Planning an international trip can feel overwhelming and even a bit daunting, but taking the time to plan ahead will not only make your trip way less stressful, but it will also help you feel less overwhelmed so you can actually enjoy yourself once you get to your destination! That’s why it’s important to make sure you know what you want to do, where you’re going to stay, and how you’re going to get around while you’re traveling. We’ve planned for so many different international trips, and after a lot of trial and error, we’ve found that these are the things we always make sure we’ve thought about and planned before we leave, so we’re not hit with too many surprises once we land. Here’s the best way to plan for a trip abroad:
1. Pick where you want to go and create a budget: Decide where you want to go and create a budget. Traveling abroad can get expensive quickly if you’re not careful, which is why we always suggest creating a budget first. Knowing how much money you have to spend will help you choose the best place to go and which activities you can afford to do during your trip.
2. Find a great flight deal: Sign up for email notifications for flight deals. We use Dollar Flight Club’s premium subscription, but they also have a free service. On Dollar Flight Club, you can pick your departure airport and they’ll send you email notifications that let you know when there are cheap flights out of that airport. Once you get that email, you’ll know you’re getting a good deal and you can go ahead and book it. Another way find flight deals is by using Google Flights. When you’re choosing departure dates, if you select the month view and are flexible with your dates, you can see which dates are the cheapest to fly. Even though it’s not always possible, you can save a lot of money if you’re flexible with which days you fly.
Sign up for dollar flight club here
3. Create a spreadsheet: We love creating spreadsheets to organize our plans. That way everything we want to do, where we want to eat, and where we plan to stay can all be written out in one place. Start by adding in your travel dates and then create a rough itinerary by listing out the activities you want to do on each day. Here’s an example of how you can create a spreadsheet: International Travel Planning Spreadsheet.
4. Research: Read travel blogs, go to Pinterest, or search on Instagram to find inspiration for what you want to do during your trip. Pinterest is a great way to find good travel blogs and find inspiration for places to go and things to see. One of our favorite travel blogs is The Blonde Abroad, because Kiersten has tons of information on so many different places around the world. We always suggest reading blogs written by people who are similar to you, because then you’ll know you can trust their style, the type of food the eat, and the way they travel. And that way you’ll know that their suggestions are likely things you’ll be interested in doing as well.
5. Fill in your itinerary: Once you have an idea of the activities that you want to do, go to Google Maps to start organizing and filling in your itinerary. Within Google Maps, you can pick the places that are a priority for you on your trip and star them. To create a star, click on “save” on the left hand side and select “star place.” Then you can start to see which activities are in the same area. By starring things on Google Maps, you can easily see which activities are in which area.
Once you have an idea of the activities you want to do, start filling in your itinerary. If two or three things are in the same area, then you’ll know that you should do those things on the same day. And if there’s something else nearby that looks fun/worth checking out, you can add that to your itinerary for that day too! To make sure everything is done as “timely” as possible, stick to one area of town each day. That way you won’t be crossing back and forth across town going to different places, and you’ll also save money by not paying for taxis or other transportation.
Once you know the list of things you want to do and what areas they’re in, then you can start to fill in your itinerary and put certain activities on certain dates. While you’re planning, always check to see when certain activities (museums, restaurants, etc) are open. You can easily “google” the activity and then see what times it’s open right there.
For example, The Louvre in Paris is closed on Tuesdays, so you’re not going to want to visit The Louvre on Tuesday. You’ll also want to make sure you visit your “starred activities” around The Louvre on a different day. Move all of those activities to the next day and then pick a different area of town to explore during your Tuesday in Paris. Obviously this doesn’t apply to all activities, because if you’re going to a beach it’ll probably always be open, but there are few things worse than flying across the world and showing up somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit only to find out that it’s closed. So it’s always better to check beforehand.
6. Book your accommodations: Now that you know what activities you’ll be doing each day and where you’ll be spending most of your time, it’s much easier to decide where you want to stay. Book your accommodations close to the things you want to do, so you won’t waste time or money getting back and forth to your hotel every day.
We always use Hotels.com to book our hotels, because not only do they always have great deals, but they also have a reward system where your 11th night is “free.” What they do is take the average amount that you’ve spent on the previous 10 nights you’ve booked through Hotels.com and then you get that many dollars toward your 11th night. So say you’ve spent $100 on 10 nights at hotels, then on your 11th night, you’ll get $100 off. It’s essentially 10% off, which is a pretty good deal if you ask us, so that’s why we always book through Hotels.com. You can also search for hotels based on neighborhood or attractions in the city, which makes it easier to find the best place to stay.
Book your hotel here
7. Book transportation: If you have everything booked ahead of time, then you won’t have to worry about anything once you show up. There’s nothing more stressful than showing up to a foreign city and not knowing how to get around or where you’re going to sleep, which is why we always suggest booking everything ahead of time.
Are you going to a city with good public transportation, like New York or Paris? Then plan to use the subway or metro. Are you planning a road trip? We rent cars through Expedia. Do you need to hire a driver? Are you going to take a train between cities or fly? These are all good things to think about and book ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about them when you get there.
Book your rental car here
8. Buy tickets to your “must do” activities ahead of time: If you book tickets ahead of time, you’ll save yourself time by avoiding lines and you might even be able to get a better deal. If there’s a museum you know you want to go to, or if there are certain activities like skydiving or snorkeling, you can generally buy those tickets online ahead of time. Then you’ll also be able to fill out your itinerary better, and it’ll save you so much time when you’re at your destination. You’ll also avoid showing up somewhere to buy a ticket and finding out it’s completely booked for the day or that you have to wait a few hours before you can go in.
9. Complete your itinerary: Fill in the rest of your spreadsheet and make sure all of your activities, places you want to eat, transportation, and accommodations are booked. We also always suggest leaving a few hours open every day for “free” time. That way your days won’t feel too rushed and you’ll have time to do things that you stumble upon as you’re out wandering and exploring the city. We also try to leave one or two days on our itinerary completely empty. We might add one place to eat or one thing to do on that day, but other than that, we leave the rest of the day open, so we can relax on a beach, go back to a place we enjoyed earlier on our trip, wander aimlessly, or even just relax and take a nap.
Other things to Consider:
Consider the local culture and customs: Remember that when you’re traveling internationally, you’ll likely be visiting a place that has a very different culture and lifestyle from your own. That can mean anything from different meal times to the way people dress or certain religious customs and seeing things in public that might not be seen as “socially acceptable” in your home country. Be sure to google “holidays in [the country you’re visiting]” during the month you’re planning to visit. That way you’ll know if certain places will be closed or if there will be festivities going on that might impact your trip.
Think about what to wear: For example, if you’re going to the Middle East, make sure you’re bringing clothes that are appropriate for the culture. Bring long sleeves, scarves, etc. so you can visit mosques. If you’re going to Africa and planning on going on a safari, make sure you’re bringing appropriate clothes for a safari, i.e. long pants, neutral colors, a hat, etc.
Get a great travel credit card: Make sure you have a travel credit card that at least helps you avoid paying international travel fees. Certain travel credit cards have other perks like rental car insurance, 3x points on travel expenses, lounge access at airports, etc., but at a minimum you’ll want to make sure you’re not paying an additional fee every time you swipe your credit card abroad. Our favorite travel credit cards are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Capital One Venture.
Tip: If you use the Capital One Venture to book a hotel on www.hotels.com/venture, you’ll get 10x miles on your booking!
Open a bank account that doesn’t have ATM fees: We use Charles Schwab, because it reimburses all of your ATM fees. That way you can pull out money from any ATM anywhere in the world without having to pay a $5-$10 withdrawal fee.
Get a passport: If you’re traveling internationally, you have to have a passport. If you’re a U.S. Citizen and and don’t already have a passport, you can apply for a passport here. It generally takes about six weeks for your passport to arrive after you’ve applied. You can pay more to have it expedited if you need to, but we suggest planning in advance, so you can save that money (and spend it on something fun during your trip). Also, most countries won’t allow you to enter if your passport expires within six months from the final date of your trip. So to avoid any issues getting into the country you want to visit, apply for a new passport if your passport is expiring within six months.
Check for visa requirements: Certain countries require you to apply and pay for a visa. Some countries allow you to pay for your visa ahead of time online, other countries let you pay for your visa on arrival at the airport, and other countries don’t require a visa at all (just a passport). If you google “visa requirements for [country you want to visit] for citizens of [your country],” you can figure out whether or not you’ll need a visa.
Check the CDC website for vaccine/immunization requirements: You can see what the CDC suggests for your travels based on your needs here. Some countries require you to show proof of immunization upon arrival.
Make copies of your passport: Be sure to bring the photo copies of your passport with you (and store them in a different place than your actual passport), so in case anything happens, you’ll have a copy of your passport and hopefully no issues.
Traveling internationally can seem scary, but it’s also such an incredible experience that it’s totally worth it! It opens your eyes to how amazing and beautiful the world is and gives you an opportunity to experience something completely different from what you’re used to experiencing every day. And the best part about planning ahead for your trip abroad is that once you get there, you’re free to enjoy yourself and just have fun!