April 8, 2015

How I Travel: Where To Go?

It never occurred to me to count how many countries I've been to. It's just never been about a measurable goal or number to me; if I think a place sounds fun/cool/awesome, then I try to work it into my schedule. I read a friend's blog about getting to 20 countries before turning 30, and it made me pull up the map.

(At the end of this post is a super easy and fast "Europe: Where To Go?" regional quiz!
Take it to see which region of Europe you'll probably enjoy the most!)
How many countries will I have been to by the time I turn 30? (I've got like 277 days to go.)

I think 20. Depends on how you count the countries within the United Kingdom. To me, Scotland and Wales and England are completely different countries. And to play fair, if I get to count them in my total, then so do you!

Really, I was surprised by the number because I never even thought about trying to get there.

But then how did it happen?

Ultimately, living in Europe is like cheating on the country quest test. Step 1 always takes me to my calendar. Once those dates take on tangible time frames, the next tab in my internet browser brings me to Google Maps. Instead of having states around me, I have countries with totally different languages, foods, and cultures.


Even if you're not living in the Old World like we are, you still have the vast map of Earth at your fingertips! I remember going to college in Santa Clarita, California, essentially a blonde soccer mom suburb of Los Angeles, and still finding random new things to do and places to go with my friends.

We had no money and crappy cars (rest in peace, Bucky the Buick) and we dressed like complete bums. But we had fun everyday, finding hiking trails, playgrounds in parks, historical landmarks, free museums, and as many thrift stores as we could.

It all depends on your perspective of travel and adventure.

I'm not a globe-spinner. I'm not a trust fund kid. I don't have a relative in the airline industry. I don't have sponsors paying for my trips (not yet...).

How do I decide where to go during my free time?

1) Proximity + Budget

If I don't have much time (or money), I will try to visit somewhere close to home. The more time I have available to travel, the further the reaches of my options will be. I have a free weekend? Stay within 3 hours by train, or 1 hour by plane. I have two full weeks? Stay within 8 hours by train (brutal, but sometimes very cheap and worth it), or 4 hours by plane. Two months of summer? Okay, now I feel alright about investing the time and money to cross the ocean to another continent.

I use Kayak.com to search flights and SNCF.com for trains from Paris. 

For Europe, EasyJet has this cool interactive map called "Inspire Me" that lets you enter your budget and other filters to find a fun trip to take.

Another excellent calculator for time and transport options is Rome2Rio, where you can type in any to and from destinations and get results back for several types of transportation and prices.

2) Weather

Amsterdam was cold in the spring!
I will never go to Scandinavia in the winter time. I know it's beautiful, snow-covered, white peacefulness, blah, blah, blah, whatever. I won't do it. In the winter, I want to be somewhere warm, so I look at locations south of wherever we are. That's why we've gone to the Mediterranean, Nice, Rome, Madrid, and Málaga in December and January!

The fall is when I try to go to relatively cooler locations like London and Amsterdam, while also extensively enjoying Paris. Springtime makes me feel brave enough to venture anywhere, but I've still been hit with some windy and rainy days on those trips. During the summer, I just try not to get sunburned everyday. Fall and spring trips are completely decided by train and plane prices, and I try to find the best deals to go somewhere interesting.

Just check out the average temperatures and rainfall for your destination in advance here!

3) Fresh vs. Familiar

Sometimes, I'm excited to try something totally different and new, like my trip to Morocco this year. Other times, I want a guaranteed wonderful experience that's just good, old-fashioned, easy fun like my annual week in the Netherlands. I tend to intermingle these trips just enough that I'm always grateful for both sides of these experiences. An influential factor in this can be if I know someone who lives at the destination (whether the place is new or old to me) and can stay with them. Hello, no-cost and stress-free lodging! My two examples of Morocco and the Netherlands both happen to fall under the my-friends-live-there category - lucky me!

When I don't know someone to stay with at my destination, I make new friends and explore authentic neighborhoods through AirBnB. It's the best way to have a more local experience and not spend too much money!

4) Recommendations

Family, friends, and strangers (usually bloggers) who have traveled certain places and told certain stories that color a new world and a beautiful place have definitely impacted a lot of my travel decisions. Rick Steves was a good starting point for me when I was new to living in Europe, but since entering the travel blog community, I prefer reading about personal experiences instead of other travel websites like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet.

There are so many excellent blogs by expats and travelers alike for Europe, recommending restaurants, places to stay, and things to do. It's really easy to plan a great trip just picking out the things you like from a bunch of other people's experiences! If you don't like reading blogs (thanks for reading this post, then!), following travelers on Instagram and Twitter is a quick way to see what's out there and what you might be interested in seeing and doing.

Some of the blogs (and Instagram and Twitter feeds) I find myself checking out the most are:

Oh, the places we will go!
Selena lives in London, but goes EVERYWHERE. Really fun destinations, easy to read, and tons of photos.

Simply Sara Travel
Sara lives in Paris, but travels all over France and Europe, showing off less known places that are just as amazing as the big cities.

Courtney lives in Madrid, so I visit her page for Spain advice, but her travels extend all over the world. She's an incredible photographer as well!

Pretty Thing & Co
Madaline lives in Rome, and goes all over Italy for beautiful places, food, and things, of course!

But how will you know where you want to go?!

Here's an extremely easy 5-question quiz that will at least help you narrow down some regions in Europe that you will probably enjoy the most!

Europe: Where To Go?

If you are in the midst of planning a trip and need some itinerary planning help, comment below or email me!

Next up in How I Travel: What To Pack?