So many places, so little time! With endless possibilities right here in the U.S. (not to mention around the globe), deciding where to go on vacation can seem like the most arduous part of your trip. Here are 6 tips for choosing a destination and making the most of it.
1. Follow your passion(s)
When your mind wanders during your workday, where does it go? Vacation is your chance to go there for real. Fantasizing about a hammock on the beach? Make it happen. Hate missing out on museum exhibits? Be a culture vulture. Want to help animals or people in need? Look into volunteer travel opportunities. Tired of looking at your 4 walls … or any walls? Go visit some natural wonders (like Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Blue Ridge Mountains, or White Sands National Monument).
2. Decide on a budget
Before you get your heart set on a particular adventure, figure out how much cash you can spend. Then, see if your dream trip can fit within that budget. Don’t forget to factor in transportation costs (including gas, renting a car, taxis, trains, or flights), hotel rooms, meals, and things like museum admissions and souvenirs.
If the price tag is too high, there are many possible ways to cut expenses, like choosing a less popular time of year, using reward miles for your flights, renting an apartment rather than a hotel room, looking for the best gas prices when filling up, and making some of your meals yourself. (You might also consider camping.)
But be sure to allow yourself a well-chosen splurge or two — ideally something you can’t do anywhere else. It might not be worth shelling out for the Four Seasons when you can experience a place just as well (or better) with Airbnb. But that rainforest zip-line, whale-watching excursion, or Broadway show you indulge in could end up being the highlight of your trip.
3. Check the weather
You don’t want your sightseeing or R&R derailed by downpours, hurricanes, bitter cold, or crushing heat, so check the climate charts and find out when the places you’re considering have their best weather. Keep in mind that optimum weather generally coincides with high season. If you don’t mind risking the occasional bad-weather day, consider going in “shoulder season” (the period between high and low season). You’ll usually find lower rates and smaller crowds.
4. Check the events calendar
Before you make plans to go somewhere, find out if they hold any big events throughout the year. Depending on the event and/or how you feel about crowds, that might be the perfect time to go (or stay away). Prices can be higher and hotel rooms scarce during festivals or major holidays, which is an unwelcome surprise if you wait too long to book or show up in town without knowing. On the other hand, some places shut down on certain holidays, meaning you may find the shops and restaurants closed and the beaches/parks/excursions packed.
Big festivals can be a blast, but if you’d rather avoid the cost and the crush, check to see if there are smaller festivals held at other times of the year. You can often get a taste of the big-festival flavor on a more manageable scale.
5. Get a local perspective
One of the great things about social media and email is the way they help you stay in touch with far-away friends. Why not use this opportunity to visit those friends in person and let them show you around their hometown? You’ll do and see things with a local that you’d never have discovered on your own.
6. Get the right coverage
Did you know that your renters or homeowners insurance protects your personal belongings when you’re traveling? If, for instance, your laptop is stolen from your rental car or a hotel room, you’re covered.
And if you’re planning to rent a car, keep in mind that most personal car insurance policies will protect you behind the wheel of a rental too.