How I Choose Where to Travel Next

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Kate in Santorini

“How do you choose where to travel next?”

It surprises me whenever I hear it, but this is one of the most popular questions I get. And as much as I think I just pick a destination and go, it’s actually a more complicated process. Why not write a whole post about it?

(And I’m not the only one! This week, the Traveling Canucks wrote a post on the very same topic. Do check their post out — it’s very different from mine and their blog is one of the best resources out there for traveling with young kids!)

Flam Railway

Start With Your List of Travel Dreams

I have a long, long list of trips I’d like to take someday. (You can see my current top 10 travel dreams in the right margin if you’re browsing via desktop.) If you’re reading this blog, you probably have tons of travel dreams, too!

And truthfully? Those dreams fade in and out. Sometimes I’ll get hooked on a trip idea and research on my laptop until 3:00 AM, my heart thudding rapidly. And sometimes that dream will die. Most of the time they go temporarily dormant, only to resurface when I see a blog post or read a book or admire a certain good-looking Olympic team and get inspired.

Here are some of the biggest travel dreams I have right now:

I want to travel along northern Spain. I want to dive into the food scene in San Sebastian, explore the villages of Asturias, and photograph the dramatic Galicia coastline.

I want to go to the Galapagos Islands. I really got into wildlife photography in South Africa and I’m eager to shoot some giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies!

I want to spend a week exploring the Florida Keys in depth. The pretty Keys and the gritty Keys. The Netflix show Bloodline may have had something to do with that!

I want to explore Western Australia. These are the white sand beaches I dream about the most, from Esperance in the south to Broome in the north.

Those are just a few. If I have the opportunity to take any of these dream trips, I’ll probably jump on it quickly!

Tip: I keep a lot of travel ideas on Evernote, free organizational software. Hell, I keep everything on Evernote. If you don’t use it, you should!

Uluru up Close

Come Up with a Travel Window

I generally plan my trips one to six months in advance. I’ll look over my schedule and see that I have a block available, accounting for holidays, events, and habits. (For example, “I will be sick of the winter by March — I’ll be dying to go somewhere warm by then.”)

It might be two weeks in February. It might be two months in the summer. Spring and fall tend to be filled with conferences and industry events, so I’m more cautious about those time periods. As soon as I know how much time I have, I can figure out what kinds of trips would work best.

Tip: While there is no formula for figuring out the exact cheapest time to buy a flight every time (and anyone who tells you this is lying), the best fares tend to be available approximately six weeks to three months in advance.

Sanctuary Koh Lanta Sunset

Time the Weather Right

Weather is the most critical aspect of how I plan my trips. 90% of the time, I travel in either high season or shoulder season. (One recent exception was my trip to South Africa, which I took in July because my friend Beth is a teacher and needed to travel during the summer. It worked out well, but I haven’t always been that lucky.)

Some travelers are more flexible with the weather than others — you need to find your own comfort level. Britain and Ireland, along with much of Northern Europe, are prone to cloudy, rainy weather and have lots of things to do indoors. Tiny beach towns during monsoon season, not so much.

Personally, if I’m planning a beach escape or trip to an outdoor destination, I’ll never time it during the off-season because I don’t want to be stuck inside as it rains.

Example: Last year I traveled to Koh Lanta, Thailand, in November, the shoulder season. I love Koh Lanta in November because it’s cheaper, it’s less busy, it rains only about every 2-3 days, and the streaky clouds make for better sunsets.

Phantom Forest Outside

Add On to Work Trips

Very often when I get a work trip somewhere, I extend it so I can explore further on my own. 99% of the time, the people flying me out won’t care if I want to fly back on a different date. (Just let them know before they actually book your flights!)

I know many business travelers who do the same thing. If you have a job where you travel, this is an easy way to add on a trip while saving on airfare.

Example: On my first trip to South Africa back in 2012, which was a press trip, I extended my trip an extra week so I could experience the country as a solo traveler. This way I got to experience bus travel, the Garden Route, and the hostel scene in Cape Town — all things I hadn’t experienced on the business part of the trip.

Vicky, Cailin, Candice and Kate in Mallorca

Factor In Spending Time With Friends

The best thing about travel blogging is that I’ve made so many friends around the world, many of them as itinerant as me. So visiting them is a major factor in my travels!

It can also be a cheap option. If you’re visiting a friend at their home, you can often stay with them for free and cook at home for some of your meals.

Example: When I planned an extra three weeks of hanging out in Europe, my friend Cailin invited me to join her at a villa in Mallorca (see her post here). Joining her — and our friends Candice and Vicky — made for a VERY fun week of tapas, cava, and listening to “Hotline Bling” over and over.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

Compare Bargain Destinations vs. Spendy Destinations

Cost is one of the most important factors in planning a trip. And it’s not just about how much the flights cost! If you’re based in North America, a two-month trip to Southeast Asia or India could be cheaper than a two-week trip to Europe because the ground costs are so much lower.

I figure out whether I want it to be a cheaper trip or if I can handle a pricier jaunt. Keep in mind that cheaper destinations tend to mean dealing with less development and poorer infrastructure.

Pre-trip costs can be a factor as well. You might spend more on gear for a trek or camping trip, or lens rentals for a photography trip.

And don’t underestimate the joy of finding an error fare or crazy flight deal, or using your points or miles for something awesome!

Example: I was so set on visiting the Caucasus in August, but once I tallied up the cost, I realized it would be more expensive and complicated than I was comfortable with, particularly when it came to flights and the Azerbaijan visa. I decided to cancel it in favor of going somewhere closer and cheaper and settled on Colombia, which was cheaper to get to, cheaper on the ground, and had no visa costs for Americans.

Riga Latvia

Other Factors

Some of the other factors that can affect trips include:

Ease of travel. Some destinations are easier than others, and more challenging destinations can take a lot out of you. A significant language barrier or lack of travel infrastructure can end up affecting how your trip goes. After South Africa and Colombia back to back, which are both a bit mentally taxing, I’m eager for easy European travel this fall!

Distance. Further trips tend to be more expensive and often result in greater jet lag. For this reason, I don’t think it’s worth it to go to the other side of the world for less than ten days. I would be a zombie for most of the trip.

Variety. If you’ve been spending a lot of time in Latin America, you might start to crave Asian food. If you’ve been stuck in cities, you might be up for a trip somewhere rural. And we all know that a few months of a frigid winter makes you want to head for tropical beaches! Before I traveled full-time, I would escape Boston for somewhere warm every winter.

Personal goals. Everyone has goals, whether it’s to hold a koala in Australia or take crazy perspective photos at the Salar de Uyuni. My goals include visiting every country in Europe (so close!), visiting 100 countries before I turn 40, and visiting tons of UNESCO World Heritage Sites whenever I can.

Kate at the Pyramid, Tirana Albania

Travel Blogger-Specific Factors

Travel bloggers have additional factors in choosing where to visit, including but not limited to:

Branding. We round out our brands by becoming experienced in different parts of travel. Sometimes that means becoming an expert in a region, as The Blonde Gypsy is in the Balkans. Sometimes that means planning offbeat or extreme adventures, as Expert Vagabond does. Alex in Wanderland is always covering interesting dive sites around the world.

We plan our trips based on what will play well for our readership and our business. For me, I try to cover solo female travel in popular regions, like Southeast Asia and Central America, in lesser-known places, like Albania and Macedonia, and in countries where women tend to be more concerned about traveling solo, like Colombia.

Photography. If you’re an Instagram star or photography professional, you know what kinds of photos your audience loves. Palm trees. Sunsets. Tropical beaches. Iconic sites like Machu Picchu. Cities people dream of like Paris. Ridiculously photogenic countries like Iceland. And you’ve also got your own personal photography goals.

Conferences and trade shows. Conferences and trade shows take place around the globe, and while we attend them primarily for business reasons, they’re also a chance to hang out with our blogger friends!

Gigs, partnerships, and press trips. Much of the work we do requires us to fly out to certain destinations and experience them first-hand. Some bloggers live off constant press trips; some never take any sponsored travel. Most pros are somewhere in the middle.

Standing invitations. Travel bloggers receive invitations from small businesses on a regular basis — mostly along the lines of, “If you’re ever in _____, I’d love to have you come on my food tour/stay at my guesthouse/take you out to my favorite bar!” And while this will never be the primary reason why I go anywhere, if it’s a cool thing to do, sometimes it influences my decision a little bit.

Mount Titano

Putting It All Together

And then it all falls into place. “Hmmm, I’m doing nothing in the fall so far. Well — maybe I should finally plan my dream trip to New Zealand. That’s when the lupins are in bloom, which will be great for photography. It will be spring but it won’t be too busy. I’d miss all the pre-Christmas craziness at home but return in time to spend the holidays with my family. Let’s look up some fares out of curiosity…OH MY GOD I CAN FLY TO NEW ZEALAND FOR $780 ROUND TRIP FROM SAN FRANCISCO. I’m doing that!”

That trip came together beautifully, but sometimes my decisions can be more random. I have an impulsive side that revels in buying a last-minute ticket to a destination I wasn’t even considering. I think you’ll be seeing more of that next year when I plan fewer trips and have more chances for surprise getaways!

However you choose your destination, you can turn it into a memorable trip. Now, I want to hear from you! Do you think I’m too crazy? Did I miss something major? I’d love to hear it.

How do you choose where to travel next?

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55 thoughts on “How I Choose Where to Travel Next”

  1. Like you I have a travel hit list of destinations I’d like to visit and what I’d like to do/see there. I also add the best time of year to visit in order to do a particular activity (hiking the Inca Trail for example) or see a particular sight (a festival, flora or fauna) and an ideal amount of time to spend there. For example certain trips in Europe can be completed in a long weekend; others require longer. That way when I come to planning trips away I can look down my list and find something that fits in with the amount of leave I have and what time of year it is 🙂

  2. Great summary! We usually consider all of the things you mentioned in your post then end up booking a flight to somewhere totally different because omg, it’s such a good deal and we wanted to go there somewhen so why not now? 😀 So we have a long list of dream places and most of the times we end up with choosing the best deals out of them + considering weather. But we usually book well in advance so we still have a lot of time to prepare for the trip, find accommodation and figure out what to do.

  3. I find that when I’m planning travel I end up planning like 4 or 5 different trips and settling on one of them eventually because of all the factors that you said. I usually end up adding to my long list of travel dreams when I am planning as opposed to checking anything off. There are too many amazing places to see 🙂

  4. I also get this question quite frequently.

    My answer is a combination of opportunity and desire. There are places I want to go, and there are places where I get opportunities to go.

    If I have an opportunity to go somewhere I want to go, I’ll usually jump on it. If I have an opportunity to go somewhere I don’t want to go, I’ll usually pass. If I have no opportunities to go somewhere I want to go, I’ll usually just go there on my own.

  5. Kate, I love the planning ideas for travel. My first thought is usually “I want to see another city in Italy”, then I have to convince myself to see something else. Often, weddings will be our deciding factor in our travels. (Lucky for me, the last one was in Italy). I usually try to pick cities near mountains, so I can get some hiking in and find a balance between culture and time alone with the views.

    1. That is a great point, Lisa. Weddings are like business trips — perfect for adding-on. My friends have a wedding coming up in Hawaii and they’re pricing up flights to New Zealand JUST in case, because if they’re going to be there anyway…

  6. Great post, Kate. It’s true, there are so many things we take into consideration as travel bloggers that it’s really hard to nail them down to just a few.
    It’s a little easier when you just travel for vacation, but still, I get the question from friends and readers all the time: “where should I go next?”. As everybody has different tastes, we tried to break it down to five key questions you should ask yourself, in a recent post that we published called “How to find the perfect destination for your next vacation” (http://travelintense.com/how-to-find-the-perfect-destination-for-your-next-vacation) or even shorter in this quiz: http://travelintense.com/quiz/. Maybe that adds something new to your bucket list as well? 😉 I definitely got inspired by your posts about the Western Balkans.

  7. This post came at the perfect time! As a teacher I tend to only be able to travel during peak times ? so I usually bite the bullet with expensive airfare. I want to do a solo trip over Christmas. Cartagena last year was the perfect choice. This year I am looking at chile and Jordan two countries at the top of my list. The flights are just as expensive! I think I will go for jordan and save chile for when it’s a bit cheaper to travel. Love your blog Kate. I’ve been following for years!❤️

  8. My husband and I are international teachers who love to travel and we often use your blog as a resource. When you want to tick Lithuania off your Europe list, I’d be happy to show you around Vilnius or give you some tips.

  9. Usually my first thought when picking a new destination is “It’s totally crazy that I haven’t been to _______ yet.” Cue flight searches.

    Haha, of course I haven’t hit as many countries as you yet, so it’s a bit different of a process!

    1. I sometimes struggle between whether I should go to a place I really should have visited by now (like New Zealand) or a place where not nearly as many people/bloggers visit (like the Caucasus).

  10. Perfect and timely post!

    A few years ago, on a flight home from a truly awesome trip I turned to my husband and asked him where we were going next. I was trying to be a jackass but he’s a better person than I am and we ended up having a sleepy, thoughtful discussion. Now it’s our routine. It softens the post trip depression that sets in too.

  11. My parents always spend the first two weeks in May in Key West, they rent a convertible in Fort Lauderdale and drive down. They love it! They stay at a place called Eden House. We went once when I was in high school and stayed on Duck Key. The Keys are a great place to do some really fun exploring!

  12. For me, price is often the determining factor in choosing where to travel to next. However, I do have a dream list, too. The best, of course, is when both price and dream destination aline perfectly!

  13. most of these ring true for me too: a top hit list, extending a work trip, visiting friends or attending an event, or escaping the dreary British winter for sunnier climes. I’m also a sucker for trawling the likes of Skyscanner, typing in “anywhere” in the search function and seeing what comes up. More often than not there’s something criminally cheap and then I feel obliged to book it! haha

  14. I feel really fortunate that I’ve found myself covering such an interesting part of the planet but you know…sometimes all I want to do is get on a plane and get as far away from here as possible! 😉 The more you brand yourself around a certain place, the harder it becomes to find legitimate reasons why I for example should go travel around Asia or South America even though I would love to. Then again if I ever do, it will be easier for me to have it be a proper personal trip and not think at all about work which I was missing for the first few years I was blogging.

    Addressing the topic though, these days as I am “stuck” in the Balkans due to blogging and non-blogging work obligations where I choose to travel is mostly based on where I haven’t been before and as well where not many other people have been before or there is little to nothing written. Which on that note – greetings from lovely Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Hope to see you back in the region again soon!

    1. Yeah, that’s the tough thing about niche! It limits you quite a bit at times. But I think you have a much easier time branching out than someone with a more location-restricted blog.

      I hope to come back soon, too! It breaks my heart that I missed a Balkan summer for the first time since 2011.

  15. Curiosity is the main driving force behind trips for me. I always start with a question or a general itch, then go scratch it. The goal is always to reflect, “what was this about for me?” And see what I learn.

  16. 100 countries by 40 will be quite impressive to see! That’s what, 4-5 new countries a year? I’ll be interested to see where you go.

    My trip list only seems to keep getting longer the more I travel–no chance of running out of trips anytime soon!

  17. Some of the best advice I have read! It’s definitely fun being able to choose a place, research it and then go and see it. Reading blogs (like yours!) really inspire me as well =o)

  18. Thank you very much for some valuable advises.
    When I plan my next trip, the big factor for me is visa requirement. I hate to apply and to PAY for visa. Me, my wife and my daughter are heading to South America in September and deciding factor for scheduling this trip was that Brazil (temporarily) and Argentina suspended visa and entry fees for US citizens. That is $960.00 saving for three of us ($160 per visa in Brazil and $160 entry fee for Argentina). Otherwise, I would probably plan to go elsewhere. But some places on my travel bucket list require visa (like China) and nothing I can do about it.

    1. That’s a great point, Dmitriy. Visas are one cost that can add up super-fast when you travel as a family. I remember my friend telling me how much money he saved for his own South American trip for his family because he holds dual citizenship.

  19. Nice, in-depth guide. Right now, my mission to visit every continent in the world is driving my decisions. After that, it may be more complex to choose where to go!

  20. I spend a crazy amount of time researching flights and destinations. Right now I’m ALL about Madagascar. So I usually plan my trips around places that I’m currently obsessed with.
    And how poor I’m feeling!

  21. Thank you for your advices!
    Normally when I plan my next trip, I am really consider about the weather because I want to enjoy every minute during my time there. Also, distance and time is other important factors as well. Anyhow, I’m looking forward to see your next post 🙂

  22. Thanks for the advice and showing us how you choose your travel plans! I’m a bit spontaneous at times and usually book flights about a month in advance. Luckily, I live in the UK where it’s easy to get a cheap flight from EasyJet or Ryanair, so I usually strike a good deal. I also try to go in the off season for when I travel to cities, as walking around and exploring is not as weather-dependent. For big adventure trips, though, I end up trying to go for good weather!

  23. I just kind of work in one region at a time and try to get through as much as possible. In some places this is easily done, like SE Asia where you can just hop around, and in other places it requires a lot more time, like Australia etc.

  24. I have a long list of places we want to go. When planning trips for the year it is more about what is reasonable with our two little kids. We try to go on one parents only trip each year but we are limited with how much time we can spend away so we try to be as creative as possible.

  25. Great tips, Kate! Although I think you should also factor in safety. It’s important to do an extensive research on the exact country and region that you are planning to visit and find out what their crime rate is, how many burglary incidences they’ve had in the past, and what their political situation is.

    1. Phoenix, safety is one of the topics I write about the most, but I find that numbers about the crime rate and burglary instances have little to do with what it’s actually like to travel there. Do your research — read blogs and guidebooks — to get an idea of what it’s like to be there as a traveler. If you went by statistics, nobody would ever go to Chicago.

  26. I think I’ve mentioned this- but please try to squeeze in a Great Walk in NZ! It’s quintessential kiwi and you won’t regret it!

  27. There are some great tips in there. Personally, my biggest hurdle was learning to plan a trip up to six months in advance. It opened up so many more possibilities and also relieved a ton of stress.

  28. I’m also sometimes still up at 3am madly researching a new destination and coming up with a crazy plan!
    Definitely agree with researching costs – so often the extra money I’ve spent on a flight getting to a further flung but cheaper-on-the-ground destination has been made back in the first few days. It’s seeing the extra £100 on the sky scanner search results that can put you off but the research is well worth it. I’ve just gone to Sri Lanka over the Greek Islands (from the UK) and am certainly happy with my decision!
    Thanks for your great blog!

  29. Glad I am not the only one who researches destinations like crazy! I sometimes think that researching a trip is almost as good as going on the trip 🙂 As I work full time I usually plan my trips 6 months to a year in advance. I also travel to most destinations in the off-season. Weather is not a factor for me and traveling in the off-season can help with the budget. To chose a destination I typically pick somewhere were I can get a good deal on a flight.

  30. Lovely post, especially combined with the ‘Hopes for the future’ post.

    I live in Western Australia and yes, all the beaches are amazing, but one of my favourite stretches is Cape Leveque – it’s north of Broome, so my tip is to keep heading north from there! Don’t miss it 🙂

  31. Since I love being on the road and don’t mind where I am, I usually check a budget destination, or just choose “Anywhere” for my destination on a search engine and organize a trip to the country I like :)))

  32. I am such a rubbish planner! I have so SO many places I want to visit but I never really plan when I should go. I booked Mexico for 3 months and didn’t plan anything apart from the flight and then realised I had booked during hurricane season, so maybe I should really start planning trips a little better…

  33. Great post, I am terrible at planning and it’s usually a matter of where there is a cheap flight, but am trying to get more organised and plan more in advance like you. Whether a place has decent internet connection and wifi is increasingly becoming a factor on where to go next due to work commitments, how do you get around that when working remotely?

    1. Most places have decent enough wifi. If I go somewhere with bad wifi, I either get the bulk of my work done in advance or I take a short break from work before heading back to a better wifi area.

  34. I love this post! I have a wishlist a mile long, and it seems like I’ll never have the time and money to do it all. I like the idea of being more spontaneous, but my and my husband’s work schedules don’t allow for it (yet). Besides, for me, planning is probably half the fun 🙂

  35. Great post Kate !A lot of what you mentioned applies to how I pick my next destination. Winter is easy as my husband and I always head to a warm place ( hello Boston winters :() After visiting a bunch of Carribean Islands we just started exploring Central America, with Belize as a start earlier this year ( in part influenced by your posts). Thinking of Nicaragua this coming winter.
    I grew up in Poland , and always fly home to visit in the summer. When I still lived there we couldn’t freely travel all over Europe. So much of Europe I haven’t seen, even though it was so close. Which is why I started making stops on the way to Poland a few years ago. To decide where to visit I research different flight combinations, and pick my destination, based on flight price and cost of staying there ( accomodations, food etc). Because my list is so long, I have many places to choose from. Last great find was Lisbon. Cheap flight and a great Airbnb studio rental in the heart of it . Probably one of my favorite places ever!!!

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