I am a firm believer that you can buy happiness— with a plane ticket.
Since returning from studying abroad six months ago, I’ve been itching for the next adventure, as many returners experience. Winter break is a great time to travel, life permitting.
Here’s why you should make the time and space in your budget to explore some place new:
Reason #1: People who travel more tend to be happier.
This holiday season, don’t go on a shopping spree on payday. Many studies have shown that people who spend money on experiences, rather than material things, are more content. Of course, we must pay for transportation, food and shelter on our travels and any extras for specific adventures like skiing.
To put things into perspective, you could fly to Europe round-trip for the price of a new iPhone.
Reason #2: Even the worst experiences at the time make for good stories.
Last year, I missed flights, trains and buses. I got a little lost in every city I visited. I stayed in a hostel in Paris in which the water pressure of the shower only stayed on for 10 seconds at a time, so my angel of a friend, Nicole, stood outside and held the spout to keep the water on.
I traveled extensively, in seven countries, with one suitcase. My wardrobe for nine months consisted of two pairs of pants, and I was the happiest I’ve ever been.
Reason #3: It’s the cheapest time of the year to travel.
It turns out that most humans hate winter, so the middle of January is the time for the most frugal. If you can brave the weather, you can find some serious deals. This is your time to travel. You— yes, you.
Pop open Excel and Google (a bottle of wine can’t hurt either). Whether it’s with a travel buddy or solo, you can do this.
Step 1. Figure out how much money you have to work with, really think about what you can cut back on in the upcoming months. Then, set a travel budget.
Step 2. Write down your dream destinations. When I started planning, I knew that I wanted to go to Europe, but was pretty open-minded beyond that. Norweigan Airlines has some amazing deals for December and January. Google Flights and Sky Scanner are other good search tools.
Also, Eurail passes are 20 percent off until Dec. 30. Depending on your spontaneity, with a global pass you can travel practically whenever and wherever you want in Europe.
Step 3. Do some research on the cities you are considering visiting. If you don’t know the language, do most people there speak English? What are cultural norms there? Do you need to apply for a visa just to visit? What is the currency and the exchange rate? Is it safe? Are you going to be miserable if it’s snowing? Can you live out of one bag for a few weeks? (You can).
Step 4. Once you’ve decided on your destination(s), you’ll need to look for accommodations. If you know anyone in the area, there is no shame in asking if you can stay with them for a few nights. I plan to stay with friends I made while studying abroad and use Couchsurfing, which is free, in places where I don’t know anyone. AirBnb is also a fantastic way to meet people and find great accommodations; you can rent anything from a shed to an entire penthouse.
Step 5. The little details include things like: packing light, plane/ train regulations, Wi-Fi and cell service availability and specific sights to check out. It should be noted that getting a passport generally takes between four and six weeks. Last tidbits of advice: bring your student ID for discounts, check in with someone and keep tabs on current events in places you plan to visit to keep safe.
Risa Johnson can be reached at [email protected] and @risamjohnson on Twitter.