When you go on a one-week vacation, it’s pretty easy to figure out where you want to go. You either choose a place based on your budget or choose a place based on set criteria: beach relaxation, an adventure, seeing the relatives, whatever. One destination and you’re done.
When you go traveling for a longer period, however, the choices can be daunting. It’s a big world out there and for people who haven’t ventured beyond the standard hot spots, there’s a tendency to want to “do it all.” Doing it all can be exhausting, however, with far too much time spent in transit. (See How NOT to do an Around-the-World Journey.) Even if you’re going away for two years solid, you need to prioritize. Here are the key questions you need to sort out up front.
What’s your budget?
For most people, this should be a primary consideration. Saying “I want to travel around Europe for six months” sounds very romantic, but unless you mean Eastern Europe, this can easily eat up your life savings in a hurry. The World’s Cheapest Destinations provides some direction on places that are easy on your wallet. You shouldn’t restrict yourself to these countries, of course, but you should plan on including a good chunk of them in your itinerary if you’re not traveling on trust fund money.
What do you like to do?
Topless sunbathing? River rafting? Sightseeing? Endless partying? You won’t do any of these all the time of course, but you want to go where your interests will be met. You won’t find nude beaches in the Middle East, you won’t find jungles to explore in Europe, and you won’t find miles of wineries to visit in Asia. Figure out what gets you excited.
What do you want to see?
If you could only see 5 places or things before you die, they would be? Many of the places that really awed me were not in my original plans (Sukothai, Petra, Cappadocia), and some original targets weren’t as impressive as I’d hoped, but let’s face it, we all have places that are stuck in our brains as must-sees. Make them part of your plans.
How adventurous are you?
Honestly assess what you can live with and what’s important to you. If you grew up camping a lot, you’re probably already mentally set for third world budget hotels. Ifyou’re used to the Ritz-Carlton every time you go on vacation, however, you might want to start your trip in the first world and ease into it slowly. If you hate walking more than a block, don’t think you’ll immediately be up for volcano hikes and treks in the Himalayas.
What’s the weather like?
Bulgaria in winter is not much fun for tourists. Egypt in July is no picnic either. It’s always rainy season or hurricane season in some part of the world, which can range from cloudy and annoying to “federal disaster area.” You can’t be everywhere at the ideal time, but try to avoid the worst times at least.
No Round the World in 80 Days.
Planning a trip to every continent in a six-month span doesn’t make much sense (and will cost a fortune in flights), but that doesn’t keep people from trying. Instead, it’s a lot easier to spend ample time in one area and go overland or take short hop flights between countries. You’ll spend a lot less time in transit this way and can hang onto one wardrobe for a while. Maybe you’ll only get to two continents, but there’s always the next trip. If you’re like most travelers, you’ll start thinking about that one about the second week you’re back home!