So you’ve decided you want some adventures of your own but don’t know where to start? First thing’s first, you have to decide when and where you want to go. For me, I decided I want to see as much of the world as I can, while I’m still young enough to be able to enjoy it, so essentially the world was my oyster. I scoured Google, Reddit, travel blogs, magazine articles, anything I could find to help me narrow down how and where I wanted to travel. I made a list of my top 10 countries (France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, Egypt, Nepal, Jordan, and New Zealand) and decided on a Euro trip first to knock out a few countries at a time.
Where: I decided to start in Europe so I could start on my top 10 list and work from there, but you can obviously pick wherever you want to go. You want to make sure you pick the right time for you to be the most comfortable, so you have a little bit of investigating to do first. The main things you want to look at are the temperature and typical weather patterns for the area you decide to visit. You don’t want to go to see the Northern Lights in Norway from May-July because that’s when the weather conditions are not ideal for clear skies, so make sure you do your research and figure out the best time to visit your destination of choice. There are so many amazing choices out there, each one with different pulls, so find something you’re really interested in and start looking up ways to incorporate it into your travels. Look into some of your favorite bands, maybe they’re doing an international tour, or there may be a festival you could attend that would showcase a lot of bands, like Hellfest in France. If you’re really into art, look up where your favorite artist has most of their work showcased, or go on a tour to a few different countries to see their most popular pieces. Have you always been fascinated by the screensaver photo of the Taj Mahal? Take the chance, make it happen, it will be worth it and you will remember it and cherish those memories forever.
When: After you’ve decided where you want to go, and figured out the best times for it, you can start to get down to the real planning. Come up with a good timeline and a realistic goal for your travels. If you want to go to Oktoberfest but you only decided this in September, perhaps you should wait for next year’s festivities so you have enough time to save up for your trip. I set a date about 9 months away, because I thought that was enough time for me to save up a good chunk of change and make all of my plans. From there I started scouring the web for research, like looking up what the cheapest airports are to fly out of from the States, and into for Europe, because that’s where I was interested in going first. I will post an article soon on finding cheap airfare to see how to travel internationally for $500 or less.
Why: I’ve always been interested in humanitarian work, and giving back to a community is very important to me, so when I discovered you could do a work exchange abroad for room and board on tons of different websites, I jumped at the chance. There are plenty of different sites that you can use for this, I have chosen Workaway to create a profile for, because you can sign up for a 2 year subscription and it works for all countries. WWOOFing, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is another option, though I’ve heard you have to pay per country on their site. There is also HelpX, HippoHelp, Volunteers Base, an app called Worldpackers as well as Couchsurfing, and probably a few other options. I’ve found the travel blog http://www.HalftheClothes.com really helped me in a lot of ways, but her reviews of the different work exchange programs was a deciding factor for my travels.
Maybe you want to go to school, or just travel for fun, so you need to decide what your objective for your trip is and work from there. Depending on why you are going, and where you are coming from, you may need a visa, especially if you plan on working for money. They can sometimes be hard to acquire, so plan around them, because you don’t want to be stuck somewhere illegally. Make sure you also look up the different laws of the countries you are visiting, some places have very unusual laws that you may not be accustomed to. I rushed to the airport in Scotland to get to Ireland and didn’t realize I still had some things on me that I couldn’t take on the flight (a can of Jack Daniels and Coke, and pepper spray) and asked the security agent to throw them away for me, but then he told me that because I had brought them inside the airport, he had to get the police involved because pepper spray was something like a class 5 firearm. We were already late getting to the airport, hadn’t checked in online and had to pay an extra hundred euros, and our plane was already boarding, but two police offers had to come over and chat with us for a bit and I had to sign something saying I would never bring anything illegal into the airport again, while fielding jokes about how we just bought ourselves two years of free room and board there. The officers were very nice, and let us off with a warning, as they said they often did with Americans that simply didn’t know the rule the first time.
Who: Do you want to travel solo, or do you want to go on a trip with friends? You want to be comfortable, so if it’s your first time in a new place, you may not always want to travel alone. If you’re a female, going to some countries alone can be dangerous, so you may want to see if a significant other, family member, or close friend wants to join you on a new adventure. I was super lucky and convinced my awesome friend Natalie to go with me on a 4 month trip working around Europe (read about our Workaway experience here), so ask around and see who might be interested in joining you. You can also meet up with other people using some of the work exchange programs, Workaway lets you connect with other workers that are nearby and join up with them if you want. A lot of hosts have multiple workers at a time, so you may meet someone along the way that you want to stick with for a while, or a previous worker for them that stayed in the area. If you are going to go alone, make sure safety and comfort are your main concerns, although they should be a pretty high priority even if you aren’t adventuring by yourself. I will post more about safety when traveling, hopefully soon. I followed my dad’s advice of “keep your head on a swivel” and somehow managed to make it out alive twice so far.
How: The how is sometimes the most important part, especially when it comes to funding the trip. Most people just assume they could never afford to travel abroad, but it’s so much cheaper than you might expect, you just have to work hard for it and be prepared to put up with some difficulties along the way. I was out of the States for almost 15 weeks, close to 3.5 months, and I spent a total of $3,000 on everything, including airfare. I will be posting soon about different ways to travel inexpensively, as well as legal ways to make money while traveling, so that won’t be covered in great detail here, but here are some of the basics.
The first thing you want to do is make sure you give yourself enough time to save up for everything. Don’t try to plan an extravagant six month vacation that starts in two months unless you can afford to set aside a quick five grand for it. I gave myself nine months for my first trip and set up a budget to start saving. You should try to come up with an estimated budget for your trip, depending on what you’re doing, after you’ve figured out the details and at least some of the things you want to do. Trying to climb Mt. Everest will probably cost a lot more than taking a week trip to Croatia, for most people, so look up the costs of activities that you’re interested in so you know how much you’ll likely spend. Certain dates can be more expensive than others, so that means some dates can be a lot cheaper than others. Look up off seasons for what you want to do and see if you can’t find some discounts. You want to try and overestimate a little for everything, just in case, and if you find you didn’t spend as much as you expected, more money for souvenirs! When I budget, I do it by day, with accommodation, three meals, and a bit of spending money per day normally. For example, I may set a daily budget of the equivalent of $10 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, and $30 for dinner for every day that I know I will be spending my own money on food, unless I know I want to go to a certain restaurant. You can normally look up their menu and determine a better budget when you know where you want to go, but winging it is always fun and helps you find some great local eats!
Another important part of your budget will go towards transportation, so it’s good to decide how you want to get around before you depart. Flights can often be crazy cheap, I’ve found some flights as low as 7 euros, and buses and trains tend to get you pretty far on a budget. I’ll go into more detail in future articles about the beauty of public transportation done right, but just know that there are tons of sites and apps that are made specifically for finding cheap travel. Kiwi.com is my go-to for flights, Rome2Rio is my favorite way to figure out the most economical means of travel, BlaBlaCar is a great ride-share app to use abroad, and Hostelworld is perfect for finding the cheapest but best quality hostel, just to name a few. Uber and Lyft are sometimes options in bigger cities, and taxis are pretty common almost everywhere, so make sure you include those in your budget if you plan on using them. Sometimes it can be hard to get around it, especially if where you are staying is pretty far from where you arrive, or if you need to be somewhere in a short amount of time. You can often buy passes for trains/buses, or multiple tickets at once for a discounted price, so check around to see what your options are and if you can save any money by purchasing them in advance.
You will want to budget for travel insurance, if you plan on doing that. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about World Nomad’s being one of the best options, and I used the Halftheclothes travel blog to answer a lot of questions I had about insurance. It’s something that you should definitely consider, in case something happens, but it’s not required for most trips. You’ll also want to include the cost of any visas, your passport, any paperwork you may need to do beforehand, like if you want to be able to drive while abroad your best bet is to use AAA to get an International Driving Permit for $20 that is valid in 150 countries. Souvenirs can often be a bigger expense, especially if you are trying to get stuff for family and friends, so I like to send postcards in lieu of them. It lets people know you are thinking of them, and gives them something cool to keep from your trip that is personalized but won’t clutter up their house, just their fridge. It’s up to you to determine how much you will want to spend, and you know yourself best, so if you know you are frivolous with your money, include extra in your budget.
I know it seems like a lot all at once, but once you get started planning, it doesn’t take long to get a good outline and work from there. The next few articles will likely be about the specific websites I use to find cheap travel, like my $275 ticket to Paris, a more detailed breakdown of how to budget properly, and how to avoid basic mistakes, so stay tuned!