The first step to planning any trip is always the most difficult: deciding on a destination. With so many places to visit and so much to do and learn from each place, how is a traveller supposed to decide? My decision for Southeast Asia was influenced by of the abundance of other backpackers, and the fact that it's dirt cheap to travel around for a few months (for the most part, but we'll get to that later). As a first time lone backpacker these were high on the list of importance for my first destination.

Thailand had been on my list for a while because of it's beautiful scenery and it's abundance of elephant sanctuaries (and who are we kidding, I wanted to get a full moon party checked off my bucket list), and I had a friend travelling in Indonesia who asked me to come meet her for the last month of my trip. So it was set. Thailand for two months (one month with a group tour and one month alone), and Indonesia for one.

Every traveller has different reasons for choosing their destination, whether it be art, surfing, hiking, food and everything in between. I found the easiest way to make my decision was to focus on activities I wanted to do and things I wanted to see. My obsession for elephants led me straight to Thailand. I decided that as a first time lone traveller it would be best to start with a group tour in order to get familiarized with the culture and the language before setting off on my own. I chose to tour with Beach Travellers, but there are several other options out there such as Life Before Work and Free and Easy Travel companies. I would highly recommend a group tour for anyone who is nervous to travel on their own in a new country for the first time. The guides were very knowledgable about the country and the culture, and answered any questions we had to help us out. During my 25 days with the Beach Travellers crew we visited central and southern areas of Thailand, where everything was planned and organized for us. Experiencing how the many different modes of transportation operated, from tuk tuk's to longtail boats, as well as learning the culture do's and don'ts from the guides put me at ease and gave me the confidence to venture off on my own.

Besides the group tour, the only other thing I had set in stone for this trip was a week long volunteer position with Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. As someone who's previous travel experiences were mainly focussed on volunteering, I knew I had to give back to this beautiful country in any way that I could. And who wouldn't want to hang out in the jungle with elephants for a week?!

I found out quickly that there is a lot to think about when planning a trip, especially one that lasts for such a long period of time. However, after all is said and done I strongly believe that choosing the destination is the most difficult part. The flights, the visas, the activities; all of that will come as you go. There's a reason every backpacker travels, and each trip holds a different purpose. There is a reason you are going. Maybe it's to learn how to surf, maybe it's to find yourself, or maybe it's to figure out what the reason is. Whatever it may be, listening to that reason is the best way to choose where in the world you should be next.

Caylie Smith

Not Your Average Travel

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