How to Plan an Independent Trip Abroad: Part 4 – Destination
In the previous parts of this series on trip planning we discussed where, when, airfare, and lodging. Now we’ll talk about how to move around within the country(ies) and researching what to experience.
We’ve found that visiting a few cities and spending more time in each is better than trying to visit as many cities as possible within a trip.
As they say “you need to stop and smell the roses” not just take a picture and move on. We normally spend 3-4 days at each destination. We feel this allows us to start experiencing the culture, check out what drew us to this location, and find those hidden treasures.
Why did we select the cities we did during our trip to SouthEast Asia?
- Cambodia – we selected Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Otres Village, and Kampot. So why these cities? Phnom Penh is the capital and it was the least expensive to fly into and start our adventure. In Siem Reap, we wanted to visit Angkor Wat and some of the other famous temples. We wanted some beach time so we picked Otres Village and once there we decided to spend a few days in Kampot based on a referral from a fellow traveler. Talk to other travelers as they are a wealth of information.
- Vietnam – we selected Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hoi An, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. Why these cities? Vietnam has strict visa entry points and we chose Saigon because we wanted to visit the Mekong Delta. Another traveler recommended Hoi An and research told us it was rated as the best city in Vietnam. We planned to visit Hanoi, but after extending our stay in Hoi An we decided to travel to Thailand instead. Here is where being flexible and not planning too far in advance pays off.
- Thailand – does not require a pre-approved visa and a visa entry stamp is issued upon arrival so it was easy to change our plans, leave Vietnam and head to Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Research told us Chiang Mai was one of the best cities in Thailand. It retains its natural charm and old culture and is the second largest city with a small town feel. We chose only one full day in Bangkok, to us it was a transfer point. We wanted to spend our time in a more quiet setting, that’s why our Bangkok stay was shorter than what we usually do.
Research your destination and know your options when it comes to getting from point A to point B.
What is the best way to get there? It may not necessarily be by air; remember to add travel times to and from the airports and all the time spent at the airport prior to the flight. Ground transportation or a ferry may be a better option, more enjoyable, cheaper and sometimes even faster. Would you rather look at the countryside or be inside an airplane? As we’ve stated before, we travel to our first destination on one-way tickets and normally only plan to the next location in advance unless it is the high season or research tells us that prior arrangements are advised.
How do we get from place to place? Here are a few examples:
- From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap – we researched our options of flying, bus, private shuttle and yes, even private taxi. The fastest, cheapest ($8 pp) and most comfortable was to take the bus. This was also the recommendation of the hotel staff. The bus was air conditioned, comfortable and about 4 hours total including a stop at a restaurant. Air ($100pp) was also about 4 hours when you added airport wait time and flight time and was also the most expensive. Needless to say, we chose to go by bus.
- Research told us that to get from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (closest destination to Otres Village) was to fly, but flights and days were limited. Because of that, we booked in advance, both in and out.
- We had firm dates in and out of Sihanoukville, but once we arrived in Otres Village we decided we didn’t want to stay the duration as planned, so we decided to go to Kampot instead, which was only about a 1-hour shuttle drive away.
- To get to Chiang Mai from Hoi An we decided the easiest and cheapest way to get there was fly via Bangkok.
- When in Asia we prefer to arrange for a pickup at the airport. It may cost a little more, but it’s nice to have someone waiting for us in all the chaos. Private pickup can usually be arranged through the arrival hotel. Some airports have dedicated taxis with fixed fares, which we have also used. We don’t want to walk out of the airport and be on sensory overload, scammed by the first available taxi.
Remember – “it is not always the destination to enjoy, but the journey as well”.
Some of our best memories were our travel experiences and not the destination.
As far as what to experience in a destination, we feel this is a personal preference.
We like to experience the culture, history, architecture, food, and the way of life. Check out our post on “Why you should visit a local grocery store while traveling?“ As far as finding things to do and see, we use Google and TripAdvisor along with travel guides for recommendations. These sites and publications will give you a great idea of what is available. There may be organized tours to nearby destinations: decide if you prefer to go with a tour or on your own. We sometimes do a day tour out of convenience and cost is often comparable to us going on our own. Once you arrive at your destination, talk to the lodging staff, locals, and fellow travelers for ideas. Locals love to talk about their city and country and fellow travelers love to share their experiences.
We are big fans of Google – it is your research friend!
Don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or seeking recommendations. We enjoy sharing our experiences – that is what travelers do!
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