I've always wanted to travel to Machu Picchu but am unsure how to get started. Any tips or suggestions?
... feeling miserable in my country and want to get out as soon as possible!
There's two ways to go to Machu Picchu. Both start from Cuzco. The first is hiking; either the classic inca trail, or one of the alternative treks. This entails 3-5 days of full / half day hikes at high altitude (so you need to have good condition and be fully acclimatized to the height). The second is by taking the train (or first bus and then train) to Aguas Calientes, and then the bus to Machu Picchu from there.
The classic inca trail is the only hike through which you'll enter Machu Picchu through the sun gate (the "back entrance", basically), to be there for sunrise. All other hikes see some similar sights en route, but end at Aguas Calientes, to enter Machu Picchu itself the same as if you'd just trained there. The classic inca trail is limited to 500 people a day, including porters, cannot be done independently, and needs to be booked 4-6 months in advance for shoulder and high season (april through october). (Pick one of the tour operators listed here.) Alternative trails, and low season (wet season!) classic inca trail, can generally be booked a couple of weeks in advance, and sometimes you might be lucky and be able to leave the next day, though I still wouldn't risk it. During February, the inca trail is completely closed for cleanup.
Machu Picchu itself, as well as the train to Aguas Calientes, can be booked a couple of days in advance without much risk, though in absolute peak season, I'd make that a couple of weeks, just to be on the safe side.
Cuzco lies at 3400 meters height, so if you're coming from sea level, I'd still strongly recommend visiting a halfway point, altitude wise, for a couple of nights before going there. Arequipa (at 2350 meters) makes for a commonly chosen and quite nice stop on the way there. You can fly from your home country - wherever that might be - to Lima, and then straight on to Arequipa. There's also flights from Arequipa to Cuzco, or you could take the bus. If you're hiking, the hike will go up to 4750 meters, so it pays to acclimatize further, and follow the gringo trail on from Arequipa to Lake Titicaca (at 4000 meters) to acclimatize there for a few days before finally bussing on to Cuzco.
For booking it all, if you're going for the inca trail, your booking will include the entrance ticket and the train back to Cuzco, so you'll only need flights up to Cuzco. If you're not hiking, then your local travel agency should be able to get you a long way there, or you can look at the companies listed here and see what all they offer.
[ Edit: Edited on 14-Aug-2016, at 02:57 by Sander ]