How to choose a destination
How to choose a destination
There are some searching questions you can ask yourself and your fellow travellers before you make a decision about where to go. We all invest so much time, money and hope into a holiday it's important to make some good choices about where to go, where to stay and what you want your holiday to look like. With so many amazing places in the world there is of course no right answer when choosing a destination.
Imagine your perfect holiday
Think of a typical holiday day - what does it really look like? Where do you like to have breakfast? What do you like to do and when? What kind of pace do you like to set yourself? Think of it step by step right through to the evening.
Think about previous holidays which you have really enjoyed - why were they so great? Are the reasons they were so great then relevant now? For example if you had a brilliant time clubbing the night away in Ibiza when you were 18, would that still be fun now you have a toddler and a husband who hates the sun! Which bits of other holidays have you really loved previously and will work now?
If you already have a place in mind think through why you want to go there. If you're going to see a certain sight, or experience a particular thing, what will you do the rest of the time?
Of course this is all so much easier if you're going on holiday by yourself and you only have yourself to please! So as most of us go on holiday with other people it's good to have their ideas too and work out a compromise before you decide to find new holiday companions or leave the children at home!
If you have mixed opinions in your group think about a coastal holiday near an interesting town or a two centre holiday where you fly into one place for part of the time and then move on to something different. Think about the facilities such as kids clubs or sporting opportunities that are on offer and consider renting a car to get out and about a bit when people get restless.
How much adventure/new experiences vs how much relaxing do you want?
However active or adventurous you are, most of us like to come home more relaxed than when we left! Unless you can take an extra week off work when you get home, be kind to yourself and plan in some down time, ideally at the beginning and especially at the end of your holiday. If the purpose of your holiday is pure relaxation then don't get swayed into something more complicated. Holidays serve all kinds of purposes at different times and everybody relaxes in different ways, so pick your relaxing pass-time and stick to it. Even for a more adventurous holiday keep it realistic. Travelling to too many destinations or going out sightseeing every day can get really tiring. Mix it up a bit, have some easier days. It's unlikely that you'll ever be able to see and do everything and if you don't feel that you've done enough, well that's just a great excuse to go back!
What's the budget?
Don't only work out a budget, but work out what is good value and which things to prioritise spending your money on. If you're only going to be spending a few hours on a plane, opt for a cheap flight and save your money for nicer accommodation. On long haul journeys if the cheapest flight has three stopovers and takes days instead of hours splash out a bit more. Work out what's important to you, where are you prepared to save money and what's worth spending a bit more on?
Food can get really expensive, I should know I've got three growing boys! Think about the costs of eating out every day vs self catering or an all inclusive deal. Half-board can be cheaper and a picnic lunch can save loads of money. If you love cooking, a holiday is a great opportunity to find new ingredients and have time to experiment. For many, eating out in different restaurants each night is an important part of the experience. Factoring in food makes a considerable difference to the budget so be realistic about what you want and how much you hate or love cooking.
And of course treat yourself - it is a holiday after all! BUT be choosy and don't be scared about being more independent and going to places on public transport, or hire a car, rather than an organised tour which will almost always cost more. Think outside the box a bit. For example in Greece the local ferries are great and way cheaper than an organised boat tour. Don't just go for the glossy package day trips, talk to people and find out what else is out there.
The biggest impact on budget is usually how in or out of season you are travelling (during school holidays always costs more). Out of season can offer up some amazing bargains to places you might otherwise never get to BUT be sure that the basic things you need are operating - local transport, restaurants etc. While many people love the peace and quiet of an empty resort others might feel disappointed that there's nothing going on and most of the area is closed and deserted. Inform yourself before you make a choice.
How important is the weather?
If you are determined to find some sunshine or snow either do some research into weather averages (Accuweather or Holiday Weather are helpful for this) or book very last minute. Remember most forecasts tell you the high and the low temperature and the hours of sunshine - don't ignore the 'low' out of season. 20 degrees at lunchtime will feel lovely but if it gets dark at 5 and goes down to under 10 degrees the days can still feel short and cold!
If you are keen to swim in the sea or a pool you will also need to look at water temperatures carefully. Holiday Weather gives you sea temperatures so you can investigate how warm the water will be. As for hotels and villas it's worth asking about pool temperatures and even if pools will be open especially if you are travelling out of season. For younger children it may be worth seeking out a heated swimming pool during cooler months.
When you arrive
If when you get there something isn't right, think about whether it's possible or reasonable to change it or not, if so, do it as soon as you can. Don't be shy about asking to change rooms or switching meal plans - they might say 'no' but they might also say 'yes' and hotels do generally want to please their guests! As for the things you can't change try to find some extra treats and enjoy the change of scene if nothing else.
... you can have the worst time in an amazing place and an incredible time in a rubbish place, sometimes it's just about mindset!
Personally I love having a real, physical guidebook in my hands to find out more about a destination. I like being able to flick from chapter to chapter in the wrong order and put in bookmarks (well scraps of paper) on the pages that interest me. My favourite guides are by Lonely Planet* followed by Rough Guide. I also like the Bradt guides especially for Africa. Most books highlight popular sights and experiences and some will give you rough itineraries with time frames to help you plan. They all give you detailed information about thousands of places and all have trip planning information online too.
Most countries have an online tourist board to promote their country to tourists and these can be a good place to start to find out about a particular destination. Many States or Provinces within a country also have their own website which can be really useful if you want to stay local and find out what's close by. As well as an online presence even the smallest little place will often have a tourist information office where you can go and find leaflets, maps and helpful staff to tell you what's going on locally.
Travel Blogs & Newspapers
There are thousands of travel bloggers online with stories of their travels from all over the world. Many travel companies also use travel blogs to give information to their customers. Personally I like a good travel blog and especially when you find the authors you connect with as they can be really helpful in guiding you to new places you might really like. I also really like the Guardian and the Independent newspapers for their travel sections which are full of inspiration and information.
As we know Facebook has groups for everything and you'll be amazed at how many groups there are about travel and destinations. There are some really specific ones such as 'French Campsites' which are full of great tips so be specific in your searching. The benefit of these groups is that they are often really up to date as people are often posting from these destinations. You also have the chance to ask questions and hopefully have them answered by people who have been there and done it! Finally you can search back through the group's history to find previous posts about places that interest you.
Guide Books, websites and Blogs
Lonely Planet* - lovely travel books bursting with lots of info and photos. Great website full of practical information about destinations and a range of interesting articles to read.
Rough Guide - great range of books packed with info on everything from accommodation to maps and much more. Not so keen on their website as it's a bit clunky and not much information.
Bradt - beautiful travel guides with lots of photos. Really diverse range, with books dedicated to countries which are rarely covered by other series. Lots of interesting articles on their website about all kinds of destinations and experiences.
Our Tribe Travels - fab site for those travelling with children of all ages. Loads of great advice and a brilliant network of members on Facebook who have travelled/ are travelling far and wide and are happy to share their advice and wisdom.
Club Bebe Voyage - great site for those travelling with young children and babies. With sections on baby traveling gear, baby travel checklists and keeping Zen! Active Facebook community of other parents who you can tap for top tips.
Word of Travelling - built by and for travellers this website has over 10,000 blog posts from different bloggers about a huge range of destinations. They also have some interesting articles including one on how to find travel bloggers who match your interests.
The Guardian & The Independent Newspapers - Both newspapers have an amazing travel section and all their articles can be found online.
Culture Trip - blogs, vlogs, info and inspiration for thousands of places around the world.