I won’t lie. Many of my trips are planned around some crazy internet deal that I find on a flight or package to a place I haven’t been or a city that I can use as a hub to explore someplace exciting. Some of my trips have even been planned because I knew that travel would be cheaper and less crowded after a publicized national crisis in the country I was visiting. For example, in Iceland a few years ago, a large volcano sent ashes into the air that paralyzed European travel for a few weeks. When the ash settled, so to speak, Iceland was not getting tourists. It had a little bit of an image problem. Iceland’s economy responded by offering great airfare deals with a free stopover in Reykjavik on it’s European destinations. A country that had been prohibitively expensive suddenly got a little more accessible. This time of year was cold, but perfect for viewing the Aurora Borealis or as it’s more commonly known, the Northern lights. When Greece had it’s economic issues, the media made the country appear to be falling apart. The reality was that traveling was cheaper, less crowded and the Greeks were very happy to have some visitors for a change. I unintentionally ended up in Paris a week after the terrorist attacks. It was a tragic event, but the city was recovering and needed support. Not just people feeling sorry for them, but supporters who would come to Paris, spend their tourist dollars, and not spurn it because of unjustified fear.
The point I’m making is just because everyone else is going someplace, doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. Off peak travel is a fantastic option for places that would normally be encrusted with cruise ship passengers or package visitors. Prices are better and lines are shorter. The traveler that gets away from the herd is rewarded by better experiences and more a more personal trip.
So, where do you want to go and why? If you want to stretch your travel dollar and go more places, I recommend looking for deals. I found a Gateway 1 travel deal a couple of years ago to China that included hotel, airfare, an internal flight to Shanghai from Beijing and a few meals and tours for $700. For less than what it would cost me to have 3 days in Cancun from Houston, I had a great experience in the Far East. I’ve found lots of other great deals like this just by traveling off season. In November when Europe is cooling down, airfare is often slashed to less than half the summer rates. You can find some great deals to European capitals that sometimes even include hotel and a rental car. One of the best sites for these deals is travelzoo.com. Subscribe to travel sites and reward programs. Look for deals daily. You will find them. Be flexible in your travel plans.
The truth is no matter what your destination is, you really can’t go wrong. There are very few places that I have been on this earth that don’t have something interesting to do. The places that you’ve heard nothing about are sometimes amazing hidden gems. I was in a small town in Bosnia called Mostar recently that was one of the most charming towns I’ve seen in a while. Who thinks of going to Bosnia? A small town in the Colombian Amazon that most Colombians haven’t even visited was amazing! Albania? I love Albania! Some of my favorite places have been totally unexpected.
Let’s not ignore “world class” cities. These are the types of places that can be visited repeatedly because there is always something new to be discovered. Venice, Paris, New York, Amsterdam and Istanbul are all good examples. These cities can be travel destinations on their own but make a great hub for other adventures. Generally speaking, these cities are popular enough so airfare prices and hotel rates are competitive and thus, affordable. I was in Istanbul five times last year, sometimes for a few days, other times, just a quick stopover. Turkish Airlines has had some of the lowest prices to Europe for years and a day or two in this amazing town allows me to see a hidden gem I’ve never seen,stop at my favorite restaurant, visit my favorite carpet salesman or just hang out and drink tea with the locals. Paris is close enough to England, Belgium, Germany and Holland that you could combine a trip to the city of lights with another destination or two.
Pick a place that you always wanted to go. Maybe you have ancestors that live in Ireland and you always wanted to find your roots. Maybe the mysterious ruins at Machu Picchu have been calling your name since you were in elementary school. If you could go anywhere, where would it be? Why would you choose it? If the answers make sense, then put it on the list. Look at neighboring countries or cities; you might find a deal to someplace nearby and visit both. My method involves picking a place as a hub, renting a car, and doing a big loop that explores all the interesting areas within driving and time constraints. Renting a car is scary to some, but isn’t really that difficult with modern GPS apps and a little patience. It allows you freedom to explore out of the way places and have a place to keep your stuff if you’re moving around.