To travel, or not to travel… but really, is that the question? For many of us the question is not will we travel, but how, where and when. I feel giddy at the thought of sitting in a cafe, with a table full of travel books, planning my next adventure. The sights, the culture, the promise of delicious food and unforgettable experiences can make anyone weak in the knees. But even the most romantic destination can’t be reached without some budgeting, research, and of course, planning. I envy those spontaneous travelers who embrace the thrill of leaving it all up to chance: hopping on a plane and figuring it out as they go — no plan, no expectations. That is not me. The thought of arriving in a foreign country without a game-plan, or at the very least, a place to stay – I can feel the anxiety building already. So if you are one of those bold souls who loves the thrill of the unknown, I applaud you, and send you off with well wishes. But for those of you who, like me, need those coffee shop prep days, let me point you in some of the directions that I have grown to love.
- Decide Where You Want To Go, (but not yet)
Picking your destination may seem like an obvious or even natural first-step, but I would propose otherwise. Remain open-minded. If you already have a destination in mind, wonderful. Start there. But hold on to the possibility that where you think you want to go may evolve as you move through the process, and that is okay! You may realize that what you want out of an adventure, may not match up with where you thought you wanted to go. I would encourage you to leave this question open until you complete all the other stages, and then ask yourself again. You may be surprised at the answer!
2. Decide What You Want
You can’t do it ALL. It’s sad but true that no matter how much we all wish it wasn’t, time is limited. There are too many cities, sights, smells, activities, and restaurants to ever be able to take them ALL in and (the important part) still truly enjoy them! I’ve found that cramming too much into a trip makes me feel less connected to the experience. My preference is to pick my “musts” for that trip, and really embrace them, rather than briefly trying do everything. The last thing you want after a trip abroad is for the places and people to all run together in your memories. You have to decide what you want to get out of the trip – Do you want to be the ultimate tourist and hit every museum and historic sight in the city? Would you rather skip the tourist attractions and just dive into the meat of the culture, finding the hole-in-the-wall hot spots? Or do you hope to find some balance between the two? If so, maybe you need to lengthen your trip, or travel to fewer cities. It’s preference, and there is no wrong answer, but I will caution you that over-planning tends to disappoint, and could lead to getting worn out before the trip is over.
3. Read Travel Blogs
I have grown to appreciate learning from the experience of others. Hearing someone else’s opinions and perspectives is exciting, and can take away some of the hesitancy that comes with the unknown. Now, I don’t think it is wise to blindly take every piece of advice you read – you have to know yourself, and know what you do and don’t like, but there is comfort in being given a starting point. Each time I begin mapping out a new destination, I look for bloggers who have done food tours, made lists of sight-seeing musts, and those who have found hidden gems that are breathtaking but off the beaten path. The internet can be overwhelming with opinions and advice, but it can also give you suggestions and ideas you just wouldn’t have heard elsewhere. A Little Adrift is a wonderful blog by an awesome adventurer. She gives great planning tips, travel deals, and practical advice to keep in mind. I always check for transportation deals, like a week-long unlimited bus ticket, or food specials, like a list of places that offer cultural cuisine at a discount, on certain days of the week. Nomadic Matt is one of my go-to bloggers for those hints and deals about how to make the most of your trip, and what you can expect, from a financial standpoint. Patti Morrow’s blog, Luggage and Lipstick, shares her do this, eat this, go here discoveries that can definitely steer first-timers in the right direction. And for all you foodies out there, Culinary Backstreets highlights cultural cuisines from Shanghai to Queens. These are only a handful of the awesome resources and personalities in the blogosphere, so I would encourage you to spend some time searching. Little things like this can make planning a trip seem less overwhelming, smoother, and definitely cheaper!
4. Let Someone Else Plan
Sometimes, the biggest hurdle isn’t setting aside time for a trip, but rather finding the time you need to plan the trip! We live in a busy world. Reading, budgeting, researching… that time can add up. Often, our lack of time leads to just not going anywhere. I have countless friends who talk about how they wish they had traveled more when they were younger, or they wish they had taken their kids to see more of the world. I’ve yet to hear anyone say they just took too many vacations and delved into too much culture. There are lots of programs and agencies that will help you plan your trip. All you really need to do is tell them what is important to you and they will give you options to help you piece it together.
There are also organizations, like World Affairs Council of America (WACA) who have gone above and beyond, by planning everything- yes everything, and all you have to do is sign up. The destinations and agendas are endless. Being a member of WACA gives you access to these planned adventures. The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia offers a huge variety, from cruises, lecture trips, even private jet trips! In 2017 alone they have trips planned to Russia, Central Asia, and Peru, to name only a few. You’ll see the sights, take in the culture, and know upfront how much it all will cost. It can’t get more hassle free than that! How do you become a member of these organizations? Well, for starters, if you’re a member of Upstate International (UI), you already are!! UI is the home of World Affairs Council Upstate, which makes you eligible for all WACA has to offer. If you aren’t already a member, find out how to join on our Website. Member councils, like ours, can be found in 40 U.S. states, each offering unique benefits and opportunities. It is a great way to get involved with your community, meet people who share your same love for culture and travel, and support the international diversity in your city!
So, travel lover, now that you have decided what sort of adventure you want to take, read up on the cuisine, local hot spots, best tourist attractions, and places to stay, learned the tricks of the trade for doing it within your budget, and decided if you want to plan your own trip, or pass the baton to someone else, there is only one thing left to decide:
Where do you want to go?