There are 196 countries in this beautiful world we live in and if you're anything like me, you want to see every damn one of them. If you're a whole lot like me, you'd be more than happy to live in almost half of them. But if you do the math (which I don't, because math is hard) the time you can dedicate to traveling and the funds you are able to allocate in order to make it happen don't usually match up to the desire you have to travel unless you're one of the Kardashians (who are too busy having elective surgeries and taking part in offensive Pepsi commercials to travel). It's just one of those "life isn't fair" type things. And by unfair, I mean cruel and sadistic. But when the time and the funds and the desire all match up, you're in for a pretty incredible experience. What I think a lot of first time travelers don't realize though is the amount of work that actually goes into planning a trip. It isn't easy, and the longer you plan to travel, the more intense the planning. However, it is also important to recognize the fact that there are different kinds of travelers: the planner, the laissez faire traveler, and the people like me who fall somewhere in between. That's to say that I have a general plan and an idea of what I want to do, but I am fully aware that plans are made to be changed and if you can't go with the flow and you plan on traveling anywhere for more than a weekend, you'll lose your damn marbles. With all of this in mind, I wanted to share my own methods for not only choosing where I want to travel next, but booking flights and hotels, creating a budget, and making sure you know the Do's and Don'ts of the places you're visiting. So here goes!
Alright, so if you have literally never in your live even one time ever kind of sort of traveled, specifically out of your native country, then first off congratulations on your impending trip! Obviously your first challenge is figuring out where the hell you want to go, which sounds easy but honestly can be the most difficult part. You have to figure out what you're looking to get out of a trip and what kind of experience you're looking to gain. Hate strenuous outdoor activities but love sitting on the beach with a drink in your hand? Maybe skip over hiking Patagonia and go for the Caribbean. Love history but hate language barriers? Find somewhere where your native language is spoken or else pick up Rosetta Stone and hope for the best, but until then maybe skip out on that remote village in Peru and head to Ireland for a wealth of historic knowledge spoken in a dialect of English that if you ask me is almost like a foreign language anyway. Nervous to travel outside of your home country and looking for a comfortable environment with just a hint of danger? Pass on Vietnam and take the super long flight to Australia (if you enjoy looking at beautiful men at the risk of death by a larger-than-average undoubtedly aggressive animal). Maybe you've always wanted to go to the Tulip Fields in the Netherlands but have no idea what there is to do in the surrounding area, or you saw a gorgeous picture of Santorini (like everyone else who has social media) and you feel like you might die if you don't book your flight right this second. You have to find your niche, and then you have to see if it will fit logistically. What if, like me, you can only get so much time off work before you have to come back and sit at your cubicle slowly dying inside? That's why my Europe trip with my 17 year old sister Sami will only last two weeks this summer. Or what if you've only got a small amount saved and that place you really want to go would blow your whole budget just on the flight itself? Unless you're willing to travel to a less developed country where you can get more for your money, or you're willing to quit your job to make the trip happen (both of these things are why/how Southeast Asia is happening this coming January), then you may have to put off that dream trip for a bit. But there is something to be said for compromise, because at some point you have to remind yourself that the vast majority of the time, the sheer fact that you are traveling somewhere new exciting will be more than enough to keep you happy no matter where you end up.
So I would honestly start by pulling up a tab for Google Maps and another one for Google Images, (also Pinterest if you’re an addict like me) and go to town. See what catches your eye, and when you've found a place that appeals to you aesthetically, start doing your research. Do they speak your native language? Do you care? What type of currency do they use and how does it compare to that of your home country? How will the currency conversion play into your budget? What size bag should you bring? And when you realize it’s way smaller than you think it should be, are you willing to buy a bigger bag heedless of the warnings of those who've made the trek before you at the risk of the sanity of future you who will have to carry said oversize-bag all over the world? Do you need any vaccines before heading out? Are there any cultural taboos you should be aware of? Do you want to stay close to big cities or are you looking to get off the beaten path? Do you simply want to travel, or do you want to work your way through a country by helping locals with odd jobs in return for room and board? If so, look into Workaway.com. Do they require a visa to enter the country? Is it a country in conflict? If so, are you going to help? Because there are websites to connect you with people looking for the same thing. **Please be sure that your presence will actually be of benefit to the country you aim to provide aide to, rather than a detriment** If you are a woman, is it a country where it is safe to travel alone? If not, maybe take some self defense classes before you head out, but remember that worrying about a potential threat halfway across the world is unnecessary when there are undoubtedly issues going on in your own country, and fear is not a reason to stay home. Should you book in advance or is this a region where you can walk up on the day of and say “Hey, got a bed for me?” with no issue (hello Southeast Asia)? If you’re a foodie (or a casual alcoholic) what foods and drinks is your destination known for? Are you a bustling hostel person or do you want to splurge on a hotel room for the sake of a little privacy? Personally I am a big proponent of the hostel approach, I believe it’s an integral part of the travel experience and a built-in way to meet people at this age, but I’m also someone who doesn’t mind sharing a room with 19 other people. On arrival, how will you get from Point A to Point B? Having a basic understanding of the infrastructure of any given region is HUGE! If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed and not sure you can do this on your own, that’s okay, because I have heard from several friends that companies like AAA offer great tours with a variety of routes all over the place and it’s a wonderful way to get your metaphorical travel feet wet!
So once you’ve found a place that you can’t hardly wait to visit, you have to get into the dirty details of it all, which (while I know doesn’t sound very exciting) can actually be pretty neat in terms of the role it plays in the whole experience that is traveling. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that isn’t freaking massive like mine, you might have the luxury of driving to your dream destination. For me, because – believe it or not – my dream destination is not Tuscon, AZ, I have to book a flight. But before you go typing “Travelocity” into your search bar, give me a minute of your time. In this regard, being a student gives you an edge for once because if you have an .edu email address you can purchase tickets through Student Universe, where tickets are almost always cheaper than other sites - probably because they know students are poor as all get out. If you’re like me and no longer suffering through the joys that are college, you can use OneTravel, WOW Air, or Norwegian Air – all of which very reputable sites with fantastic prices, and I can personally vouch for their validity! If your dates are more on the flexible side, I absolutely recommend downloading the Kiwi, Skyscanner and Hopper apps which will tell you when and where is the cheapest to travel at any given time (I love those apps more than I will ever love any potential children I may or may the fuck not have). For cheap tickets within Europe I suggest RyanAir if you don’t mind flying into a random airport outside of a major city and then taking the bus or train to the place you actually intended on going, and I’ve heard great things about AirAsia for (obviously) travel through Asia. Please bear in mind that all of these apps have an option to turn on notifications so that you literally don’t even have to look every day, once you log your search and prices are right you’ll get a little “bing” that tells you that you’re one step closer to your dream trip and it’s even almost affordable! As far as travel within any given country or travel to neighboring countries, please keep in mind that Uber and Lyft are in more places than you might think! Blablacar is another great app (like Uber and Lyft but long-distance travel where people post their planned trips and you can sign up to join them if they’re headed to where you want to go). If you’re going anywhere in Europe, there are trains and buses everywhere (Flixbus is awesome and they’ll even refund you when you miss your bus because it says it’s going to Milan even though it’s actually going to Zurich which is where you’re going and you just look at the sign rather than ask the damn driver but you learned your lesson so it's fine), and countries like Thailand have awesome train systems as well! I definitely recommend for longer transport that you do an overnight trip because that’s one less night you’re paying for a hostel and one less day wasted on traveling! Remember that while you can book an Uber whenever you feel like it, you need to book your Blablacar in advance and trains and buses are obviously based on availability, so you can take a gamble and purchase tickets on arrival when they may be cheaper, or buy online in advance!
Side note: 10/10 recommend renting bikes everywhere you can, it’s usually super affordable and so worth the experience!
Now that you know how the hell you’re getting there and getting around (at least a little) you need to figure out where to stay. Assuming you’ve basically broken Pinterest looking up different cities and activities you may want to partake in when you get there, it would be good to have a place to lay your exhausted (occasionally drunk) head at night. As I mentioned before, I am all about the hostel life. Half of my friends and followers on social media are wicked cool people that I happened to meet at one hostel or another and spent my time on that leg of the trip attached to them at the hip. These friendships, while physically fleeting, do quite a bit to shape the vibe of your trip and are freakin’ fantastic when you’re planning your next trip and have a free place to stay in Buenos Aires because you looked up from your finals studying while visiting Barcelona to eat dinner with the Argentenian girls who cooked a feast in the hostel kitchen. I’m telling you, hostel people are the best kind of people. As accommodation goes, hostels are the best when traveling alone and HostelWorld and Agoda are both fabulous sites for booking. If you’re traveling with a group and don’t feel the need to make quite as many new friends, AirBnb is a great option as well. Picking where to stay is a battle in and of itself, and if you’re not careful it can take a whole lot longer than it should. There is something to be said for being thorough, but any hostel is the right hostel if you make it work for you. I usually look for distance from the target city (often it’s cheaper to book something outside the city center and rely on transportation, but make sure transport runs late if you plan on getting home after a night on the town), price, and overall atmosphere rating – the more social the better. I always suggest looking at reviews at this point because only people who were VERY happy or REALLY unsatisfied with their stay will take the time to post. All in all though, while the hostel is important, you will hopefully only be there when you’re about to pass out from exhaustion, so don’t worry about it too much!
Next stop: food. I freaking love food. Like, I was meant to be on a documentary as the girl who weighs 1,000lbs and lives on German beer and pizza, but (un)fortunately for me, I also love working out, so no documentary-based fame for me. Honestly all I have to say for this bit is to do a little bit of research on what the region is known for food and drink wise so that you don’t miss out on something you don’t know you love. As I mentioned in my About Me, I have a rule that I’ll try anything once – though I may recant that one due to the possibility of snake blood shots in Southeast Asia, stay tuned on that one. Maybe the area you’re visiting is known for a certain wine or beer or drug (beware of the difference between Amsterdam coffee shops that serve actual coffee and coffeeshops that have weed menus at the ready). The point is, food is awesome and if you eat at freaking McDonalds in Morocco rather than find something authentic, I will make it my personal mission to hunt you down and force feed you kefta and Moroccan mint tea.
Last and most definitely least fun: budgeting. I know this is the super shitty part where looking at your bank account is like emotional cutting, but it has to happen. Or at least it probably should happen if you still plan on being a contributing member to society at the end of your trip. A big part of this is figuring out how much you’ll be able to save before your trip (I, for example, almost never go shopping and try to limit how often I drink or eat outside the house – it saves more than you can even imagine). My personal method when I’m about to spend money on a luxury item is to ask myself whether I can use it on my trip, and if not, to ask myself how many nights I could get a hostel in Malaysia with the money this *insert item* would cost me. It helps put it into perspective, and more importantly it usually ensures I put the item down and walk away - unless it's beer. I really love beer. When you’ve figured out how much you’ll be able to allocate towards your trip, you can determine how long it can feasibly last and the breadth of activities you can affordably take part in. As I mentioned before, most trips can be extended by doing volunteer work where you may not necessarily get paid but you can receive free room and board in return for your labor. It all just depends on what kind of travels you’re planning! As a human with cognitive function who passed fourth grade, you probably know how averages work. So take your average accommodation price, meal price, transportation price, and probable activity costs (add in drink averages if you and alcohol are bffs) and see what you’re working with!
Oh! Very important! Make sure you research cultural norms because you are visiting another culture - you cannot expect them to make exceptions for you, you are expected to adapt to your environment and do so in a way that sheds a positive light on the country you represent.
All in all, planning a trip is actually really exciting because it means that you're about to experience the awesomeness that is traveling to a new place with a new culture and a different way of life. I know I sound like a travel brochure and a fortune cookie had a sentimental lovechild but like, traveling is the bomb. And if you're not into all the planning then you know what? Just go. I support whatever method gets you the hell out of your house and into the world. Save every penny or take a spur of the moment trip with no return ticket and nothing in your bank account. Do what works for you. Do whatever it is that makes your heart physically hurt when you're not doing it, because that's what's worth doing.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)