Successful travel doesn’t happen by chance. Experts agree that career, health, and travel goals are more likely to be accomplished when properly planned.
My first backpacking trip through Europe in 2014 could not have been sloppier. I didn’t research landmarks, I traveled during an avoidable snowstorm, and I relied solely on WiFi from cafés to find everything. Since then, I’ve lived and traveled from Asia to South America, perfecting my ability to set realistic and achievable travel goals.
Travel goals act like a compass, always giving you direction. You will be able to account for obstacles and create backup options should something not work out. Most importantly, setting travel goals will keep you safe. Researching a destination can reveal areas of criminal activity and dangerous weather.
Here’s my personal checklist, which I use to set travel goals for every trip:
Begin with the Basics
I always write new travel goals in a hardcopy notebook; feel free to use your laptop. Answer the following questions, writing as much detail as possible:
- Where do you want to go?
- Why do you want to go there?
- What would you like to do at your travel destination?
- When would you like to go?
- Who will you travel with or visit while you’re there (if anyone)?
- How will you travel (plane, boat, etc.)?
You should be able to answer most of these questions right away, such as where you want to travel and why you want to go there. Others might require research, such as when and how you will travel. Answering these questions first will help to form the foundation of what will become your travel goals.
Collect Information and Conduct Research
On another page in your notebook or document, you’ll start to collect the important information you need to make your trip happen. Here is a list of items that I always research:
Safety: Be aware of hotspots of criminal activity against tourists, areas hit by or at risk of a natural disaster, and governmentally deemed danger zones. More often than not, you’ll have nothing to worry about, but it’s always a good idea to check.
Landmarks and Activities: Which specific landmarks do you want to see? What activities do you want to do? Certain landmarks and activities require a reservation. For example, when I visited Machu Picchu, I wanted to hike Huayna Picchu, but it had been sold out for months.
Travel Costs: Using a cost-of-living website, such as Numbeo, you can create an itemized list of travel expenses. As a general rule, I always estimate more than what I think the cost will be—it never hurts to have extra cash. Here are some common costs associated with travel:
- Transportation: flights, buses, trains, boats, and taxis
- Accommodations: hotel, hostel, or host family
- Landmarks: entrance fees, suggested donations, or tourist day passes
- Activities: guided tours, zip lining, biking, sailing, cooking classes, etc.
- Food: eating out, street cars, or groceries
- Drinking: bottled water, coffee, carbonated beverages, or alcohol
- Souvenirs: postcards, jewelry, tee shirts, photos with performers, etc.
- Hidden cash in case of an emergency (stored in your shoe or in a money belt)
How to Travel: Depending on where you want to travel, you might need to take an uncommon method of transportation. For example, to get to Aogashima, a Japanese town built on an active island volcano, you must travel by helicopter.
Best Time to Visit: There are three common times of the year to travel:
- Peak or high season is the most popular due to weather. Costs are higher but there are more events to attend and more people to meet.
- Low season ensures smaller crowds and lower prices but there might be bad weather, which can prevent you from sightseeing.
- Shoulder season occurs in between. Prices tend to be lower than high season with better weather than low season. There are less people but enough to make new friends.
These three seasons will differ depending on where you’re traveling. For example, the peak season for Europe (May through August) is the low season in much of South America. Once you decide when you want to travel, be sure to research special events and holidays since some cities shut down public transportation.
Plan and Avoid Travel Problems
Now it’s time to start identifying potential problems and solutions. This will be different for each person. Instead of a definitive list, here are common travel problems to consider:
- Do you need a visa to enter the country?
- Do you need to get a vaccination?
- Do you have all of your medical needs covered such as filling prescriptions?
- Do you need a travel budget to save money?
- Do you need a babysitter or a kid-friendly travel plan?
- Do you have available vacation days at work?
- Do you want a travel buddy?
- Do you need to get travel insurance?
- Do you have proper luggage or bags?
- Do you need to check in a bag for the flight?
- Do you want to travel with special equipment like a surfboard, skis, or guitar?
- Do you need to verify accommodations?
- Do you want to speak some of the language before you arrive?
- Do you want to hire a translator or guide?
- Do you need to get a SIM card for your phone?
- Do you need plug converters and/or adapters for electronics?
- Do you want to exchange money before or after you arrive?
- Do you need to plan for layovers?
- Do you have any personal obligations to fulfill while traveling?
- Do you have a list of excuses for why you haven’t traveled that you need to address?
- Will you maintain your fitness routine while traveling? (Use my hotel room workout.)
Collect Good Advice
Nothing beats the advice of a traveler who recently returned from the place you want to go to. Here are a few ways to collect the best travel information about your destination:
- Online Ex-Pats: Joining ex-pat forums or groups on Facebook allows you to ask questions to help set your travel goals.
- Visit Travel Websites: Scan through a few travel websites each week to find good advice and solutions for the obstacles you identified.
- Subscribe to Fitness Wanders: When you subscribe to Fitness Wanders, you will receive travel fitness tips and information from a certified fitness expert who is a full-time traveler.
Are You Setting Travel Goals?
What are your travel goals? What problems are you facing? What advice do you have for others when setting travel goals?