If you've never traveled outside your country of residence, planning an international trip can be incredibly daunting. How do you choose a location? Find plane tickets? Lodging that isn't sketchy? Sort out visas? I may have grown up traveling, but at some point all of these questions shifted from my parents to me as I left home and started adventuring on my own. It's definitely been a learning process, so I want to share my discoveries with you so that hopefully you will feel empowered to plan your own international trip in the near future.
- Choosing a Location: If you already have a place in mind this may be the easy part. But if you just know you want to get out there but have no idea where in the world you want to go, then things can get overwhelming. Fast. A way to narrow things down might be to think about what you want to do when you get there. Sample amazing cuisine? Take pictures of incredible architecture? Backpack? Surf? Get lost in history? If you decide it's all about the backpacking then a Google search on "best places to backpack" might lead you on a trip to New Zealand to trek the Milford Sound. If you're unsure about what you want to do then asking other people about where they've enjoyed traveling to most may be helpful. If you're on a tight budget then an excellent method is to look at a site like Airfare Watchdog to see which country you can land the cheapest international ticket to. If you've never traveled and are nervous about the prospect then choosing a place that is relatively easy to travel in (think Europe vs. Africa) may be key to narrowing things down.
- Buying a Plane Ticket: if you have a travel agent book a plane ticket for you, they will add their own service fee onto the price. While this fee is usually only around $40-50, if you're all about getting the best deal possible like we are, then plan to book your tickets on your own. Start by choosing departure and return dates and then head to a website that will search multiple airlines for the best price. I've used Expedia, Kayak, Google Flights, and Airfare Watchdog. I usually like to plug my data into a couple sites as they don't always all search the same airlines and I want to verify that I'm really getting the best deal. If you're really into budget travel then check to see if it's cheaper to take a single itinerary flight or to buy some parts of the journey separate. For example, you could fly from New York to Los Angeles and then on to Australia all with one airline/it's associates. Or, you could check whether flying with one airline from New York to Los Angeles and then switching to a different carrier for the Australia leg was cheaper. One final tip for landing the cheapest flight is to look at alternate dates around when you want to go if your schedule is flexible. Flying on weekdays are usually cheaper then on the weekends. Once you're convinced that you've scored the cheapest flight, buy it! Waiting until the last minute to buy a ticket makes the price go up. I usually buy international tickets about 6 months in advance if we're not doing something super spontaneous.
- Sorting Out Visas: Some places don't require citizens of certain countries to have visas to travel there while others do. Before you go you need to find out if you'll be required to have a visa and if so, if that is something you need to obtain in advance or get on arrival. I usually just do a Google search and choose the country's legitimate visa website which you can usually recognize as ending with .gov. I don't like to take the risk of getting visa information from a second party who may not realize that there has been a policy update. Some places allow you to purchase a visa in advance or pay for it on arrival. If that is the case I usually go ahead and get it in advance to avoid the possibility of hassles on arrival. Since all countries and visas are different, just read the visa page carefully so that you know exactly what you are expected to arrive with.
- Setting Up Lodging: Unless you're backpacking or planning to live out of a van you probably want to make some arrangements for lodging. If you want to just wing it when you get there then I'd recommend picking up a guide book, like Lonely Planet, that lists safe accommodations for a variety of budgets in the country that you're headed to. If that's not your deal then do a little research into where you want to travel to within the country and then start looking for lodging in those places. I like to pick accommodations based on reviews. If I'm looking for a hostel then I search Hostelworld or Hostels.com that have useful ratings and comments from other travelers. For other enquiries I usually do a search on Trip Advisor which posts pictures, ratings, and comments from other travels. I especially find the pictures helpful as hotel may only show you lovely photographs of their view of a lake while another traveler's photographs may show that the place is located next to a garbage dump. I also usually take a look at Lonely Planet's website for a broad range of places that I know have been tested out by their travelers.
- Packing: Look up the weather for the month you're traveling in for the country you're headed to. Nothing like packing shorts and t-shirts because you're headed somewhere "tropical" only to arrive in their rainy season and find things to be wet and cold. If you're going to be taking technology research whether the power is 110 volts or 220 volts and see if your devices are compatible (some things will get fried if they're meant for 110v and you plug it into a 220v source). Also research what the plug ins look like as you may need to take an adapter, for example, if your charger's prongs are straight and their outlets are for angled prongs. It doesn't hurt to do some cursory sleuthing into what is and isn't available to buy within the country. For example, I've found it difficult to get tampons in a number of places I've traveled to. If that's a big deal to you then you might want to bring your own. Last but not least, don't forget to pack your passport and all other important documents like your flight itineraries and accommodation bookings if you have them.
And that's a wrap. Bon voyage! If you have any other questions about the details of planning an international trip or just want advice on your particular trip, send us an e-mail and we'd be glad to help.