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The best solution to the best problem ever.

August 20, 2008

I have a problem.

A problem that I used to pine for.  An exciting, giddiness-inducing problem.

It all started with an innocuous email from the Powers That Be at work:

“It’s been a rough few months and it’s only going to get worse between now and September 15th. As many of you have worked national holidays and weekends this summer, do keep in mind that those days can be used this fall.”

[cue choir of angels singing “hallelujah!” ]

A quick chat with my senior revealed that I could easily take off 2-3 days between September 16 and October 7.

[cue second choir of angels]

The little travel-obsessed wheels in my head cranked into overdrive. The hour I spent each night reading travel blogs and travelogues and guide books turned into three. (note: my addiction to travel related media has become so all encompassing that BF actually gave me my own user account on his Mac so I can keep all of my bookmarks and preferences organized ‘just so.’) But. After a whole week of research I hadn’t nailed down a destination.

I had looked through all of my events sites (where & when are the interesting festivals/concerts/bull runnings). I had done my usual Flickr check (type in a destination and see what pictures come up. If you see a lot of cool places, go there.) I talked to people at work. I reviewed my ‘must see’ lists.

Nothing.

This is when my problem became clear: I had too MANY options.

Where should we go? Seriously – what do you pick when you have 4 days to spare and all of Europe at your doorstep?

(like I said, isn’t this the BEST problem ever? don’t worry, I’m counting my blessings as I type.)

The driving force behind this “problem” is that there are no obvious constraints.

Home base a problem? Nope. Brussels is SO central that everything from Dublin to London to Vienna to Prague to Barcelona to Rome to Copenhagen is a possibility.

Perhaps cost will narrow the list? Not really. 3 big factors come into play here:

1. Traveling in Europe in the fall is relatively reasonable. Example: on Ryanair.com I’ve found ROUNDTRIP flights to Barcelona for 25 EUR/person or to Dublin for 15 EUR(!)/person. The most expensive flight I’ve found is Brussels:Vienna for a whopping 90 Eur/person.

2. Boyfriend and I have no problems staying in super-budget hotels or hostels (provided they are clean & safe).

3. I spend so many hours at work that I never have a chance to spend money. That fact + my inherent penny-pinchingness means I’ve built up a nice little travel fund.

So no, budget isn’t a limiter.

Preferences? I guess this could narrow it down a little but it takes a lot of researching to figure out what area is best for any given activity. I’d love a relaxing beach weekend but which is better – Barcelona or Alicante? And which one will hiking or shopping or sightseeing if it’s not beach weather in late September?

So I had quite the conundrum on my hands. All dressed up with too many places to go.

Just as I was preparing to pick a page at random from my Rick Steve’s Guide to Western Europe I found this site: www.travelmuse.com.

[cue ANOTHER choir of angels]

It’s like the site was tailor made for this EXACT situation.

From their ‘about us’ section:

Whether you are looking for destination ideas on where to take your next family vacation or you have all the details figured out, TravelMuse makes the entire planning process easy for you. TravelMuse combines original editorial content and destination city guides with powerful planning tools.

  • Find your ideal destination based on your personal preferences and needs though the TravelMuse Inspiration Finder.
  • Gather trip research from TravelMuse or anywhere on the Web into the TravelMuse Planner and share with family and friends.
  • Get inspiration from stimulating travel photography and relevant professional editorial content focused on family travel.

Essentially, you put in when you’d like to travel, your budget, the kinds of activities you are interested in, where your home base is and how long you are willing to spend on a plane and they give you a whole list of packages! If you see one that is PERFECT you click a few fields and it’s yours. (although vacation planning gives me as much joy as chocolate, it’s nice to have someone point you in the right direction. to INSPIRE you.)

With help from this site I’ve managed to narrow the field to three cities: Barcelona (Spain), Lausanne (Switzerland) and Lisbon (Portugal). Each of which can be had for less than $400 USD/person. (!!)

check it out yourself! On a lark I left all of the fields the same but switched my home base from Brussels to Pittsburgh and found lots of great packages for under $500/person. If I were there now it’d be a tossup between Montreal, San Francisco, Vail and Banff (can you tell I want to go skiing soon?).

I only have one warning: the site is kind of a blackhole. I innocently went on last night expecting to look around for just 20 minutes. An hour and a half later it was 1am and I was still reading up on Laussane. So. Browse at your own risk. Or with an egg timer.

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