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So, you’ve heard about people jetting off to far away places or heading to Europe for some delicious coffee and a pastry or twelve. You’ve taken a few road trips and relaxed in a couple of resorts, but you’ve never traveled traveled. At least, the way that those on Instagram. You don’t know much about traveling to places that don’t come with all-inclusive, but that’s okay. These tips will get you through!
Write down all of the places you want to go
Even if the list turns out to be 30 places, even if it turns out to be more. Unless you’re taking off a few months to travel the world (and, if you are, I’m jealous!) you won’t be able to travel to all of them, but still write them down. You may want to visit all of Europe or see Australia from tip to tail, but if you have only 2 weeks vacation, you’ll run out of time and definitely run out of patience.
But, writing down ALL of the places you want to visit right away will help you pare it down. Maybe you’re only going to a city because it’s popoular, but you’re not really interested in any of the sights. Maybe you’re firecely under-estimating how many countries you can see because they all look so close. You won’t be able to figure it out until you write it all out.
Ignore the tourist sights that you don’t care about
Seriously. Are you going to the Louvre just because it’s a major attraction in Paris? Even though you don’t really care about art? Are you going to the Red Light District in Amsterdam even though you’re really a tulip kinda gal or pal and don’t want to see women in windowed doors? If someone says it’s an amazing tourist attraction, it probably is, but it might be amazing just for them and other like-minded individuals.
Recently, I learned this the hard way. My husband and I were in Madrid and everyone kept telling us to go to Prado Museum, that it’s absolutely amazing. Well, neither of us are really into 12th century artwork. Sure, a wall of some beautiful oil paintings is great to look at, but nearly an entire museum of paintings of Jesus, portraits and sculptures? Not our cup of tea. But, we love modern art. There isn’t any modern art found in Prado, unless you count the advertisements out front, which I definitely do not.
We listened to the people, though. This means that we spent hours waiting to get into a museum and walking around it in disappointment that we could’ve spent at Reina Sofia. While we got to the modern art museum, eventually, we could’ve explored a little more leisurely if we had skipped Prado. We also may have happened upon more of Madrid that we would’ve liked more, instead of wasting our time in a museum that just wasn’t what we’re interested in.
Research the tourist attractions you’re hoping to go to and make sure that they’re the ones for you. Some may be, some may not be, perhaps all of them are right up your alley. But, you don’t want to be wasting any time that you don’t have. Because trips go by in a flash of artwork, architecture, food, and drink.
Decide what type of trip you want to take
You’re probably going ‘uh, duh, I’ve already figured that out’. I’m not talking about the places you want to go and things you want to see. I’m talking about how much relaxing you want to do. If you want to hike. Run to every tourist attraction so you can see them all. Sit in restaurants and cafes. Have an entire day where you do absolutely nothing but sleep in and drink espresso and creamy coffees and eat.
This helps you decide how many places to see. If you want to do more relaxing, pare down your list of places to visit, sticking to a rule of 3 days per city/town. Add on an extra day or two for those that really get your heart going. This means that you’ll have ample time to relax, take in the sights, and travel to the next destination without losing your mind. If leaving the whole trip up to yourself to plan is making you feel a little whoozy, look into smaller group tours you can join once there, instead of a full guided trip.
Book tours through companies that offer specialized excursions and experiences. I love using viator as they have lots of great tours to choose from, including delicious ones where you can take part in a cooking class or demonstration. I made baguettes in Paris once, and it was absolutely magical.
Take into account travel days
Sometimes, when you begin planning a vacation, you get a little carried away by ‘easy stops’ that you can make along the way to your main destination. It’s easy to see all of the cute towns on the map and become excited at how close they are to one another. Which is great! Seeing smaller towns and exploring more of a country is great to do. But, remember that it takes time to get places.
It also takes time to get out of the car, train, or plane, and store your luggage and/or check into a hotel and explore your surroundings. Then, it takes more time to get to the next destination. While stopping for a perfect picture opportunity during the drive is always a good idea, stopping in a town for a day can take time away from your true destination.
It also means that if you plan to see 10 cities, but only have 14 days in total for your trip, you lose 2 days of travel leaving home and going home, plus any time traveling between destinations. That leaves you with only 12 days to see 10 different places, including any travel time to and from each place. That’s a very rushed vacation. If that’s how you like, carry on! If not, see which places are closest to one another and look at the ones you aren’t willing to take off the list.
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Go with your heart
While it’s great to see so much of everything, there are usually a few places or attractions that are calling to you. Figure out the places/things that will make or break your trip. It could be as simple as sitting in a cafe in Paris to hiking in Oppdal. Maybe it’s boating in Greece. Whatever that must-have is on your list, bring it to the top.
Why would you spend days traipsing around Italy if you really want to see Germany? Why go on a tour that will cut into your time on something that you’ve wanted to do for ages? Listen to your heart and bring those destinations to the top.
Pare it down
Now it’s time to go through those 30 vacation spots and pare it down to the ones you really want to see. If you only have time for 3 destinations, then go with the ones that make your heart sing. If you have a little bit of extra time, add in one or two others that seem interesting.
Pro tip: keep a couple of day excursions or impromptu trips and attractions on the back-burner in case things fall through with other museums, attractions, and weather. If you have extra time, you’ll end up seeing some cool places instead of sitting in your hotel room wishing you could see more.
It may seem like the easier option is to split your time evenly between each destination, but each place will need a different amount of time. There may be more sights for you to see in some places, there may be less in others. For cities that are busy like Rome, you may just want to see the sights, hopping on a tour that gets it done in a day and getting you the hell out of there before you get trampled by the sweaty masses of people. For other destinations that you really want to get a feel for, you may budget yourself 5 days to relax and see more sights, delving a little more into the community.
Day trips can save you
Still jonsing for some more places to go, but don’t have the time or budget to be spending money on new accomodations and transportation? Smaller day trips can let you explore surrounding cities and towns without spending a ton on new airfare or longer train rides. You can often do this on a spur of the moment by just showing up to the local train station and buying a ticket for the next available train.
Note: some areas will be busier than others and you may have to wait a while for the next available train, while others will have a lot of options available. That’s the thing about travel. Some of the time everything runs smoothly, the rest of the time it’s a glorious nightmare.
Finalize your trip
It’s taken you a while, and you’ve hemmed and hawed over all types of destinations out there, but you finally made it to your final chosen few!
Now, it’s time to book your accommodations, travel and popular tours. If you’ll end up in a different city than your original one, know that you can book your flight through the option of ‘multi-flight’. This option lets you find a round-trip from home and back, no matter where you end up. This means you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for two one-way tickets and that you won’t have to go back to your original destination.
Some tours won’t let you book months in advance, but others will have deals going all the time. If there’s a popular tour and you only have one specific day you can do it, book it in advance. Even if that means paying a liiiittle extra than waiting for a deal closer to. You don’t want to miss out on a wonderful experience just for $20.
Planning, once you know what you’re doing, can be fun! It’s often one of my favourite parts of the trip. Now, that you’ve got it all planned out and booked, let the countdown begin!