Travel the world: How I choose a destination
Before I met my husband my geography was terrible. I knew Mexico, Canada, and Florida. Was Florida a country of its own?! JK but it was the top place I had visited over and over again. I guess it felt cheaper because we could drive to it, but I have quickly learned that it’s just not the case. No matter where you travel to you are going to spend $$. So even the “smaller” trips I would plan would end up costing us a couple grand which is not a small chunk of change. This is ultimately what caused me to dream bigger. Why couldn’t I travel to Europe? What was holing me back?! I started doing the research and found that plane tickets from Chicago to Paris were around $500 and sometimes I could even find them for under 5. Thats cheaper than flying to the most destination in the US!!! So you’re telling me, I could fly to California, or I could choose Paris?!? DONE!
This brings me to step number one: find a cheap flight. This helps me broaden my horizon, and decide where I want to start planning my trip. I like to use google flights and Priceline, but my true secret weapon is a service called Next Vacay. If I’m looking up something specific, I use google flights, or Priceline late Monday or Tuesday night (that’s when I find the cheapest flights. And remember try booking from a midweek to midweek. Tickets are usually cheaper than the weekends) But Next Vacay is only $25 a year and they send you emails when they find cheap tickets in your area. Not just your local airport, but all surrounding ones in your area. This is how we indefinitely landed on Bali. I got an alert that Indianapolis to Shanghai China was only $400 round trip!!! Wow! So then I looked up a flight from Shanghai (PVG) to Bali (DPS) and found that it was only a little over $300, making our itinerary $741 total from Indy where we could have someone take us to the airport and not have to pay to park!!! It also allowed us to hit up a couple different cities on the way to Bali, which is one of my favorite things. Three trips in one!!
Now it’s time to plan. This is the part that could be overwhelming to some, but I absolutely love it! Back in 2016 when we were planning Europe I reached out to a travel agent, and her quote was 14K for a trip that we ended up doing for around 5k. Travel agents can be a huge help, but ultimately I know what I want more than someone else does, so I took it upon myself to be the planner from here on out. I will walk you through my process because it really isn’t rocket science. Sure it takes some late night scrolling, but I promise it makes the trip more magical. When you find all these images online and then you actually go to them and see them in real life. It’s a surreal feeling.
First open up your google maps. Find the country you are heading to, and then see if there are others that interest you nearby. I always create an interactive map for a place I’m headed to and pin locations on it as I find them. This helps me map out what is actually plausible and what is not. Then I head to my old faithfuls, Pinterest and instagram. I start by typing in things like Bali travel guide, or where to stay in Bali, best restaurants in Bali. These pins lead me to many many different ideas, and I write down my favorites and then head to instagram. I type in the hotels, the cities, and restaurants into the search bar and find their social media presence. Now this is the key….. Once you’ve gotten to their page you want to see REAL LIFE PEOPLE spending time there. So I click on the person icon in the right corner under the highlight bubbles right above the picture squares and I look through the pictures tagged by others. If I find any photos that really catch my eye I follow it to the person’s personal page on instagram and then usually you can see where else they traveled in that country. Sometimes you can even see stories that show the venue in more detail. This is how I start to narrow down my list of must dos and once its more than a maybe I plug the location into my google map. (Sharing my Bali map at the bottom of this post)
I do this for weeks. I usually end up following some great bloggers that get me super excited for my upcoming trip. ** Side note, instagram stories are a great way to check the weather. Before we left for Iceland I kept watching my weather app, and it seemed like it would rain constantly. But I looked up people that were there a day or two before we left and watched their stories. There wasn’t any rain. Maybe a drizzle in the morning. It helped me better prepare for what I was about to experience. And it’s really that simple. The biggest part is knowing what you like. Do you like group tours? Do you like lazy days at the beach? Do you like adventure? Are you an experienced driver? Do you need transfers? In the past few years our phones have changed quite a bit. Google maps work all over the world, and most phones have International plans now. For $10 a day you can activate travel pass, and use your phone just like normal. It makes it really easy to get around on your own.
I am lucky in the fact that my husband is a fearless driver. He is very good with directions, and doesn’t get nervous. He likes to be in control of where we are going and when. Because of this we usually rent a car in any country we visit. All over Europe, Aruba, Costa Rica, Iceland, all of these places had mostly normal roads that were very similar to the US (except things are in kilometers and not miles) But this is one thing I definitely look up on Pinterest prior to making our decision. It seemed like renting a car in Bali would be almost impossible so we opted out. I did find that hiring a driver for the day was as cheap as $25-$50 USD so that was a good backup plan. We chose to get there are see what our best options were, which ended up being renting a scooter for $5 a day (more on this in an upcoming post).
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a patient tourist. I have places to be and things to see, so I’ve never enjoyed group tours. I figure if I really want to know the history on something guided audio tours are just as good. But having to wait on Suzie Q to get that perfect angle on the beach or Johnny boy to ask his 5 million questions just does NOT interest me. So we opt out and map out our own tours, which has never been an issue (however there is one tour from this past trip I will recommend.) I’m also a get up early, see the sights, and then end the day relaxing by a pool with a cocktail. I purposely build REST time into our trips. I want to maximize our time, and have a chance to see as much of the country as possible, but I also want those slow moments with my husband. The good convos where you forget to order dinner because you’re having too much fun together. I live for those moments. So if I plan a full blown day I always make sure to follow it up with a relaxing day. I’m telling you, pinning all of your interests on a google map is the best thing you can do.
Lastly, you gotta be ok with not sticking to your plan 100%. When planning your trip you can only do so much from afar. There are the unexpected amazing pool bars or local hot spots that pop up once you get there. For this reason I usually try to only plan one big activity a day. Leaving the rest of our day more flexible. Heck, when we went to Europe a few years back we didn’t even book all our hotels before we went. Now I know that’s not for everyone, but we were so glad we didn't because we ended up cutting a whole chunk out of our trip to stay in Switzerland longer. We fell so in love with the area we were staying in that we decided to take Venice, Italy out of our itinerary. The hotel we were staying at had room for us to stay in our exact room for a few more nights, and it worked out perfectly. Technology is changing and making it more possible for us to make decisions on the fly. So I would even say it is possible to travel to other countries with only a loose plan that you will finalize once you get there. If that makes you nervous, it’s ok. You can prebook most things, but you will probably end up paying more. But sometimes it’s all about the peace of mind, so you do what makes you feel more comfortable.
Well there you have it. I told you it really wasn’t anything earth shattering. I will be blogging all about our most recent trip to Bali and giving links to each hotel and hot spot. Look for those to be live in the coming weeks. But for now I’ll leave you with my Pinterest board, and my google map!!