schedule. Passports must be valid for up to 6 months after your ticketed date of return.
7. Visas. Be sure to verify if the country you plan to visit requires a visa as well as a passport. If so, you will need to fill out the proper paperwork. I generally get my visas thru CIBT (which also processes passports as well).
8. Vaccinations. Visit the CDC website to see what (if any) vaccinations are required. You should definitely make sure your tetanus shot is up to date and consider getting the Hep A vaccination. A lot of cities have “travel clinics” where you can make an appointment with a nurse, tell them the countries you plan to visit and they will suggest the recommended (or required) vaccinations.
9. Travel Insurance. This is a bit like gambling — you just don’t know if you will need it. I recommend it because you never know what can happen and it can give you some peace of mind. I was lucky to have travel insurance when my luggage got lost on a trip to Italy. This allowed me to be reimbursed for the clothes I had to buy while I waited for my luggage to arrive.
10. Be safe. It never hurts to check on the state of affairs in the country you plan to visit. I generally look at the travel alerts on the U.S. State Department website and ASIS International (which will give you the demographics, crime rates & incidents, political climate, & emergency contact numbers). Also, I research any local scams on Rick Steves Graffiti Wall. This has proved to be invaluable.