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Everyone travels differently. There are some people who take months and months to plan a trip and then there are some who just pack a bag, go to the airport, and buy a ticket to anywhere.
I prefer planning my trip out, especially if I'm going somewhere I don't know the language and if I'm going alone.
Since I am a relatively new solo world traveler, I'm still figuring out what planning methods are best for me and my budget. I will go through a few steps that really helped me as I prepare for my next trip. Hopefully, you will get some pointers out of this.
How do I choose my destination?
It's funny that you would ask such a question. Pinterest actually gave me the idea for my unique way of choosing a destination.
I bought a mason jar, wrote places I wanted to go on slips of paper, and put them in the jar. Every year on January 1 I pull out a slip of paper and that will be my vacation destination for the year.
My 2018 destination is South Korea, so I will use this as an example throughout the article.
When it comes to something as exciting as hopping on a plane to a foreign destination, you need to know a little bit about the place you're going.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What time of the year is best to go?
- What should my budget be?
- What do I want to see while I'm there?
- How long will it take to see everything I want to see? (Rough Estimate)
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?
There are a couple of factors I take into account on deciding when to go on my trip.
- High tourist traffic
Traveling is stressful, adding crazy weather into the mix can make it even worse. You can find a lot of information on the internet like; past weather reports, blog posts, government websites, etc. Those can help you determine when the most rainfall, snowfall, high or low temperatures happen.
I don't travel a lot during the late spring or summer time because of the high tourist traffic. Over-crowded planes with screaming children and drunk college students is not my ideal flight. Attractions sell out quicker, lines double in length, and tempers tend to flare more when it gets too crowded.
I tend to fare better under cooler conditions. Fall is my favorite time of year and it turns out that it's a perfect time to travel to South Korea.
Once you decide on the season, you have an idea as to what clothes to pack. BONUS!
While researching your destination, you may find that it's a pretty expensive place to vacation. To make this trip happen, you must assess your budget.
How much is the plane ticket? How much am I going to spend on hotels and food? How much are the attractions? Do I need a rental car or will public transportation suffice?
If you live paycheck to paycheck like I do, sacrifices have to be made.
Cancel that meal delivery service, video streaming account, and magazine subscription. Lower your internet service plan, live in the dark, invest in a crock-pot, use coupons, sell your unread books and un-watched DVDs.
Most banks have these cool things where you can schedule a transaction. I have my accounts set up to where every time I get my paycheck, so much of it goes into savings automatically. It's great and I urge you to use it if your bank has that feature. It keeps you accountable and you'll have a hefty cushion to fall back on if emergencies happen.
I am religious about checking plane ticket prices. Every month or so I'll get on Expedia and check out the prices. When I saw a great price for my tickets that I had never seen before I snatched them up real quick.
Expedia is my favorite online travel booking service. You can buy plane tickets, book hotels, and book attractions in the city you're staying. They also provide travel insurance on hotels. Even though it's a little extra, it's important to have.
ALWAYS GET THE INSURANCE!
With Expedia hotel insurance, if you cancel a hotel 24 hours before check-in, you will get a full refund.
Opt for a smaller, lesser known hotel chain (but still look at reviews) to book instead of the Hilton or Ritz. Avoid eating at fancy restaurants and enjoy the local stalls or markets. I mean, that's why you're there, right? To immerse yourself in the country's culture?
Renting a car or taking public transportation is completely up to you. Just know, renting a car can be extremely expensive...especially if you don't know how to drive in Europe...*flashbacks*....
If the country or city you're staying in has public transportation passes for tourists, take them up on it. It's cheaper overall and most modern cities have excellent bus and rail systems.
If there is a way to save, use it.
What am I going to see while I'm there?
This is the fun part of the whole planning process.
Are you a history buff? Shopaholic? In on the action type? Outdoors-man/lady?
I love history and art, partaking in cultural events, and being outdoors. Luckily, South Korea has something for everything I'm interested in; ancient temples, museums, beautiful hiking trails everywhere, and cultural events for me to participate in with the guidance of locals and experts.
Research. Research. Research. I cannot say this enough. Go to Half-Price Books and purchase a travel guide or go online. The internet is your friend when it comes to planning out your day-to-day schedule.
Below, you will find a mock itinerary template that I designed. I love Google Slides and PowerPoint, so utilizing them makes the process even more fun. Another awesome advantage of these programs is that you can use them on your smart phone so you don't have to print them out.
I group my attractions by city and then physical location within the city. Doing this saves me time, energy, and money spent on transportation.
Also, it's okay to stray from your schedule. You're on vacation, live a little bit and go off the beaten path. You never know what you'll discover.
Tip: If you are in a foreign country and don't know the language very well, having your hotel address written down on a sticky note or piece of paper will be helpful to taxi drivers.
How long should I stay?
The decision on how long to stay is entirely up to you. The more you want to see and do, the longer you'll need to stay.
I'm taking a solid two weeks off work for my South Korea trip, that includes a couple of days to recover from jet lag.
Look at your work or school schedule and see what works for you.
A Few More Tips
- In preparation for international travel, learn a little bit of the language. Make flashcards or carry around a pocket sized phrasebook to help you out in sticky situations.
- Read blogs from people who have been to the country or city you're going to. They can give you tips and insight on their experience.
- Check to see if you need a visa. For US citizens, check out the link below to see if they country you're traveling to requires a visa.
- Make sure you let your family know where you're going and how to contact you.
Know the location of your country's embassy in case of emergencies.
Make sure your passport and important documents are up to date and valid.
I hope you first time travelers find this helpful.