Daunting, intimidating and downright terrifying are three words that perfectly describe the moment when you decide to up-root and disappear travelling, whether you’re planning to go away for a week or travel for a month, a year or even a lifetime. It’s no mean feat working out where to go, how to get there and what you’ll do when you arrive which is why I’ve put pen to paper to share my own technique with you.
The first step is working out what you want to achieve when you travel. A cultural tour of cities? A detox on a beach? An expedition across inhospitable terrain? Whatever it is, you need a goal, even if the goal is to do nothing at all! Generally travellers can be divided into two categories when identifying a goal: the first type of traveller wants to see everything a country has to offer – the cultural attractions, the different landscapes, local gastronomy and culture. The second group are those who want to do something out of the ordinary; climbing a mountain, trekking through a desert, sailing around a continent and so on. Identifying yourself as one or the other is a good place to start and will seriously help you in choosing where to go.
Once you’ve decided what your goal is the best thing to do is pick up a map of the world and think about where you want to go. Personally, I stare at the world map that hangs on my wall in rural south Shropshire and think about all the places I haven’t been. With 5 continents and almost 200 countries to visit you really are spoilt for choice! Obviously if you’ve decided to do a serious mountain climb you’re going to be looking at one of the big ones which helps to narrow down your options – Everest, Kilimanjaro or Mont Blanc spring to mind! Equally something like a safari or desert adventure helps to give you some scope on where to go. Don’t fancy anything like that? Not to worry. It will be slightly harder to choose a location but on the plus side you have the whole world to choose from. The next steps are designed to help you narrow it down.
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It’s also time to bring you back down to Earth – before you go crazy planning the trip of a life time jetting across the globe, climbing everest, cruising the Mediterranean, diving with sharks in Australia and road-tripping across the US, you need to ask two very important questions: How much time do I have? And how expensive is this going to be? These are two incredibly crucial factors when planning your trip.
If you have all of the time in the world I suggest you buy a one way ticket somewhere and wing-it with a very loose itinerary; you’ll find that intricately planning each aspect of your trip and booking tickets in advance will be more of a hindrance than you’d expect. Of course your tickets may be more expensive when you eventually decide to move on, but this only tends to be the case with air-fares. If you are travelling between places using local transport (trains, buses etc.) prices rarely increase the nearer you book and many fares are fixed anyway. Give yourself plenty of time to relax and really get a feel for the place you’re visiting and then, when you’re ready, travel to the next location. Whilst not knowing where you’re going can seem a bit scary, once you’ve spent some time somewhere and met people who have travelled around the area you’ll be in a much better position to decide where to go afterwards.
If you have just a few weeks or a couple of months to go away you’re better off deciding where you’d like to visit in advance and the most important thing to remember is to try not to cram in too much. There’s nothing worse than wishing you could stay longer in a certain place but having to leave because your itinerary is too rushed. On the same note, I find that no matter how long you give yourself somewhere, you almost always find things to fill that time and wish you had more. So be realistic – doing a whistle stop tour of Europe in 6 weeks probably won’t be much fun; you’ll spend more time travelling than relaxing and you might struggle to make lasting bonds with the people you meet if you’re only staying a day or two. That being said, if you’re like me and want to see as much as possible in the limited time you have whilst you travel then rushing around a continent could be exactly what you want – last summer I saw 32 countries in just 66 days! But be warned: being on the go for such a length of time does take its toll and you’ll definitely need a couple of long breaks along the way to recover from all the night trains and long journeys!
The next thing to consider is how deep your pockets are. If you’re on a fairly limited travel budget countries like Austria and Switzerland are probably off the cards – I once paid the equivalent of £6 for a pretzel in Zurich! Equally avoiding Euro countries and North America is probably a good idea. The good news is that if you’re looking to get off the beaten track, your airfare tends to be the biggest cost. Many places in South America, Africa and Asia are very cheap and in some you can get by with as little as five or ten pounds a day! If you’re blessed with deep pockets and money isn’t really a concern for you then you are much less limited in your choice of location, but bare in mind the above advice as some places, especially European cities like London, Paris, Milan and Vienna, will quickly burn through your budget!
If you’re still at a complete loss as to where to travel, you can always pick a place at random! Try to narrow it down to 10 or so places, write them down on pieces of paper, put them all in a pot and pick one at random! Or even better, ask someone else to pick one. Wherever you end up you’ll have the time of your life and I swear you won’t regret it! And besides, you’ve got to start somewhere!