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For most newbie travelers, ending up in a country that you know nothing about is seldom a problem. Let’s suppose however, that you end up in a place that really isn’t as exciting as you thought it would be and you really don’t want to spend the time that you had originally planned. Or, perhaps you’ve always wanted to go someplace and just don’t really know much about it and you have only a little time to pick your destinations. If you’re a travel fanatic like myself, you might have made the same decision I did years ago: to travel to every country in the world. If that’s the case, just pick someplace you’ve never been.

There’s lots of ways to determine your destinations but you must decide three things. How much time do you have, how are you getting around and what do you find interesting? Some people love churches and some love museums. Your interests might be strange food, ancient ruins, cultural events, festivals, architecture or a combination of everything. Deciding what makes you happy is the first step. Next, you need to pick your transport.  Depending on how far away your interests lie, how off the beaten path they are, and the distance between them are all factors. The the third for most travelers are usually time and money.

If you’re traveling by car, an interesting way to plan your trip is to get a top ten list of places to see in the area. There are several ways to do this. I’m signed up with a few travel companies. I get travel brochures from Abercrombie and Fitch, National Geographic, Holland America and others. These brochures usually offer  high end (read: expensive) fully escorted tours. The good news is you don’t have to book with them, but you can certainly use their research. For that matter, grab your laptop and Google “escorted tours” to the country you have in mind to visit. You can quickly look at a few tours and write down the names of the towns or sites that interest you. You save yourself a lot of research and can figure out the highlights of any place within 5 or 10 minutes. Next, open Google maps and plug in the city where you are beginning your trip. Below you will see an option to add destinations. Plug in the destinations on your list one by one. Your last destination will be your first destination if you are flying out of the same city. If you have a different departure city and you’ve determined that dropping your car in that city is not cost prohibitive, you can enter that city. When you enter these destinations, Google maps does something amazing. It will give you a nice road map itinerary with directions to all the places you chose. Chances are, however, that your map will look more like a spider than a loop, so you’re not finished yet. Google maps will allow you to move the destinations on your list up and down. They’re labeled A,B,C etc, so if you see a destination “F” that’s right next to “A” and “B” is on the other side of the country, simply move the “F” next to “A” and it will automatically turn into “B”. Within minutes you’ll have a workable map that includes all your destinations. One of the other great features of Google maps, is that it tells you how long it will take to drive on this journey. If you don’t have the time you need, all you have to do is omit your furthest destinations to save you driving time. It’s usually impossible to see everything on your list, so expect your travels to always contain a little compromise somewhere. If you’re traveling by train, you’ll need a train timetable to determine how and when you can get from place to place, but you can still use your map to plan your route. Train travel will be covered in another blog

Once you’ve figured out where and how, then it’s time to book your ticket. I always look for a carrier that has an interesting stopover if I have time. It’s pretty easy to spend a day in Amsterdam if you’re flying KLM, a few days in Iceland if you’re flying Iceland Air, or even Tahiti or Hawaii if you’re going to Australia. Free stopovers are like a little bonus vacation.

As the printed word disappears and bookstores close, there’s an app for just about anywhere you want to go. Download a few and see what they recommend. Get Tripadvisor. It’s a fantastic site that bases it’s reviews on aggregate traveler opinions. You can’t go wrong!