Picking a destination is the first step in planning any trip, and also one of the most difficult. There are many factors to consider: your budget, how much time you have, your travel experience, how far you want to go, the time of year, and of course the type of activities you want to do.
How much and how long?
First, you must determine how much money you are willing to spend on your trip, and how much time you have available to travel. I usually limit my budget to an average of $1000 CAD per week. This includes everything: airfare, accommodation, food, local transportation and activities. So a 2-week trip shouldn’t cost me more than $2000 total. Because airfare is a one-time expense, the longer the trip, the more expensive my airfare can be (there are more weeks to “amortize” the expense), and the further I can go.
Another reason to travel closer to home for short trips, is to avoid spending a large proportion of your time in transit. This means that a one-week trip to New Zealand from Canada doesn’t make a lot of sense considering that it will take you a whole day (24 hours) to get there and a whole day to get back. In addition, your jet lag will last you longer than the trip, and the airfare alone will be 65 to 80% of your budget!
Time and money also closely tie in to the three world tiers (and three categories of destinations) that I will describe in Part 2 of this series. In general, the poorer and less developed the country, the cheaper and more challenging it is. And because less developed countries are more difficult to travel through, the trip requires more time to organize and execute. There are of course a few exceptions. Mexico, for example, is fairly developed and has a very good infrastructure, yet remains surprisingly cheap everywhere except in the big resorts.
No matter where you’re going, independent travel costs less than an organized tour. On the other hand, you are able to see less in the same amount of time because you need to allocate some of your time to logistics (booking accommodation, buying tickets, finding restaurants). This is especially true if you are travelling in a country that is new to you.
When do you want to travel?
An easy way to narrow down your choices, is to consider at what time of year you will be travelling. Popular destinations around the world have “tourist” seasons which are often, but not always, related to weather. The period when most people travel to the country is called the high season. The low season sees much fewer tourists and can offer sizeable discounts. This usually corresponds to the least favourable weather (rainy, very cold or very hot). Finally, the shoulder seasons fall between these two extremes and are often the best time to travel for the discerning traveller. They often correspond to spring and fall, the so-called transition seasons.
Since you are probably hoping for warm sunny weather at your destination, and do not wish to be travelling in the tropics during the monsoon or hurricane season, here are some websites that give monthly average temperatures and precipitation for different cities:
Geography determines weather patterns, and even without detailed weather websites, you can often make an educated guess as to the probable weather in a given location by following these guidelines:
- The seasons in the Northern and Southern hemisphere are reversed (July is the coldest month in Australia)
- The further you are from the equator, the more distinct the seasons are (hot summers, cold winters)
- In the tropics (within 23.5 degrees latitude North and South of the equator) there are usually only two seasons. Their winter (cooler season) is the driest and most pleasant. Their summer (warmer season) is when the torrential rains and hurricanes hit.
- The altitude has a drastic effect on temperature. Even on the equator, you will need a jacket at 3000 metres.
- Locations near a sea or an ocean have a maritime climate characterized by milder winters and cooler summer than regions further inland. Water and air currents can affect the temperature of large areas drastically. For example, the jet stream warms up the Atlantic coast of Europe.
- Large countries like China, Brazil, USA have several very different climatic zones.
Here are the seasons with the regions best visited during those times.
June to September
Canada, Northern USA, Northern Europe (UK, Scandinavia), Southern Africa (except the country of South Africa), South Pacific
September to November and April to June
Most of Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Northern South America (within the tropics), China, Japan, Nepal, Northern Africa
December to March
Central America, Caribbean, Mexico, Southern South America (the “cone”), Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Western Africa, India
Southern Europe, California (USA), Southern Australia, Ecuador & Galapagos
What do you want to do?
Another way to zero in on a destination, is to decide what sort of activities you would like to do on your vacation. Are you dreaming of spending most of your time on the beach with a little sightseeing thrown in? Do you want to learn a skill (Spanish, painting, Thai cooking) and meet people? Do you want to spend most of your time outdoors, hiking, kayaking, learning about the flora and fauna? Are you a history and culture buff who wants to explore world-famous museums, attend performances and dine on gorgeous food? Or may be you’re like me and you want to do a little bit of everything.
Below is a table that shows a list of activities and some excellent countries to practice them. This list is by no means exhaustive.
|Beaches (swimming)||Thailand, Greece, Philippines, Caribbean Islands, South Pacific Islands, Mexico|
|Scuba diving/snorkelling||Australia, Belize, Honduras, Egypt (Red Sea), Bonaire, Philippines, Ecuador (Galapagos)|
|Museums||France, Italy, Netherlands, England, USA, Canada, Egypt, Mexico|
|Culture, Arts, Music||Mali, Indonesia, India, China, Peru, Brazil|
|Hiking, Nature||Costa Rica, Canada & USA, New Zealand, Nepal|
|Food||France, Italy, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, India|
|Wine tasting||Argentina, Chile, South Africa, USA (Napa Valley), Canada (Niagara), New Zealand|
|Old civilizations, archeology||Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Egypt, Greece, China, Turkey, Italy, Malta, Cambodia|
|Shopping, handicrafts||Indonesia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Thailand|
|Downhill skiing/winter sports||Canada (B.C, Quebec), Switzerland/France (Alps), Chile, Slovenia|
|Learning Spanish||Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama|
|Animals/Birds||Ecuador (Galapagos), Costa Rica, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Madagascar, Amazon, Antarctica|
|A little bit of everything||Mexico, USA, India, Australia, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Thailand|
In Picking a destination – Part 2, we divide up the world into three “tiers” and discuss what kind of trip you can expect from each.