The more I travel, the more I realize how much it nourishes my soul. I crave it. It keeps my soul alive and my mind open. It challenges me and widens my heart. Therefore, incorporating travel in my life is a high priority for me.
I get a lot of questions…
How do you do it so often?
How do you afford it?
How do you know where to go?
So, I decided to create a template of my process to share with you. This can be applied to long-term travel, short-notice trips, weekend getaways, and everywhere in between. For the sake of relevancy, I am going to use the example of my next adventure to Miami that I am currently planning for mid-January.
The first two steps address the main barriers to travel: time and money. Travel is a commitment. Just like your health, social life, education, job, family, and hobbies. If you want it, you will find a way. And once you do it once, it gets easier. And once you do it twice, you wish you would have started sooner.
- Where do you want to go?
At the beginning of my last fall semester, I realized I don’t necessarily have a “set path”, and I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted to allow myself to continue to change and grow. This also brought me to the realization that I may not end up in America after graduation…but I can’t leave without seeing all of the wonderful places across the country. So, I created a USA bucket list. This list started out small but continued to grow as I asked friends for recommendations and scrolled through Instagram and Facebook. Some places were as specific as a national monument, and some are as broad as an entire state.
Here is what mine looks like:
The WHERE has an impact on WHEN I go (which is why I inserted some tentative dates next to some locations). Obviously, I don’t want to visit Maine in January unless I want to spend it entirely indoors or frozen as an ice cube. If I want a specific experience (such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans or a concert in DC), I already had an idea of the time I wanted to go.
What if you don’t have a timeline? Maybe you just need to escape on a whim? Take the time to reflect on the KIND of experience you want. If you just experienced a break up, maybe you want to go to a city full of young people and fun night life, but it’s winter so maybe you should look for warmer cities such as Austin, Texas (highly recommend!). If you are stressed with school and need a retreat, find a place with lots of great hiking, fresh air, and recreation activities such as Colorado (haven’t been yet but it’s on my list) or Charleston, SC. If you have a longer period of time, consider going to a place with a variety of activities such as museums, good food, outdoor spaces, and fun shops (like San Francisco or a road trip). If you have a family member you have not seen in years or months, this is also a great place to start! In this case, you already have a place to stay (maybe) and have great recommendations on things to do.
This next semester, I will be going to Nashville every other weekend for my yoga teacher certification. I knew I needed to get away before my program started, and I noticed UGA has a three-day weekend to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 19-21. It’s January which nixed most of my list due to cold weather. That’s what made me choose Miami.
Once you have a destination and/or time, then you can go to the next step…
2. Get an idea of how much it costs
I immediately go to my apps, Hopper and SkyScanner, to start tracking flights (I prefer Hopper). You simply put in your dates and destination, and it will notify you when the flight is the cheapest. This can get stressful because typically for shorter distances, it is better to buy them closer to when you are leaving. For example, I bought my ticket to DC two weeks before I was leaving, but paid for the AirBnb and concert tickets two months prior. This will be the same case for my Miami flight.
AirBnb is the next place I go (if I don’t have a close family member or friend that offers their place to stay). I reference the past visitors’ reviews to get an idea of the quality of the home, quality of experience, location in terms of convenience, and value. Location is very important, because Uber/Lyft trips can be very expensive.
Another option is to stay at a hostel. Hostels are used more internationally, but they are growing in the US. The cheapest rooms are similar to dorm-style with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. The more expensive (but still cheap) option is to get a private room with private bath. These places come with great amenities like free walking tours, social events, social spaces, complimentary breakfast, wifi, etc. I never stay in hotels, but this is also an option.
3. Pull the trigger already!
Buy the flight (when Hopper or SkyScanner finds you that great price). Once I get the notification, I open a “private window” or “incognito window” on my laptop- this feature inhibits prices from skyrocketing because it is not allowed to track your searches. If websites recognize that you are looking up certain things, specifically flights, they will inflate the price.
I just use Google Flights by searching “flights from ___ to ___” and the date in the Google search bar. It lists all of the flights starting with the cheapest.
Here are some tips when buying a flight:
1. Sometimes it is worth the extra $30 to not have a layover. Personally, layovers make me stir-crazy, and there is more of a variable for delays. Check the duration of the trip and how many stops before buying!
2. I highly DO NOT recommend Spirit Airlines. They are always late, up-charge you on everything including personal items, and have horrible customer service.
3. I also try my best to avoid United Airlines. I have had two horrible experiences with them loosing my luggage, poor customer service, and lack of accommodation. Long story short, I had a two day delay on my way to Montreal, a customer service agent who gave up half way during our conversation because her shift was over, and a 4-day delay on retrieving (yes, I had to go to the airport. They would not bring it to me without an extended delay) my luggage.
4. Make sure you are flying into the correct airport. Some cities have several airports; some of which are extremely far out of the actual city.
5. Be sure to book your flight through the airline and not third-party. Third-party bookings make it hard when delays occur or any other issue, because the customer service agents at the gate cannot help you. You can call the third-party booking agency, but even they cannot help you when it comes to your flight at that point.
4. Plan your activities
I typically reference blogs for the best ideas for activities. One of the blogs I used for my trip to San Francisco was Practical Wanderlust. Blogs such as these provide unbiased reviews and advice. Another way I find activity ideas is to search through AirBnb for fun tours. They have fun bike tours, food tours, and museum tours that support locals. If you decide to stay in a hostel, they provide a lot of resources as well upon your arrival.
This is something you can do in advance, but you can also figure it out when you get there. I am more of a planner and dreamer, so I enjoy doing the research. Typically, my first day is a walking day. I try to orient myself with the area and get a feel for the local sense of place. This helps me get an idea for the things that I would want to do for the rest of my time. It is helpful to have a few ideas before you get there though.
Side note: If you are female and are interested, I am a part of a Facebook group filled with thousands of women from all over the world where everyone shares tips and recommendations.
For Miami, my hairdresser lived there for many years. She recommended South Beach and Lincoln Road. After looking at the experiences offered through AirBnb, Little Havana and Wynwood also look like great areas. I will probably spend my first day walking through these areas and eating yummy food. I will continue to do research on other things I cannot miss, as well as accumulate ideas on my first walking day. Miami is also known for their nightlife. I will probably try to meet some locals the first night to get some recommendations as well.
As far as transportation goes, I typically plan to use Uber or Lyft to/from the airport. During my stay, I try to walk as much as possible. This is why the location of the AirBnb is so important. I made this mistake in Austin, Texas by staying so far away. In this case, I tried to Uber or Lyft only twice per day (once leaving the AirBnb and once coming home at night). I ended up spending so much on Uber/Lyft that I could have used the money to stay at an AirBnb closer to town. Therefore, I had to be packed for a days worth of activities when I left in the morning.
Other things to consider:
1. Notify your bank of your travel dates and locations in order to avoid them freezing your account.
2. If you are traveling internationally, allow AT LEAST 6 weeks for your passport to come in the mail. I would do it 2-3 months in advance. If you already have your passport, be sure it doesn’t expire within 6 months of entering a country.
3. Check out my other blog post for specific tips on long-term travel.