Eager to travel but don’t know where to start?

Swamped with information from people online and in-person making you doubt where to go?

Or ready to relocate to a new life overseas but there’s another place in mind and you’re having trouble deciding?

If you’ve ever stared at a world map and felt excited but overwhelmed by the possibilities at the same time, this post is for you.

Many people make their travel or relocation decisions based on a whim. It might not feel impulsive at the time but many journeys abroad are the result of little more than a glimpsed advert and a friend’s referral.

This is fine if you have conviction in where you’re going abroad or you’ve been to a place before. Otherwise, the decisions risk being narrow and rash.

Journeys abroad epitomise opportunity cost—forgoing the ability to do one thing because you’ve committed to another.

Going abroad is a deeper decision than for example, picking between pairs of shoes. By choosing a country to be in, you’re stating that you want your precious time and money to be spent there and not one of the around 200 others existing in the world or your place of origin.

Therefore, even if you’re going abroad on a holiday, it’s important that your decision-making behind where you go is robust to set you up for the best experience. The following shows a process for helping you optimise your decisions about where you go whatever your purpose for going abroad is. It’ll provide insight into what to consider via a unique decision-making framework exercise.

Passport power and visa freedom

Before we examine the internal process behind going abroad, we need to make sure that no external circumstances prevent us in the first place.

You may have a burning desire to travel to a certain country as soon as you can but if your passport or lack of visa doesn’t let you, it won’t happen.

For travellers, you may already know which countries your passport lets you travel to but it’s worth double-checking so you can confirm if and how long you can stay there for visa free. Travelscope and Passports.io are two resources that provide clear visual information for all passport holders about visa free access. If you’re purpose is travel or tourism and you’re open-minded to a range of potential destinations, these sites are a valuable starting point to scope your possibilities.

For relocators and expats, you’ll need to carry out a deep dive on the types of visas you can get to live and work in the country. It’s best to refer to the governmental websites or consulates for this as they’ll always contain the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on visas for your situation.

It’s important that you are thorough and realistic with examining visa possibilities for countries you have in mind. 

Being thorough means scoping for the best potential visa for your lifestyle choice. Many people applying for long-term visas for the first time incorrectly assume that the only types available are academic and work-related. Casting a wide net among your research into visas can be revealing. You might find a Working Holiday visa allowing you greater flexibility than a specialist worker one or a Cultural Activities visa allowing you to pursue a hobby without paying large tuition fees at a university.

Being realistic means being honest that your current situation allows you to obtain the visa by meeting all the requirements. If you’re not honest with meeting visa parameters and apply anyway, you risk delayed disappointment and wasted time that could have been spent focusing on other options.

Examine which countries are possible and realistic for going abroad to—you’ll consider them as part of the following internal process measures.

Going Abroad Passport

Interest metrics

It’s no surprise that aligning your interests with your destination country will make for a better experience.

Yet what will make your decision on which country to go to sound is being explicit about your interests through externalisation.

This means writing your interests down making them easier to consider.

Everyone has plenty of interests—if you ask someone to list all their interests on the spot, they’ll almost certainly forget to mention some. If we’re not explicit about our interests by externalising them, we can’t expect to hold them in mind perfectly when assessing where we’re going abroad to.

Write down any interests that are important for your purpose of going abroad. Relocators may want to focus on interests related to work, recreational clubs and family. Travellers may focus more on sights, one-off leisure events and weather.

Whatever your interests, write them down with no filter. Allow yourself the freedom to note whatever you feel you want during your time abroad. This is known as a brain dump—getting all your ideas out so none are missed.

Next, you’ll want to consider what I call ‘Reverse Interests’ or a Via Negativa approach. These are things that are in our interest but we only realise them indirectly, they don’t tend to come to mind via active reflection. As an example, we don’t typically consider saving money as an active interest but it is within most people’s interest to cut costs. This Via Negativa approach takes into account these important metrics we may otherwise miss.

To access these, think about things you don’t want to happen during your time overseas. Common scenarios people want to avoid include the aforementioned spending too much money or feeling like your personal safety is at risk.

Once you have those undesirables in mind, turn them into a metric of interest through active wording. For instance, ‘avoid spending too much money’ becomes ‘Save on costs/Cost’ and ‘not feel unsafe’ becomes ‘Safety’.

After collecting both active and reverse interests, it’s time to simplify by condensing your list down into the most important interest metrics.

You can simplify your list by choosing the interests which are the most valuable or by grouping multiple interests into one metric. For example, the interests ‘hiking’, ‘cultural workshops’ and ‘day trips’ could be grouped together under ‘Side trips and experiences’.

You’ll want to keep your final interest metrics list to around 7-12 items. This will help you prioritise for what’s most significant when in the country as well as smooth the weighted decision making framework (below).

Mapping out your values

It’s hard to adjust to a place long-term if it’s not aligned with your values.

Values give us direction in everything we do whether we realise or not.

Compared to our interests, our values are even less clear since we rarely externalise or speak about them directly. Mapping out our values for the purposes of moving abroad ensures our direction is aligned with our destination.

Much like the externalisation of our interests, mapping out values is an exercise in self-reflection. We need to become perceptive to the qualities we deem most significant. You may know some of your core values already but these questions can assist you further:

– What do you stand for?

– How do you want to behave as a person?

– How do you want others to consider you?

– How do you want to be treated?

– How do you want to treat other people?

Write down your answers to these questions and choose a word or two to encapsulate the core value those answers point towards. For instance, the answer ‘I want to gain knowledge for development’ can be captured via the value ‘Learning’.

Like the interests list, you’ll likely have a surplus of values which will need to be simplified into a core list of the most significant. As with the interest metrics, you’ll want to keep your list of values concentrated to no more than a handful of items.

Once you’ve outlined your core values, it’s time for a synthesis with your interest metrics list to finalise a list of items to use as part of a decision making framework. 

Go through your values and consider if any of them are applicable to the process of going abroad and whether you can include any as a metric. Since values are qualities and not only interests, many of them won’t map neatly as metrics and you’ll probably only need to add a few at most to that final list. For example, the value of ‘Meticulousness’ might be a key quality in your life but is difficult to include in an interest metrics list since it’s a value that pervades everything you do regardless of whether you’re abroad or not. Make sure you maintain a reasonable amount of metrics on the final list of no more than a dozen or so.

As this deals with the fundamental qualities that orient how we lead our lives, the process of mapping out your values is more relevant to those relocating and moving abroad than those on shorter trips. Nonetheless, travellers will still likely find the process of mapping out values insightful. The externalising of values can be used for future reference and you never know if a value finds its way onto your metrics list and transforms how you think about an upcoming trip.

Weighted decision-making framework for going abroad

Now that you’ve finalised a list of metrics, it’s time to use these as the framework for making decisions about the country you’ll be going abroad to. 

By making a weighted system of the metrics to compare your option of countries, you’ll create the ultimate combination of a quantitative analysis with a qualitative assessment to power your decision.

To make the framework, begin by listing out your interest metrics on separate rows in a column.

Then make a column next to the first one called ‘Weight’. In this column, assign a percentage weighting to each metric corresponding to its importance when going abroad. It’s essential that the total percentage score of all the weightings combined totals to 100% (see the example image below).

Following this, next to these columns list the countries in consideration in their own columns. You’ll want to mark each country out of 10 in how well you think it meets each metric. Be as objective as possible.

When you have both the weightings and country marks, the final part of the process is to calculate a weighted score for each country by multiplying the weighting percentage with the marks for all the metrics. You then sum all the scores together to end up with a total score for each country.

Going Abroad Weighted Decision Making Framework
NB. The above Weighted Decision Making Framework is purely an example and should not be taken as representing the author’s own metrics or scoring opinions of countries

The final scores for each country represent an unbiased quantification of your thinking process behind going abroad. Even though they are ‘self-generated’ in the sense that only your own objectives were used in the process, they provide another perspective on favourable countries for your purpose in life.

Due to the powerful combination of quantitative and qualitative assessment, the countries that score highest usually work out as the ideal choices for any individual. Since the framework prioritises what you want at the deepest level of meaning to you, selecting one of the high scoring options is the alignment of destination with personal direction you’re looking for.

Be aware that the end result of the framework is not supposed to be an unquestioning conclusion about where to go. While more often than not you’ll end up going to the highest scoring countries in your framework, no quantification should be taken as an absolute ruling on your decisions. Determining your choice of country is not pure mathematics. Instead, the framework should act as a guide to aid you with an unbiased perspective before you make your choice. Having this tool in your box ensures you start off your lifestyle design abroad in the best way possible.


A lot of decisions about where to travel or move to are more impulsive than most people would care to admit. The risk is that we end up in a place that isn’t suited to us.

By first understanding that going abroad is one of the largest opportunity costs we’ll ever face in our lives, we can internalise the importance of being thorough in our decision-making behind where we go.

At the start of a better decision-making process, you’ll want to scope which countries are doable. Be thorough and realistic with the research on visas or visa-free access to ensure countries under consideration aren’t the result of mere wishful thinking.

Externalise your interests by writing them down. Do the same for your core values. By carrying out these processes of internal reflection, you’ll understand the objectives most significant to you when going abroad.

Using the metrics discovered via self-reflection in a weighted decision-making framework leverages the power of qualitative assessment with quantitative analysis. The end scores will provide a more objective viewpoint on a country’s compatibility with your lifestyle goals abroad.

The decision-making framework may not always be needed when going abroad such as for those who have prior conviction on where they want to holiday. But chances are at some point, you’ll want more clarity on where you choose to spend your precious time and money. The decision-making framework for going abroad sets you up in the best way possible by aligning your destination with your lifestyle direction.