Pick your Destination

Where are you going to go?  That may sound a very stupid and simplistic question and it is quite possible that a certain destination that you have always wanted to see may have allowed you to say yes to this crazy adventure, but it is important none the less.  Your decision on location /s will allow you to complete a packing list, create a route, prepare travel arrangements, make visa decisions, etc.  It is the next most important decision now that you need to make.

 As an example when I first started on my first backpacking trip I wanted to see South East Asia (SEA).  I wanted to explore Thailand and see the ruins and temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. After sitting down and looking at a map of the region I realized there was much more to see and I set about finding all the things around the area that interested me. What I ended up planing was a 2 month trip that took me from southern Thailand to the far north of the country, across Laos, down the length of Vietnam and across Cambodia.  So if you are planning a 2 week backpacking trip through Costa Rica or a 1 year trip Round The World (RTW) you need to decide what you want to do and see. It’s is time to do some virtual exploring of your own.

Firstly there are many free resources to research where you would like to go, Google and Google Maps spring instantly to mind.  So a good first suggestion is to search the general region in Google maps you will be traveling, print the screen onto a 8 1/2 x 11 (or larger if you can) page and start doodling.  Make marks on all the places YOU want to see. There is a habit in this phase of planning to start asking other travelers or looking for the “top destinations” of the region for places to go.  That is all fine and good but first ask yourself what you want to see and you can work the other places in later (I promise you will).

Take a few days on this exercise and really look inside yourself and make your decisions.  This is after all your trip so do not be swayed on your wish list. Now is about time to start your planing notebook.  This can be anything from a spiral notebook, a word document, or a folder on your computer, but this will be invaluable to you as your planning continues.  Note all the places you want to go, things you want to see and activities you would like to do.

Example:

  •  Go to the islands in southern Thailand
  • Recertify my SCUBA training
  • Go scuba diving
  • Take a cooking class in Thailand
  • Explore Bangkok royal palace
  • See Angkor Wat

This was my actual first list for my first backpacking trip to SEA. It was not much but I honestly did not know much about the area and this is all I could think of and what I really wanted to do.  Next I started my own information overload and now I invite you to do the same.  Start looking on tour company websites and their itineraries, look up in travel guide books on where the most popular places in that region are. What i found most helpful in this phase of planing was sitting on the floor of a bookstore and searching through guide books and jotting notes in my iPhone.  Another great place is Lonely Planet website.  There is not much to say but I love this site and have used their guidebooks exclusively in my travels.  There is a plethora of free information and forums there that will be priceless in your research. Go crazy and start noting down the places, activities and sites you find interesting and also start marking them on your map.  Do not be concerned of where they are just now, we are just expanding our overall wish list at this time.

I do want to stress on a small point here.  Do not start buying up every guidebook, magazine, etc at this time.  Eventually we will discuss these purchases but we want to do this in a smarter and save valuable money and backpack weight.

Updated Example:

  •  Go to the islands in southern Thailand
  • Go to the full moon party in Ko Pangang
  • Re certify my SCUBA training
  • Go scuba diving
  • Take a cooking class in Thailand
  • Explore Bangkok royal palace
  • Do the 3 day tour of Angkor Wat and all of Seam Reap
  • See the clay pots in Thailand
  • Take the slow boat down the Mekong river from northern Thailand to Laos
  • Go Tubing in Laos
  • Take the boat cruise in Halong Bay Vietnam
  • Get clothes made in Vietnam

As you can see the list got even longer very quick.  I found some popular things I previously had no knowledge about that really excited me and made me want to go on this trip even more. Remember just start jotting down what interests you, we will edit this list later but for now really put down anything and everything that interests you.

When choosing your destinations, you may want to take a few things into consideration:

  • Seasonal Weather:  Some areas can have months of rain. It will be hard to enjoy your time on the road during these wet seasons so research the time you will be traveling with the local weather and you will be glad you did.
  • Local Activities: Get to know the customs and festivals etc for the area you want to travel.  The amount you can learn about a people and how they live is how they celebrate. It may be more expensive to travel or stay in an area that has an influx of people but it will be worth it to experience this with the locals.
  • Political climate: War, uprising and many other conditions can make travel difficult and almost impossible in some countries.  Be smart and make sure you are up to date with local news and the going-ons.
  • Language: Do not let the local language scare you off from visiting a country. English, of varying degrees, is spoken almost everywhere that there are tourists. Trying to learn a few basic phrases can go along way with locals and can enhance your trip by showing you are trying.  This however is not a requirement but it is fun to try.

At this point you should have a fairly comprehensive list of places to go and getting very excited of all of the possibilities.  Now unfortunately it is time to come back to reality and start the culling of the list based on location, your budget and the time you have available to travel.  So with map in hand and notes beside you it is time to start a very basic route.