The cost of travel: How to pick a vacation destination

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Normally I don’t get bothered about any travel questions, but one thing that does annoy me is when people ask how do you pick a vacation destination? It’s not that the question bothers me, but I can’t believe that people don’t have any inspiration.

Travel inspiration can come from anywhere. The first time I was really motivated to travel was when I took an art history class in college. Part of this course focused on architecture and featured Antoni Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona. His stuff blew me away and made me want to travel there right away. When I saw the Shanghai scene in Skyfall, I instantly booked my next trip to China. That was a huge mistake in hindsight, but that’s a story for another day.

Picking a vacation destination really isn’t that difficult, but sometimes your budget will come into play. Here are some tips on where to go next.

How to pick a vacation destination

Picking your destination

If you’re seriously asking how to pick a vacation destination? I recommend dreaming big. Is there a destination that you’ve always wanted to go to? Again, this inspiration can come from anywhere. An exotic location in a movie or a picture in a magazine; it doesn’t matter, pick a place and start doing your research.

Once you’ve picked your destination, start doing your research so you get an idea of what there is to see. Look up attractions, transportation, and costs. I also recommend researching multiple destinations since your first destination choice might not be possible for a variety of reasons.

Is the destination what you expected?

When doing your research, sometimes you’ll realize that the destination of your dreams might have some logistical reasons preventing you from travelling there. It doesn’t make much sense to go to Thailand during typhoon season, nor would it be advised to hike Mt. Fuji if you don’t enjoy hiking.

More often than not, your budget will be the biggest issue. As mentioned in my first post of this series “budgeting for a vacation,” you need to have a realistic budget in place. I would love to go to Bora Bora, but I know the cost would just be too much. Sure, I could delay my travels and save more, but I realized that there are better ways to spend my travel dollars.

How much time do you have?

The amount of time you have to travel can play a huge factor when you’re deciding on where to go. Many people who travel to Europe for the first time go for two or three weeks and try to cram in as many cities and countries as possible. I’m serious, some people think visiting 7-10 different destinations during that time is a good idea. You’d basically be travelling every 2-3days which is not a good use of your time. By constantly moving, you end up spending more on transit. Yes, you might save money on overnight trains or flights, but you won’t enjoy yourself.

Not packing your itinerary usually reduces the cost of your trip since you’re travelling less. Since you’re not constantly on the move, you can also plan your meals better. 

Also, if you know you only have a short period of time to get away, don’t try to visit exotic locations that would normally require more time. Consider destinations where a one-week break won’t cost you a fortune. That said, even if you live in North America, flying to a place like Thailand for a week isn’t an outrageous idea since your costs on the ground will be quite low.

Do you have friends or family living abroad?

The easiest way to pick a destination is to simply look where you have friends and family.  Accommodations will always be one of your biggest travel expenses, so if you’re fortunate enough to know people who’re willing to let you stay with them, then why not make that one of the first places you visit?

When I was in high school, my family in London and Amsterdam would always invite me to stay with them during the summer, but I was more interested in girls than travelling at that age. This was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I could have travelled for an entire month at a limited cost. You never know how long these offers will last so take advantage of them when you can.

You should never convince yourself that picking a destination is too hard nor should you stress yourself about where to go. Pick a place and make it happen. Time waits for no one.

Check out other parts of the series below

Part 1: Budgeting for a trip
Part 2How to pick a vacation destination
Part 3How to find cheap flights
Part 4: How to save money on hotels
Part 5: How to eat cheap when travelling
Part 6The best way to exchange money
Part 7: The basics of travel insurance
Part 8: Sticking to your travel budget

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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