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Do you dig deep inside Instagram? Harass your friends for advice?  Tick off an endless bucket list?

Sometimes, inspiration for your next big trip can take the form of a single photo. Or getting back surprising 23andMe results and thinking, “Hey, why don’t I go to my homeland?!” There are so many ways to decide where to go and what to do — even if you don’t want to fall down the Google rabbit hole for hours. Here are the best ways to figure out where to disperse all those extra points and miles in 2018 — with extra wisdom from our TPG Lounge on Facebook.

1. See where your points can take you

This one might seem obvious to TPG diehards, but it’s also the most important! 

Michael A. scopes out TPG for ideas, then says, “I determine feasibility by seeing United and Hilton award availability. If everything aligns, I book!”

2. Follow sites with advice and keep a running list

You’re already on TPG (yay!) and we’re happy to highlight everything from destinations to hit to restaurants to try. Consistently following a few sites will make you aware of trending places (if that’s your thing), even if you’re not planning a trip for the immediate future. Try keeping a running list of places you hear about that you want to go. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands because (god forbid) you’re suddenly laid off or uncover a few extra vacation days, you won’t have to waste time researching where to go. You’ll already know.

3. Ask the most well-traveled people you know

Instead of swiping past their gorgeous photos on Instagram and cursing them under your breath, turn all that useless envy into action — ask other people for advice. Instagram influencers sometimes respond to every comment (all the better to grow their follow count) or will chat over direct message, so if you have a specific question and want their advice, don’t be shy. 

4. Pick an event to attend (not a destination)

Food bashes, film and music festivals, or TED-style conferences can inspire trips to far-flung places. One added bonus? You won’t have to decide what to do when you get there — that part’s all planned. 

Take some advice from Kevin W.: “I usually follow the music festivals! When I went to Croatia last year, I had no thoughts about going there until I decided to go to Ultra Europe.”

Or Grant G.: “Most of my travels are domestic, but I plan my trips around concerts and music festivals, and always add a day or so to explore whatever city I’m in.”

(Photo by Andrew Ruiz on Unsplash)
(Photo by Andrew Ruiz on Unsplash)

5. Do something sporty

If you don’t want to bask in the sun at Coachella, why not bask in the sun during 13.1 miles? There are half marathons, marathons, and cycling tours all across the country. Tracy Y. packs her best shoes: “One of the most fun forms of inspiration I use is the Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon site. I go to cities I haven’t been before for a 4-day weekend and walk a half marathon. It’s a fun way to take a walking tour of a new city (if you don’t mind walking 13.1 miles).”

6. Look at flight deals first

Most people think in reverse — they pick a destination, then find a flight. But if you keep an eye on non-stop flight deals and alerts, you can snag tickets to a place you had never even dreamed of visiting. Says Jan T.: “Some places wouldn’t have crossed my mind until I’m surfing a travel site and see airfare and five nights at a killer all Inclusive and go “Hey, ever heard of Akumal? I guess we’re going there next.”

7. Tap into Google Flights

Or skip the flight deal middleman and go straight to the G-man. Yogi S. had great advice if your budget and flexibility take priority: “I go on Google Flights, type in the start location, what I can afford and search for all possible locations. I do this about once a week and depending on when I can get off work, I search again and book flights. Every week I find new inspirations for my future visits.”

8. Corral your friends

If your own ideas are feeling a little stale, tap into the collective hive mind of your friends and encourage each other to book a flight deal ASAP.

Love this from Wanda M.: “I have a group of eight friends that travel together. We never have a plan. When we find a flight deal, we sent out a notice and book. I wasn’t able to go on the last trip but they flew to Cambodia r/t for $400 from NYC.”

9. Consider time sensitivity

If you have too many places to go and feel like there’s not enough time in the world, it’s time to jump on the most urgent plans. Heidi S. has been trying to prioritize and is looking at “places I’m worried won’t be around much longer b/c of climate change; places that are rapidly changing & won’t have the same vibe; & experiences I’m worried I won’t have the energy for (or fun travel buddies!) later in life.”

10. Use your social accounts wisely

Facebook and Instagram practically ooze with beautiful beach photos. They’re a great way to gather info and ideas well before planning anything. And don’t deny the power of Pinterest. Rick M. saw the light: “We went to Prague and Budapest because my wife saw a photo of Prague on Pinterest and asked, ‘Is this photo real?’ It was a beautiful shot, and Prague lived up to it!”

(Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash)

11. Try to escape the weather

Why not just follow the sun? Winter’s apparently gonna last all year, so checking out the weather and randomly picking a destination that’s a few degrees warmer sounds smart. Thanks to Stacy P. for the advice.

12. Steal from film, television, and books

Heading to the shooting location — or at least the similar region — of one of your favorite shows will not only assert your intense fandom, but give the show extra layers of depth before you watch the next season.

Or your reality can take a cue from reality TV. Alex V. gets ideas from watching House Hunters International, which captures the spirit of a place — not to mention three homes you might imagine yourself living in.

Emma M. also gets advice from places she’s read about in books: “The Historian quickly became one of my favorite books, so my next trip is going to be Istanbul and work my way up to Czech Republic through the East.”

13. Make friends with food

It’s truly the way to a city’s heart. In deciding where to go next, Jerry H. discovered, “Knowing what I want to eat and going to the birthplace of that dish is a big factor.”

14. Dream up an experience

Too often we get bogged down by country-hopping or city-dipping. What if instead you concentrated on a 360-degree view of what you’ll actually do when there?

Says Darcy F.: “My husband and I have a new rule: you must have an experience in mind as opposed to just a country. In other words, ‘I would like to visit Sydney to go to Reptile Park to see the free range Kangaroos,’ rather than, ‘I want to go to Australia.’ No more passport stamping without actual travel goals.”

15. Start a different kind of checklist

Rather than ticking off countries, are there other kinds of places to hit? Visiting all 50 states is a popular domestic goal, but this idea from Julie R. is also genius: “My husband and I made a plan to visit all 60 National Parks over the next 25 years. We will visit them when they are having big birthdays and we are two years into the idea.” 

Now they can travel together — and have a built-in way to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. We bow down. Or there’s Ainsley S.’s tactic: “My husband and I have a goal to play disc golf in every state in America. We have checked off 14 states so far.”

16. Throw a wild card

If you’ve got time on your hands, why not just show up at the airport? Here’s how David F. decides where to go next: “Wherever there are first class seats open and few people listed on stand by.” Or listen to this idea that’s not for the faint of heart, from Matthew D.: “At the end of the day, I open Google flights find the cheapest spot on the map rush to the airport an hour later and hop on with 15 minutes to spare.”

Finally, you could quite literally throw a wild card like Matt M., who has one solid piece of advice for choosing your next destination: “Throw darts at a map.”

Now there’s no excuse not to know where you’re going next.

Featured photo by Twenty20

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