Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Choosing where to go

If you’re a travel bum like I am, sometimes you don’t really care exactly where you’re going next. You just can’t wait to go somewhere new, and you know that traveling is always better than not traveling.

But how do you decide exactly where to go? A little research never hurts.

My old favorite method is to stare at my globe or map on the wall for hours until I notice an interesting place… “What, Slovenia is a country – and it borders Italy? I could make that work…”

But it’s important to know your priorities. For me, a Californian, weather is always number one. Recent memories of dying of heat in Tel Aviv during August and shivering in a hostel without heating in Bucharest in October are enough for me to know that there is an extremely narrow range of temperatures that I tolerate. Bad weather can easily ruin a trip. And cost you money, if, for example, you suddenly have to go winter clothes shopping. So do a little research and look at the average monthly temperatures of the destination you’re thinking about. And, with increasingly sporadic weather patterns these days, I always book tickets last minute after checking the 10 day weather forecast. As a general rule, however, it’s nice to spend May-September in the northern hemisphere and November-March in the south. On the other hand, I’m sure many of you winter-sport junkies are doing the opposite and chasing winter!

Next year I'm definitely heading to Miami...

Anyway, a good way to start looking for cheap flight destinations is with the fairly new (and still developing) Google Flights tool. You just have to enter a start location and some dates, and Google will produce a map of the world with prices marking flights to cities around the globe. If you know your destination but not the dates, the bar graph feature will tell you the absolute cheapest day to fly, or pair of dates for a round-trip journey of a given number of days. It’s amazing. Another similar search engine is Skyscanner, which allows you to enter a start destination with an end destination of “Everywhere”. You can even select “all month” or “all year” for the dates. Perfect for someone who can’t make up their mind where to go but has all the time in the world to travel. Also known as the travel bum.

Google Flights showing me the cheapest one-way tickets out of SFO next February

Next, I'll show you how to find the absolute cheapest way to get there.