How I choose my travel destinations

My travels have taken me to an interesting collection of places.  I’ve been to Rapa Nui, but I haven’t made it to Canada or Mexico, despite having lived in the U.S. all of my life.  I’ve been to India, but I haven’t been to Boston.

This week, I’ve been trying to pick a destination for a trip with some friends next year.  We’ve tossed around a lot of ideas, and my current inability to decide which option I like best has got me thinking about how I typically decide on destinations.

Here are the most important factors I consider when planning a trip.


I’m a graduate student, so my vacation time tends to be somewhat limited.  I usually opt for weekend trips, with one or two longer trips thrown in throughout the year.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

This year, I’ve done long weekends in San Francisco and Seattle, as well as weekend trips to visit friends in Houston and Wisconsin.

New Glarus Brewery in Wisconsin

New Glarus Brewery in Wisconsin


Most of my international trips have involved visiting someone.  My trip to India last year was primarily for visiting family.

Setting off fireworks in India

Setting off fireworks in India

Earlier this year, I visited a friend in Japan.  I’d been planning this trip since he moved there a few years ago, and it finally happened this spring, just in time for cherry blossom season.

Cherry blossom season in Japan

Cherry blossom season in Japan

A lot of my travel this year has revolved around friends’ weddings.  I’ve combined some adventuring with the out-of-town weddings to make a fun weekend trip that is a mix of activity and relaxation.


Despite all of my efforts to save money for adventures, my student stipend will only stretch so far.  I’ve been dreaming of going to the Galapagos for a few years now, but it can be one of the most expensive destinations in the world.

Central America and parts of Asia are cheaper travel destinations, and even when I go to expensive places, I stay in cheaper hotels/hostels and eat cheaply in order to save money.

Hostel in Chiloe

Hostel in Chiloe


I like my trips to have some variety.  I aim for a mix of culture and nature so I can do something a little different every day.  My weekend in Seattle was ideal in that way because I had some time to explore the city and some time to go hiking in a scenic national park.

Taj Mahal in Agra

Taj Mahal in Agra

Of course, there are destinations where I’ll focus completely on culture, like Delhi, or completely on nature, like my trip to New Zealand‘s South Island.


I will be the first to admit to being a creature of habit.  When I find something I like, I tend to keep going back to it instead of looking for something new.  I usually go to the same restaurants again and again in Chicago, and when I travel, I like to plan activities that I know I’ll enjoy.  However, if I only did things I know I enjoy, I would have a fairly limited range of options, so on every trip, I try out something new.  So even though I don’t like swimming, I jumped off a waterfall in Guatemala.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala: I went swimming in those pools!

Semuc Champey, Guatemala: I went swimming in those pools!


I have a fairly long bucket list.  Interestingly, when I’m deciding on trips these days, I rarely think about what is on that list.  Maybe it is because most of those items still seem like dreams or maybe it is because many of them are more expensive than I can hope to afford in the near future.  Whatever the reason, adventures on my bucket list seem to find me as opposed to me seeking them.  And I kind of like it that way.

How do you decide where to go next?

2 responses to “How I choose my travel destinations

  1. This was such an interesting post to read – Japan in blossom season looks incredible, definitely on my bucket list of places to go. I’m a lot like you when I pick destinations in that I’m also a graduate student and also choose places where I can stay with friends – aside from getting a better insight into the culture of the place, you also save money which is always a bonus.

    • Thanks! It’s good to be able to travel when you’re a student because you’re still at a point in life where you are ok with hostels and street food and such. I’m a big fan of staying with friends and getting to know how they live their everyday lives in other places.

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