Planning An overseas trip: 12 Steps to get you to where you want to go
You want to go on an overseas trip but you aren’t quite sure where to start when it comes to planning such a big vacation. Where do you find the best deals? Should you book the hotel first or the flight first? Planning a trip can be fun but for some it’s very overwhelming. You want to go somewhere but as you’re trying to figure out all the logistics of air, accommodations, transportation, itinerary, and what to pack, you start to get stressed and totally give up. Next thing you know you’re just spending your vacation time sitting at home.
Some people assume it’s just too expensive to visit a foreign country so they never even think about going overseas. Yes, it can be expensive but there are plenty of ways to keep costs down. While some people probably hate planning trips, I actually enjoy it. My trip planning process is pretty involved. It’s so much more than just picking a place to go and booking the flight and hotel. Those are important details but there is a lot you can do before that to help make the process easier. Once you’ve booked that trip there’s still some things you can do to make sure everything goes smoothly.
How to plan your overseas trip
Below is my 12 steps to planning an overseas trip from how I decide where to go and all the steps I take before leaving for my trip. You might be thinking that 12 steps seems like a lot of work but as you start to go through the process you’ll find that it makes the planning so much easier and less stressful. Once you see your plans and research on paper, you’ll get more excited for your trip as it gets close.
Step 1: BEFORE YOU BOOK YOUR TRIP
Sign up for newsletters. This is honestly the best way to find a good deal. I belong to a few newsletters that e-mail deals several times a week which means that I don’t always have to be looking for the deals, the deals come to me. Some of my favorite sites I’ve signed up for and have used are Groupon Getaways, Sherman’s Travels, and Airfare Watchdog. I’m also on all the major Airlines e-mail lists as well. Many times there are last minute deals (likely an airline didn’t fill the flight) but there’s also plenty of deals that can be taken up to a year away. Even if you’re not planning an overseas trip right now it’s a good idea to get on these lists because it gives you an idea of how inexpensive (or expensive) flights to places you are thinking about visiting can go for. That way when a good deal comes your way you’ll know it.
BONUS: Be sure to sign up for all the major airlines frequent flyer programs so you can enter your frequent flier number when you book your flight. You are throwing money away if you aren’t accumulating miles when you travel.
Step 2: Budget Planning
When you’re planning an overseas trip the first place you want to start is your budget. Whether your budget is low or high you have to start here. Decide what you’re willing to spend but keep in mind that besides airfare and hotels, you’ll need to eat every day, pay for activities, shopping, airport transfers, and souvenirs. Let’s say you’re planning an overseas trip and your budget is $1000 (just to keep this simple). I normally plan on spending 30% on airfare ($300), 35% on hotel ($350), and the other $350 on food , activities, and shopping. Of course those amounts are always flexible but that’s just a rough idea of what I aim for.
*the 30% airfare / 35% hotel isn’t set in stone. There are some places where hotel costs are significantly lower, such as Peru. My airfare to Peru was $700 RT but our hotels averaged $35 a night.
Step 3: Choose the best time to go on your trip
Another part of budget planning depends on when you plan on going. If you’re wanting to go to Europe in July, expect prices on everything to be much higher. The more crowded a place will be, the more hotels and airfare will cost. On the other hand, if you want to go to Europe in February you can probably find a really good deal so take that into consideration when you’re planning a trip.
Sometimes a deal that comes your way might seem too good to be true. For example, the deal below showed up in my email. A roundtrip flight to Iceland on Delta for $272. Sounds like a great deal! However, a closer look at the dates show that that price is for travel between January 7th – March 31st. A little research will show you that the amount of daylight Iceland receives in January-March is between 4.5 hrs – 13.5 hrs. Without even clicking the link I suspect the best “deal” of $272 is for early January and goes up from there. 4.5 hours of daylight doesn’t allow you to see a whole lot, unless you ONLY want to see the Northern Lights, so it might not be worth booking.
Step 4: Pre-Trip Details
Before booking any trip always check the expiration date on your passport if traveling abroad. Many countries have rules about having at least 6 months left on your passport past the date you leave their country. Also, make sure you check the visa requirements of that country as well as specific immunizations. Decide how much time you want to take for your vacation. Most of us are limited by the amount of vacation days we have available from work. We spent 8 days in Morocco and saw a lot but we could have easily spent 3 weeks in Morocco and probably still wouldn’t have seen it all.
Step 5: BOOKING YOUR Overseas TRIP
So I’ve signed up for emails and have decided what my budget is. I see something in an email that looks like a pretty good deal on a flight. Next, I’ll go research the costs through some of my favorite airfare booking sites (see here) to see if it really is a good deal or the standard going rate for those dates. Sometimes I can find better deals on my own.
I’ll also go check out hotel prices from a few hotel sites (see here) to make sure there’s something I can afford during those dates. I don’t worry too much about food, activities, and shopping because those are pretty flexible. If the airfare and hotel fall within my 30% and 35% budget then I should be good. Keep in mind that the email deals will sometimes include the airfare, hotel, transfers, and maybe some activities. Always make sure what it does/doesn’t include before booking. Once I’ve researched the dates and pricing, I’ll either book through the email deal or book the deal myself.
Side note: I do have a lot of air miles (over 600,000) but we don’t use them right now. At this point while we’re still working, we are paying for our flights and hotels. We plan on saving the miles for when we retire for some big long distance flights.
Step 6: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
This is where the real fun begins! Another great benefit to receiving these emails is that they will usually come with an itinerary of what you will do each day or at least suggestions of what to do. The great thing about that is it helps you figure out what the popular things are to do at that location are and many times there is something to see that you weren’t aware of. Even if you don’t book through the email deal, if an itinerary is included it’s a good place to start.
Next, I head over to Pinterest to do a little research there. It’s truly one of the best sources in planning an overseas trip. There’s so much information there and it’s probably the best place to figure out what there is to do/see on your trip. I also google “things to do in Iceland”. Thousands of sites will come up including blogs, travel companies, and maybe even the local travel bureau of that location. Instagram is another great place to look. Just search a hashtag (#iceland) and you’ll see a lot of great inspiration of things to do in that country.
Step 7: ITINERARY PLANNING
While I’m researching what to do, I write down everything that interests me in a word document. I even take note of what time places such as museums open and close, if there’s a particular day of the week they’re not open, and if there are any major events happening on the days I’m there that might interfere with seeing that place.
Next, I open another word document and write down the days I will be there. I also google a map of the location to see where these places are. Then I start filling in my days with the things on my list. I try to group things in close proximity on the same day so I don’t spend all my time going back and forth all over the city trying to see things. I’ll usually aim for 3-4 things to do/see per day. One major sight and then several smaller sights per day. Also, try to do the major sight first thing in the morning. Look up when the place opens and get there right before. It’s usually less busy at that time and that way you don’t have to rush to see everything.
Step 8: Advance Booking
If I find something that I know is a popular activity that I want to do, I’ll go ahead and book it in advance online. The last thing I want is to get there and see that it’s all booked up. If I’m going to a big city, I’ll also look up transportation. Usually the subway system will have a discount when you buy a subway card for multiple days. Also, if I’m going to be using the subway to get around, I’ll mark on my itinerary which stops to get on and off at the places I want to visit.
Step 9: Cell Service
Does anyone remember when we didn’t have cell phones? It’s so hard to live without them now, even on vacation. There’s a lot of different ways to get cell service in another country. Some people will buy a SIM once they arrive so they can use their phone. I try not to worry too much about full cell service while I’m traveling. It’s kind of nice to unplug and enjoy just being where I am. However, most hotels and restaurants do have WI-FI.
When you first get on the plane and put your phone on airplane mode, just keep it there when you arrive at your destination. You’ll still be able to still use your wireless service while in airplane mode wherever you are (as long as there’s WI-FI). Just get the password from the hotel or restaurant. Another option is to rent a hotspot. These usually run between $7-10 a day. To find one, just google “rent a hotspot in Iceland” and you’ll find a company that rents them. You can reserve one online and pick it up when you arrive. Where you pick it up depends on the company. Sometimes it’s in the airport and sometimes it’ll be waiting for you at your hotel. Other times you have to go to the company’s place of business and pick it up. With the hotspot will be directions to connect to it. Just plug it in every night to charge up and you can carry it with you in your purse or pocket.
And of course there’s always the option of the international plan with your cell phone company. We have Verizon and it’s $10 a day (per phone). A little more expensive than the hotspot but it is convenient.
Step 10: Details
Money: Another country, another currency. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the local currency. I always look up the exchange rate and figure out how much of the local currency equates to my currency (dollars) so I know how much things really cost when I’m there. You’ll also want to give your credit card company and bank notification of your travel plans. If you’re going to be using a debit or credit card, they need to know. You do not want to get to another country and find out your credit card company has blocked your transaction. Also, there’s really no need to take out a lot of cash before going. If you need cash, just use the local ATM and get the local currency
Food: It’s good to become familiar with popular foods in the area. If you have a special diet (Celiac, vegetarian, vegan, etc…) you’ll know what you can and can’t eat before you get there. I always bring a few things from home to snack on such as granola bars, trail mix, and candy.
Steps 11-12: TIME TO GO
You’re finally done with all the planning that goes into your overseas trip. Just a few more things before it’s time to go!
Step 11: Packing
Check the weather where you’re going and pack accordingly. For me, my wardrobe is pretty neutral (lot’s of grays and blacks) so I can easily mix and match and pack less.
When it comes to packing a carry-on the most important things to remember are your identification (Passport if flying international), your travel documents including your air, accommodations, and transportation when you arrive. Everything else just depends on your own needs. You can check out what I always take in my carry-on bag here.
Step 12: Set alarm, arrive at the airport early, and have fun!
Have a question about planning a trip that I didn’t answer? Comment below and I’ll do my best to answer! If you found this guide useful please share it on Pinterest by clicking the Pin It button on the image above.