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Q&AA: How to Plan for Your First Big Trip

Q&AA: How to Plan for Your First Big Trip

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be touring India and then traveling elsewhere in the world. While I’m away, we’ll be publishing a new series of Questions and Attempted Answers (Q&AA) from readers. I’ll share my answer, and you’re invited to share an answer of your own as well.

Today’s question comes from Carrie, who writes in from London.

Next summer I’ll have the chance to travel for several weeks, but I don’t know where to go. Aside from school trips to France and Belgium, I’ve never been out of the U.K. before. Where should I go?

Great question. Here’s my attempted answer →

It’s good that you’re traveling, and it doesn’t really matter where you go first.

If you’re looking for an affordable, easy stop for your first big excursion, Latin America or Southeast Asia are always good choices. Both these regions have multiple countries where you can spend less money per day than you would at home, and traveling overland between a few countries there is also feasible.

For Western travelers (U.K., Europe, North America, Australia & New Zealand, etc.), visas are also easy to come by in these regions. In most cases you won’t need a visa at all, and in others you’ll just need to pay for one upon arrival at the border.

The more important point is that destination is somewhat irrelevant for your first big trip—I believe it’s better to just pick somewhere. Go to the bookstore and browse through the travel section. Ask your friends. Spin a globe and see where it stops. Whatever you do, make an active decision and proceed with the trip.

Then, after your first big trip is complete, you’ll be able to evaluate further on what you enjoyed and how you were changed through the process. And then, of course, you’ll be ready to plan the next trip.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how to pay for these adventures, chances are that most people who read this blog will be able to travel at least once in a while. If you can save as little as $2/day, you can go anywhere you’d like within a few months’ time.

Your Turn: What Would You Suggest?

Feel free to share your advice or experience in the comments. I’ve moved on to Bangalore (next stop, Delhi), but I’ll post as many comments as possible—probably while some of you are sleeping.

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*Congrats to Mike Rohde on the launch of The Sketchnote Handbook. Mike previously illustrated The $100 Startup (among many other projects) and this new handbook provides a comprehensive guide to visual note-taking.

Image: Ruth

44 Comments

  • Congrats on taking your first step into planning your first major trip overseas!

    I tend to agree with Chris – now that you have decided to go overseas, make sure you choose somewhere soon and get on with planning your trip.

    Some key questions to consider in your planning are:

    Given this is my first trip, do I want to stick with more westernised destinations or do I want to go and experience a culture that is truly different to England?
    Given my time frame, do I want to independently travel and change my plans as I go, or do I need to plan a bit more in advance as my vacation days are limited?
    Would I feel more comfortable travelling with on a group tour for some or all of my travel, or do I feel happy travelling solo & meeting others along the way?
    Does the cost of getting to my chosen country match my budget?

    Choosing a destination soon will give you plenty of time to research & plan so you feel really comfy about where you are going by the time you leave.

    Regardless – enjoy the decision making process and have a fantastic time on your journey. There really is nothing like that feeling of lowering yourself into a plane seat and strapping in for your 1st trip.

  • Brittany says:

    I decided a year ago that I was going to go to Antarctica in 2014. I am at a good time in my life to go and so I figured, “Why not?” So I’ve been saving for the past year and still have another year to go, but during my planning for that I realized that I really wanted to go on an adventure sooner, as well, so in June next year I’m going to Machu Picchu for awhile and then heading to Easter Island! Having things to look forward to is AWESOME and I’m super excited!!

    For me, picking MP for my first “big” solo trip was a matter of deciding to do REI’s volunteer vacation there. I get to travel and help out and I’m not totally on my own yet. Training wheel traveling. ;o) But then continuing to EI is all me, baby. I applaud Carrie’s wanting to get out and travel!

  • It’s awesome that you will have the time to travel next summer. Definitely savor it while you can. I say go somewhere unique and interesting that you’ve only dreamed of going to – somewhere that none of your friends or family have ever gone – somewhere that if someone asks where you’re going it might blow them away.

    Also consider how comfortable you feel traveling alone versus traveling with a group. Definitely check out http://www.travelindependent.info/ if you’ve never heard of it for some unique ideas for places to go.

    No specific recommendations come to mind, but I’ve personally had wonderful experiences in all the places I have traveled to (the Caribbean, Botswana/Zambia, Israel, New Zealand, Australia) so go ahead and do a little bit of research and see what tugs at you the most. I’m sure wherever you choose is going to be a wonderful place to visit.

  • I think that recommending Latin America is a great idea. One language dominates the region, prices are low, and there is lots of nature, history, and culture to see.

    South East Asia sounds great for prices, but also for a cultural eye-opening experience. If a European travels to other European countries, it is likely that he or she won’t learn as much or see as many new things as if they travel to a culture that is from a completely different civilization, such as India or China. Speaking of China, although the visa can be annoying, many places on the interior of China are cheap, beautiful, and very friendly to visitors.

  • Marv.n.Jo says:

    As Chris has already mentioned, SE Asia is an excellent option. Affordable, and for the most part “easy” to navigate as there is a well-developed travel infrastructure there. Having said that, can’t go wrong with flying to Bangkok as a it is a major hub, and from there you’ll have so many options to branch out to. Beaches in the south, temples everywhere, nature in the north. Meanwhile, other countries are either a train/bus trip away, or even by plane the flights are very affordable as there are no-frill carriers similar to Ryanair that are competing for passengers…thereby driving fares down to sometimes as low as $10.

  • Gigi says:

    Congrats on the big trip, Carrie! As Chris and a few other people have noted, where to go depends mostly on what you want. Clare’s questions above are spot on. I think once you start to answer those things, a clearer picture will emerge.

    One thing I always do when picking destinations is look on Flickr. If you know you want to go to Italy, for example, but you aren’t sure where, search Italy on Flickr and check out photos from all over the country. If there are certain things that speak to you (amazing ruins, gorgeous beach landscapes, pictures of great looking local cuisine), you can click through and find out exactly where that picture was taken. This sometimes unearths very off-the-beaten-track places that turn out to be really charming.

  • moom says:

    If Carrie wants to go beyond Europe, I’d recommend the US and Canada. No language barrier and America is somewhere you have to see if you want to understand the world. Of course, Thailand or wherever is cheaper in day to day expenses though the flight is longer etc. It’s also stunningly hot and humid (being a native of England myself) and you’ll always stand out as a tourist wherever you go. Of course, it is very interesting and there are beaches and great scenery (though I’ve only been to Bangkok) and good food etc. The only place I’ve been in Latin America is Tijuana. Apart from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay which seem to be pretty safe it sounds rather challenging to me in terms of safety etc.

  • Marcella says:

    I am taking my first big trip, to the UK in February. I am super excited and the planning is just as great of a part as I’m the actual trip will be.

  • Mary Hood says:

    If you should decide to come to the United States, remember there is a great deal of diversity here, and the distances are large compared to Europe. You’d need to pick a region..a lot of people just stick to the big cities, but I’d consider finding an area that appeals to you and leave the cities behind. Suggestions: Wyoming/Montana/Yellowstone; desert southwest, Florida, Portland, OR and vicinity, or the northeast.

  • Ben says:

    If your considering South America and depending on what type of activities your into, I would recommend Ecuador. It’s a relatively small country with lots of transportation options and plenty of activity options (old cities, history/ruins, beaches, jungles, mountains). Prices are very reasonable and based on the US dollar.

  • Kurt Swann says:

    Carrie,

    Lots of good advice from Chris and the other commenters. Latin America and SE Asia are both relatively inexpensive. I was in Central America for three weeks in November and had a great time.

    But the best advice was from Chris when he said, “. . . destination is somewhat irrelevant. . . just pick somewhere.” My advice?

    1) Pick somewhere.
    2) Pack light.
    3) Go.
    4) Look around, explore, pay attention, enjoy yourself.
    5) Repeat as needed :)

    Have a great trip! Kurt

  • Mark says:

    Throw a dart!

  • Guido says:

    Hi, I’m always surprised to see that people will recommend potential travelers to go anywhere in the world except Africa when Africa is actually the continent never to miss in your traveling experiences. There is no equal when it comes to animal diversity. There are pristine beaches, tropical rain forests, deserts, spectacular waterfalls to name but a few. From the UK, if you are prepared to fly all the way to South America, then you can give Africa a positive consideration too. And if you want a budget holiday with first world conveniences, then South Africa/Southern Africa is the way to go. Currently one British pound gives you a whopping R14.28. That makes traveling to SA extrmely cheap. A hearty breakfast of two fried eggs, toast, sausage, bacon and coffee will then be anything from 1 pound to 2 pounds! SA has some of the best game viewing parks in Africa. Road infrasturcture is good. English is the universal language and it has a cultural and natural diversity that is hard to beat elsewhere. Don’t listen to the media. Crime is no worse than in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janneiro for instance. A return flight from the UK could be from as little as 430 pounds. Viva Africa!!

  • Kathryn says:

    Agreed, unless you have had a life long desire to go to a specific country, just pick a place. I’ve travelled to places I’d thought I’d love and absolutely hated them – and vice versa. if you are asking friends for recs, don’t just ask where but why. Maybe they loved it because they stayed in a 5 star resort while you are travelling budget, maybe they loved it because it was full-on adventure and you are more into the food… Know what you want in your holiday then ask the people you know with similar interests.

  • Lana says:

    A lot depends on when you are traveling and your budget. I travel on a low budget, so I travel when the weather is good. My costs two months camping in 11 countries in Europe was almost the same costs as living in Thailand for a month this year (where I speak the language and know the best prices). The key was camping. On the others hand, hostels are cheaper in Europe in the winter if you go that route.

    Weather is key for me. In my summer it’s winter in Australia. In March and April weather is 40 degrees in much of SE Asia ans smoking in Laos and North Chiang Mai. Make a list of countries that interest you than ask the locals via places like couch surfing when weather is good if that’s important to you.

    If you like beaches, Koh Chang in Thailand is cheap and fantastic. For 10 years in Germany that cost me a campsite way out of town. For 10 euros in Thailand, that gets me a bungalow right on the beach. Money goes farther in Laton America and SE Asia, but money can still take me anywhere.

  • Joy King says:

    I suggest traveling to Latin America or somewhere you’re familiar with the language. Latin America is usually easier for us North American’s because their language if often used along side ours in this part of the world and in my experience I ended up recognizing a lot more of it than I thought I would and the language felt more natural rolling off my tongue. Unlike, for example, Hindi did in my case.

  • Jean says:

    This year, I took my first solo trip: an 8300 mile road trip around the U.S. by myself for the month of September at age 67. Fabulous trip with awesome scenery in every state I visited: Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Alabama.

  • Kristine says:

    My thought is “follow your heart”. This is an opportunity to let your inspiration direct you, not other people’s opinions. You probably have and inner urge to see certain countries or cultures. You will have a much better time if you let your inner dreams and inspirations help you create the miracle experiences of travel. It’s a marvelous planet and you can find inspiring experiences and people everywhere, not limits on that!

  • Jo says:

    Hi Carrie…….I am going to suggest a week at Vaughan Town in Madrid as its free and it is a wonderful experience. After the week you will have made friends who who will ask you to go and stay with them…..probably! All you have to do is talk to Spanish business men and women who need to practice their conversational English.
    There are four venues and I went to Valdalavilla which is 4 hours drive up into the mountains and is an old Spanish village which has been brought into the 21st century. They have 4 venues so if you want a flash hotel instead of the authenticity you can.
    Richard Vaughan owns the biggest English Language school in Spain and this is a branch of it. Google it and read the reviews and it will lead you to their website.
    Good luck with your decision Carrie…..let us know what you decide!

  • Bhavesh D says:

    I URGE you to go to South East Asia. The first trip is all about getting out of your comfort zone and trust me, South East Asia guarantees that.

  • Laura says:

    Hi Carrie, you’ve got loads of ideas and good advice here. For me it comes down to travelling solo and how comfortable I feel doing so for however long. For a first time trip I would recommend SE Asia as with the well established infrastructure, its very easy to meet people, but then also branch out on your own if you want. You can go with how you feel.

    With only a few weeks I would suggest not try to pack too many places in your planned route and look at how many days overall you are ‘on the move’. Sometimes it’s worth missing a stop and two days travelling to really savour a place for a bit longer and relax. You just need to promise yourself to come back another time on another trip!

    Have fun!

  • Claudia says:

    My biggest recommendation is to travel LIGHT! Meaning, small backpack. That way you’ll be more flexible getting in and out of public transit and you won’t have the burden of excess luggage. Have fun!

  • Ajay Kalra says:

    Carrie, you would get better recommendations if you could articulate your reasons for wanting to travel (in general, and specifically on this occasion). What would you like the undertaking to deliver?
    Significant travel is not a frivolous pursuit and doesn’t come easily, at least for many of us, as you well know from your experience thus far. It can change your life. So, it doesn’t hurt to have a decent sense, to the extent possible beforehand, of the quality and quantity of that change before you choose.
    I have traveled overseas only twice, and the second time the excursion extended into 10.5 years, a master’s and a doctoral degree, multiple gigs as a bass player, and a man about (ostensibly someone else’s) town.
    I didn’t have to ask anyone where I should go. I was born a cosmic cowboy in the (way too) Wild East, so there was only one direction for the “young man” to go!
    All the best. Choose wisely, but do go. “Staying is not leaving”–Gordon Lightfoot.

  • Thailand (Bangkok then Chang Mai) > Cambodia (Siem Riep/Angor Wat) > Laos > Vietnam (Hanoi/Halong > Hue > Dalat > Ho Chi Minh City) Very cheap cost of living (a bottle of beer in Vietnam for 50c, a good size meal for 2 – 5 $. Thailand is a little more expensive. Get a lonely planet and research well in advance.

    Alternatively, you can easily spend 3 whole months exploring Borneo. Living is cheap, but activities/excursions can be costlier

  • Carrie your first big trip, that’s so exiting! Like most people have said here, it doesn’t really matter you go, it depends if you are looking for something in particular. If you decide to go to Latin America or Asian countries, prepare for a cultural and environmental change. This will be an awesome experience if you let yourself go to discover the different culturals. If you stay in a “non-touristic” area, it will be much cheaper and you will easily meet locals, who btw, are the best tour guides! Do not compare anything to what you know ( food, lifestyle, hygiene…), just explore.

    Have fun on your adventure!

  • Amy James says:

    I love Southeast Asia and had a great time there! Thailand in particular is really interesting and a great “starter” country. Most everyone speaks english, the food is yummy, the people are so great, the beaches are gorgeous, the markets are awesome and the Thai massage is $4.00 (USD). What more could you want from a country? You can stay at a great hotel for about $30.00 or less a night and flights from Air Asia are really cheap to go different places. I love Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Krabi but take your pick and you will not lose in Southeast Asia!

  • Nicole says:

    I think I’ll just have to live vicariously through everyone posting here, including you, Carrie! I think if I was faced with the opportunity to plan my first big trip out of my country, I’d look to countries that are similar to my own (Canada), yet different enough to enjoy things like the scenery, cuisine, history, etc. without sacrificing experiences due to language barriers, strange cuisine (sensitive tummy!) or my personal safety. I think most of the commenters here are *way* more brave than I would ever be, and all I can do is applaud that. Perhaps they are more seasoned travelers?

  • Jeff says:

    Great advice Chris. The most important part is just doing it, and everything else can be figured out along the way. I took my first international trip this year to Japan and now that I have that experience under my belt, I know what works for me for next time. Now I’m planning my next international trip to Taiwan next year.

  • Darby says:

    It’s difficult to start guessing where you want to go without knowing what you really like and want out of the trip. The answer becomes more obvious as you travel more, so if there is anything you get out of my answer – it’s just pick somewhere and go! Your heart should dictate where you go.

    Take inventory of your interests, comfort level, etc and heed *one* of these pieces of advice which speaks to you:

    1.) Make it simple: You’re fortunate to live in a very diverse continent within easy reach to many different countries. Depending on the time involved, you may choose to take a grand tour of Europe or get to know one country better. The Sterling goes pretty far in Eastern Europe.

    2.) Make it exotic: Go large! From the UK you don’t have to go to far to achieve exotic (e.g. Turkey and Morrocco are very reachable and affordable). However SE Asia and Latin America fill the bill easily. You may need to arrange visas (true for some areas of Asia and Brasil), have a longer plane trip/jet lag and possibly deal with language barriers. One thing I can guarantee is it will be a trip you’ll remember for a lifetime.

  • Alvina says:

    - Watch “1000 Places to Visit Before You Die”
    - Take note of what gets you excitied, beaches, mountains, crazy food, roller coasters, fast cars…you get the idea
    - Do a “Mind Map” of all of them

    And it will all become clear….or simply look for a great deal and book it!

  • Dream and Action…sounds revolutionary

  • Erin Kelly says:

    Researching where to go for my next trip is one of my favourite parts. It can be a little frustrating since I usually change my mind more than a few times. As traveling can cost a substantial amount of money (even when taking advantage of deals, tips and tricks,) I can see why one might place a lot of importance in the decision. That being said, it won’t be the last time you travel, and each time you travel you learn a little more about your traveling style so embrace it! A few questions: do you want to travel completely independently? do you want to try and find a traveling partner? do you want to travel as part of a tour? do you prefer cities or nature? do you like heat and humidity? what’s the easiest logistically (visas, vaccines, flights, etc.)? do you want to have to adjust to substantial jet lag? how do you feel about 9+ hour flights? My travel bible is: The Practical Nomad – How to Travel Around the World.

  • Carmen says:

    All great advice! The most important thing is to just GO! Afar.com is a great place to research places – they have a great social media site where people share their travel experiences. You can also ask questions and get advice. I would advise checking it out!
    Also, if you’re concerned at all about traveling alone there are some great tour companies that offer socially and environmentally conscious tours through much of the world. I went through Intrepid a few years ago to Thailand and it was a great experience. I would advise tacking on some days on your own at the end so you get the experience of traveling solo.
    SEA is my favorite part of the world. Indonesia is fabulous, as is Thailand.
    I will say, as a young woman, there are a few extra precautions you should take. Do your research. But for the most part, any part of the world is no more dangerous than a large western city such as San Francisco.
    Be sure to pack light (you never need as much as you take) and be sure to bring a camera and a journal!

  • Ajay Kalra says:

    If just doing it was that easy for all, everybody would be just doing it, and motivational speakers and Nike would be looking for other slogans. Just saying it.

  • Ken in Oregon says:

    When people say pack light, take it as very good advice. I did five months in Asia with a small backpack. I had a change of underwear, a couple tshirts, jeans and shorts and socks. If something wore out, I bought it there. I still had room for my camera and other things including a few luxuries. I did everything from climb the Great Wall to walking through the Golden Triangle with that pack. It made my life easy. And now, things have changed so much that you can get anything just about anywhere.

  • Anne Burner says:

    My biggest recommendation: go where you most want to visit. For my first trip, I went to London, England. Not exactly the wilderness, but I’d wanted to see this city since I was a small child. It was my first time overseas, and my first real vacation on my own.

    Knowing there were certain places I wanted to visit while there, I hit the library to borrow guidebooks, researched reputable travel sites, and even visited Budget Travel’s website looking for insider information. Search, ask questions, and find what works for you. I had a blast, and did the same thing two years later when I went to Japan.

  • Dee says:

    Years ago, when I was in my 20ies, I fell in love with New Zealand even though I lived in the US. I have no idea why other than I am big on hiking and nature and it spoke to me. Many years later when I was in my late 40ies, I took a leave of absence from work for 3 months and put together a long trip to NZ and Fiji (it was on the way so what the heck). My daughter was 7 at the time. It was a life-changing experience for her and the rest of my family. Things I would have done differently: 1) don’t try and visit a new place every 2 days. Figure out whether a location speaks to you and spend 3-4 nights there; 2) go with the personalities of your traveling companions so everyone has a chance to enjoy the trip; 3) research where you are going ahead of time as much as possible so you know something about the culture, the day-to-day existence and the local holidays; 4) make sure to visit the local groceries and read the local papers so you get a sense of who you are sharing space with; 5) take much more camera film/data space than you anticipate that you will need; 6) book your stays in places where you can do laundry and pack less; 7) pack good walking shoes; 8) take local currency.

  • Nick says:

    Maybe there is a foreign book or person you are interested in. Maybe you want to check out the place they are from. I find it more interesting being in a place when I have some background on the history, people, or language. If you know a few people in a country, maybe you want to go visit them. I always love having local guides/friends when I go somewhere new. Other good advice on posts here. GL

  • Akiko says:

    Choose some place related to your likes, your interests, or something you’ve wanted to try when you get the chance.

    If you like jazz, you might want to start with New Orleans, and travel through North or Latin America.
    If you have a thing for Chinese food, you might want to go to China/HK/Taiwan, and take some cooking classes.
    If you’ve always wanted to try scuba diving, consider the islands in the South Pacific.

    Don’t think about your budget first. There are plenty of guest houses and good, cheap local food places in every city. Of course a nice suite in a 5 star hotel is preferable, but you’ll be able to enjoy your stay anywhere if you have something you want to do there.

    If you want a little of everything, come to my country, Japan :)
    Tokyo or Osaka will provide you EVERYTHING you want to do in a big city. Try on a KIMONO and visit shrines and temples in Kyoto. Swim with dolphins and explore the jungle in Ogasawara Islands (world natural heritage). Get tanned on the beaches of Okinawa. Climb Mt Fuji. Last but not least, don’t miss the great food here!

  • In 2009, I went to Istanbul, Panama and Phuket (Thailand) I got the travel and work remotely bug BIG time.

    Since my first trips in 09′ I’ve visited Bejing, Bali, several return trips to Panama and Phuket as well countless destinations in the US.

    Next month I’m leaving for 3 weeks to head to Bangalore and Kerela India, the business class flight is being taken care of by frequent flyer miles.

    Today I help others create businesses that match their lifestyle which for many is the freedom to travel.

    With anything you want to do you have to commit, take action and be flexible. Taking along the required a heavy amount of patience, adventurous nature and smile will ensure that you have a fun time. I tell my friends, it’s different, that’s why we go, if I wanted to see and experience what I’m a use to, I’d stay home.

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