Is your New Year’s Resolution to take an amazing trip? If so, read on to learn how to turn your travel goals into reality.
I started 2017 in the air from the U.S. to New Zealand and visited 23 countries by the time the year was up. To say “travel more” was a New Year’s Resolution would probably be an understatement. As we start 2018, my New Year’s Resolutions are a bit different – get back into the full-time workforce and keep blogging on a regular basis – but I still want to travel and to help others travel.
Whether you’re looking to go around the world, or just out of your hometown, here’s a few steps on how you can make travel a reality in 2018:
1) Where do you want to go?
This sounds simple, but it can be harder than you’d think. When I decided to travel around the world, I created a spreadsheet. I listed the continents and then the countries and cities I wanted to visit and researched a bit on the time needed to do each destination justice. I think I had about 350 days worth of travel on my list, so I knew I needed to scale back. I divided the list into those I REALLY wanted to go to – you know, the ones that have been on your list for years and years and you have a pinterest board for – and those that would be really nice to see, but it would be OK if it had to wait until the next (several) trips.
2) How much time do you have?
When I looked at traveling around the world, I realized I had six months time between when I left and when I needed to be back in the U.S. Having this amount of time was a huge luxury and one that I still appreciate. Most folks, especially us Americans, do not have that much time to travel, so figure out if you have a week, two, a month or more. This will help you look at your list and determine realistically what will fit into your time.
3) Who are you going with?
Do you want to go solo, with friends or family? If you go solo, you can control when and where you go, how much you want to spend and what you want to do. While some folks find traveling solo daunting, I found it to be liberating and easy. The main drawback is that lodging can be a bit more expensive, but there are ways to work around that. If you’re not quite comfortable traveling solo, but your budget and schedules don’t line up with friends or family, check out a tour company such as GAdventures or Intrepid. They tend to be solo friendly and you can meet some great people.
If you’re traveling with friends or family, you’ll want to go over your lists and budget and determine a destination that works for both your time off schedule and your budget.
4) What is your budget?
OK, so you know where you want to go and how much time off you have… but what about the cost? Budget is very personal. Some spend several hundred dollars a night on a hotel room without blinking an eye, while others spend under $30 a night in a hostel. You can have a great time traveling no matter your budget, but you need to be realistic in this area.
5) How can you make your budget go further?
OK, so you have your budget, but you may be wondering on how you can stretch the budget, or get a few things for free or less? Following the advice of others out there, including The Points Guy, I used my monthly spending to help get free travel.
By signing up for credit cards with great point bonuses, charging all of my monthly spend on them, and paying them off in full each month, I was able to fly around the world for free (and mostly in business class) and book free nights at four and five star hotels. Note, these cards do have annual fees, but they also have great benefits including travel credits and free nights.
Some of my favorite cards are:
- Chase Sapphire Reserved – I used the sign up points to transfer to United for a business class trip from Europe to Japan and for two free nights at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo (which go for about $800 a night)
- Citi Prestige – I used the annual travel credit for free airfare and the points to fly my nephew to visit me. I also LOVE the fourth night free hotel credit. Any hotel you book through their concierge or website gives you the fourth night free. It saved me well over $1000 in 2017
- American Express Platinum – This card gives you a $200 airline credit and Uber credit and also gives you status with Marriott, SPG and Hilton – which gives you free upgrades. They also have great transfer partners, which allowed me free hotel nights and a flight
- Marriott Rewards Card – This was my first reward card. You get automatic silver status with Marriott and a free night at a category 1-5 hotel. I earned enough points with Marriott for 5 nights free at the Ritz Carlton in Kyoto (at an average of $1100 a night) as well as a few free nights in London ($350+ each) and other cities
- World of Hyatt – While I don’t use this card often, the low annual fee and free night makes it worth it. I also got two free nights at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo (about $1500 value) with the sign up bonus.
- American Express Gold Delta Sky Miles Card – Free checked bag, priority boarding and 60,000 points. I’m still banking mine in hopes I can get back to SE Asia.
Signing up for credit cards is not for everyone. You have the annual fees and you have to make sure to pay off your balance each month. But I’ve definitely gotten more out than I’ve paid in. Each year, you should evaluate your cards and determine if the fees are worth the benefits and if you have cards with overlapping benefits. Note, if you click through these links, we both may receive points if you sign up and are approved.
6) When do you want to go?
Whether for work or personal reasons, sometimes you have a set time when you can travel (i.e. summer or winter breaks), but other times you can be more flexible. If you’re heading to Europe, May and September are some of my favorite times to go. It’s not quite as crowded and you may be able to get better deals (although last year, it felt like summer extended well into September).
When deciding when to go, make sure to check out the weather. If you’re going to Southeast Asia, check out monsoon season. I really wanted to go to Vietnam, but November was monsoon season in Hoi An and the week I was looking at going ended up having major flooding. While you can’t predict the weather, you can be smart about it. If you can’t change your dates, you may want to look at a similar location (i.e. monsoon season in Hoi An is different than in Phuket, Thailand).
7) Develop an itinerary
OK, you’ve picked a place, a time and how long you can visit, now is time to pull together a loose itinerary. Have 10 days in Italy and it’s your first time? Rome, Florence and Venice make for a great first-time itinerary. And if you fly into Rome and out of Venice (or vice versa) you can save some valuable time by not having to back track. If you’ve already traveled a bit, check out some of the sweet spots, which aren’t quite as discovered.
When you develop your itinerary, make sure you understand how you’ll get from place to place (bus, train, rental car, ferry) and the amount of time it will take you to get there. Sometimes travel takes longer than you think. If you’re finding this, you may want to consider dropping a city or extending your time in another to do day trip instead of an overnight.
While it’s not as difficult on a short trip, if you’re traveling for a while (more than a month), try to limit 1-2 night stops. I’ve found that 3-4 days makes me feel “at home” and longer, I really get to soak in the culture.
8) Start Booking
In general, I prefer to book direct with airlines or hotels. That way if you run into challenges, you’re dealing directly with the organization vs. with a middle man who often charges a fee or isn’t overly helpful. I do use several sites for research and a few for booking.
- Flights – There are two main sites that I use for researching flights: Kayak.com and Skyscanner.com I’ve used Kayak for years, so it tends to be my default for quick searches domestically and abroad. I recently started using Skyscanner and really like that it can find different destinations for you. For example, when I left Marrakesh, Morocco at the end of June and went to Europe I needed to figure out where and how I could fly, so I typed in Marrakesh as the from and “Everywhere” as the to. It helped me narrow down the countries I could fly to and which were non-stop. I used it to fly back to mainland Europe from Iceland as well (it was more expensive to fly to Europe from Iceland than the US!).
- Lodging – Before I book anything, I like to read reviews. I’ll do a quick google search of the property and also look in depth with Trip Advisor and Booking.com. I like to check more than one review site when looking at properties because I feel it gives you a better sense on if the reviewers are being truthful. I make sure to read the best reviews as well as the worst and look at what people are praising and complaining about (the Brit’s love their kettles and will knock a property down a few points if they don’t have them!). But if there’s consistently no hot water, terrible service or dirty towels, that sends up red flags. I also use Trip Advisor to search different sites for the best prices. If I’m booking at a chain, I’ll book directly, but if I’m booking at a B&B or small hotel, I tend to use other sites. I find Booking.com to be one of the easiest sites to book with as you can sort by numerous options, including type of lodging (hotel, hostel, B&B, apartment), 24-hour reception (in case you are arriving late), types of beds (i.e. if you want two beds because you are sharing with friends), amenities (free wifi, breakfast, pool, etc.) or free cancellation (I use this often since I change my mind a lot on where I want to go but want to make sure I have a place to stay in case I make it there!) Note: if you use the Booking.com links included here, we both receive $25 credits.
- Excursions – While there are several sites out there, I find Viator to be the easiest to use, most well organized and helpful in case you have issues (as I did with a tour being conducted in German while in Malta). Here’s a link to some of my favorite tours that I’ve taken recently.
- Other transportation – I find that Rome2Rio is a great resource to use when trying to figure out how to get from one place to the next. RailEurope also helps you find trains in Europe. I tend to book direct with the rail provider though since it usually costs quite a bit less.
9) Keep planning
I find planning to be a ton of fun, so as it gets closer, keep reading websites and guide books (love me some Rick Steves!) and start thinking about what you need to bring. Very important – do not over pack. Unless you’re heading to the remote wilderness, you can buy most things that you forget while at your destination. Check out this post to learn what I brought on my Round the World Trip. I only used a carry on and a backpack for six months of travel and didn’t really feel I was missing anything. So if you think you need more for 10 days… think again!
10) Have a great time!
You’ve planned, you’ve packed, you’re ready to go! Try and adjust your bedtime slightly towards the direction you’re traveling as you lead up to your trip. Bring important things with you on the plane (always bring medication, necessary toiletries and at least one change of clothes or underwear if you’re checking luggage). Now it’s time to relax, have fun and take pictures! When you come home you can share you’re new-found travel knowledge with all of your friends!
I hope you enjoyed the 10 Steps for Travel in 2018. I’ve tried to capture a lot here, but if you have any more questions or topics you’d like me to cover in future blogs, please let me know! Also, I’d love to know the places you’ll go… so share your where you’d like to visit in 2018 and let us know if you need any tips.