Preparing for an international trip can be both exciting and stressful. If you have never traveled aboard it can be overwhelming. When we decided to embark on our own Eat, Pray, Love Journey we learned a lot about ourselves and how to travel. I encourage anyone embarking on an adventure of discovery or even simply taking a short vacation to learn from our experience and mistakes. There is no perfect how-to guide but this is certainly a starting point.
Tip #1: Start with your Activities
The first place I start when planning an international trip is with Activities. This includes any landmarks you want to see, the food you want to try or the shops you want to visit. Even if you are already familiar with your destination take some time to refresh yourself and look at it from a different perspective. Things change all the time and you may be missing out if you follow the same routine. Start broad and don’t limit yourself at this stage. Visit travel sites such as Tripadvisor and Excursiopedia to get an idea of what your destination has to offer. Be sure to create a list in a place that is easily accessible for you and anyone you’re traveling with. My wife and I use Google Docs and Wunderlist because you can edit these on the go while on your phone. Find what works for you. This way everyone can contribute and help with the research. I find it helpful to include a little blurb about why you picked that activity so you don’t forget and it will save you from extra work when you get to the next step. Visiting blogs and watching YouTube videos helps to give you a taste of what you can expect but be sure to take it with a grain of salt. With some creative editing, almost anything can look perfect. Keep an open mind.
Whether you’re a budget traveler or not, don’t forget to record the cost associated with each activity.
For example, if you are visiting a major landmark, how much do tickets cost? If you are dying to try a certain restaurant or street food, how much should you expect to spend? And last but not least, always check the hours of operation. This way you can ensure you’re not surprised when you find out the restaurant you always wanted to go to bases their business hours off the lunar schedule (Yep! It’s a thing).
Once you have created an exhaustive list, it’s time to start trimming the fat. Remember you only have so much time in the day and the best way to ruin any adventure is to try and cram too much into your schedule. Based on the number of days that I am visiting a country, I try to narrow my list to around 5-7 Must-Dos in total. Be sure to keep your full list in case their is a time in your schedule or if you’re in the area, simply bring your Must-Dos to the top of the list.
Tip #2: Pick your Accommodations based on your Activities
I always like to plan and research my accommodations after listing out my Must-Do activities. Keeping things close will help reduce your transportation cost and time. Be honest with yourself and admit what type of traveler you are. Some people would never consider a hostel, and that’s fine. I didn’t at first but then I became more open to it once I realized all I really need is a place to sleep and get cleaned up. Before you start your search reflect on what you really need out of your accommodations. When choosing my accommodations I look for safety, comfort, and convenience. The first thing I do is use Google Maps to get a feel of where each of my Must-Do activities are while paying close attention to hostels, or hotels that I come across. Once you have a good feel for where things are, jump over to sites like Skyscanner and Hostelworld to get a closer look at your options. Leverage filters and read reviews to get a good idea of what to expect. Don’t forget to visit YouTube for any tours or reviews. These can be especially helpful because we all know the comedy of expectations vs. reality.
Be sure to make note of requirements such as check-in/out times, cancelation notice and whether cash or card is accepted.
Most accommodations are fairly strict on your check in and check out times which is understandable. Be sure to compare these times with your flight schedule to ensure you’re fully prepared and not caught by surprise. The last thing you want to do is waste time waiting around in a lobby. Look for things that are nearby to keep yourself entertained. If you are looking into hostels, review their amenities, check to see what is and what is not provided such as sheets or locks. This can be especially helpful as you start to pack. Expand your horizons and consider staying at an Airbnb, VRBO, or Trustedhousesitter.com. These are great ways to experience the culture and give you a taste of what it would be like to really live there. Depending on the city that you are visiting the cost is comparable and in fact sometimes cheaper.
Tip #3: Always plan your Transportation in Advance
Transportation can be a drain on your budget and a stressor on your adventure. Explore all your options. Based on the activities you are planning to explore, you should have a good feel for the distance you will need to cover on your adventure. Start with walking as an option, is this viable given your fitness, weather, and safety? Not only will you get a chance to really experience the area, it’s a great form of exercise and way to work up an appetite if you are a Foodie. Next, consider public transportation. It may seem a little daunting to learn at first but this is another great way to explore your area and get a taste of what it is like to live there. Public transportation is inexpensive and pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the options whether its bus, train or subway. My favorite has always been bus because you can see more of the area above ground and possibly discover hidden gems to spark your curiosity. If you do choose public transportation research the best way to pay, most cities will offer unlimited day passes or as in the case in Korea, a reloadable T-Money card. Don’t leave home without it. If you chose the pay as you go option start out with a small amount $10-15 USD, you can always add more and most rides will only cost $1-3 roundtrip. Just remember that cash is king in most countries and always have small bills handy because most automated machines do not accept large bills. Other options to consider are Taxi’s and/ or car/scooter rentals. If you do choose to rent a car or scooter take a hard look at the requirements. Some businesses will require a deposit, an international drivers’ license or will hold your passport. Depending on the destination, I tend to wait until I have a good lay of the land first.
Don’t assume public transportation will always be available.
Last but not least always make arrangements on how you will get to and from the airport. Getting from the airport to your destination tends to be where most people make mistakes. For example, don’t assume that public transportation will always be available, some routes stop after a certain time and after a long flight arriving in a new city, you are at the most risk to get taken advantage of by taxi drivers. I failed to look into this when we landed in Korea and rather than paying $3-$5 we needed to pay about $60 to get to our Airbnb. Most accommodations do offer free shuttle services but verify pick up times and locations before you land. If not, look into third-party shuttle services, this will be less expensive than a taxi and it will put your mind at ease knowing you have this sorted.
Tip #4: Documentation, a Must have for Every International Trip
In addition to my Passport and boarding passes there are a few things that I never leave home without when traveling. These include copies of my itineraries, International telephone numbers for bank cards, accommodation/activity/ transportation confirmations, and my copies of identification – Passport & Driver’s licenses.
It may seem a little old school to print these but think of it as a last resort in case your technology fails you or you forget to charge your devices. I also save a copy of these both to my iCloud and OneDrive accounts to access at any time as well as save a photo of each on my phone. This is especially helpful while filling out immigration forms/cards while on the plane. I always keep these in my day pack or carry on to ensure easy access in the event of an emergency. In some cases I have also kept a spare copy of my itinerary in any checked luggage in the event it is lost, so at a minimum, there is something that proves ownership.
Tip# 5: Allow for Spontaneity & Rest
If you’re reading this post, you are a planner and probably don’t like to be surprised. I get it, but the fact is that you can’t control everything and the best way to ruin any trip is to over plan it. Life is an adventure and sometimes the best parts are unexpected. When planning your trip, allow time for spontaneity. Turn off your alarms, your email, and notifications and allow yourself to wander. You may just be surprised by what you find. Traveling has taught me two important lessons. One is to plan for success but be ready to throw out the itinerary at any time. And the second is to listen to your body.
When visiting Singapore it felt like we walked the entire country but it wasn’t a marathon or race, we took our time and soaked it all in. I learned to pause and appreciate the architecture, the people and the culture. Taking a few moments from time to time to simply relax and watch the people pass you by or enjoy the orchestra of nature will not only recharge your soul but help you enjoy your time so much more.
No matter your reason for travel, enjoy your time. The world is a big place full of adventure but you can make it your own. Investing a little time up front before you take off can make all the difference. This is by no means an exhaustive list but simply a starting point. If you have any additional tips or life hacks, please be sure to share them in the comments below. We love to hear from our readers and if you enjoyed this post please be sure to like and share it.