Any trip starts long before boarding. To plan an international trip, we always follow four major steps:
The first step is the base of everything that follows. You can only plan a trip when you have cleared the purpose of the trip, the destination, the duration and how much you want to spend. Virtually the kick-off of your trip.
With these definitions in mind, the second step is the time to research a lot and learn about the destinations, resources, and itineraries. The third step is to organize all this information and draft your detailed itinerary. The last phase is the moment to ensure all documentation is in hand. Then, pack up and go!
To help you on this journey, we have listed 20 tips to plan a trip, check below.
20 essential tips on how to plan an international trip
Purpose of the trip
Before start planning, you must have a clear purpose for this trip. What experiences would you like to have? What do you expect for this trip? Is it a solo trip with friends, couple, family?
From here, if you haven’t thought of anywhere to go, you can start listing some destinations aligned with the purpose of the trip.
Best time of the year to travel
Set the time of year you want to travel and consider the weather conditions.
For example, if you are traveling to Southeast Asia, it is important to read about the monsoon season.
Another tip is to avoid the peak of high seasons because, in addition to contributing to massive tourism, prices are higher with less availability in accommodations, tours and restaurants.
Travel Budget and Daily Expenses
It is essential to have a budget. Consider a spending limit to keep track of finances.
Key Question: How much are you willing to spend on this trip?
Do the following exercise:
Set a total amount you want to spend on the trip, simulate the price of airline tickets plus travel insurance and subtract from the total budget. Divide this amount by the days of your trip, and the result is your daily spending limit. This value represents how much you will have available for accommodation, meals, tours, entertainment and other activities.
That is, if I have $ 5,000 to plan a trip, the airline round-trip ticket plus travel insurance cost $ 2,500, for 20 days, my average daily limit will be $ 125 per day.
Search the average prices at the destination by category (accommodation, meals, tours) and determine if your daily spending limit is in line. Keep in mind that if you visit multiple destinations, you will have a higher cost of transportation.
This is an ongoing exercise and should be reviewed as you update the prices and make your reservations.
Choose your destinations
If you haven’t chosen your destination, now is the time.
Once you have a clear travel purpose, duration, time of year and budget, it is easier to start your list of destinations.
Consider these items as the first step to plan a trip because these definitions are the basis for the next steps.
Passport, visas and other documents
When planning an international trip, be sure to check the passport expiration date and other visa requirements.
You won’t be able to enter another country if your passport is close to expiration (at least 6 months). Make sure you read about the requirements for obtaining a visa in the countries you plan to travel to and its validity. These vary greatly from country to country.
How to spend your money – payment methods
Some people feel more comfortable carrying cash, and others prefer to pay with a credit card, even with additional fees. Although it is a personal choice, it is important to understand each option along with its advantages and disadvantages. The most common ways are cash, credit card and prepaid travel card.
Make sure to check with your credit card operator if there are additional taxes or fees when spending abroad and ATM withdrawal fees in the country you plan to visit. Be sure to notify the credit card operator about the days you will be abroad.
With a travel card, you protect yourself from currency fluctuations, but be aware of additional fees. If the destination currency is different from the card currency (e.g., the card is in EUR and you go to Thailand – THB), you pay an additional conversion fee as a percentage amount on top of each transaction. Today, you can find many digital banks and companies that offer great solutions for spending money abroad, such as Revolut, N26, Wise, and others.
If you just need to send money abroad, we suggest Wise.
Airline tickets are usually the most expensive category of an international trip.
Try to use aggregator sites like Skyscanner, Momondo, and Google Flights. Most of these sites have alert tools for price variations, which helps a lot. We always search through these sites, and after finding the best deal, it takes you to the official website of the airline or online agency. Watch out for promotions!
Design a detailed itinerary
For us, this is the most interesting part of planning a trip, but also the most time-consuming. If you don’t like it or don’t know how to plan itineraries, then it is worth hiring tailor-made trip services.
If you want to plan it all, you can already start to sketch possible itineraries. Which cities would you like to visit, how many days in each city? What about things to do? Is your departure flight in the same airport as the arrival?
Start planning itineraries that allow you to follow through with some reservations such as accommodation, theatre, museums, gastronomic experiences, etc.
Once you defined which cities to visit, make sure you know how to get there and how to move around. Nowadays, there are many options, and everything will depend on your personal preference in terms of comfort, safety and costs. The rome2rio website is great for looking at transportation options.
Travel by plane
If you plan a trip to multiple countries, look at flight aggregator websites, such as Skyscanner, and consider other means of transportation. Besides having a different experience, you might be able to lower your carbon footprint.
Travel by train
Our favorite! Traveling by train is usually very pleasant and adds a lot to the travel experience, often with beautiful scenery on the way. Virtually every country with trains has an official website for evaluating and buying tickets online.
Travel by car
If you prefer, you can also rent a car. More established companies offer the option of picking up the car in one city and delivering it in another, which helps in the planning. We search on Rentcars, which is an aggregator and price comparison for rental cars.
There is also a shared ride platform called BlablaCar. In Europe, it is super popular, we already used it in Portugal, and it worked very well.
Travel by bus
Always emerges as a transportation option between neighboring cities and countries. Some companies help the traveler to buy bus tickets. Busbud is a good option and already covers several locations. There are also well-known local companies that usually offer more options in their home country, such as Redbus in India, Traveloka in Indonesia, etc.
Tip: In Asia, you can purchase any kind of transportation through the 12go Asia website. In Europe, one additional tip is the Omio website.
So what kind of accommodation do you prefer? There are many options, and it is good to align these options with your style and purpose of travel.
Read also: Tips for researching accommodation and making a reservation.
Suppose that you want to meet other travellers during a trip. There are many hostels with shared areas and activities that integrate guests and contribute to a more social environment.
If you want a more immersive experience, you can choose to rent a room at a local resident’s house or even an entire family house with an equipped kitchen to prepare your own meals. A hotel room remains a good option for those seeking more privacy and convenience.
Research neighbourhoods, read reviews and list the best options.
Store your files in the cloud
When planning a trip, be organized is key and I can’t leave these tips out. The best way to make sure you have everything at hand is to have a cloud account for files and notes.
I use Google Drive and Evernote. That’s where I save tickets, receipts, booking confirmations, itinerary notes, and places to visit. Trello is also a good option. Keep a digital copy of all your documents including your passport in the cloud.
You can access everything from anywhere in the world from your phone, tablet and notebook. Another cool tip for organizing travel reservations is to use the Tripit app.
Maps are everything in a traveller’s life! Try to use Google Maps or Maps.me (spoiling our apps tips). Both have the option to download the map for offline access. You can bookmark the places you want to visit, place you already visited and liked, the address of your hotel, etc.
The map will be of great help during your walks and to find places more easily.
The first tip: resist temptation and carry little luggage. In addition to making your life easier between places, you also save money on checked bags.
Carry clothes for a maximum of 10 days, if your trip is longer than this period, wash clothes during travel. It is very easy to find laundries around the cities, including self-service laundries.
To better organize clothes and free up luggage space, we use packing cubes, which is very useful and easy to buy online.
Another good strategy is the capsule wardrobe concept. Define a colour palette and choose clothes that match as much as possible within each other.
Oh, and don’t forget a daypack, which is the everyday backpack. You can usually carry in the cabin one suitcase or backpack (please check the size and weight requirements) and one personal item such as a daypack or purse.
Is travel insurance worthwhile? Yes, it is essential. In addition, many countries require travellers to have travel insurance in order to get a visa. Some credit cards offer travel insurance when the tickets are purchased with the card, so it is good to know if you are eligible.
We recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance. To know more, read our guide with tips to choose travel insurance.
There are lots of different travel apps available. If it doesn’t exist yet, I’m sure someone is already developing it. On the other hand, with so many options it is difficult to know which application to use. To plan a trip, I suggest testing some apps in advance and organizing them by category. Check out some examples below:
- To plan a trip, I suggest testing some apps and organizing them by category.
- Accommodation: Booking.com, Agoda, Hostelworld, Airbnb, Hotel Tonight, Couchsurfing;
- Airfare aggregators: Skyscanner, Momondo, Hopper;
- Transportation: Uber, Cabify, Blablacar, Grab, Eurail, Wanderu, Citymapper;
- Financial: XE Currency, Transferwise, Travel spend;
- Map: Google Maps, Maps.me;
- Cloud: Google Drive, Evernote;
- Languages: Google Translate;
- Restaurants Review: Zomato;
These are examples of apps we like to use, but the list is huge, so it’s always good to research and test before you travel.
We talked about using cloud platforms, apps, maps, but everything can be a bit limited if you rely solely on wifi. If you want more independence, buy a local chip to access the internet without wifi. Many destinations offer plans for tourists up to 1 month at fair prices.
If possible, avoid buying at the airport as you will pay more for the chip.
Even with all your documents stored in the cloud, it is important to keep some hard copies, especially to present at immigration.
Bring with you a copy of the travel insurance, hotel reservations or invitation letter, passport and return ticket.
Health and Vaccines
Research on vaccines needed at the entrance of the country you plan to travel.
When we made our long-term trip to Southeast Asia, we visited a Traveller’s Health Center in our hometown. It was very helpful. Check if your city has one.
Find out if there is a free walking tour in the city and include it in your calendar. It is the best way to know the city as soon as you arrive. You can get more information about the city and meet other people. Tours are often conducted in English and Spanish.
Be sure to do some food tourism activities, it is a great way to integrate with the local culture and learn its nuances through gastronomy.
Read more: What is Food Travel
Have a flexible schedule
Let the trip surprise you, and for that you need flexibility.
If you set the agenda too busy, you may miss opportunities. Often the most memorable moments are those that we do not plan.
So planning a good trip doesn’t mean doing everything you want, but doing everything possible while enjoying it. Do your research, plan efficiently, leave some space on the agenda, and be amazed.