I’m lazy when it comes to planning. I pass it off as being laid-back, going-with-the-flow. But, honestly, I’ve had better experiences by doing just a little bit of research in advance. Through my time traveling, I’ve cultivated research methods that work for me with minimal effort. These may be decision-making tactics, the first sites I visit, or general tips I’ve picked up throughout my time abroad.
As it so happens, I’m planning two trip with very different goals for the coming year: one short trip and one longer backpacking adventure. Hopefully, this will be a series that follows my lazy planning techniques and also motivates me to try a little harder at being organized. Maybe I plan ahead more than you, maybe less–it all depends on personal preference and experience. Either way, let’s start at the beginning.
Before you start packing, you’ve got to know where you’re headed. Choosing a destination for travel is a thrilling experience: excitement and daydreams flourish, visions of adventure, romance, and self-exploration abound. However, realizing that you probably won’t be able to travel through China by train in a week, or live it up in Paris long term with a couple thousand dollars can bring these dreams to a halt.
Of course, time and money are two of the largest considerations for travelers. You can let them drag you down, or use them to leverage your creativity and come up with a unique travel experience.
Choosing a destination: Short-term travel (1-2 weeks)
Let’s assume money is always a consideration. You want to stretch your dollar no matter what (I know I do). The problem is, you might not be in a part of the world where travel to a budget-friendly destination is so easy. Maybe you can afford to spend a bit more because you are only planning to be away for a couple of weeks, but you don’t want to throw money away.
Living in a more northern area of Canada, I’m in for several hours of flying if I want to leave the country. However, the benefit of living in a fairly large city means that the airport is pretty well-connected.
Doing a quick Google search can provide you with a list of cities that fly direct from your closest airport. I found that the only destination outside of North America that I can directly fly to is Reykjavik in Iceland (though, geologically Iceland is divided by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plate, but let’s not get technical here). Luckily, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Nordic destinations recently and found I can fly direct to Iceland in a little over 6 hours.
Of course, direct flights save time (travel time and time spent in airport land), but do they save money? The answer really depends.
Once you’ve got a couple a destinations that might interest you, it’s time to check prices for the time of year that you’re traveling. I always use Skyscanner to check ticket prices–I just always find the best deals there. It turns out that Icelandair has a lot of pretty good deals from a few different cities in North America. Edmonton has some pretty decent fares to Pheonix, Seattle, and Portland–but, I won’t be living here forever and the deal to Iceland is a bigger bang for your buck. Don’t book now (unless you are 100% sure), but enter your email to get price alerts for the dates and destinations. You might be surprised by a flash deal.
So, I chose a pretty pricey destination. But, as we see from articles like this one from Nomadic Matt, budget travel is certainly possibly in many destinations if you are really committed. But, we’ll get more into that in the future.
Choosing a destination: Long-term travel (Several months or more)
Plenty of travelers tote backpacks all over the world, moving from couch to dorm to couch, relying on sites like Couchsurfing, finding the cheapest hostel dorms, and punctuating travels with periods of WWOOFing and taking advantage of working holiday agreements. This means that budget travel can be had in many destinations, depending on your level of comfort and the type of travel you want to experience.
However, if you’re looking for a place to best stretch your budget, starting your search in South America or Southeast Asia can be a good idea. Don’t choose a country because it is cheap, choose a place because you are genuinely interested in its landscape and culture. How rich is your lifestyle? This is something you need to come to terms with before making the choice, and be honest about it. Many are fine with budget travel, but if you prefer luxury, maybe it’s best to live it up in Thailand rather than scrape your pennies in Norway. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
I’ll get more into accommodations and conveniences in the future, but I’ll admit that as an introvert, I feel lost without a certain degree of privacy. I like to eat well and enjoy a few drinks without breaking the bank. These are things that I’m willing to give up, but have an interest in maintaining. Having traveled through Southeast Asia last year, I’m planning to backpack through South America in 2015. The details haven’t been hammered down, but here’s how I came to the choice.
Full disclosure, I’ve always been interested in Latin American culture and Spanish language. So… this decision was pretty simple for me. I also wanted a place where I could volunteer with some conservation initiative (I’ll get into how to do this ethically in the future). I wanted to go somewhere that I could experience different ecosystems and climates (mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, forest). And, I really wanted to go to Patagonia (which I mentioned here… and here). Luckily, South America is (for the most part) a budget-friendly continent and I can get much cheaper flights from where I live. I won’t visit every country, but will focus on spending more time in my areas of interest (also, I’ll get into later).
- Many destinations can be made budget-friendly, don’t write something off without checking into it
- Check for direct flights to help you deal with time constrictions
- Check out airlines for special rates to certain destinations
- Sign up for price alerts
- Remember, newer things like Couchsurfing and Airbnb can lead to cheap and unique accommodations
- Don’t be afraid to be an at-home explorer!
Do you have more tips to add? Share them with me!