The world is a big place, and therefore you have every opportunity to travel in what some fanatics think will be the last year the earth exists. Unlike many assume, travel does not have to be expensive nor does it need to be a major project that stresses you out [a trip like taking the entire family to Disney World would be more stressful than any trip I’ve ever taken – even when I’ve travelled in the middle of a war].
I urge all of you to get out there and travel this year – and to start thinking about it now. It is a way to lessen the post-holiday winter doldrums, for example, while you imagine yourself on a beach somewhere sipping a drink in a coconut.
Where does one start?
1) Get a passport. If you don’t have one, yes you should hang your head in shame. But this embarrassment can be easily rectified. Just head on down to your local post office [while it still exists] and begin the process. You will of course need passport photos and your original birth certificate. After you apply, you should see your new passport in the mail anywhere between four and eight weeks later, depending on the time of the year.
2) Get a map and learn your geography. If you are geographically challenged, fret not. There are these things called maps that have existed for millennia that will show you where you are on the earth. It is good to know your location in the world so that you can make an informed decision as to where you want to travel. From New York, there are many places that can be reached by plane within five hours that you may not have known about or even thought was that close. Iceland, for example? Costa Rica?
3) Create a budget. It is important going into the planning stage how much you have to spend so you can make informed choices. If you tell your friends and family ahead of time that you will not be buying any souvenirs and therefore you will not be buying lots of local junk – this will cut your budget considerably.
4) Let go of your hotel idiosyncrasies. You do not – I repeat – you do not have to stay at a five-star resort nor should you when you are travelling. Would you travel on an African Safari and instead of seeing the game drives on the Serengeti ask to stay in a room and watch the Disney film “Madagascar”? On a recent trip to Peru my travel buddy and I stayed in local 3-star hotels and they were all magnificent: inexpensive, clean, great free wifi, and run by locals who were happy to have the business and attentive to our every need. On the other hand, the last night in Lima we stayed at a Sheraton – four times the price, impersonal, filled with the geriatric crowd, and they charged huge fees for wifi. A big fail in terms of a hotel. Staying in local hotels rather than international chains also helps the local economy, not huge corporations.
5) Decide what kind of vacation you would like. Do you like to lay on the beach, climb mountains, or sip lattes in a café in the center of a fifteenth century piazza? These are all very different experiences, so choose what appeals to you the most. I of course choose them all.
6) Ask location advice from your friends whom you know are avid travelers. Do not ask the close-minded neighbor down the hall where they would recommend – they may say… “Syria? I would never go there, that place is dangerous and worse yet in the Middle East.” In fact Syria is a magnificent place to visit, layered with Hellenic sites, Roman sites, Biblical sites, Crusader castles, and all of the charm and contradictions of the modern Middle East.
7) Take the top five recommendations and research them online. Look at some photos, check out Trip Advisor, and just see what you find. Also, check your cable listings to see if there are any documentaries on the locations you are considering. With the proliferation of cable channels these days chances are there will be something on NatGeo or the Discovery Channel, if not the Travel Channel. Unfortunately, for most of these programs you will have to endure the usually Australian and half-drunk host crack bad jokes and stupid puns while, for example, walking through a Bazaar in Egypt. Just ignore him.
8) Check the weather. You do not want to visit Central America, for example, during the rainy season. Panama is ugly unless the sun is out. Further, if you want a beach vacation, if the temperature highs are in the mid-60s F that would not give you what you are looking for.
9) Forget the words “travel agent.” Travel agents were necessary in the twentieth century, but no more. Everything can be booked online, and there are dozens of cheap airfare sites to choose from. Trip Advisor will even link you to hotel and air booking resources.
10) Do not be afraid. Don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone – life is to be lived and travel enhances your life experience. You will most likely be exhilarated by your choice and it will set into motion the thought of future travel destinations while you are still on the current trip.
Now that you know – get out there and travel!