Go travel! It’s a common refrain that’s starting to border on broken record. But it’s also a truism. We know your life is intrinsically better if you take time to travel. We know that experiences matter more than “stuff.”
Planning a trip is half the fun sometimes. So here is a quick guide to expedite your next trip, vacation, adventure, or holiday. A few tips. A few insights. A few thoughts.
STEP 1: BUDGET
First, budget your time. Without this, nothing is possible. Listen, I know I’m at an advantage here. I live in Germany and have over 30 days vacation, plus public holidays every year to play with. Americans just don’t have that luxury. Maybe consider living abroad? If not, there are plenty of three-day weekends and many Americans get at least two weeks every year on top of that.
The first thing I do when I start scheming for an adventure is look at my year. Where are the three- and four-day weekends? Do I want to spend those weekends in someone’s backyard getting sh*tty on scotch and rib-eyes (a valid option), or do I want to spend that time — and likely the same amount of money — in a national park or exploring a city?
Once you’ve decided when you really do have time to get away, then it’s time to think about spending. And this means more than what is, or isn’t, in your bank account. Where can you save money this year? Is it worth buying new furniture for your apartment, or secondhand pieces? What about clothes? Do you really need to spend $500 on that new season line? Or can you cut that down to $200? Is it really worth spending $500 to upgrade your smartphone? (Spoiler: It’s not.)
All of these little things add up fast. The conspire to form a society of people who say, “I’m too broke to travel.” So save. If you know you’re going on a trip over a long weekend, spend that month not going out every weekend drinking or eating out. It’s really easier than it sounds. And now you have a set amount of cash you know you can spend.
STEP 2: WHERE
This is a facet of travel that everyone is sure to have an opinion about. The real answer, of course, is where ever the hell you bloody well feel like. Okay, disclaimer, I’m not endorsing you go to a war zone.
You’ve already made your budget above. See what fits. Spend some lunch breaks digging for cheap flights. Check Airbnb, your closest state park website, Instagram, and other travel sites. What speaks to you? What do you need to experience right now? Nature? City? Europe? Tom Yam? Maybe it’s just getting the tent, sleeping bag, and lantern out and heading to the beach. That’s great. Do it. Maybe it’s finding an airfare for stupid cheap and spending the weekend in Dublin. Also great. Do it. The Guinness Factory Tour is totally worth it. It’s okay to be a tourist sometimes.
When I look at my year, I compartmentalize where it is I’ll be traveling. I have places I know I have to go for work. But that is WORK. Separate where you travel for work and where you travel for leisure. This is crucial. I know in the next 12 months, we have to go to England for Christmas. We’ll be spending at least three weeks in Ireland and the Baltic coast for family summer vacations. We’ll be visiting friends for one week in Dubai, and another week in Moscow. Those are our big trips in the next year. We have to afford those. So that’s when I look deeper and try to figure out where else we can go. Again, Germany offers a lot of time off. May has two three-day weekends and one four-day weekend. Maybe a trip to the forest for camping? Maybe pop down to Bologna? It depends on the budget, and what we want. Bologna may sound exotic if you’re in America. But, it’s not. If you’re in Portland, pop over to Vancouver Island. If you’re in Chicago, pop down to Kansas City. If you’re in Austin, pop down to Guanajuato. Mini-adventures can be awesome.
Once you’ve settled the “where,” go buy the transportation to that place. Find a ride share. Buy a flight. Barter for a bike and cycle there. Do what feels right. Do what excites you.
STEP 3: SLEEP
You’re ready to hit the road. Your budget, location and transportation are set. Now where are you going to sleep? Be creative. Can you sleep on a train overnight to save a night’s room fee? Can you borrow some camping gear from your dad, uncles, aunts, or grandma? Do you have friends or friends of friends where you’re headed? Do they have a couch you can crash on? Have you tried hostel dorms yet? Because trust me, there is a pre-hostel you and a post-hostel you.
Everyone has different comfort levels, especially when it comes to where they sleep, shower, and…you get the point. I’ve slept on train platforms before. I’d prefer not to again. I’ve also had my time in hostels. And that time is over. Airbnb is fantastic for anyone, especially if you’re with kids. It’s still just a massive corporation trying to circumvent decades of law-making to protect consumers, but, hey, if it works for you, go for it.
If you’re hitting Europe, hotels are cheap, and they almost always offer breakfast with the room price. Which saves you paying for an entire meal every day. That savings add up.
The point is, find your comfort level, and travel within that. Accommodation can often be a huge chunk of your budget, or it can be smaller than what you spend on food and drink. Make a choice. If it doesn’t work, try something else next time. Travel is trial and error. That’s where the joy is found.
STEP 4: PER DIEM
What do you like to do when at home? Chances are you’ll want to experience those things within the context of a new culture or setting. Love trying new restaurants when they open up in your neighborhood? Then maybe check out what’s new in the city you’re traveling to. Do you love watching movies in the theater? Then check out what a new city and culture have to offer. Do they have cool cinemas and films you’ve never heard of? Go for it! Do you prefer surfing every morning? Stay on the beach.
These choices matter. You also want to be spontaneous. You want to be able to wander around and let the wind carry you to new places. You want to have enough free time in your schedule to follow your taxi driver’s advice about a cool restaurant or waterfall. Have someone point you to the nearest river and spend a day lazing around. Just, please, remove your trash when you leave.
You have a budget. Decide how much you want to spend every day on food and entertainment. Are you going to London for the weekend? Bring money. Lots. LOOOOOTTS. Even if you’re crashing on a mate’s couch, it’s still almost $7 to travel on the Tube in Zone 1. Once. A pint is going to be close to $10 a pop. Etc. But, if you can fit it in your budget. See London! Or go to Berlin like three times for the same price.
Stay in a hotel that provides you breakfast. Spend less than $5 for lunch. Then splurge for an amazing dinner. Or don’t. It is up to what you want to do. Maybe food isn’t that important. Cool. Eat Cup O’ Noodles. Point being: You do you.
STEP 5: GO!
You budgeted your time and money. You chose a destination. You bought some tickets. You reserved some beds. You decided what you want to see and do. You saved space for spontaneity. Now it’s time to go. Have fun. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Meet some people and make some friends (maybe you can crash with them next time). Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated, even if you’re in a temperate climate. Use public transport, or rent a bike. Take taxis and chat with the drivers. Do what feels right. Do what you’re comfortable with. Then test those boundaries. Push to the outer edges of your comfort zone.
A few parting words: If you’re flying across time zones, learn to deal with jet lag. Jet lag can ruin a short break to Europe or Asia faster than any pickpocket. This is a real thing with real solutions. NASA has actually figured this out. When traveling from west to east, turn off the TV in your seat and avoid light on the plane. Wear sunglasses from the moment the plane hits the tarmac. Keep them on for at least the first four hours you’re in-country, or until the sun goes down. The next morning, cloudy or not, wear your sunglasses again for the first two hours of the day, and the last two hours of the day. Jet lag gone. When traveling east to west, expose yourself to direct sunlight for 30 minutes after arrival. The next day, do that same in the morning and just after sunset. It may seem really odd, but a tanning bed is the best way to do this if there’s no sun out. Either way, jet lag gone. I’ve been doing this for about five years. It works every time. It’s NASA science!
Happy Travels! I hope to see you on the road!