Let’s face it, some of us have a “Top 10” list of places we’d like to see before it’s too late. Entire travel books have been written around the theme of “must see” spots. If you have a list of dream destinations, it’s not too early to start planning a trip to your number one choice. It may take you a while to set aside money for the trip; developing an itinerary and creating a travel budget will help you determine how much you’ll need to save.
Choose Your Destination
First, you’ll need to decide where you really want to go. One way to narrow down your choices is to brainstorm, either with a partner or on paper, and develop a short list of destinations. Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of hiking the Scottish highlands or visiting your ancestral homeland in Estonia. Some travelers save for years to see the Taj Mahal by moonlight or to photograph lions and zebras in their natural habitats. In the end, you’re the only one who can cut that list down to two or three practical options.
Research Your Alternatives
Next, head to your library, bookstore or computer and take a look at your options. Do you need special visas? Immunizations? Do monsoons or winter storms define the travel season? Will it cost you $2,000 just to get to your dream destination? As you learn about travel alternatives and write down details, you’ll begin to get a better idea of what’s really possible.
Decide on a Cruise, Tour or Independent Travel
For some travelers, choosing among travel options is the most difficult part of the trip planning process. Regardless of where you’d like to go, there’s probably more than one way to get there. You’ll need to assess your health, capabilities, interests and travel style – and do so honestly – to decide which option is best for you.
Do you like to relax in the sun, sleep in and pamper yourself? Perhaps a leisurely river cruise is the best way for you to see Europe. If you prefer to leave travel details to someone else, an escorted tour could be a good choice for you. Independent travelers consider trip planning to be part of the fun, not a tedious chore; if this sounds like you, it’s time to break out the guidebooks.
You may wish to plan your trip around a central theme or pastime, such as concerts, wine travel or bicycling. Don’t forget to ask about travel at your local bike shop or art museum. Organizations from the National Geographic Society to the Smithsonian Institution offer trips to some of the world’s most popular destinations.
Talk With a Travel Agent
It never hurts to get an expert opinion. You may wish to discuss your trip ideas with a travel agent, perhaps one who specializes in senior travel, adventure travel or the area you’d like to visit. A good travel agent will be able to tell you about escorted tours and independent travel alternatives. You may discover that traveling with a tour group is the best way to gain admission to the museums, archaeological sites or performances you’d like to see.
For example, tour operators begin selling travel packages to Oberammergau, Germany, at least two years before a Passion Play year, and these tours include performance tickets. Individual tickets, on the other hand, are sold one year before a Passion Play year. If you’ve dreamed of seeing this historic performance all your life, don’t be caught short. Check with a travel agent to find out when tickets typically sell out.
Follow Your Heart
If you’ve always wanted to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but friends tell you it’s a tourist trap and you’ll find only crowds and tacky souvenirs on the Square of Miracles, take a deep breath and plan your trip anyway. As the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern says, “One man’s weird is another man’s wonderful.” Don’t let someone else dissuade you from taking your dream trip.