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Planning a Big Trip.

Ok, I realize that you are all probably tired of hearing about this trip to Panama by now. But, I promise that this is more than likely the last that you’ll hear of it. If you’ve not been anywhere near this blog or our facebooks in the last week in a half then you should know that Kyle and I went to Panama last week. We had a great time and we’re so excited to share of course. The deal is this: Kyle and I committed to taking one BIG trip every year when we got married. So far we’ve done it and I don’t foresee us stopping anytime soon. The thing that we get asked the most is how do you do that? We also hear a lot of people say, “I wish I could do something like that.” The thing is, you can! We’ve made traveling our priority. That means that we do without a lot of other things to make that work! It’s not that we are rolling in money – quite the contrary. It’s also a common misconception that we’re able to do this because I work for myself. Yes, that’s incredibly helfpul, however, Kyle had to take off of work for this last trip. It’s also sometimes harder to take off when you own your own business because there’s no one at home doing the work for you. So, no excuses!!

I thought I’d take a minute to share my top 10 tips for planning YOUR big trip!!

1. The Money

This is the number one reason that most people think they can’t travel. The truth is, it’s expensive. But, there are a ton of ways to work around it. Kyle and I don’t make much money. Honestly, if you were to look at the books you’d be surprised we’re eating and all that. But, we don’t have a ton of needs, so we don’t feel like we’re deprived of anything. Figure out what you can REALISTICALLY give up. I’ve attempted to give up getting coffee out a million times. But, it’s never going to happen. But, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve gone shoe shopping. That was a realistic sacrifice for me. Here’s how I suggest saving:

-Figure out how much money you can put away every month by cutting something out. Ex. If I were cutting out coffee {*cough never *cough} I could reasonably save $20/wk. That’s $80 a month! That’s $960 a year! {don’t judge me.} If Kyle were to cut out buying soda’s everyday at work, that’s $5/wk and $240/year. What if we cut out going out to eat once a week? That’s easily $1,900 for us! What if we went one step further and cut out $25 from our grocery budget every two weeks? That’s $600 a year. After 4 simple cut backs we’ve saved $3,700!!! That’s more than the trip to Panama cost for both of us!!

-Raising money is another good option. I’m a photographer, so I often designate specific deals and specials that I run to our travels. If you ever attend one of my ‘Line up with Love’ events: those originated while Kyle and I were on a 6-month roadtrip to all of the 48 continental states. It was our sole source of income. Once when I was in college and raising money for a trip to Poland, 2 friends and I went around town offering to crack eggs on our heads for a dollar! It was weird. But, we raised a good bit of money in one afternoon! Use whatever skills you have and dedicate time and energy towards raising money for your trip!

-Budget. Figure out how much money you can reasonably save in one year. Set your goals for the month and then budget your trip around that! Don’t plan your trip and then try to scramble and make money. This year Kyle and I calculated that we could save up about $2000 for our travels. So, we made a point to find somewhere within that budget!

 

2. Choosing your Destination! 

I realize that we all have the top things we want to do in the world and the top places we want to go. For me it was always to backpack Europe and to see all 50 states, also to visit Paris & Rome! If you can reasonably do those things on your first trip out then go for it! {I was lucky enough to see Paris and Rome while backpacking Europe the year before I traveled to almost all 50 states (we still have hawaii and alaska) } But, if you’re in a situation where you can’t save up quite enough for your dream trip then set your dream trip aside and pick somewhere you can go now with the budget you do have! I recommend starting with flight costs! When Kyle and I were looking at this trip we didn’t have a location in mind. We just knew we wanted to spend around $800 for both of us to fly. So, one night while Kyle was at work I wrote down a list of the cheapest flights in November. I used FareCompare.com to search for flights by categories and our budget. The top two destinations that we wanted were Ireland and Panama. Ireland sounded to cold for November so Panama it was. We ended up getting the flight for $600 for both of us!

 

3. Figure out What Kind of Traveler You are! 

Are you someone who prefers to get up at sunrise and go-go-go until dark? Are you someone who likes to take it easy and do things slowly? Do you like to meet strangers or stay alone? Do you like to eat your way around the country or focus on outdoor adventures? Take sometime to really think it out because you’re going to base your entire trip around these principals! Your answers may surprise you, often times they are opposite from your everyday way of life! Here are the top questions I would ask myself before planning:

-Would I rather see more or relax more?
-Do I want to see more historical sites or meet more people?
-Do I want to eat local cuisine at every meal or eat whatever and spend money on outdoor activities?
-Do I prefer to go to the ‘sites you have to see’ or spend time with the locals?
-Would I rather be comfortable or adventurous?

Once you’ve answered those questions  you can move onto the next steps.

 

4. Pick your Priorities and Make Sacrifices! 

You only have so much time at your destination and most of us only have so much money. You’re going to have to think about what is most important to you and then let the other things go! This is where knowing what kind of traveler you are is important. I’m more of the kind of traveler that likes to spend time with the locals, I like to eat local cuisine, go to the normal grocery store, basically just act like I live there. Other people feel the need to visit all of the history in a destination or see all of the sites to be seen. That’s fine! There’s no wrong way. Just know what is important to you and let the other things fall away if you don’t have time or money for them. If you are a traveler like me you’re probably going to want to spend time in pubs, coffee shops, the markets, parks, and eating good food! If you’re a traveler like Kyle you’re probably going to want to see the historical sites, visit the museums, and spend time seeing all the things you HAVE to see before you go! This is also important when people are telling you what you HAVE to do while you’re traveling. Everywhere you go, there’s someone who has been there before. It’s exciting to listen to their opinions and take them into consideration. But, at the end of the day if you are being told to spend $50 on dinner at this AMAZING restaurant but you know that you’d rather spend that money on a kayaking trip, you have to stick with what is meaningful to YOU! Everyone’s experiences and travel preferences are different. Knowing yours beforehand is essential to  not being morphed into someone else’s that you wouldn’t enjoy! Bottom line: be ok with not doing EVERYTHING! Yes, you are more than likely not going to be back at at this particular place for a while. But, you want to savor the things you do! You don’t want to look back at your time and it be a blur of lack-luster experiences!

 

5. Research! 

Read and search the web before you go! The main four things I look up are: culture, weather, tourist season, food, and things to do. I want to know what language they speak, if possible, I want to learn a little bit of it before I go. {that’s just respectful guys, at least try!} I want to know if I’m going into a crazy weather pattern or if the town is going to be pack full of other Americans. I also want to know the best time of year to visit certain places and the worst time of year for the weather. The websites I typically use are lonelyplanet.com and traveltips.usatoday.com!

 

6. Plan what to Do! 

Using those same websites and google I then go through and plan out what I’m going to do. This isn’t a set in stone plan, it’s more of a basic guideline. I write out all of the days and I like to break it up by breakfast-activity-lunch-activity-dinner-activity. I make a point to research specific things with every trip. What are the places I HAVE to eat at? Are there any free activities? Are there any great parks? Is there anywhere nearby that would make a good day trip? What are the top sites and activities to see? Are there any great markets? And, of course, where’s the good coffee? Coffee is my number one hobby, think about what your top interests are and see if there’s anything related where you’re heading! This not only keeps  you from going there and not seeing what you’d like to have seen or doing anything. But, it also allows you to get a general budget laid out for your trip!

 

7. Be OK with Inconveniences and Changes in Plans! 

This is probably the most difficult and the most rewarding part of traveling! You are never going to stick to your exact plan and that’s OK!! Hopefully you will meet someone who tells you about something amazing that you’d rather do then that 5 hour mystery tour you’d originally written down. Or maybe your flight will be delayed or your hotel won’t be as nice as it seemed on the internet. I’m very much a planner and the kind of person who likes for things to stay as planned. I’m always early and I’m rarely ok with things not working out. However, I have two methods for dealing with this in life and when I travel. 1. I figure out how to make it enjoyable for myself and 2. I tell myself it’s part of the adventure. For example: Kyle and I took a boat out to an island one afternoon. The boat arrived at 9am and no other boat left the island until 5pm. 8 hours on the island. I had expected there to be a little cafe where I could sit and write and maybe they’d have wifi for my phone. I also expected some shady spots that I could lounge by the water with nice clean seats. I wore a cute dress without sunscreen and no bathing suit. Yes, this was unrealistic. When we arrived it was basically only a beach and one restaurant to eat at. Being the fair skinned ginger that I am, there’s no way I could spend 8 hours on the beach without dying probably. So, I was freaked out. But, I had to take a minute and ask myself what would make that time more fun for me. Kyle and I both decided that the time would pass faster if we made friends. Not only did we make friends, but, we met people from Asheville! We spent the rest of the time drinking and laughing with them and the time flew, because we were having fun! Another reason that the island ended up being one of my favorite days was because these little mishaps and misunderstandings are part of the greater experience! They ARE the adventure. If everything went according to planned, well, the trip would be a whole lot less memorable that’s for sure!

 

8. Make Friends! 

This goes back to what I was talking about in the previous section. But, meet as many people as you can. IF, that’s what you are comfortable with. The more people you meet while you are there, the more opportunities you have to find out about some local secret that will make your trip that much more fun! Also, people are just great in the world, I feel like every person that I’ve met has taught me something about being better and more loving. The more people we meet the more we grow as individuals! If you’re not like me, the kind of person that will make friends with a tree stump, that’s fine! Just push yourself to meet one person a day! You don’t have to be best friends by the time it’s over, just ask them a question. People love to talk about where they leave. Usually, we’re proud of the location we call home! If you ask one person a day what you should do or where you should eat they will more than likely spill over with pride!

We met this group of people our first night in town! They asked us how we were doing and after a few seconds of chatting invited us up for drinks. We ended up talking for hours and in turn we learned some new spanish phrases and made valuable contacts for our time in the city!

 

This is Milton our taxi driver. I waived at him one afternoon while he was driving by. He later picked us up remembering that we’d waived to each other before. On the way home, in spotty spanish, I asked him where we should eat and where the best coffee is, turns out, that coffee was at a place we were already considering going, it was a great confirmation that we should eat there. Because we like each other so much we had Milton pick us up the next morning to take us to our ferry. On the way to the ferry he remembered that I’d asked about coffee and made a point to stop for me to get some! He also picked us up from our resort at the end of the week and took us to the airport. By the end of the week we were good friends! Being friends with him helped me to learn spanish, helped us to find good places for food and coffee, and he even told us things about the city as we drove around!

 

 

9. Have Something You can Always Do for Free!! 

I know this is a specific one, but, when you’re traveling there are going to be times where you just don’t have money to do anything. You also are going to have times where you are possibly a little bit bored. Kyle and I play an on-going game of rummy. We stole the idea from some friends of ours and it’s been so helpful! We started playing on our roadtrip last year and it’s continued since. It’s a nice thing for us to do because we can do it anywhere. We’ve played rummy on the steps of the lincoln memorial, in the airport, in countless pubs, and in city squares. It gives us something to do that doesn’t cost money and allows us to just enjoy being where we are.

Here we are playing rummy in the square outside of one of the oldest churches in the Americas.

 

Here we are playing rummy in our favorite pub in Panama during a black out!

10. Find a Balance! 

What we loved the most about this particular trip was the perfect balance of it all. We are both very torn between the desire to have adventures and the desire to have a vacation. For us, and most of you, this is our one week out of the year that we get off. So, we wanted to return feeling rested. But, we also didn’t want to miss out on any of the adventure. So, we spent the first half of our trip going-going-going in Panama City. We went to Isla Taboga, visited Panama Viejo, toured the Canal, and more. By the end of our time there we felt like we’d seen everything we wanted to see and done everything we wanted to do. Then, for the second half of our trip we transferred to a resort where we just sat by the pool and drank. I splurged on a spa day and Kyle took some time Kayaking. But, we RESTED! That way, when it was time to come home we’d felt like we had our adventure, but, also like we’d been on vacation! Best of both worlds!

 

11. Be a Regular! 

Ok, I know that I said only 10 things, but, I thought of this at the end. For me, it is so important to be a regular at at least one or two places while traveling. I like to go to the same bar more than once or the same coffee shop or snow cone guy. That not only gives me a person I can ask questions to, but, it also shows them that I enjoyed their place enough to return. It’s also just nice to have something familiar to return to. Some of my favorite are in my favorite cafe’ in Paris. I went there everyday that we were in the city, I made friends with Patrick the barista, and drank cappuccino’s with the owner. They told me the things I needed to know about the city, and even wrote down coffee shops for me to visit in London! Those personal connections that you can make from being a regular are great! The snow cone man in Casco Viejo even gave us a discount on our second visit!

 

 

With all of that said and done, there’s no wrong way to travel! These are just tips from my experiences that I hope can help you to take a leap and go somewhere new and maybe have a better experience while you’re there!!

Do you have any travel tips you’d like to share? Any of these resonate with you? Let us know in the comments!!!
with love,
Sarajane.

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