Argentina and Uruguay here we come! Yes, that's right, David and I booked our flights for our annual trip abroad and I am beyond excited. We loved Chile so much last year, we decided to continue with a second year of South American adventures. In the past, I've written a few posts (here and here) about my own thoughts and tactics for travel and vacation planning, so I'd like to use this very real example to showcase my strategies in action.
The first step in planning any vacation/travel/adventure is picking a destination(s) (you can read more about how I distinguish vacation vs. travel in Part 1 of my series). The Part 1 post also outlines a series of questions to help you and/or your group narrow down location choices. Naturally, they are also the questions David and I started with a few months ago.
What kind of trip do we want to take?
This question gets at the crux of the vacation vs. travel debate. While there is a lot of overlap, we prefer travel destinations where we can spend most of our time exploring new cultures, neighborhoods, foods, etc. We also prefer urban destinations. So while backpacking through Bali certainly falls under travel, it's not for us. With this information, we started with a long, and varied list of potential destinations including Greece, Portugal, Croatia, South Africa, Argentina, Germany, and Budapest. This list was not exclusionary, however, as we were always open to other options based on available travel deals.
How much time do we have?
Let me just say, I spent an unusual amount of time counting and re-counting my vacation days for the year. For past trips, we only needed five business days for our trips; utilizing the weekends on each end, but even in my initial airline searches, I realized we may need a few more in order to take advantage of better prices. So we settled on somewhere between 7-10 days.
Do we care about the weather?
Yes! We walk a lot during our trips, so we prefer moderate temperatures which allow us to stay (somewhat) comfortable throughout the day; basically, we don't want to be dripping in sweat by lunch. Slightly cooler temperatures are also okay as long as they don't require us to bundle up too much.
Who is traveling with me/us?
Just us, which means total flexibility! I'm lucky that David enjoys the same kind of travel activities as I do and generally stays out of the planning process because he knows how much I enjoy it. I do, however, discuss activity ideas with him as I go along.
Safety/health: does it matter?
Yes, but we are also willing to travel to areas which may require additional health precautions.
So where did all of this information leave us? Basically at the same place we started, so we took a few other factors into consideration, the biggest of which was David's strong desire to head back to South America. Flying to South America is not cheap, however, so here is where Part 2 of my series came into play (hint: money).
Your budget matters. While I am sure a $12,000/person cruise through the Panama Canal is incredible, if it's not in your budget, don't do it! Even the best trip will be ruined by the constant threat of overspending.
Our budget for this trip is $5,000, and I promise you this is the number we will stick with.
I spent June and July scouring sites like Sky Scanner, The Flight Deal, and Google Flights to better understand pricing for our desired destinations. We had our hopes set on South America, but continued to look at our other options (Greece, Portugal, etc.) I wasn't going to pass up a deal if the right one crossed my screen. I was also doing my research on traveling to South America to determine if we could afford the flights and still create a nice experience within our budget.
By the end of July we needed to start making some choices. Argentina was at the top of our list, but flight prices had not dropped (they also had not gone up); hovering around $900/person no matter where I looked. Through my research into destinations, I had also become intrigued with Montevideo, Uruguay, which is only a few hours from Buenos Aires. In terms of flight pricing, flying into one location and out of the other was the same cost, so why not visit both?
For anyone who has planned a big international trip before, you know the chaos of cross checking different websites with different flight itineraries. I easily spent five hours over two days before finding our best option, but because I was willing to invest my time, and we were flexible with many of the variables (airline, number of layovers, departure dates, etc.), I believe we found the best option for us. I ended up finding the flight directly through Matrix, a software created by Google. It's not the easiest to use, and you can't book directly from the site, but I found this great guide that helped.
Final price? $800.56/person + $103.55 total trip insurance = $1,704.67
My chaotic searching paid off; we saved a few hundred dollars! Yes, this is more than we are used to spending on flights, however, we still have plenty of room in our budget, in large part due to the low cost of accommodations and food in both locations; information I discovered prior to booking the flights.
So what's next? An insane amount of planning, which I promise to chronicle in other posts. But if anyone reading has visited either Buenos Aires or Montevideo in the last few years, I am all ears for recommendations. What neighborhoods should we stay in? Favorite restaurants? Tours and/or tour companies worth paying for?
Walking enthusiast, kitchen experimenter, sports lover (watching, not playing), and future world traveler.
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