We asked our readers what travel topics would be most useful for them. With an overwhelming reply, 66% said they wanted help choosing the right destination for their trip. We hear ya! With literally a world of choices, but usually limited time, narrowing down a destination for your trip can feel overwhelming.
However, it’s often best to start trip planning without a specific destination in mind. Being flexible allows you to take advantage of great travel deals when they crop up.
In this post, we share our method for choosing the right destination for your trip, that’s also practical for your budget and timeline.
Table of Contents
Decide on a Rough Schedule
We often find, nailing down a rough timeline is easier than choosing the right destination. Starting with a few simple questions, define the basic building blocks for your trip.
- What’s your rough timeline? Try to narrow down to the month you want to travel.
- How flexible can you be? This is key for getting discounts when booking flights.
- What season will it be? Climate plays a big part in how we choose a destination. We also consider how busy a destination will be. For example, Florida is hot and crowded in summer, but summer is perfect for hiking in Maine.
- How long will the trip be? We use this to decide just how far we can practically travel. We’ll dive into this further in a minute.
Figure Out Your Budget and Travel Style
Next, decide how much money you want to spend on the trip. Your budget should include flights, accommodation, transportation, food, and entertainment.
Knowing your budget upfront helps find practical destinations for the length of your trip. For instance, if a couple’s budget is $1000 for a week, that’s realistic for Mexico but not Bermuda.
Budget goes hand-in-hand with knowing your travel style. Even in cheaper destinations, luxury travel has a premium cost.
How do you feel about…?
- flying economy
- staying in budget accommodation
- taking public transportation
- eating where the locals eat instead of higher end establishments
Keep your travel style and budget in mind as you evaluate potential destinations.
How Far Can You Go?
Be realistic in what you can do with the time you have and how much travel time is required for a destination. The more time you spend traveling, the less time you have at your destination.
Your week off may not be enough time to enjoy a safari in South Africa. However, it may be perfect for climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Once you know how much time you have for your trip, work out how far you can practically go with your time.
Start with how you want to travel to your destination. For example, are you driving or flying? If you don’t know, work out a travel radius for your most likely scenarios.
Below is an easy way to work out your travel radius.
Traveling by Car, Bus, or Train
Unless it’s specifically a road trip, we don’t like wasting our precious time being on the road or rails. This is our rule of thumb for the maximum time we are willing to travel (one-way) vs. the length of trip.
- Day Trip: Up to 2.5 hours travel time.
- Weekend / long weekend (2 – 4 days): As we like to get beyond what’s practical for a day trip, we allow 2.5 – 5 hours travel time.
- Week or extended double weekend (5 – 9 days) – On these longer trips we allow up to 12-hours of drive time. Though, anything more than 10 hours, we consider flying.
- Two weeks or more (10+ days) – Normally, these are our road-trips with multiple destinations. We keep the same 12-hour travel time rule for the first night’s stay. This helps us narrow down what area we want to start from.
Create a Travel Radius Map
We use smappen.com to create a visual travel map of all our potential destinations.
Put in your starting location, then travel time. For example, 10 hours’ drive time. smappen.com provides a map with the areas you can reach within your time frame.
The software is meant for logistics companies, but they allow a couple of free searches before you need to sign up. It works perfectly for occasional usage.
This is what our map of a 10-hour drive time from Charlotte looks like. In the software, you can zoom in to see what cities are within your reach.
Traveling by Plane
Flying can be quicker than driving, so you can go further. However, in the US, flying is usually more expensive than driving. It comes down to time vs. money.
In Europe, we not only found flights to be the quickest way, but also the cheapest way to travel. We’re seriously being ripped off in the US, but I digress.
When flying, we use the same time allowances as driving. However, we deduct 3 hours for the airport hassle factor (driving there, parking, security, boarding, waiting, baggage).
This means, if we had 7 days for a trip, we would look for a flight time of 9 hours or less, including layovers (12-hour journey allowance, less the 3 hours in the airport).
Don’t forget to consider time zone differences, especially if there are multiple. Though the time balances out on the return, don’t underestimate jet lag ruining a day or two.
You can create a flight radius map on Google Flights by limiting the duration of the flight in the filters.
Work Out Your Preferences
Now that you’ve narrowed down which areas are practical for the trip, it’s time to decide what kind of trip you want. This is where season and climate also come into play.
- Do you want something relaxing? Beach trips, spa holidays, river cruise
- Or something adventurous? Maybe a sporty trip with white water rafting or skiing
- Do you prefer to stay in one place? City break, cabin in the mountains
- Or move around? Road trips, fly and drives
- Are you looking for something new to try? International trip
We like to mix things up. If we did a warm weather beach trip last time, we look for a winter mountain trip this time.
Planning Takes Effort
Next, how much effort are you willing to put into planning? Some countries can be traveled with little organization, others need detailed advanced planning. Think about visas, vaccinations, language and cultural barriers, and ease of booking accommodation.
Use your radius map and mark off areas that don’t meet your preferences or basic parameters, like budget or climate.
Look for a Deal
Getting a good deal makes choosing the right destination easy. Good deals are always available, they just might not be for a destination you’ve considered before. This is where being flexible is really going to pay off. The more flexible you are with your dates and where you go, the better deals you’ll find.
Most travel deals, especially for flights, come and go quickly, often within hours.
However, you already know your preferences and a realistic geographical area for your trip; when a good deal comes along you can make a quick decision.
If you’d like to know how we score our travel deals, check out our post Finding Cheap Flights: Tips and Tricks for Do-it-Yourself Travel.
While you are on the lookout for great deals, it’s also fun to seek out some inspiration.
Festivals, Events, and Experiences
We no longer travel just to say we’ve been somewhere. Instead, for us, choosing the right destination comes down to what unique experiences the destination offers.
Festivals, cultural events, sports, and special performances can turn a simple trip into an experience.
- In Scotland we went to Crieff for their traditional Highland Games.
- In New York, we saw Cats on Broadway.
- While in Dublin, we saw Riverdance and went to a Hurling match.
- Munich was all about Oktoberfest.
Countries like Japan, Spain, and India are very well known for amazing festivals. Plus, there’s almost always one happening.
Do some online research for festivals and events happening within your time frame. You never know what you’ll find.
If you follow us on Instagram, you’ll often see me comment, “I’m putting it on the list”. I’m not kidding, I really do keep a running list of places we should go. I’m super organized, and a huge list lover. How could I not have a travel list, right?
Anyway, now is the perfect time to pull out that list and see what destinations fit within your parameters you worked out earlier (time, distance, budget, and preferences).
Blogs and Social Media
Don’t have a Bucket List? Have no fear, this is the age of blogs and social media.
Have a look through our Destinations Page, or do some online searches.
Instagram and Pinterest are both great for finding inspiration. However, hopefully you’re already aware, there’s a lot of “art” (aka fake material) on social media. When you find a destination you like the look of, dig deeper. Find other photos, videos, blog posts so you know what to really expect.
Book Your Trip
We hope this has made choosing the right destination for your upcoming trip easier.
For more help with planning your trip, learn how to Find Cheap Flights with our comprehensive guide and see our travel resource links below.