The hardest part of planning a big trip is narrowing it down. Once you realize that the world really is your oyster, and that the possibilities really are limitless, it becomes a very big project indeed.
You could go anywhere. You could do anything. How will you decide? How will you narrow it down? How do you know where to start, where to end, and what you want to do most?
Breathe into a paper bag with me for a minute, and let’s look at five questions that you can ask yourself to begin to find direction and lay out the skeleton of your first big adventure.
Where Have You Always Wanted to Go?
Here’s a secret: The path to happiness and your adventure is not found in a guidebook or on your favorite blog.
Perhaps you fell in love with a particular place through a book, or a teacher, or the Cambodian kid you sat next to in seventh grade. Perhaps you’ve had a love affair with a particular cuisine for a decade. Perhaps it’s that postcard that’s been taped on your fridge for years, the one you escape into with your mind when you want to be anywhere but here.
Sometimes your first destination is a no brainer, or it should be:Go to the place that you’ve always wanted to be in.
What Languages Do You Speak?
If you speak only one language, and you haven’t honed your hand signs and sense of humor yet, perhaps you want to consider that in your planning. If you speak three languages fluently, then there’s a much wider swath of the planet that will be considered “easy” for you to travel in.
Be honest with yourself about the skills you bring to the table and how far you want to stretch yourself. Spend some time learning the “languages” you need as you go!
What Time of Year Are You Going?
There are often very good reasons to travel in the absolute opposite of high season, and the shoulder seasons on either side are even better yet, in most cases.
By traveling in the shoulder seasons, or low season, you’ll avoid the throng of holiday makers, you’ll get better rates on everything from accommodations to tours, and you’ll find that the traveler to local ratio is much more favorable. Especially if your goal is to see the “real” place that you’re visiting.
Here’s another secret: After six plus years of life on the road, we now actively plan to avoid high season virtually everywhere we go. It saves us thousands of dollars, and we have a much better “local” experience.
How Long Do You Have?
Are you planning to move forward the whole time and stay in hostels? Or are you planning to rent local places for weeks to months at a time and dig a little deeper in the regions that matter to you?
When thinking about how much you’re going to see in the amount of time you have, especially if you’re a first-timer to this whole long-term travel thing, keep in mind that the slower you go, the less cities and countries you see, the less money you’ll spend.
Moving fast and seeing more = spending more. Period.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do that – everyone needs to do what’s right for their trip, but when talking with folks who have traveled long-term before and asking them what they’d do differently, the most common response we hear is, “I wish I would have moved a slower pace.”
Would you like the saddest secret of all: The longer you have, the longer you travel, the more you’ll realize what you haven’t seen.
How Confident Are You?
There are lots of ways to do your first adventure, no matter what destination you settle on. How confident you are in your own ability to keep all of the balls in the air should be a determining factor in how you decide to travel. Maybe you’re ready to hit the road alone. Perhaps you’d feel better taking a friend. It could be that you’re cool with just booking the tickets and leaving the rest to fate. But you might enjoy it more if you had at least some of your plans, near the beginning of the trip at least, carved in stone.
Tips For First-Timers
Unless you have an unlimited budget, if you decide to buy one-way flights as you go, you’ll be spending a lot of your time on the road trying to find a good price on that next flight when you decide where it is you’re going next (which also takes time!). While the idea of waking up one morning in Rio and saying, “I want to go to Paris today,” sure is romantic, the reality of the situation is that you most likely aren’t going to be able to find an affordable, last minute flight across the world.
We slept on raft houses in Thailand with a group of girls who were on a two week “Intro to Thailand” tour, in which a guide brought them up to speed on Thai culture and customs, basic words and phrases, as well as giving them the skills they needed to navigate public transportation on their own. It was an “easy” way to dive into a totally foreign experience, and a way to stack the deck towards a positive experience on your first leap outside the box.
Remember: Travel is not a contest! Do it your way!