How I Choose Where To Travel Next
I rarely travel solo anymore since my husband is a passionate traveler, too. We typically go on a handful of trips each year: one international trip with my family (usually 7 - 10 days), a few Caribbean getaways to explore our neighboring islands, a shorter (7 days or so) international trip for the two of us, and our larger 4 to 5-week grand adventure in September/October each year. In terms of choosing where to go, it's a bit of a collaborative effort! In the Caribbean, we take into consideration where we haven't been, combined with time available (3 days gives us different options than 6 days), and flight routing. Getting around the Caribbean is much more difficult than you'd imagine so transit options definitely play a role! Being hoteliers ourselves, choosing interesting hotels is part of the equation, too. We love getting inspiration from other properties that are providing great guest experiences in an intimate setting.
For our family trip, I keep in mind destinations that interest my family (and where they haven't yet been), plus try to choose places that offer experiences for all of us. We usually choose between Europe or the Americas since we generally have about 7 - 10 days to play with. We're all quite different in our personalities and interests so part of my decision making there is keeping everyone's preferences in mind to find a place that will suit all of us in some way. So far we've been successful!
For our 'Grand Adventure' (our 4 to 5-week trip), my husband and I try to alternate between continents and take into consideration where we haven't been and which countries intrigue us most (usually there's overlap in our independent lists!). We generally plan trips where we can visit 2 - 4 countries in that timeframe, so part of our planning takes into consideration logistics for getting around. We try to get to Africa every other year in some way - it's one of my favorite places to be and the experiences can be so diverse! Most recently we spent a month in Southeast Asia exploring Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
In terms of cost-cutting, I find one of our biggest expenses is food & wine when we travel but in many destinations local markets and street food (vet it first, obviously!) can be a great way to get a local fix on a budget. Some of my favorite meals have been in hole-in-the-wall places where meals cost just a few dollars.
My Best And Scariest Travel Experiences Happened On The Same Trip
If I had to pick a travel memory that stands out the most, it would probably be our week in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Virunga National Park. It still stands out to me as one of the most authentic, raw, and special weeks I've had in travel. Gorilla trekking there is still my favorite wildlife experience to date - we did it for two of our days and I would go back every year if I could (I'd recommend gorilla trekking to anyone)! We hiked to the top of the world's largest lava lake and overnighted in A-frame huts at the top, watching the lava bubble and boil overnight, and bonded with fellow trekkers. And the experience of talking with locals in the region and getting a glimpse into the lifestyle there was eye-opening.
My scariest travel moment was ironically on that same trip to Africa! My husband and I had booked a 'luxury boat transfer' from Rwanda to the Congolese border to cross into the Congo. The boat was not what we expected. Our 'two-hour journey' turned into eight hours where our tiny boat was filling with water in the middle of the lake. The Rwandan military ultimately had to send a rescue mission to get us! Traditionally, I plan all of my travel myself; all logistics, accommodations, etc. On this particular trip since we were heading to the DRC where it can be politically unstable, we opted to use a tour operator who would have a better grasp of the day-to-day on the ground. While it was collaborative and we had all of the details with us, we didn't coordinate these pieces personally which left us trusting the tour operators to handle this on our behalf. It was the first (and only!) time I'd ever done that and while most of it turned out well, this incident made me realize why I find it so important to plan independently and/or to ask even more questions going in.
Challenges To Traveling
I'm fortunate to be in the travel and the hospitality industry in the Caribbean so even when I'm not traveling, I'm involved in making other people's travels memorable, which I love! Many out there can relate, but having a busy full-time career (alongside all of my other endeavors) can make the prospect of getting away difficult. We're fortunate that the general tourism season where we live is a 10-month season which gives us a bit of time for our extended getaway. During the year, we try to be strategic with our timing to coordinate our time away with less-impacted work periods.
With solo travel, I think the challenges vary depending on the person. As far as challenges go, as a solo female traveler, there are probably elements that I consider that single male travelers don't: attitudes towards women and personal safety in a given destination, for example. Beyond that, finances can make solo travel a bit more difficult if you're inclined towards more luxury experiences. There can be a supplement for single travelers, and costs can skyrocket quickly when you're not splitting the tab with someone else so a bit of creativity with accommodations, tours, etc. can help there. I think one of the greatest benefits with solo travel though is that there's no compromising. You can focus on what interests you and fulfill your own desires around the globe. If you're traveling with a group of friends or family, there's often some compromise involved whether that's with sightseeing, dining, or even the destination in general. When funds and time are limited, it can be refreshing to know you're spending your resources on something that you're 100% in control of.
Advice To New Travelers Out There
I think so much of this depends on the type of traveler you are to an extent! I've known solo travelers who love the freedom of traveling independently and appreciate the alone time to reflect during their travels. For more social travelers traveling solo, I think small group tours can be an amazing opportunity! I've been on some incredible small tours (4 - 6 people usually) where I've had the opportunity to meet lots of like-minded independent travelers. You'll get to know each other in an organic way, plus it makes traveling deeper in off-the-beaten-path destinations a bit more approachable. Even if you don't consider yourself a total extrovert, small tours make meeting other travelers very approachable, even if you feel like you are a bit more on the introverted side. One of my favorite small group tours was with Abraham Tours in the West Bank off-roading in the Judean Desert. Our guide was young and vibrant and our fellow travelers were great - I continue to stay in touch with a few of them!