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How to Plan an International Trip: Practical Tips for Traveling Abroad

If you’re wondering how to plan an international trip and feel overwhelmed, I completely understand. There are just so many details to think about when it comes to travel planning, especially international travel planning. Don’t worry, I’ve been planning trips overseas for years and I’ve perfected this art through arranging many trips abroad.

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By following this easy, step-by-step plan, you’ll have the best international trip plans ever! You can apply this practical trip planning advice to any journey, pretty much anywhere in the world. You’ll need to mostly do the same things to prepare for travel anywhere you go. Within no time, you’ll be jet setting across the world!

How to plan an international trip

If you’re looking for how to plan a trip overseas, you’re in luck. Here are some of the basics that we’ll cover in this article that will help with your international travel planning:

  • Choosing a destination and the basics
  • Booking your flight, accommodations, and transportation
  • Researching your itinerary
  • Choosing travel insurance
  • Creating a packing list and luggage
  • Last minute details before you go

How to Plan an International Trip: Destination, Length of Trip, Budget

New Delhi, India

There’s no shortage of places in the world where I want to travel. So many places, so little time! You probably already have a destination in mind. I’ve chosen countries in the world to visit based on a number of factors. There might be a personal connection, it might be somewhere I’ve always wanted to travel, or perhaps a good deal pops up that I can’t refuse.

Choosing a Destination

You might have a vague idea of where you want to go, but you’re not entirely sure. Thinking about visiting Europe? Check out the most beautiful cities in Europe for some inspiration. Want to base your trip around an activity, like snorkeling? Here are the top snorkeling spots in the Caribbean for some travel inspo.

You might be traveling as a digital nomad and working as you go. I wrote this guide about teaching English abroad from anywhere in the world, and I’ve listed some great locations to establish a temporary home base.

I usually choose a destination based on advice from friends, articles I’ve read on travel blogs, and photos I’ve seen on Instagram and Pinterest. I’ve also chosen destinations before based purely upon finding an incredible flight deal.

You’ll also want to consider the time of year you are traveling. Some destinations are wonderful during some seasons…and not so much during others. For instance, you might not want to travel somewhere during the rainy season or hurricane season. On the other hand, some destinations get so busy during the summer months that you’ll be battling crowds and overinflated prices. It’s important to do your research in this regard, too.

How Long Will You Travel

This will vary for everyone. You might be looking to plan a getaway for a week or two, or you could be traveling for longer. If you have a gap year or career break, you’ll have lots of time to travel from place to place.

Once you decide the length of your trip, you might want to think about how many places or countries you want to visit. Can you establish a home base and travel from there? Maybe you want to do some country hopping? Do you prefer slow travel and want to experience one place for a longer amount of time?

Plan Your Budget and Save for the Trip

Budgeting is always key. You don’t want to run out of money on your trip. Decide how much money you have for travel and how much you can save for your trip. If you’re looking for advice on saving money, I have lots of fantastic tips for saving money to travel.

When you’re thinking about how to plan a trip overseas, your budget will be one main consideration and it might even influence the destination itself. Countries in Southeast Asia are notoriously inexpensive, whereas Scandinavian countries come at a premium price.

Passport, Visa Requirements, Vaccinations

Having a passport is crucial for traveling, so you’ll want to get your passport sorted out before you go anywhere. You’ll also want to make sure your passport doesn’t expire for six months or more before you travel (otherwise, you should renew it).

While obtaining a visa isn’t necessary for many international destinations for a Canadian (like us!) or Americans, there are many places where you will need to get a visa in advance. Some of these can be obtained upon arrival at the airport. However, you can get many in advance online, usually a month before you travel. I suggest doing the research on visas before you plan anything else. Then, remember to get the visa before you go!

Some countries will require certain vaccinations to enter the country. For example, Justin and I had to get our yellow fever shots before visiting Tanzania. I suggest seeing a doctor at a local travel clinic to get the correct vaccines in advance.

Travel Planning: Book the Flight

Flying to Italy

The flight might be the most expensive part of your trip. But, it doesn’t have to break the budget. I’ve managed to score some pretty awesome deals by using travel price comparison websites when planning a holiday.

I’ve even jumped on deals at the spur of the moment, like the one I found between Toronto and New Zealand (round trip with only one stopover for $800 CDN!). It’s even possible to find error fares where there’s a mistake in the pricing, and you reap all the rewards.

My favorite website for comparing flights is Skyscanner. Have you heard of Skyscanner before? It’s become quite popular and for excellent reasons. Skyscanner provides numerous ways to scour the web for the best savings on flights and travel, across airlines and third party sites. It’s the best way to go about booking the cheapest flight.

International Travel Planning: Book Accommodations

Las Alamandas Mexico

Hotels are a big travel expense, too. Depending on the duration of your trip and the type of accommodation you seek, these overnight stays can quickly add up. That’s why I always look for my hotels on Booking.com.

I can quickly search for the city or town I’m visiting and see the price of every hotel. Plus, I can book the hotel without any strings attached. If I need to cancel my stay, I can do so without any additional costs. I love the flexibility of Booking.com.

For those on a tighter budget (or if you love hostels), I suggest beginning your search on Hostel World. You’ll find amazing, top rated hostels from around the world. The benefit of staying in hostels? You’ll be able to meet fellow travelers much easier – and save money.

Once you find a fantastic hotel, be sure to compare it to the reviews on Tripadvisor to make sure you’re staying in a highly recommended accommodation.

Book Transportation (Train Tickets, Car Rental)

New Zealand rental car

Getting from point A to point B is an important consideration. If you are traveling to Iceland, Ireland, or New Zealand, you should consider a road trip. Renting a car will help you visit so many more places that public transportation doesn’t reach.

However, if you’re planning a Euro trip, train travel is one of the best ways to go. You could even fly from place to place, depending on the destinations. Justin and I usually travel either by car or train to get around, and we take public transportation within a city (or walk!).

Traveling By Car

Did you know that you can use travel price comparison websites for car rentals, too? Renting a car for epic road trips spanning a couple of weeks can cost thousands of dollars. Thankfully, you can search for car rentals on Discover Cars.

Type in your pickup location and choose from popular brands and companies for your car hire, including all both popular chain companies and local car hire services. This helps you compare prices for the cheapest and most reliable options. Also, if you’re taking a road trip, check out our road trip packing list for a safe and comfortable journey.

Traveling By Train

Thinking about traveling by train? Train travel is awesome, especially around Europe. We usually take the train if we’re in Europe as it’s really easy to get from place to place. If you’re spending a lot of time in Europe, you should consider getting a Eurail Pass. You’ll travel around with ease and save money, too.

If you’re visiting Italy, you’ll likely use ItaliaRail to get around. I suggest buying train tickets in Italy as soon as possible. ItaliaRail tends to list them four months ahead of the travel date. The earlier you purchase your train tickets, the more likely it is that you’ll get a better deal. We bought many two-for-one train tickets this way.

Airport Transfers

I love to book my airport transfers ahead of time, or at least figure out how to get from the airport to the city. After a long flight (usually they’re overnight flights, too), the last thing I want to do is struggle with my airport transfers.

This information is usually found pretty easily by Googling it online. Rome2Rio is also a great resource for sorting out how to get from one place to the next, too.

Get Travel Insurance

Getting travel insurance is one of the most important things you can do before you plan any international trip. We highly recommend that you choose SafetyWing for your travel insurance needs.

Nomad Insurance

Nomad Insurance SafetyWing

SafetyWing has a fantastic product called Nomad Insurance. It’s perfect for those traveling long term and short term. This insurance includes medical insurance (illness, accidents, etc.) and travel insurance (trip delay, lost luggage, natural disasters, emergency response, and more). Take a look at the graphic below for even more specific details about what’s covered with Nomad Insurance.

Nomad Insurance SafetyWing

In terms of Covid-19, SafetyWing has got you covered. Nomad Insurance covers Covid-19 treatment and unexpected quarantine outside of your home country. Coverage is the same as any other illness, just as long as it wasn’t contracted before your coverage start date.

Travel Insurance Resources

Borderless is a fantastic resource where you’ll be able to track travel restrictions, border openings and closures, and global vaccination rates. It’s updated regularly and you can sign up for email alerts to keep yourself in the know.

Here is a global directory for insurance requirements by country. This takes specific insurance restrictions by country and makes it easy to read and digest. Usually, this information is scattered in several places online and it’s hard to navigate. It’s a good idea to take a look at this directory before you travel anywhere.

Please feel free to check out our travel insurance guide for even more information on the various kinds of insurance abroad, and why you need to protect yourself when you go overseas.

Research and Plan the Itinerary

Eiffel Tower Paris

Now, for the fun part! When you’re coming up with how to plan an international trip, the itinerary is the best part. It’s time to research and plan your itinerary. I create spreadsheets and maps for my travels. I’ll figure out all of the things that I want to do in a place and list them out. Then, I’ll organize them by day, making sure not to pack too many things into one day.

When it comes to certain cities, I’ll make a Google Map and place markers for the attractions, cafes, restaurants, and more. Then, I’ll know how to get there when I’m out and about.

Plan the Best Things to Do, Activities, Attractions

There are so many ways to research the best activities, attractions, and things to do in a place. Be sure to check out our travel blog’s destinations page to see if we’ve visited as I create detailed itinerary posts so you can “steal” my trip!

Once you decide what you’d like to do, see if you have to book tickets or tours ahead of time. For tours and tickets, I usually order them ahead of time on Viator or Get Your Guide. Sometimes you can find “city pass” tickets where you’ll get huge discounts for local attractions, public transportation, and more. These are almost always worth the cost.

As I follow a vegan diet, it’s even more important that I make sure there’s excellent plant-based meals where I’m going. I will usually research by looking up vegan travel blog posts and using the Happy Cow app.

Once I find the restaurants and cafes that I’d like to visit, I place them on my Google Map and in my spreadsheet (making note of restaurant hours and location). I usually don’t plan the restaurants too much unless it’s one that I really want to visit. When I get hungry, I’ll look at my map and see which restaurant marker is closest to where I’m standing.

Create a Packing List

Packing list - Chester Luggage

A packing list will depend on where you’re going, how long, and the weather. A winter trip will be much more difficult than a summer trip. And if you’re traveling between different climates in the same trip, it’s even tougher!

Bring only what you feel is necessary because you don’t want to be weighed down. You also might end up buying some clothes on your trip, especially if you visit a country where clothing is far cheaper.

Checked Bags or Carry On Only?

There are advantages and disadvantages to going with carry-on luggage only or checked bags. Bringing a checked bag will allow you to bring a lot more things. But, you will have to lug that bag around with you and you will have to pay extra fees to check it at the airport (and wait at the luggage carousel).

Carry on only is awesome because you won’t need to carry many things, plus you won’t need to check any bags. But, you’ll need to bring less items and less liquids on the plane (big bottles of shampoo are out!).

My advice? Carry as little as possible, do laundry while you’re abroad, and do what you feel is right. Don’t think you can fit all of your belongings into a carry-on bag? Bring a wheeled suitcase! There’s nothing wrong with it, and there’s no shame in it. You’re not any less of a traveler if you bring luggage with you!

With that said, I highly recommend checking out this special carry on bag by Standard Luggage. It’s the very best carry-on bag I’ve ever used. It’s designed for the traveler in mind. You can fit so much into it and it still fits in the overhead compartment. Get your Standard Luggage bag here.

What to Pack

I won’t go into too much detail about clothing. I love bringing a few pieces that you can mix and match outfits, like black leggings and flowy tops. Bring a dress or two for evenings out. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes if you’re walking around a lot. Even if you don’t think you’ll be swimming, it never hurts to pack a bathing suit. It doesn’t take up much space, and you never know!

We have lots of packing tips on our blog if you’re looking for more details. I suggest making a packing list ahead of time so you know exactly what you’ll need. Aside from clothing, here are a few things you’ll want to consider bringing:

Last Minute Details Before You Leave

Justin and Lauren in Iceland

Depending on your situation, you’ll need to sort out some last minute details before you head out on your trip. When you’re thinking about how to plan an international trip, don’t forget these small details before you leave home.

For instance, as we have two cats, we have to arrange for their care while we’re away. You might need someone to check in on your house or plants.

Make Copies of Your Passport

I always recommend making photocopies of your passport before you leave home. Store this separately from your passport. It’s a good idea to have a copy of your passport in case it gets lost or stolen on your journey.

Call Your Credit Card Company and Your Bank

Notify your bank and credit card companies before you travel. I once had a situation with my credit card overseas. The credit card company said that they no longer needed to be informed when I traveled. Unfortunately, my credit card stopped working in Sweden and I was unable to buy anything (most places didn’t seem to accept cash either!).

I had to wait until my credit card company was available to chat (not until hours later as they’re located in North America) and I couldn’t use my card until later that day. The situation could have been a lot worse, but it was very annoying to have to deal with it all on my trip.

Local SIM Card or Travel Wi-Fi Device

It’s always a good idea to get a local SIM card or a travel Wi-Fi device. You don’t want to rely exclusively on Wi-Fi for your phone because it might be unavailable. Having a local SIM card or a travel Wi-Fi device means that you’ll have access to information on your phone when you’re away. Whether it’s directions on Google Maps or looking up any last minute information, you’ll need it more than you think!

If it’s a country where local data is cheap, pick up a SIM card at the airport when you arrive. You might also be able to stop by a local shop in the city that you’re visiting. You’ll need to make sure your phone is unlocked before using any other SIM cards.

I personally love the TravelWifi portable devices. You can buy or rent their portable Wi-Fi devices in advance. Then, you’ll get unlimited data while you travel. These are the absolute best when we’re traveling around Europe because they continue to work as we hop from country to country. Your phone doesn’t need to be unlocked to connect to a portable hotspot either.

Get Local Currency

You might want to get local currency ahead of time if you can find a good exchange rate. Don’t exchange currency at the airport because you’ll get the worst rates there. It’s always a good idea to travel with cash. While you can use your credit card in many places, cash is the best method of payment in other spots.

When you’re planning international long term travel, you’ll likely end up taking money out from an ATM machine. Choosing a bank that’s a member of the Global ATM Alliance will help you avoid some of the fees. When you take out money from a member bank, you won’t be charged any ATM withdrawal fees. Canadian banks will almost always charge a 2.5% currency conversion fee.

Inform the Embassy and Your Family About Your Trip

Make sure that you notify your local embassy about your travel plans so they have them on file. In the USA, you can enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). In Canada, you can sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service.

Email a copy of your itinerary to some family members so they know where you are when you’re traveling overseas. Let them know your flight details, hotel details, and how to get in touch with you. You might have an emergency situation or there might be an emergency back home. It’s good to be able to stay in touch and have a clear line of communication for these situations.

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