If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Last month, I blogged about my travel plans for 2015… and like all good plans, they’re already being drastically changed. My fiancé and I have added one more trip to our itinerary — a long weekend in British Columbia to attend a friend’s wedding — and are making major adjustments to what was our major international trip for the year.

Originally, my family was planning another elaborate international vacation, but now not one but two my cousins are pregnant and due in the summer. With two couples backing out of the festivities because they’ll have newborns, we couldn’t swing the trip, so my fiancé and I are now planning on something else. We just don’t know what yet.

Not only can we now plan something cheaper, we have a choice of dates. Previously the family trip was planned for the first week of August, but now that it’s off the calendar, we have the freedom to go whenever we want — which means we can even take a “proper” honeymoon and go on a trip after the wedding. Now the problem is only where to go.

My Top Travel Choices (in no particular order):

1. India

I’ve been crazy about the idea of traveling to India for a few years now, but the want definitely intensified after I read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (my fiancé’s favorite novel!).

2. Japan

Busy and expensive, I know Japan doesn’t rank high on a lot of people’s lists, but I’ve always found the country and culture elegant, and I would love to see it firsthand.

3. Peru

One of my best friends traveled here last year and I wish I could have gone with. From the Amazon River to the Inca Trail, Peru is a must. I’d love to see all of South America at one point, so why not start here?

the "cookies and creme" landscape of Iceland

the “cookies and creme” landscape of Iceland from my sister’s photos

4. Iceland

Iceland is on both mine and my fiancé’s must-travel-to lists, and one of my sisters is currently there! (God knows what possessed her to travel there in January) I’d love to spend a summer week taking in the natural beauty of this remote island.

5. South Africa

I have so many friends from South Africa, I can’t help but want to go there myself after all the great things they’ve said about it. However, it’s still a very dangerous country if you’re not familiar with it.

All of these are overtly exotic such that we might opt for something low-key. For example, my fiancé has never been to Las Vegas and last time I went I was under the age of 21, so it might be time for a visit. Likewise I would love to see San Francisco, New York, or Phoenix a second time around, or go somewhere new like New Orleans.

…. or maybe I can do a whirlwind tour and see them all ;)

My Travel Plans for 2015

One of the things I’m most looking forward to after graduating from my MBA is traveling again. Over the past 1.5 years of my program, I only got on a plane twice, both times to Toronto and both times for free. I have no complaints about that at all, but I am itching for something more exotic.

I have 3 trips planned for 2015: one within Canada, one to the USA, and one international vacation.

Unsurprisingly, they are one free, one partially paid for, and one I have to dig deep into my pockets for. I’ll let you guess which is which! Just kidding: Canada is paid for, USA I’m staying with my parents so accommodations are free, and international vacation is the priciest where I have to pay my whole way.

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I’ve started saving for the most expensive one with my fiancé. Our joint savings account is just shy of $1,000, and we’re adding $200/mo right now. I’m hoping to pay a portion of our flights with credit card points as well. Right now I only have enough for a $50 credit but I’m hoping this will be over $200 by the time we actually book. One of the things I love most about my Amex is you can credit your purchases with points after you’ve made it — so one of the things I’m going to do is book our flights with the card, earn points on that purchase, and then use the points to help pay for that purchase. We’ll probably each still have to pay a little extra from our own bank accounts, but the joint account is really relieving a lot of stress in saving for this trip. Unsurprisingly, the savings is growing twice as fast with two people contributing. I love it.

Since this is an international trip, we’re planning to fly in a few days before we meet up with my family… we just haven’t decided where yet! Because it’s an extensive trip, we have quite a few choices. I’m already looking for the best deal.

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I’ve purchased two tickets to see Taylor Swift in September.. in Salt Lake City. I feel a bit ridiculous buy tickets to a concert 10 months in advance, especially since last time I purchased tickets to TSwift in another city, I wasn’t able to go and had to sell them. But they went on sale the first week of December, and I scooped up two to take myself and 11-year-old niece next year. Hopefully nothing comes up to get in the way of it (at which point I would just accept it’s some kind of Taylor Swift concert curse and stop trying to see her shows) and I can maintain my reign as the coolest aunt of all time. The tickets were about $250, and I’m expecting my flights to be around $500 for the trip. Whatever I’m saving in accommodations by staying with my parents is probably going to be spent shopping, since the prices at my favorite stores are so much lower in the USA. Now that this trip is planned, I’m going to try to limit my “major” purchases (like denim) until I get south of the border.

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And I’m going where I always go: Toronto — and I can’t wait. I don’t think I could ever call Toronto home, but like Vancouver it’s one of my favorite cities to visit. I love the restaurants and the shopping — and the family & friends I get to see whenever I make it to town.

At this point, I run out of vacation days ;) I’m hoping to squeeze in more if possible (maybe if I work overtime?) but after so long without a trip I can’t get greedy!

Extra Expenses of All-Inclusive Travel

Recently my partner and I are jetted off to a wedding in Jamaica for our first big trip together and my first vacation in nearly six years. Excited was understatement for how I was feeling!

When deciding on the trip, money was our obvious deciding factor.

International trips do not come cheap, and this one is no different. Since I am quite green in the world of travel, there were multiple expenses I didn’t think of until they inconveniently popped up.

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Traveler’s Health Insurance. No one wants to worry about getting hurt on a trip abroad. Accidents happen whether we want to acknowledge them beforehand or not, and the insurance doesn’t cost much. The last thing you want is some big time debt to look forward to when you break your ankle dancing after one too many beverages at an all-inclusive resort.

Getting to the Airport. Whether you get a cab, someone is nice enough to drive you (and you hopefully pay for the gas) , or you pay for park and fly, it’s likely not going to be free to get to and from the airport. Especially if you live a few hours from the closest airport like me!

Vacation clothes. This can get out of control quickly if you let it. Beach wear is something I don’t own much of, so a few bathing suits, some dresses and a cover-up later my wallet was quite a few dollars lighter.

Excursions. Many resorts offer extra outings to enhance your visit. I am not into super touristy stuff anyway so we probably won’t do much, but if you are the type of person that wants to get off the resort and explore the surrounding area while you’re there, be prepared to pay extra for it.

Tipping. As someone working in the service industry, this one is a-ok with me. Considering how much American money is worth down south, it takes a very small tip by our standards to keep employees happy and extra helpful.

Spa Access & Services. Most resorts offer amazing spa treatments but beware of the price– they are as much, if not much more than treatments you’d pay for at home.

If you are planning on travelling in the near or distant future, it’s important to keep all costs in mind. Create a travel budget and ensure that you include anything that will add on extra costs, so that you aren’t struggling to foot the bill later.

How To Travel Solo

After my Ask Me Anything post, a reader asked me for tips about traveling solo. I’m not sure if this is what they’re looking for, because it’s really hard for me to write about travel without getting overly sentimental, but here’s what I have come up with:

Stay somewhere other lone travellers gather. There are literally hordes of twenty-somethings from every nation aimlessly wandering the well-beaten tourist paths in absolutely every major city in the whole world. These are now your people, and it is in your best interest to join up with them as soon as possible. These friendships will be easy-going, because more likely than not they’ve been on the road longer than you and are well-acquainted with goodbyes. They will appreciate your company for an afternoon or three weeks straight, and no one’s feelings are hurt when you make alternate plans. They will give you ideas and guidance, but more importantly, they will share their stories and you will learn so much more about the world by seeing it through someone else’s eyes.

You will get lonely. It will probably be less than you expect, but there’s no way to avoid it entirely. It will happen when you stumble on something amazing and there’s no one with you to share it with. It will happen when you’re lost or bored and have no one to bounce ideas off of. You will learn to be quiet in a way you have never been quiet in your whole life. Even those weekends at home that you shut yourself in to your apartment by yourself, you still always had the option to end your solitude at any moment by simply calling a friend, but abroad you will have days or weeks of uninterrupted introspective silence where you will literally have nothing better to do but become acquainted with every nook and cranny of your crooked soul. You will not like everything you find, but you will find everything.

Go with the flow. Opportunities for new experiences will come up when you’re following carefully laid plans. Stray with great enthusiasm from the path you’ve outlined for yourself. All the experiences that have changed me and made me grow when I was travelling happened because I elected to do something unexpected. It’s how I ended up in Nice. It’s why I flew into Amsterdam. It’s why I extended my stay in Munich. You don’t really know what’s waiting for you out there until you arrive.

Do the stuff you really want to do. I’m a traveller, not a tourist. By that I mean I can rarely be found at the postcard locations that make up the unwritten checklist of must-see items people seem to believe will magically transform them into a deeply cultured and worldly person by witnessing firsthand. I always pick 2-3 things I want to do in a city, then leave the rest of my stay as free time. My favourite place in Paris is a Mexican restaurant, not the Eiffel tower. My favourite part of my stint in Germany were the beer gardens, not the World War II historical sites. It’s not your job to follow any prescribed checklist of “must-sees” abroad. You’re not here to have anyone else’s traveling experience, you’re here to have yours.

Don’t be fucking stupid. Don’t follow strangers to places you’ve never heard of. Don’t engage creepsters even they’re pretending to be friendly and give you directions. Don’t do illicit drugs or drink copious amounts of alcohol to the point you cannot find your way back to your hotel room. All the dangers that lurk in bars back home, like roofied drinks and over-aggressive men, exist abroad but are amplified by unfamiliar surroundings, language barriers, and cultural differences. Increase your normal level of wary caution of strangers to one of deep suspicion, and don’t feel like an asshole for doing so. Traveling solo means being alone often, but there’s no reason to make your independence into a death wish. Whatever your normal level of self-protection is back home, triple it and never let your guard down.

Prepare for the scary moments. The more you travel, the more likely it is you will have a truly miserable experience. From missed flights to lost baggage to getting sick on vacation, it’s best to not only acknowledge these are possible outcomes of your delightful vacation, but expect and plan for them. Unless you’ve actually lost a limb or are at death’s door, don’t let a bad experience screw up your entire trip. Just hide out in your hotel watching bad TV until you’re done being sad or sick and then get on with it.

Let yourself hate things. Not all traveling will be magical. You will not be impressed with every destination or historical monument, even if you feel you should be. You will be underwhelmed. I thought Brussels sucked. Whatever.

Understand that your experience will be a product of your personality and the time you travel. Your memories are more flexible than you think, and you will remember your trip differently 1, 2, or 5 years later. The rough edges will be worn down, the benign moments that provided profound insight will suddenly be clear, and you will see yourself in distinct before-and-after pieces with borders so stark you can practically trace them with your fingertips. Traveling alone will change you, but you went alone because you wanted to be changed.

Solo traveling is your conversation with the world. The more foreign the destination and the more gruelling the trip, the more words will be said.

And this is really the reason to travel solo: to foster that unshakeable sense of self-sufficiency that will carry you through those terrifying moments of ambiguity that are sure to assault your life in the future. I love to travel solo because I love to understand myself and the world without any other voices in my ear. Having a clear understanding of yourself in unfamiliar circumstances is more than an invaluable life skill, it’s practically an art form. It’s worthwhile to hone it to perfection — with the understanding that perfection is unattainable.

Destination Weddings: The Great Divide

Just as the expenses for the two weddings my boyfriend and I are attending this year are all paid and accounted for we were in for a surprise: good friends of ours are tying the knot in the Caribbean sometime in early 2014.

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Of course, my frugal self immediately thought that we would have to miss out on it. Quickly realizing I am in a relationship in which we make decisions together as a team, we discussed the matter together. I let him decide whether or not we would go as they are his good friends more than mine. If he wanted me to go with him, we decided together that he would help me with the cost of the trip since it was fairly expensive. Since we were planning on taking a more inexpensive this spring already and he’s pretty financially secure compared to my mountain of debt, he was happy to pay the bit extra on top that this particular trip would cost us.

Couples usually have a destination wedding if they want something low-key. The resorts often do most of the planning so that you don’t have as much to stress and worry about. The whole process is a lot shorter than some of the big weddings I’ve seen being planned years in advance. There are a range of exotic locales to choose from for guests to enjoy and make beautiful memories with family and friends. Couples often use the locale as a place to return to for important anniversaries.

For people that normally travel to an exotic location at least once a year it is not a huge financial ordeal for them to attend a destination wedding in place of their annual trip. If you are a family member or very close friends you may decide that it is worth it to go all out and pay for the trip to be there, even if it’s a bit more than you would normally spend for the sake of the once-in-a-lifetime occasion. If friends and family are spread out throughout the world already, then travelling would be required even if it was held where the couple lives.

But for the indebted (or those of us with smaller incomes) it can be tough to find the cash to pay for the trip without totally wrecking one’s budget.

People may feel obligated to go but cannot afford to. They may be upset that they simply cannot go and will not be able to enjoy the wedding day with the couple.

The bride and groom in turn must be ready to accept that a large number of invited guests will not be able to attend the wedding, and that they won’t be as in control of the details of the wedding.

Would you have a destination wedding? Do you love or hate them?