How to determine where to travel next


I have a travel goal. Every year, I travel to a new country.

Seeing one new country in a year is possible without quitting your job or being independently wealthy. In fact, it’s a challenge that starts out rather easy. If you’re in the US, you’ve got two very easy countries to get to. If you’re in Europe, you could take a long walk and find yourself in a new country!

I’m writing this in February, which means we’re well into the new year, but it’s far from too late to meet this challenge. In fact, now is the perfect time to plan. So here are some tips for figuring out your new country destination for the year.

Where do you want to go tomorrow?

If I asked you what country you’d most like to travel to, would you have an answer?

For some of you, that’s easy. Perhaps you always wanted to see the hills of Tuscany, the chaotic orderliness of Tokyo, or the tea plantations of Darjeeling. Maybe Big Ben and Westminster Abbey figure large in your dreams (I know it did for my mom).

For some of you, the decision isn’t so easy, and some people just get stuck. When faced with the question of “where do you want to go?” people say, “I don’t know, everywhere!

Personally, I’ve always thought that a bit of cop-out, kind of like people who say they like “all kinds of music”. Do they really?

But people who say they want to go “everywhere” don’t actually want to go nowhere (although some probably do). Some people are stuck because of the “tyranny of choice”. There are just too many options and most people don’t have enough information to narrow it down.

Get thee to a book store

The key to overcoming overwhelm is knowledge. So take an hour out of your day and wander over to your local bookshop. It will likely have a travel section. Find the area that contains books with titles like “100 Places For Your Bucket List” and thumb through them for a little bit.

Or wander through the area of the travel section where each book is devoted to a different country. Look at the covers of these books. Does one image really speak to you? Do you long to see that image for real?

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I find Lonely Planet books are great for this purpose. Photo courtesy of Liu Tao
I find Lonely Planet books are great for this purpose. Photo courtesy of Liu Tao

I’m adamant about going to a physical book store (over just surfing the web), because you get the tactile experience of seeing full color photographs in a glossy travel book. It makes it feel more real, more attainable.

Bring a small notebook and a pen, and write down the ideas that come to mind while you’re there. Even if you don’t write “Brazil” down, perhaps you’ll write “rain forest“, and come back with a more solid plan later.

Connect the dots

Price is a concern in any travel adventure, and if you’re flying, finding a more direct flight is likely to reduce the cost of getting to where you want to go.

So go to your nearest international airport, and see where they fly to directly. For example, my home airport of PDX shows nonstop destinations to Canada, Mexico, Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, and Iceland. And PDX is a relatively small airport as they go. Seattle’s Sea-Tac lists a dozen international destinations. I bet one of them could be enticing!

Another fun tool to use is Kayak’s Explore. This is a web map that shows prices for destinations based on your home location. For example, I looked up PDX and set a price limit of $600 (a very modest price for an international flight). Lo and behold, there are flights to China and Japan! One of those places I’ve never been to! (The other I have.)

Kayak Explore
Who knew getting to China was so affordable?

You can do this

Now is the perfect time to figure out where you want to travel to this year, because you have all year to plan and save up for it. If you divert some of your discretionary income away from restaurants or alcohol or Starbucks, you can likely have a short and inexpensive trip nailed down before the year is out.

And while the rules of the challenge state that you must head to the new country by the end of the calendar year, you could squeak in at the very end. In fact, a friend of mine (the person who originally gave me this idea, incidentally) did just that last year, hitting her new country after Christmas! Now that’s a photo finish.

At the front of all my Lonely Planet travel books (not getting a paid endorsement or anything, just a big fan) there’s a quote that says: “All you’ve got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over.” I think that’s a little simplistic (since you’re not going to put your trip on a credit card, right?), but the spirit is right. Decide to go, and then make it happen.

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So what’s it going to be?


  1. mpinard

    Hadn’t seen Kayak Explore before–dangerous, much??

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