How to choose a travel destination
How to Choose a Destination As a First Time Traveler
If you're a first time traveler, you may find it difficult to decide on a destination. Whether you’ve got so many options you don’t know how to boil them down, or you can’t think of a single place you’re really interested in, there are several ways to cut through your uncertainty and select a destination once and for all. You can review your other interests in life or your larger goals for traveling in the first place. Alternatively, you can make a purely practical choice based on affordability. And, if all else fails, make your decision an adventure in and of itself by randomly selecting your destination!
Considering Your Interests
Look at your hobbies.One of the best ways you can decide on a good destination is by reviewing the hobbies you enjoy in your everyday life, as these can provide valuable insight into what kind of a place you would enjoy visiting. For example, if you do karate or capoeira in your spare time, you might want to consider going to Japan or Brazil, respectively, where you can explore the history and current manifestations of these ancient folk practices. Or, if you play an instrument in your local orchestra, you could consider going on a tour of European capitals with historic orchestral groups and theaters.
- Even if your hobby doesn’t have a particular geographical or cultural origin, you can still use it to guide your travel destination decision-making. For example, if you’re a big film buff, you could look for domestic and international film festivals taking place around the time you want to travel.
Flip through your history books.When thinking about what places you might want to visit, think about your historical interests. If you’re still in school, flip back through your textbooks and see if you remember any units which interested you in particular. If you’re out of school, take a look at your home library or internet search history to see what kinds of historical topics, cultures, and events have interested you in the past. You’ll be amazed how actually visiting the historic sites you’ve read about can change your perspective and enhance your understanding.
- For example, if you’ve got tons of books on the Gold Rush or ancient Chinese dynasties, you might consider a road trip through the American West or a sight-seeing tour of Beijing as potential points of destination.
- Don’t limit yourself to the bookshelf! Check out your Netflix and Amazon cues to see what kind of historical documentaries—if any—you tend to watch, or flip through your favorite channels for any clues.
Check out your favorite movies and novels.You might not be a fan of non-fiction or history, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have certain cultural or historical interests. Think about your favorite movies, novels, and music and ask if you'd be interested in visiting any of the places depicted in them. For example, if you’ve read the complete canon of Fyodor Dostoevsky or William Butler Yeats, you might want to experience the cities—St. Petersburg and Dublin, respectively—which influenced these literary giants.
- Just because your favorite movie isBen-Hur, doesn’t mean you have to go to Jerusalem or Rome for your first destination. Filming locations often differ from their fictional setting, so you could make your objective to visit particular filming locations rather than the places in the story.
- Don’t write off this option just because your favorite fiction takes place in fantasy worlds.Game of Thrones, for example, films on several locations in Northern Ireland, and you can tour the elaborate sets and locations ofLord of the Ringsin New Zealand.
Think about your favorite foods.If you live in a big city with the world’s cuisine at your fingertips, you might think that traveling across country borders to taste some authentic Thai, Indian, or French food seems a bit pointless or extravagant. In fact, though, many restaurants adapt their authentic dishes to meet the pricing expectations and taste preferences of the country in which they operate.It’s fairly safe to say, then, that you'll learn loads more about your favorite cuisine if you visit its birthplace.
- With the growing popularity of culinary and baking shows, there are many organized tours across the world devoted specifically to culinary history and tasting.Or, if you’re more of a lone wolf when it comes to lifestyle and traveling, you might want to plan your own itinerary using a favorite cookbook or the recommendations of a travel journalist, such as Anthony Bourdain or Rick Steves.
Identifying Your Objectives
Ask yourself if you’re going primarily to relax.Most experienced travelers automatically base their travel plans off of their intentions and priorities for vacation: for example, experienced senior citizen travelers know they’re going abroad for some rest and relaxation, so they choose low-key destinations with plentiful amenities. Take a page from these seasoned ramblers and ask yourself what you want out of your first big destination. If you automatically think about relaxing on a beach, sipping margaritas, and getting spa treatments and massages, chances are you’re looking for some relaxation out of your vacation.
- Cruises, resorts, and sea-side hotels are all great options for the traveler seeking respite. If you need help deciding what soothing option is your best one, consult a travel agent regarding the relative comfort and services offered at a variety of restful resorts and locations.
- Don’t forget to factor distance and travel time into your plans. You might have found the most relaxing island halfway across the world, but, if it requires a twenty-hour flight and multiple stopovers, you might not return home as rested and refreshed as you had hoped.
Consider how important authentic cultural experience and exposure is.While popular travel shows such as Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern assume authentic cultural interaction is a priority, not all people really want this from their travel destinations. Travelers wanting to sunbathe by the Mediterranean or stroll around a cruise ship, for example, probably don’t want a dose of culture shock mixed into their relaxation remedy.
- If you’re interested in the people, politics, or native arts scene, though, you should place cultural exposure high on your list of priorities. Cross off cruises, tourist resorts, guided excursions, and kitschy commercial districts such as Times Square in Manhattan or Puerto Vallarta in Mexico as viable options and look for more off-the-grid destinations.
- Remember that your history-heavy itinerary—especially if it’s guided by an agency or official group—probably won’t offer much genuine cross-cultural exchange. So, if this kind of exchange is important to you, make sure you carve out some independent time to roam the local markets or talk to some locals at a café.
Decide if you want your travel to include physical adventure.Massive metropolises such as New York City, Mumbai, and Moscow offer plenty of options for physical activity—for example, urban hiking, indoor laser tag, and even urban bungee-jumping—but your access to the wilderness and associated activities such as camping, hiking, and fishing will be restricted. If daily activity, fresh air, and exposure to the wilderness are important to you, choose a rural destination with proximity to natural landmarks such as mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, forests, and canyons.
- Since you’ll be traveling in a remote location while engaging in vigorous physical activity, you should take the risk of getting injured seriously. Have your doctor give you a thorough check-up before you embark to make sure you’re fit enough to handle the potential hazards of your travel adventure.
- Yearning for some natural landscapes doesn’t mean you have to forego the city experience entirely. Many smaller cities such as Belfast, Denver, and Lucerne are just minutes away from impressive landmarks and wild terrain which you can explore.
Take stock of your party priorities.Depending on your age and your daily habits, you might think that eating, drinking, and dancing constitute an important part of traveling. If you’re excited about getting dressed up and going out on the town, consider choosing a major urban center or a mid-size town with a reputation for serious recreation and nightlife. If you plan on curling up by the fire with a book by 9 pm every night and rising early every morning, you might want to avoid big party destinations in order to avoid the crowds and noise attendant to these places.
- Dubrovnik in Croatia, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Bali in Indonesia, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates are some of the most renowned international hot spots for late night—and all-day!—partying.
Making Finances a Priority
Look over your accounts and available credit.Don’t dash your traveling dreams just because you’re watching your wallet. No matter what the constraints on your cash, you can find a number of finance-friendly travel destinations. Assess how much money you have in savings, what kind of payment you can expect from your job while on vacation, how much available credit you have, and how much money you ultimately want to spend on your travels.
- Make sure you check out the interest rates on your credit card before using it to book your flight or hotel.
- If you’re thinking of traveling internationally, don’t forget to factor in the costs of passport processing and other visa-related fees. Depending on where you live and where you’re going, these can range from negligible amounts to significant sources of spending.
Check out travel websites and promotion offers.Once you’ve figured out how much money you can spend on your destination, browse through some popular booking sites such as expedia.com, momondo.com, and hotwire.com. These resources allow you to search based on destination while comparing rates from different companies and providers. In addition to searching by destination and date, check out the section on the site that lists special offers and deals.
- If you have some flexibility with your travel dates, try checking the ‘My dates are flexible’ box below the search field. Ticket prices can vary significantly on a day-to-day basis, so this option can save you big bucks with minimal effort.
Look for car, bus or train accessible destinations.Many of the booking sites where you search for flights and hotels also offer prices and booking for terrestrial travel options. If you have a car, look up the distance to road trip accessible locations and calculate the cost of gasoline and other vehicle maintenance-related fees. Use a site like gasbuddy.com to help you estimate fuel costs if you need assistance in your calculations.
- Don’t forget to weigh your cheaper, land-bound transport options against the duration of travel. Many trains and buses will get you somewhere dirt-cheap, but they might take 24, 48, or even 72-plus hours to do so. If time is no issue, this is still a great option! If you only have a week total to enjoy your holiday, though, you should consider selecting a closer destination, or someplace far away but offering a good deal on flights.
Compare travel fees with location-specific cost of living.In addition to calculating the cost of transport to your potential destinations, research local prices and typical expenses in the place you’re thinking of going. After all, some far-away locales may cost a pretty penny for the flight, but the cost of hotels, food, and entertainment might be paltry relative to what you spend in your hometown. In contrast, some domestic destinations might be comparatively cheap to drive or bus to, but the daily expenses there are quite pricey.
- All-inclusive resorts can also be a good, budget-friendly option. With an all-inclusive package, all of your meals and drinks are included in a flat fee for your lodging. This means that you don't have to research local cost of living or watch your spending while vacationing.
- While you can easily research hotel costs online, it can be a bit more difficult to find out how much per diem expenses such as local groceries, restaurants, beverages, and transportation will be. You can find this out by looking at various travel review sites and blogs, such as priceoftravel.com and budgetyourtrip.com.
Use an online tool to randomly generate a destination.You might want to approach your search as a first time traveler as an adventure in and of itself. As long as you’re a fairly open-minded, easygoing person, you can pick a location using a random destination generator available online. Sites like travelsp.in, geomidpoint.com, earthroulette.com, and jauntaroo.com allow you to enter some general constraints and find a destination with the click of a button.
- Only use random point generators like geomidpoint.com if cost is not a major concern. If you are on a budget, use a site like jauntaroo.com, as it takes finances and other preferences into consideration.
Draw a destination from a hat.If you are interested in several locations but don’t know how to whittle down your options, you can leave the final choice up to chance! Write down five to ten destinations you’re considering on slips of paper, fold them up, and shake them in a hat or basket. Pick just one at random and you’ll have your destination decision!
- If you want to make the process even more exciting and unpredictable, have friends and family write down destinations they think you should visit. Choose from these crowd-sourced destinations rather than working from your own list.
Review safety-related warnings and travel advisories for the area.Before purchasing tickets to your spontaneous get-away, do some basic research to make sure your impromptu itinerary is a safe one. Review government travel advisory sites such as or in order to find out if there are any current environmental or social problems which could endanger your stay. You should also look into medical services so you’ll be sure that, in the case of emergency, you’ll be able to find the proper care.
- Don’t forget to check out specific social customs which could single you out in particular. For example, some destinations are less safe for LGBTQ individuals or single women, so figure out beforehand if your identity could put you in jeopardy in a particular area and culture.
- You should also research how much of an issue property-related crimes such as pick-pocketing or mugging are. Relatively high rates of pick-pocketing don’t mean you have to rule the destination out, but you should take certain measures such as passport belts which strap on under your shirt and mobile safes to lock up your valuables.
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