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.
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.
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:
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.