More often than not, when I ask someone why they chose their vacation destination they say it’s because they know someone who’s gone there, saw cool photos on Instagram or read about it on a must-see list.
As someone who writes about travel, obviously I value and understand the need for travel inspiration. I look to those sources myself! But choosing a destination solely based on what others say or do doesn’t necessarily take into to account if it’s the right travel destination for YOU.
Time, budget, distance, hassle-factor, travel style, your personality, and current emotional state, among other factors, play into how you’ll experience a destination. With so much mass tourism today, it’s easy to forget that travel is a very personal experience. Someone else’s paradise could be ho-hum for you, or worse, not pleasant at all.
Here’s my strategy for finding the right destination with intention.
Find your travel why
What’s motivating you to take this trip? Are you seeking pure relaxation? Do you want to experience a new city like a local? Maybe you want to feel alive in nature or inspired by art? Perhaps reconnecting with family and making lasting memories is top of mind?
Personally, I like a combination of relaxation and local experiences and to use my travels as opportunities for personal growth and awareness.
Regardless of your motivation, once you know your why, it’s easier to pick the where…as well as the what, when and who of your trip.
Know your traveler personality
Ever wonder why some people love adventure and getting lost in off the beaten path locations while others go to the same beach resort year after year?
It depends on how allocentric, midcentric or psychocentric you are. Yes, there is a scientific reason you like certain types of vacations! How’s that for a nerdy travel fact?
Allocentric travelers are the wanderers. They’re more open to new experiences, cultures and not setting strict plans. It’s more exciting for them to explore like a local and immerse themselves in a foreign culture than take the well-trodden tourist path.
On the other end of the scale, psychocentric travelers like structure, familiarity and relaxing and tend to prefer well-known destinations and hotel chains.
Not surprisingly, midcentric travelers are somewhere in between.
What do you value? Adventure and exploration or relaxation and familiarity? Perhaps a little of both?
Decide on a travel style
Think about your travel why and your travel personality, then consider what travel style will suit you best. Budget and timeframe will also play into this, which we’ll touch on next.
For now, think about what’s calling to you most:
- Adventure and outdoors
- Culture, food, and art
- Luxury and pampering
- Family friendly fun
- Relaxing to the max
- Exploring a new country
- Beach, beach and more beach
- Attending a festival or sporting event
- Disconnecting at a spiritual or wellness retreat
Would you prefer:
- Independent travel or a group tour package
- Budget-minded, go-all-out or somewhere in the middle
- Road trip, city-jumping or staying put
- Slow, local travel or checking off all the tourist sights
Hone in on your travel budget
There’s almost always a way to travel on a budget. If you’re cost-conscious it pays to consider a region where your money will go further.
For example, Southeast Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa will be much cheaper than Western Europe, the US or Japan. Don’t forget to factor in the strength of your currency as well. Where will your money go further?
If you’re strapped for cash but dream of private villas with pools or massages on the beach, traveling to a cheaper region might be the answer. If you have your heart set on a pricey location, staying in hostels or sharing an Airbnb are helpful cost savers.
Work within your travel time frame
How much time do you have to travel? The length of your stay will also affect your budget and your travel style.
Generally, the shorter your time frame the closer to home you should stay. This will allow you to get the most actual time in your destination and avoid the worst jetlag.
As a general rule of thumb, I’d suggest staying under the 6-8 hour flight range if you have less than a week to spend traveling. It’s certainly possible to go farther in a shorter time, but you need to consider if the trade-offs are worth it.
The longer you have the slower you can travel, which means there are more opportunities to save money too. You can rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel, cook your own meals, take buses and trains instead of flights, and discover cheaper local hangouts rather than pricey touristy spots.
Keep your travel partners in mind
Are you traveling with your family, friends, as a couple, or solo? Is everyone similarly open to new experiences and preferences for comfort? Will it be fun and accessible for everyone? Will dietary or physical restrictions make certain destinations more challenging than others?
Consider your comfort zone
Travel is a fantastic opportunity to step outside your comfort zone in a fun and exciting way. Of course, that means different things to different people. Think about your traveler personality and what kinds of activities and situations would challenge you (in a good way).
When picking a destination, think about:
- Language barriers
- Cultural values very different from your own
- A different climate than you’re used to
- Chaotic cities vs calm countrysides
- Exotic cuisines
- Physical challenges (like mountain hikes or long-distance trekking)
- Opportunity for adventure and adrenalin (bungy jumping, anyone?)
What type of destination will challenge your comfort zone and give you the best opportunity to be expanded by your experience?
Weigh the hassle-factor
In addition to considering distance and budget, think about your tolerance for hassles. Travel always comes with some annoyances, but some places require much more forethought, research, and planning than others.
Before you get your heart set on one place, consider any possible inconveniences like:
- Multiple modes of transport
- Long or multiple layovers
- Driving on the other side of the road
Your level of tolerance, the length of your trip, budget, travel partners and travel style will help narrow down what’s worth the extra effort or not for this particular trip.
Remember, safety first!
Obviously, you want to consider the safety and political climate of potential destinations. Monitor trustworthy news sites like the BBC or The New York Times to keep up with the latest updates in the region.
I’ve traveled to countries that many of my fellow Americans might consider dangerous and felt perfectly safe the entire time. Do your research and always use your own best judgment when choosing a travel destination.
What if you’re torn between two destinations?
If you’re like me, there are always so many destinations on my mind at the same time. How do you decide where to travel when you want to see it all?!
Recently my boyfriend and I had a hard time deciding between two destinations. When he suggested going with one of them, my heart sank. In that moment I realized I really did prefer the other option.
Try making a decision, or have someone else make it for you, and see how your gut reacts. You want to go to the place that lights you up! Always trust your intuition during travel—even when you’re still in the destination-picking stage.
What if you’re disappointed in your destination?
In travel, you can always expect something to go wrong or to not meet your expectations; that’s simply part of the journey. And when you embrace it, you learn a lot about yourself and the world.
Never stop yourself from traveling because it might not be the “perfect” decision because there’s no such thing! Remember, you can choose to see the greatness in any place, even if you stay close to home. Sit back, relax and enjoy the adventure wherever you are.
What’s your next travel destination? I’d love to know where you’re off to next.