How I pick my next travel destination is probably the TOP question I get asked. And honestly, I sort of just spin the globe and pick a place. Ok fine, there IS a little bit of planning involved depending on where I already am and what season it is. But the best way to pick your next travel destination is to simply ask yourself, well– What’s on your bucket list? Where are you DYING to go?
Knowing there’s a whole wide world out there of uncharted territory while your wanderlust is screaming through the roof can make it hard to choose. So let me help you with narrowing down the 195 countries available to you.
1. Where do you feel most inspired?
I’m the type of gal that likes to do it all. From sightseeing in Paris to hiking in New Zealand, they are two very different types of travel experiences, but I love them both the same. If you were to close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere else where would you be? What would you be doing? Something adventurous? Escaping to the countryside? How about a road trip through Portugal?
Think about your energy, and where you’ll feel most inspired. Maybe what you’re looking for is to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle in the city. Maybe you just want to sit pretty and watch the sunset fall beneath the ocean every night. Understanding what kind of mood you’re in and what you’ve been longing for will help you narrow down where to go next.
The key is to have balance. I go between busy cities to escape into nature quite frequently. The best part about traveling is that you really can have it all. While Paris does sound appealing, know that you can always take a day trip to the countryside. That’s the beauty of this world, mostly everything you’re looking for is right around the corner. Just follow your heart to know what travel destination it needs.
2. What climate do you want to be in?
Tropics? Desert? Alpines? This will help you narrow it down profoundly. If you’re someone that likes it hot hot hot, heading closest to the equator will probably be the move. If you’re looking for sweater weather, beautiful mountain tops, and the possibility to ski, then away from the equator you go.
Most digital nomads, or really any traveler of sorts is typically looking to escape the cold. From November through March, heading to South America, South Africa, and Southeast Asia is where you’ll find blue skies and warm temperatures.
But if you’re someone that is suited better in cooler weather, the nordic countries and northern Europe may be the place for you. Even come winter you can find digital nomads skiing the Alps, hiking in Norway, and in and around Poland.
3. What time zone suits you best?
If you’re a remote 9-5er that needs to “clock in” during your company’s structured hours, then sticking to an easy and adjustable time zone is a must. Surely if you’re working out of an East Coast office, you don’t want to be working until 3am in Thailand and Bali. Stick to places down in South America such as Medellin, Bolivia, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro where the time difference is only off a couple hours. South Africa, the Middle East, and Europe are also doable; you’ll just be working until bedtime (around 10-11pm).
If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer and can make your own hours, then you have more options worldwide as to where you can go. Just be sure that if your clients are generally back home in the states that you overlap your work day with some of theirs. You want to be available for calls when your client needs you, collaborate with other team members, and have it fit around your best productivity levels.
4. What’s your budget?
One of the biggest advantages of being location independent is that so you can make a bigger income and stay in a cheaper area. If you can make a competitive US salary and stay somewhere that’s only $300 a month, well then– you’ve hit the jackpot.
Depending on your profession and where you are in your nomad journey: just starting out, working part time, or own a business, it should all be taken into consideration. You generally want to feel comfortable and not live beyond your means. So come up with an amount you’re willing to pay per month and year. Note that because of this, your monthly budgeting is going to fluctuate with each new travel destination.
As a rule of thumb, you want to pay less than you would be paying at home. If you’re an American coming from a New York City apartment, then this will be easy. Nomads typically try and spend no more than $30/night on lodging, which is $900/month. You can find some hostels as low as $12/night and airbnbs (if you’re splitting it with friends) for $14/night.
It’s important to not let your monthly budget make or break your trip planning. You’ll find that some countries cost a little more to live in, and others cost a little less. Just remember that over the course of the year rent will go up and rent will go down. The overall average of what you spent over the year is what’s important. Pinch your pennies some months, and live like a queen in others.
5. Have any diet restrictions?
If you’re an american than you’re pretty used to having every type of cuisine at your fingertips. This isn’t always the case abroad, and depending on your diet, you could be very restricted. Now, for me, a lover of all food, I have no issues in this category. However, traveling with vegetarians, pescatarians, vegans, or even just picky eaters, I’ve realized that it can be a real issue.
One way to solve this is by downloading the app Happy Cow. It shows you the best vegetarian and vegan places around the world, and a lifesaver. I’m not a vegetarian, but after traveling through Bosnia and Germany where the cuisine is mostly meat and potatoes, a girl wants to get in her veggies every once in a while!
If you’re someone that doesn’t typically like asian food, then you probably want to stay away from Southeast Asia. If hummus, tahini, and falafel aren’t really your thing, then I’d also skip Greece and surrounding areas. You know you best, so just do your diligence in researching ahead of time. Having a true authentic meal around the world, is one of the best perks of traveling!
6. Pick a travel destination based on shoulder or off season
This will help bring your price points down, escape crowds of tourists, as well as more lodging options become available to you. By traveling during the off season you’ll also help the county’s economy since most solely rely on tourism. Depending on what climate, experience, and time frame you’re searching for, you’ll be able to gauge when it’s the best time to go.
For instance, keep in mind that if you’re escaping winter, a lot of countries’ “winter” months consist of heavy rain. Don’t let this be a turn off to you. It will actually keep your FOMO down and your work ethic up! Sure, if you were going on a two week honeymoon you probably don’t want a couple hours of daily rain to hit while you’re on your wine tour. As a digital nomad, though, you have all the time in the world to explore. The rain shouldn’t keep you away.
With european cities it’s much more enjoyable to travel during the off season. Less heat, less tourists, less pick-pocketing, and less people trying to take advantage of their prices. I have no one-stop-shop website to figure this out. I honestly just google: best places to go in “month” and see what results I get.
7. Pick a continent
It’s easiest to pick a continent and run with it. This is going to be better on your wallet and you’ll have the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas. Central America? South America? Europe? South Africa? Southeast Asia? Based on weather, budget, and city (or non city) preference this is the perfect way to narrow down your options.
There are also lots of nomad communities in each continent that you can kick off your journey with. Wifi tribe has “chapters” which means they spend a whole month in one place and ensure housing, wifi, and excursions all inclusive for you for one price. Selina and Outsite have locations all over the world where you can be safely housed with a room, internet, and friends as well. Browsing these websites can help you find a travel destination that fits your needs. Plus, this is a great way to start your journey, get some work done, meet some friends, and then continue to keep exploring afterwards.
Always check out the surrounding areas. This is where I open the map and just look around. Where can you easily take a train or bus? Of course, this is easier said than done in some places. Europe is much easier to travel country-to-country than South America. But this is the best way to fuel your wanderlust, and create a balance between living time in both a city and countryside.
8. Festivals, Events, & Activities
A great way to narrow down your travel destination, is to check out what activities and events are going on! Oktoberfest in Munich? Carnival in Venice? Sky Lantern Festival in Taiwan? New Years Eve in Rio de Janeiro? Sure it may be a little busy during that time, but an amazing way to see a country is diving head first into their festivals and parties they have going on. Here’s a full guide of annual festivals around the world.
Maybe you’re having an itch to visit a vineyard in Austria, a safari off of Cape Town, or see the cherry blossoms in Japan. OR maybe you’re not quite sure what you’re in the mood for and that’s perfectly ok too! That’s the whole point of exploring new destinations. Lonely Planet does a good job by organizing travel inspiration by categories: adventure, romance, budget, foodie, beaches, road trips, and art and culture. If you’re wondering how COVID-19 is affecting travel, they have a section with some great articles here. See #13 for more insight on this topic.
When you finally land on your next travel destination, do yourself a favor and get a guide book of that country. Lonely Planet offers the best guides on the planet, (no pun). They’re also offered for tablets so you don’t have to worry about carrying a book around with you. These are especially great for road trips, as a matter of fact, they are a MUST for road trips. Lonely Planet will let you know the best places to stop, eat, sleep and so much more.
9. Flight search to everywhere
Skyscanner is the ONLY place I look for flights. Honestly, when I’m starting to feel that bug, as if I’m about to ask Siri a question, I ask skyscanner where my next destination is going to be.
If you already have a couple destinations in mind and your dates are flexible (which they should be if you’re a nomad!), then do a search to your next travel destination for a WHOLE MONTH. Skyscanner will let you know what day is the cheapest to fly, and the results will shock you. Like my direct one day ticket to Paris for $124 I scored last March, INSANE!
If you’re looking for inspiration for your next travel destination, then search for EVERYWHERE. Skyscanner is the only platform that has this option and it’s genius. Just type in your local airport (or even the entire country). Once you click “to” a dropdown will pop up and ask if you’d like to search “everywhere”. Skyscanner will give you a long list of destinations to go to starting with the lowest prices on top. Be sure to check non-stop flights only, and “whole month” to get the most seamless and affordable flight possible.
Now out of these 195 countries in the world, not all of them are going to have up to par wifi, or coffee shops to work at. Some very remote areas won’t have anything faster than 3G. This can be very painful, so just do your research ahead of time, or decide this travel destination is better for a vacation.
When booking accommodation be sure to ask the host to check the internet for you. Just send them a note letting them know you’ll be there for work and a strong wifi connection is extremely important. Speedtest.net will do all the heavy lifting for you. Send them that website and ask them to send a screenshot back with the results. Then, you’ll know exactly what you’re dealing with.
If you’re traveling outside the United States the best thing you can do is buy a SIM card overseas. The cost will vary depending on the continent and city but a typical SIM card in Bali for example will cost 250k IDR ($17.00) a month for 30GB. Now that’s a lot of data, and you can hotspot directly off your phone (including your friends). There are much smaller plans and you can only pay monthly so the key is remembering what day your data will shut off.
Your other option is traveling with a mobile hotspot. Skyroam offers global wifi in over 130 countries where you can buy the GB, daily, or monthly AND share on 10 devices. What a great way to make 9 new friends– offer up a secure connection! I will say in full disclosure is that Skyroam is widely available where T*Mobile is, and depending on country, satellite, and cost of SIM card, it’s hard to say which is the better option. But it’s safe to say I use both. Skyroam is perfect for camping or van life in the U.S. where hot-spotting off your mobile device isn’t available.
11. Apartment? Cottage? Villa? You decide
Once I’ve narrowed it down to one or a few different destinations, I then start to explore the different lodging options in the area. I also ask myself if I’m looking to have a work-cation, meet travelers, or go it alone.
Hostelworld, like its name, has every hostel in the world covered. This is especially helpful when I’m not looking to book a hostel, but know where they’re located so I can stop in and look at their tours. If you’re looking to make some friends and keep the price point down, then this is the best option. Don’t let the words “hostel” turn you off either, there are some insanely gorgeous hostels out there!
If you’re looking for a home away from home, then Airbnb is your go-to. It has a great filtering system, so you can really narrow down your search to neighborhood, price point, and more than likely listings offer weekly discounts. I always search for at least two weeks, and an exact two weeks (usually Friday to Friday) so I can see what weekly discounts hosts are offering, and save them to a wishlist to come back to later.
Booking.com offers thousands of hotel options, and you can search through all sorts of lodging categories such as apartments, resorts, villas, B&Bs, cabins, cottages, glamping and more. Let’s just say you can really get into a rabbit hole here. But if you’re looking to luxuriate with a work-cation and a view, or get back to nature and stay in a cabin, booking.com it is!
With each property you look at, be sure to read reviews, their check in and out times, and if they’re able to hold luggage for you. Now that you’ve probably opened 30 new tabs and your head is spinning with options, make a pin board so they’re all in one place. THAT will make it much much easier for you to narrow down your options when you’re ready to book. You’ve already done all the research, so be sure to save it!
12. Check travel advisories
I was hesitant to add this, as I don’t want to deter you from some of the most amazing places in the world, but it’s always a good idea to check in with the government’s travel advisories. The government rates each country with a level. Level 1: good to go, level 2: be precautious, level 3: reconsider, and level 4: do not travel.
I have almost reconsidered traveling to Turkey because of this exact thing (which was at a level 3 at the time), and went anyway. While my friend and I we’re really torn about what to do, we ran into friends from the UK and advised us to always check England’s point of view against the United States. It’s safe to say that we traveled to Cappadocia and couldn’t have felt more secure.
No matter where you are in the world, the United States included, always take regular safety precautions. Terrorism, mass shootings, sex trafficking, and pick-pocketing are everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. Not to speak badly of the U.S., but the more I travel the more I find out that foreigners are actually afraid to come to the United States, and I honestly don’t blame them. Pickpockets are on the rise in major cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City*, and Nashville is dealing with a huge human trafficking issue*
So before you get deterred from traveling to somewhere new, learning about their travel advisory, and other media on the internet, just beware that this world is not perfect and there are incidences everywhere.
13. Lastly, due to COVID-19 we have to take extra measures traveling
Like I mentioned earlier, Lonely Planet does a good job with an entire section on what to expect with the world pandemic. The best source I’ve found so far is this: ____has every country listed and is updated regularly with the most up to date information. We know that this won’t last forever and borders have already opened, but of course keep a close eye on the latest updates with what’s happening in the next travel destination you’re trying to go to.
You may find you want to get a nice and spacious Airbnb or hotel room to cause you’ll be doing less touring and spending more time working at home. This is a great opportunity to get some really good deals on lodging, and on flights. Every country is going to face record lows of tourism and already offering less to nothing flight deals. Check out Kong Pham’s video on why and how he’s booking flights during a world pandemic.
Since travel is more limited now is the perfect time to research the next destinations you want to go to, build up your bucket list, and if you don’t have a remote job yet, now is the perfect time to find one, or kickstart your freelancing business!
That’s it! That’s the exact process I go through every time I pick a new travel destination, or 3-4 month “chapter” as I like to call them. Remember it’s ok to take your time here and there’s no rush in booking. It can be nerve racking picking somewhere new and unknown but that’s also the fun in it. Some places you’ll love, and some you won’t be too fond of, so always stay flexible, and keep an open mind. Hope these tips were helpful, and be sure to let me know where you’re headed next!