How to pick the best travel itinerary

table-2589083_1920One of the biggest decisions to make when you decide to take time out to travel is where to go. The world is your oyster, so get inspired and have a think about where you’ve always wanted to visit.

You can’t see everywhere (well, not in one trip anyway!) but there are loads of classic routes and itineraries out there. A good tip is to plan broadly where you want to go (e.g. which countries and regions), but beyond that try not to over plan, as you want to be able to have the freedom to stay longer in a place you love or move on if somewhere isn’t as good as expected.

Three key things to factor in are the activities you enjoy doing, the weather and the cost of living, which I’ll look at in more detail now.

What do you like to do?

Are you a beach bum, thrill-seeker, history buff – or a mixture of the above? I’d recommend you try and get a mixture of activities on your travels: breaking up a long trip with mini varied holidays, such as a week at beach location, followed by a cultural city break, then an adventure in the rainforest or mountains. Keep your itinerary exciting and vary your pace so you don’t overdo it or get bored.

Guide books will help you get the ball rolling with proposed itineraries for different length trips and advice on the best time of year to travel, but once you’ve got a few ideas about destinations, look beyond the guide books to plan your trip. There are hundreds of resources online – from personal travel blogs, to regional tourist information websites and travel booking sites, so take some time to browse and build your ideal itinerary.

There’s also loads of practical advice out there – detailed blogs about border crossings, forums discussing long-distance bus and train timetables, connections, where to go and what to avoid. You should be able to find the answer to pretty much any question online if you’re prepared to search for it. For example, when I was unsure of the border procedure and onward bus times in Laos, a quick Google search brought up a detailed blog which included the full bus timetable, a detailed description of the journey and even photos of the sleeper bus I’d be travelling on!

Take guide books, advice and reviews with a pinch of salt, however, and try not to rely too heavily on them. Guide books are great for getting a feel for a country or region; finding things to do and the best areas to stay, but I have often found that establishments that have been highly rated in guide books, can sometimes become complacent and lose their charm. They have a guaranteed pipeline of customers willing to take the guide book at face value, so they don’t have to work at getting and retaining customers – something I like to refer to as the guide book effect. Some travellers even go as far as avoiding anywhere reviewed in the guide book!

Longer-term travel is a great opportunity to visit those far-flung, or hard to get to places that you can’t comfortably cover in one to two week’s annual leave. When in a region, take the opportunity to hop over the border into neighbouring countries and explore the surrounding area.

At around three weeks into your extended trip, you’ll experience a new state of relaxation as you see your trip unfolding before you into the future. You’ll realise that there’s only so much you can do and unwind when you’re on your two-week annual leave – and the feeling that you haven’t got to go back to work is awesome!

What’s the weather like?

Weather and temperature vary wildly around the world, so the local climate is a big factor in when to go and what clothes to pack for your chosen destination. You don’t want to turn up in your shorts and t-shirt expecting a sunny beach break, only to find that it’s freezing cold, or worse: hurricane or monsoon season! I’ve always enjoyed coinciding my travels with the UK winter and going somewhere hot to escape the cold weather. Then I arrange to land back in London when it’s summer again – that’s a great feeling if you don’t like the cold. You also save on the cost of heating your home all winter!

If you’re thinking about heading to the tropics, research when rainy season and dry season fall in your chosen destinations and plan accordingly.  Even countries within the same part of the world have their own microclimates and seasonal variations – and even within different regions of the same country too.

Temperatures and seasons vary more distinctly in temperate climates, so you may choose to avoid Southern Europe (e.g. Athens, Greece or Rome, Italy) in the summer when it’s forty degrees Centigrade, or Northern Europe (e.g. Amsterdam, Netherlands or Paris, France in winter when temperatures can hit freezing, and instead favour travelling in spring or autumn.

The Best Time To Visit website (www.thebesttimetovisit.com) is a great resource to discover the best places to visit by month, season, or region. Search according to your own minimum and maximum temperature preferences, to help decide where to go.

Consider if it’s peak, off-peak or shoulder season: Peak season may appeal if you want the best weather and popular travel dates, but it will also mean it’s crowded, accommodation can be expensive, and restaurants and attractions can be busy. By contrast, off-peak season is typically quiet, albeit a little lifeless, plus the weather can be bad and restaurants can be shut. Shoulder season (part way between peak and low), on the other hand, is often a perfect balance of decent weather but without the crowds – and is my preferred time to travel.

Avoiding peak season – especially over public holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year, Easter and regional holidays in your destination (such as Golden Week in Japan and Chinese New Year across South-East Asia) – can help bring the cost down too, or if you must travel then, it’s advisable to book ahead to make sure you have somewhere (good) to stay. Likewise, low season can see the prices of flights and accommodation drop considerably and advance booking is not always required.

Always check for local festivals, celebrations and events when planning your travels too. I found myself heading to Montezuma, on the coast in Costa Rica over Semana Santa (Easter week – the busiest week of the year) – along with what felt like every Costa Rican in the country. The buses and ferries were packed, the area was practically fully-booked in terms of accommodation and it was all I could do to find a hotel that wasn’t extortionately-priced or already booked up. I learned the hard way that a little forward-planning goes a long way during busy times, so do your research and book ahead when required.

In Vang Vieng, Laos, on Christmas Eve, I came across a weary traveller who had just arrived in town without pre-booked accommodation, to find no rooms available. It turned out the town was so busy – not because of Christmas, which the Laotians don’t celebrate – but because of a Korean music festival taking place that weekend. So, it’s always worth making sure you have somewhere to stay before setting off for a new destination.

What will it cost?

The cost of travel around the world varies hugely, and you can live like a king for months in one country for the price of a weekend break somewhere else. Some budget travellers take this to extremes and will avoid some great destinations based solely on cost. But don’t let cost alone put you off a place, instead try and find ways to factor in short stays in expensive countries. For example, can you camp rather than staying in a hotel? Are there any free activities, tours or museums you can take advantage of? Can you cook your own meals rather than eating out?

If a country is expensive to travel in, make the most of a region by exploring cheaper neighbouring countries. An all-inclusive package or tour can be a good way to keep a cap on spending – especially if you can get a discounted last-minute price, or travel in low season (when demand – and therefore the prices – are lower). Alternatively, can you travel as a group to reduce the cost per head? Hire a car together, share the driving and split the cost four ways; hire a villa for a week instead of booking individual hotel rooms; charter a boat or a guided tour – you might be surprised at how affordable it can be.

Excerpt taken from The Travel Secret (How to plan your big trip and see the world) by Sarah Kerrigan. For more details and to purchase, visit www.admin.land/travel-secret.

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