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.

I LOVE THIS.

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.

Adelante
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?

12 comments:

  1. I think sometimes it's more about the journey than the destination, the point is to have fun and explore new places (even if they are in your country), you will never run out of opportunities that way!

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    1. Hey Ana! You're totally right! I think we all can get too used to our surroundings and end up missing the greatness that is around us already!

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  2. Love this guide! Such a good resource for someone that doesn't know where to go! Have you ever tried using flymeanywhere.com? This has been my go to recently! You can just put in a starting point and choose specific dates or simply a whole month and it will give you the cheapest flights! I've been using this for when I have a free weekend and no specific place in mind! Budget is probably my largest limiting factor! Looking for those sponsors as well chica haha

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    1. Hey Lauren! Thanks for your comment! I did try to use flymeanywhere when I lived closer to airports, but this year I'm like an hour and a half away from everything. I can't wait until we live close to an airport again and can take advantage of deals like that! And it's like...of course, I'd love to have sponsors, but...I also really love just writing about whatever I want all the time! :) Keep up the good work on your blog, too!

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  3. Wow, I'm aiming for 20 countries for my whole lifetime, and here you are reaching 20 before 30! I do agree that Europe travels makes the number go up. I've been travelling around Asia for about 10 years and have only 9 countries under my belt, but I'm headed to Europe this year and will hit 5 countries in one go.

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    1. Hi Dee! Thanks for stopping by my blog! :) I promise 20 before 30 was a total accident for me! If you're already going to be at 14 after your EU trip, you'll be at 20 in no time. :) European travel really feels like extreme USA travel because instead of states with general cultural changes, the EU country-states are like WAY different from each other! Would you say that the cultures vary greatly from border to border in Asia, too, or not as much? I haven't been to Asia at all. It's like way distant future for me, and hopefully as an expat living there!

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  4. Love this post! Living in Europe does it make so much easier to travel to so many different countries to experience new places, people and languages. Even though were in Australia, and it's awesome, it's so very far from so many other countries! That being said, Australians are some of the best-traveled people Ive ever met..mostly because they have to be. Not to mention, no one from here ever complains about "long flights" - they've grown up that way. PS - Im totally with you on the weather thing. I dont do cold. Like at all. ;)

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    1. Hi Abby! Thank you! You're so right; we run into Australians everywhere we go! Amen to staying warm, especially when spending money on a trip to somewhere, right?! I'm better with long flights nowadays, but definitely still remember "being taught" to complain about layovers longer than 1 hour and flights longer than 2 hours...oh, America!

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  5. Oh if only I had a relative in the airline industry!!! I've been to around 40 countries (I think) but don't actively keep track. My New Year's Resolutions is to get to a new country and new state every year though- making sure to try something new. I only have a few states left so I'll have to revisit that soon!

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    1. I know, right?! An acquaintance of mine can fly anywhere in the world round trip for...(brace yourself)...under $100. I don't think I'd ever do anything else! Your resolution is a really good idea; realistic but forward moving, and keeps things interesting without being overwhelming! I'm really going to recommend your idea to my American friends who don't have as many opportunities to travel, I think they will appreciate it a lot!!! Thanks for commenting! :)

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  6. Like you, I love opening up Google Maps and figuring out where I can go that's close and easy! I love it.

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    1. Google Maps is so addicting, right?! It's definitely the quickest route to seeing what's out there! Thanks for reading! :)

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