Where in the world?? Trip planning when you feel overwhelmed

Trip planning can be so overwhelming!! When you could go just about anywhere in the world for the price of a plane ticket, how do you narrow it down? I am going to tell you how I planned two solo trips (but will only take one). In the span of two weeks, I went from having no idea that I even wanted to do a solo trip to having flights and hotels booked and an itinerary sketched out.

The Dude and I watch Youtube during our lunch breaks. I will share my favorite Youtubers in a separate post, but we watch a lot of videos by women who are traveling the country while living in their vehicles (no matter how small the vehicle!) or traveling to some of the most remote places on earth. All by themselves. It seems scary, but they also make it seem….possible. But not for me.

Two weeks ago I went to a women’s travel fest. It was empowering to learn about women’s adventures, globe-trotting at all ages. They are figuring out how to make money for travel or while traveling, and had great tips on how to stay safe on the road. This was the first time that I thought: maybe I could do something like this. 

I went from, “hmm lots of women solo travel” to “I suppose I could do a solo trip since I have more time off than the Dude and I desperately want to travel a lot”, to having a solo international trip planned out in about a 24-hour timespan. 

Airport sitting area
After the trip planning comes the trip!

I want to go somewhere, but where? Trip planning begins

While I was thinking about where I would like to go on this solo trip, I thought about what would work for me and with my anxiety. I quickly came up with this checklist:

  • Not too hot or humid-I am a miserable hot person and I get heat exhaustion and headaches pretty quickly. The thought of dealing with those symptoms alone would add to my anxiety. 
  • Primary language is English. I haven’t used anything but English in a very long time. I am currently learning some Italian for a trip we are planning next year, but I won’t learn it by the summer. I know that people travel to places where they don’t speak the language, but that would definitely add to my anxiety. 
  • Not a big city. I have been in small or medium sized cities for a very long time and I am not ready to dive into a big city solo. 
  • Someplace that isn’t too focused on outdoor recreation. I like the idea of hiking more than I like hiking, and I would be scared to do it very much on my own. 
  • Not too long or convoluted a plane trip, and not too expensive. I had $300 or under in my mind as the ideal cost for the plane ticket. 

I thought about my options and realized that some places in Canada would tick all the boxes. I am fascinated by far eastern Canada, and I don’t think the Dude is as excited about it as I am. So I decided on Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Airport sign in an empty terminal

I spent the next week planning a perfect Halifax trip. I am too old and snore too loudly for hostels. I am not a huge fan of AirBnBs. But I want to cut down the cost of accommodations, because hotels are often the biggest part of the travel budget. I have travel points, but I am saving them for other things. 

Think outside of the box for cheap, secure lodging

Did you know that you can book a dorm room in some universities?? Well, you can, in the summer. Dalhousie University offers single rooms for under $50 a night. You get a private room, dorm style bathroom, free parking, reasonably price campus buffet options, free use of the fitness facilities, and access to the laundry. The location is very close to downtown and is ideal if you are not planning to travel outside of Halifax and its beautiful waterfront. 

The next stage of trip planning: the pivot

So, that was my plan. Fly to Halifax, explore the waterfront, visit Lunenberg, maybe go up and see the tides at the Bay of Fundy. Fly down to meet the Dude when he flies to Connecticut and then we would visit East Coast family, including Ci. 

Well, when I started looking into flights, they were expensive, convoluted, and most of my arrival options would happen at or around midnight, with long and inconvenient layovers.

I was getting frustrated and irritated about how much time I was spending to make this work. 

I mentally turned to a photo like this, to remind myself to breathe and approach the problem calmly.

Then I reminded myself that I had come up with the plan the week before and there are lots of places I want to travel to. It was time to pick a different destination. Nova Scotia will wait for me to visit another time. 

Now I was feeling overwhelmed by options. Having just come up with a travel destination out of thin air, I needed to come up with another one?? How would I do it?

Google Flights-a trip planning hero

Do you know about Google Flights? You can Google two cities and get flight deals anytime you want, but if you go to Google Flights, it is a much more robust experience. 

I went to Google Flights, selected a one-way option, put in my home city of PDX, put in my travel date, and left the arrival city blank. I hit Search and could see the price for all sorts of cities, spread out over a map. I noticed that Calgary was $165 and was a reasonable 7 hours of flight time. Then I checked the flights from Calgary to Connecticut and they were about $250. So it was more than the $300 or less I had hoped for, but less than Halifax, more straightforward, and with far less flight time. 

A couple of months ago, I was doing some summer trip planning, and I had suggested Alaska or Calgary and the Dude chose Alaska, but I have been very keen on seeing the Canadian Rockies, so this would give me a chance to do so.

Trip planning with anxiety-the importance of reframing

Now of course, it was time for my anxiety bug to kick up and note that I was going into outdoorsy places where hiking and outdoor sports are a thing. 

But I reminded myself that not everyone needs to do everything in an area. And that I can hike the easy and accessible trails and they will still be beautiful. As I was searching around, I found someone posing a question about enjoying the area if you are not a hiker and the response was overwhelmingly that you can and that beautiful sights are mere steps from the road. 

Even if you are not a wilderness backpacker, you can find beauty in nature. This was the view on an easy, 1-mile loop trail in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Within 3 hours, I had pivoted to the other side of the country, done some fact-finding on the best options, and booked myself some flights and rooms. 

I will tell more in another post about my trip plans, including how I plan to save money. Until then, I wish everyone some happy trip planning!

I will end this post with these takeaways:

  • Do not be afraid to travel on your own. 
  • If you are an anxious traveler, spend some time before your trip thinking about your anxiety points and how to accommodate them. There is no shame in having anxiety, acknowledging that it might be worse or different on vacation, and strategizing ways to cope. 
  • There is a lot to be said for flexibility. With so many options in the world, if one isn’t working, try another!
  • Google Flights is an amazing tool to look for fares all over the world quickly and with the ability to compare all sorts of things including destinations, prices, length of travel, and even the carbon usage.