As there are more and more people traveling alone or considering it, I thought I’d share some tips on how to plan a trip and share my international travel checklist for all my must-haves when I go abroad. Most of this is what I’ve picked up from my own experiences. Doing these has helped me not just when preparing for solo trips and but also for group travel. As a result, I feel much safer, comfortable and confident when heading abroad. I hope these tips help you as well!
How to Plan a Trip: The Logistics
1) Create an itinerary
Not everyone is a travel planner, however, I do believe that when you travel abroad, especially if you travel alone, you should have a travel plan before you go. You want a general idea of things you’d like to see or do, plus maybe some activities that you have signed up or prepaid for.
For instance, you should definitely plan for when you will arrive and leave your destination and which hotel(s) you’ll be staying at.
When planning activities, you do not need to plan a trip where every minute of every day is filled. Instead, try to schedule one thing per day that you will absolutely do, and then have a list of other items of interest. You should aim to plan a trip that allows you some structure yet flexibility and spontaneity.
BTip: I love excel spreadsheets for making my travel itinerary. A great way to keep it all in one place!
Sample of excel spreadsheet template that you can make. You can also download a template and start one yourself!
If you prefer trip planner apps, there are also a couple out there that will sync to your email and pull in your travel info: Google Trips and TripIt to name a couple.
To figure out which activities you’d like to do, first, ask friends and family, and then a simple Google search can help you out. I also love to use Tripadvisor, which is super helpful as a guide when you plan a trip. You can also download the app and save your searches so that you’ll have it available to you even when traveling without service or wifi. Viator is another great resource for finding and booking tours/activities to do.
2) Choose a hotel location that’s central
A mistake that I see people making sometimes, is that they go for either the cheapest hotel, or decide to splurge on a really nice one.
I recommend you do neither. Instead, when choosing places to stay, once you’ve jotted down the activities you want, and interesting places to see, start inputting them into Google Maps, and then in that map area search for hotels. In this way, you can see which hotel locations are the most central to the things you want to do. I recommend doing this even if it ends up meaning you pay a little bit more. This is especially true if you are traveling alone and you want to be able to get around easily and safely.
If you book hotels in central locations you will likely also be closer to resources (should you need help) and also, by being centralized, you’ll be able to walk to most sites/things. Ultimately this saves you money on transportation costs and also increases your exposure to the city you’re seeing!
3) Figure out ahead of time the best way to get from the airport to your hotel
When you plan a trip, any trip, I highly recommend you get directions and figure out the best way from the airport, or train station or bus stop, to your hotel. It will save you so much time and headache when you reach your destination, especially when traveling solo and especially if English is not the first language there.
The most obvious option is a taxi, yet that can also be the most expensive. Many countries/cities have Uber now, or a local, similar rideshare option that you can look into.
Other public transportation options include buses, trains, subways etc. Also, Super Shuttle exists in many foreign countries and is a great option as well. Just remember, though, that after a long trip, going through these other means of transportation can actually make it take longer to arrive at your hotel. So definitely weigh the cost savings against how quickly you think you’ll want to get to your hotel and just take that shower and freshen up/take a nap.
In addition, keep in mind when you plan a trip, the time that you land at your destination. I know for me, I don’t like taking public transportation if it’s really late at night, especially if I’m alone. Instead, I’ll opt for a taxi, even with a higher cost, because I feel safer and I know that I’ll go straight from airport to hotel, with no stops along the way, and not have to worry about anything in between.
4) Download a Google map of the city or cities you will be visiting.
My friend did this when we went to Cuba. Given that our phones didn’t work there at all, we were able to use the map offline and get a sense of where we were. This is a super helpful trick when exploring foreign countries and a great way to ensure you have something to follow to find your way home if you get lost!
5) Plan a budget for while you’re there
You can plan a trip abroad no matter what your budget is. Check out Travel Tips for Any Budget for more on that, but you need to make sure you budget for while you’re there as well.
First, you don’t need traveler’s checks or even cash in local currency before you go. Just take care of all of that while you’re there. In addition, if you have a card that has no foreign transaction fees, you can pay for everything with a credit card. If you do want cash, just do an exchange at the airport or local exchange service. An alternative is to take your debit card and use the local ATM’s to withdraw local currency. You’ll definitely have to pay ATM fees but this is also super convenient option for you so you can reduce the amount of cash you carry.
Yet another option, if you have an American Express travel credit card, and don’t want to carry your ATM card with you…call Amex and tell them you are traveling and would like a pin number. They’ll send you one in the mail. You’ll be able to withdraw cash from an ATM using your credit card (with PIN) and just be charged a credit charge (plus transaction fee). Just look for an ATM that accepts Amex (see below).
Now that you know how to obtain cash/funds while you’re abroad, you need to plan how you’ll spend it. You should have an estimate of how much each day will cost you in regards to cost of food and transportation. You should also determine how much you’re willing to spend on souvenirs. When you plan a trip, these details are often overlooked, but so important to keep in mind as they are variable costs and if you aren’t careful may end up spending way more than you should.
I suggest looking up blogs and forums for where you’re going and see if people have recommendations or feedback about cost of food. Often you can just Google the average cost of a taxi or subway card, for instance, and thus make your calculations before you go!
Another tip: don’t get travel insurance. More often than not, the insurance won’t cover your cancellation reason, and if it does, the process of claiming your trip can be very complicated. Usually, if there is an emergency that causes you to change your plans, a doctor’s note, or a letter and phone call to the airline can help with getting you a refund anyway. So, save yourself the upfront cost of travel insurance, and opt out.
6) If you don’t have it already, enroll in TSA precheck and Global entry.
It’s a 100 bucks for 5 years and it’s SO worth it. You’ll save time checking in by skipping over all the general public (and get to keep your shoes on) and your re-entry into the country is also expedited. It’s a win on both sides. I love it because it saves me from having to get to the airport so early and I can get through security stress-free. Whenever and wherever you plan a trip, these two extras go a long way towards a smooth journey.
7) Take important documents with you
Obviously you’ll take your passport and ID with you, but when you plan a trip anywhere abroad, you need to make copies, ESPECIALLY of your passport. I have several. I spread them out amongst my belongings. I have one in my suitcase and extra in my backpack and I leave one with family or friends. Just in case. Or, take a picture of it so you have it in your phone with you at all times.
I do this because if you somehow lose your passport, the only way you’re getting another is by going to the US Embassy. Once there you need to show them proof of your American citizenship and a copy of your passport is an easy and simple way to get that process going because they’ll be able to confirm it by looking up your passport ID number.
What to pack
No matter how long you’ll be away, you should plan to pack lightly with just a carryon and backpack. The last thing you want to do is lug around a huge suitcase in a city you’re unfamiliar with. Plus, some taxi services may charge you for putting large bags in their trunks!
Also, by not having to check anything in, you will save time at the airport by bypassing the wait at the baggage claim.
8) Remember to take some backup and safety essentials
Create a small first aid kit for yourself. Even if you plan a trip to a well-equipped area of the world, many of these items may be super expensive and how awful does it feel to buy a whole box when you just need one?
Your packing list for some of the basics to take: Band-Aids, alcohol wipes, a small bottle of meds—e.g. Tylenol, Advil, Dayquil, Benadryl (helps me sleep on the plane, plus can be helpful in case you run into something you’re allergic to), Dramamine (especially needed if you get motion sickness and are planning on doing activities that could activate that—scopolamine patches help too).
Another item that is good to take with you is snacks. I’m all for trying new foods and cuisines when I travel, but sometimes you want a break, or you just need a snack. What if the local snacks are unappealing? Or you truly hate them? Stashing some granola bars or trail mix can go a long way to help to bridge that taste gap while you’re away.
Not every trip needs to be planned to a T; however, having an idea of what you’d like to do can help with saving money via cheap flights, and hopefully finding better deals. There are so many fascinating places to see in this world. Start planning your trip with these tips and get on with your next vacation!
What are some of your travel planning tips? Leave comments below!!