A year ago I gave myself a goal (goals by the way are in my mind are classified as Achievements). I was feeling restless. I get that way. I don’t like to be in the same place for too long. I love to travel and was feeling like I didn’t do it enough. But, I also have put a lot of time and effort into my career and wasn’t ready to leave it all behind to travel full-time. So my Achievement was this,
Take one trip every month for one year
Once a month seemed like it would be enough time to calm my restlessness. But to do this the right way, I had to be able to travel without impacting my job or bankrupting myself.
In May of 2015, I started the quest by traveling to New Orleans and in April of 2016 I finished it with my trip to Florida. Yay! I did it. It was great, It was worth it, I am happy with my result. It was also hard and I made mistakes.
Here is where I went:
- May: New Orleans, Louisiana
- June: Yosemite National Park, California
- July: Pacific North West Train Excursion
- August: Tucson, Arizona
- September: Anchorage, Alaska
- October: New Mexico
- November: Shasta-Trinity National Forest
- December: Edinburgh & Inverness, Scotland
- January: Mexico Cruise, Long Beach & Ensenda
- February: Route 66 Roadtrip & the Grand Canyon
- March: Joshua Tree National Park, California
- April: Miami, Key Largo & Key West Florida
This is what it cost:
The total cost for the year was $6894.18. Which is roughly $575 a trip, for one person. I think that’s pretty good and it fits within the budget I had set for myself. To get that result I had to spend a lot of time looking for deals, researching points and loyalty programs, being flexible and riding in coach class.
One of the best tips I found was to use sites like Skyscanner or Kayak. With those sites I was able to set up alerts for things like “Any flight leaving LAX on a weekend for under $200”. Then I would look at the list of flights, and just choose one of those places. Once you know the place you can find things there that make it worth a visit. That’s backwards from the way most travel planning happens, so this is where the “be flexible” part comes in handy.
Skyscanner and Carrentals offer the best deals I have found on rental cars, I could usually find something around $10 a day for a compact car. Keep in mind with rental cars though that the daily price is just a small part of it. Taxes, fees, gas, all usually add roughly $50-$100 to the bill, which they dont show you at the time of the reservation.
I used a total of 11 vacation days and 15 paid company/federal holidays. All of these trips took advantage of three day weekends or were scheduled to surround a weekend to get more travel time for free.
Here are some things I learned:
- Traveling once a month is hard. I am a person who really really loves travel planning, and even I found myself stuck a few times and running out of ideas on what to do.
- Expect to be exhausted. Travelling is fun and exciting and I’m full of energy during the trip. But Monday comes around and you have to go back to work and be a functional human. Sleep when you can, on the plane, in the cab ride home, wherever. And give yourself enough time to do laundry before you have to go back to work.
- Its ok to be spontaneous and show up without a plan. You will find things to do. They will be fun and interesting. The main thing is to just go. No excuses, book the trip and leave.
- Its ok to have a detailed plan. You will be organized and make sure you fit in everything you want to accomplish. Just make sure that you can be flexible as plans will crumble.
- The rules I set for myself were both limiting and freeing. For most of these trips I only had three days. Which meant I couldn’t go very far. Spending 6 hours on a plane ride, added to a time difference, would mean that I lost most of trip to the transportation. This forced me to find things close by that I would have otherwise skipped or ignored. And, there is no pressure in planning for a weekend. At worst, you have a crappy few days. So you can take risks and try things you wouldn’t on your “once in a lifetime exotic 3-week vacation”.
- Pay attention to time differences! I had multiple plans that had to be cancelled or rearranged because I was off by an hour or three. In one case, I was off by an entire day. So double check dates and times!
- Its easier to plan a trip to an exotic international locale than it is to plan a trip to a small town one state over. But that small town has interesting things to see and do also. It doesn’t have to be Bali to be a worth while trip.
- Traveling alone is not unsafe or scary, but you do get asked a lot of awkward questions. Like “Don’t you have any friends?” Ouch.
- Don’t over pack. Its not the end of the world if you forget something, you can usually find a replacement if its urgent, and if its not urgent it doesn’t matter anyway. Hauling around an extra 50 pounds of stuff that you will never use while on the trip is not worth it. I kept a list of everything I put in the suitcase, and at the end of that trip I crossed of any item that I never used. And made a rule to never pack it again. By the end of the second trip my list was 1/3 of what I started with and I never regretted leaving a single thing behind.
- Plane trips somewhere are far from the only option. And in many cases, they are the worst option. I learned to think in terms of other forms of transportation like road trips, train rides, and cruise ships. And had some of my best trips as a result of that.
This is what is next:
I, of course need to have something to do next. Another Achievement to work on. This is what I have chosen.
Visit All 59 National Parks
2016 is the 100 year anniversary of our National Park system so it seems a fitting year to begin this quest, though I’m not sure that I will be able to finish it before the year is over. I am not starting at zero, I have already seen 25 out of the 59, but many of the remaining parks are pretty remote and will be hard to fit around a weekend. In addition to this goal I will be spending a month in Spain and a month in South East Asia so my vacation time is limited.
Now, here is something I just recently figured out. There are over 400 locations that are part of the National Parks ecosystem. 59 of them are classified as National Parks, but the rest fall under categories like National Monument, National Historic Park, and National Seashore. I would like to see all of them and I am not ranking the National Parks as being better than any of the other locations. However 400 is a huge number to start with and goals are best when they are manageable and achievable. So I am starting with 59 and I will expand that number into other achievements in the future.
The first trip in this quest will start on Memorial Day weekend when I will be travelling to South Dakota to explore Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks.
What do you think? Any ideas for other quest/achievements/goals I could explore?