9 Steps to Planning International Travel
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Planning international travel can be daunting, but the anticipation of exploring a new location makes this one of my favorite things to do. Although overwhelming, if broken down into small steps, planning can be a simple and even fun part of travel. Some people like to avoid this as much as possible by booking pre-planned trips, cruises, or all-inclusive resorts that take care of planning and organizing everything for you. While that can be relaxing, and we've enjoyed a couple of those experiences, it's just not our style. The thrill and uncertainty of figuring it out ourselves is part of the joy of adventure.
Here's how roll when it comes to international travel planning:
1. Choose a destination. We typically do this a little differently than most people. Yes, we have our lists of places we'd love to go, but we're not just working our way down the list starting with the most desirable location. That ends up being quite costly, so our main criteria is flight cost. Since we want to go to so many places, we're pretty flexible with location. We monitor flights, and when a great deal presents itself, we take it! (This is Andy's forte. More on finding these great deals coming soon.)
2. Look into travel requirements. Are visas required ahead of time or upon arrival? How much will they cost? How long are we allowed to stay in the country? Do we need to get any vaccinations? These are often time-sensitive things that I want to have settled right away.
3. Learn about the destination. This is my favorite part. I start consuming information like I'm studying for a high-stakes test, but it's way more fun. First stop: Lonely Planet. We first referenced one while road tripping down the eastern coast of Spain and now buy them for nearly every international location we visit.
We love these guidebooks and haven't been let down by one yet. Learning the history of a place is so much more fun when coupled with the anticipation of actually getting to experience the place. I read up on the overall history of the country and what different locations currently offer for travelers. Here are a few that we've loved:
4. Get opinions from other travelers. Once I get ideas for places to visit and activities to do, I want to know what real people think of those places and experiences. Google is great for this, but I also have a few favorite, trusted bloggers that I turn to because they have similar travel styles and I know their perspective will be in line with my own. (Complete list of awesome travel bloggers also coming soon.)
5. Figure out how to get around. After figuring out specific locations I want to visit within a country, I look into how to get from place to place. Is there a train system or buses? Is there a tourist pass that includes multiple forms of public transportation for a multi-day period of time? Is this a location in which driving a rental car is feasible? Are locations so far apart that we need to take short flights or ferries? These are all important to know ahead of time, as some things will need to be booked prior to departure.
6. Decide which activities to do. Usually there are way more things that I want to do in a location than we have time for and often some of them need to be booked in advance. Taking travel within the country and other travelers' options into consideration, I choose the things I want to do most and make sure to book things that may fill up ahead of time. Generally this includes visiting historical sites, hiking beautiful locations, touring wineries, and taking cooking or other classes. I'll look for what is unique about the location and make sure that we're trying something new and exciting.
7. Book rooms. Lonely Planet is great for painting a picture of a location and breaking down different areas of a city to help tourists decide where to stay. Generally staying near activities we've booked is a good call, but understanding the composition of the neighborhood is helpful to match the experience I have with my expectations. For example, if I'm looking for a more relaxing stay, I won't want to book a room in a party district or I won't get any sleep. Once we've figured out where we want to stay, Booking is great for actually making it happen. Most properties include free cancellation, which is great when your plans change last minute.
8. Pick restaurants to try. At this point, the major parts of the trip are booked, and I can continue to learn more about the location and plan some finer details -- namely, what we're going to eat! My Lonely Planet books usually end up riddled with post-its at this stage. I look for places to grab a bite in all the areas we'll be in, but we can never get to them all. So much local food, so little time!
9. Practice the language. This is definitely optional and a step that most people won't take, but something that goes along with learning about the destination. I never learn very much, but the few words I do get really make the difference when visiting small, local restaurants and shops. Locals appreciate the effort and it's fun to practice using the newly learned words and phrases in the destination. Also, practicing speaking the local language is the best way to improve new language skills, so I figure I should take advantage of my surroundings while I can! Lonely planet also helps with this. Their phrasebooks are lifesavers when in a location without a lot of English speakers, as they allow for quick reference of commonly used travel phrases. Here are some we've come to appreciate:
Nine steps complete, all that's left is packing up, boarding the flight, and enjoying the adventure!
What other steps are part of your planning process?
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