I’ve been organising and booking my overseas travel without the help of a travel agent for as long as I’ve been travelling solo (about four years) so I decided to write a step-by-step guide to planning an overseas trip.
If you’ve never mapped out your own travel plans before it can surely be daunting wondering whether you’ve considered all the details and made all the appropriate arrangements. I hope that this extensive guide will assist you to consider all of the most important things, answer any questions (as well as pose questions to you to help you get the most out of your trip) and help you plan the very best trip!
So if you’re up for it (be prepared for hours of research!!), let’s begin because planning is half the fun!
Kuang Si Falls, Laos
First things first, when planning an overseas trip you’re going to need a valid passport to leave the country. In most cases, you’ll be required to have at least 6 months remaining on your passport to enter some countries.
2. Decide on a budget
Most of us don’t have an endless supply of money, which means a budget of some sort is going to come into play when planning your overseas trip. Deciding on a budget early in the process means that you won’t plan a trip beyond your means and end up disappointed later when you’ve tallied up the costs.
For tips on ways to save more money, I’ve written a post with some realistic tips for saving money to travel that might come in handy.
3. Pick a destination
If you’re anything like me, this will be the most difficult step of them all – deciding where to go. With so many places and so little time, here are a few ways in which you can narrow down your choices:
✘ If you have absolutely no idea where to go, start with a world map
✘ Head over to Instagram for some trip inspiration – there are plenty of travel bloggers and national tourism offices that’ll have you wanting to go everywhere in no time.
✘ If you’ve got a huuuuuge list of potential options, prioritise your list of destinations. You can do this by looking at your budget. Or if you’re looking to travel to multiple places you could consider which ones will be easier to visit during the one trip. Are there places that you feel would be better suited to visit when you’re in your younger years or maybe those which you would prefer to visit in certain seasons? These can be helpful things to consider when you’re trying to narrow your options.
✘ If you’re on a tight budget and plan to visit multiple destinations, work with destinations that will be cheaper to visit and easier to transition from one to the other.
✘ If you have no destination in mind, sometimes I just head over to Skyscanner, put in where I’m flying from and the destination as “Everywhere” to see which destinations are cheapest to fly to.
4. Research your destination
This is one of the most important steps in order to be ready to travel to your destination/s.
✘ Visas: Will you be required to have a visa to enter the country? If so, is this organised online or on arrival?
✘ Vaccinations: Some countries will require you to have certain vaccinations for you to be allowed to enter the country and may require you to provide proof of immunity to certain diseases.
✘ Entry requirements: Ensure you check for any entry requirements for the country you’re visiting. For example, the USA requires a clean criminal record to be able to enter the country.
✘ Check travel advice: Situations and unrest can sometimes make travel to certain places or areas risky, always check your government’s current travel advice when making a decision on when to travel.
✘ Transport: Make sure you understand the different types of transport available to you. Figure out what will be the safest and most efficient method in your circumstance.
✘ Currency: Figure out what currency (or currencies) you will need and have an understanding of the conversion rates to ensure you know what things will cost you.
✘ Be aware of local customs, culture and law: It’s really important to have an awareness of what differences you may encounter when visiting another country not only to show respect but to ensure your own safety and comfort. This means everything from the appropriate clothing to not chewing gum in Singapore (because it’s illegal).
✘ Things to do: Know what there is to do there so you can figure out if they’ll align with your interests and hobbies. This will also help you decide how much time you might need in each place in order to cover everything you want to do and see.
5. Decide what type of holiday
There are different types of holidays depending on who you’re going with, how long you’re away for and the purpose of your trip. Here are a few things to consider and ask yourself:
✘ Will you be focusing on slower travel or do you plan to see-as-much-as-you-can in a short period of time?
✘ Who will you be travelling with? Will you be travelling solo? Will you join a group tour? Family holiday?
✘ What are your interests? Cultural and historical experience? Nature and wildlife? Special events? Nightlife and festivals? Or will it be a mix of these things?
6. Create an itinerary
We’re at the fun part of the process where you actually get to create your trip. Here are the things you’re going to figure out when putting your itinerary together:
✘ Length of the trip
✘ Destinations: which countries and cities will you visit? And how long you’ll spend in each?
✘ Transport: How will you travel from one place to another? What transport options are available? What are the costs?
✘ Accommodation: Which areas will you stay? What are the costs for accommodations in that area?
✘ Sights to see and things to do: Consider any tours, attractions, restaurants, day trips or events you might want to attend (and the event dates) and when they will fit into the itinerary.
7. Make your bookings and reservations
I always start my flight search by heading to Skyscanner, which accesses flights available through various airlines and other booking sites. This allows you to see the best flights according to costs and duration of flight time. Here are a few things to keep in mind when booking:
✘ Flight times: What time will you be arriving at your destination? What transport options are available at that time? Will you be able to drop your bags at the hotel or check-in? As a solo traveller, I do my best to arrive at a time where there is still daylight and during accommodation open hours so I can at least drop my bags (if not check-in).
✘ Prices: When considering the price of a flight be sure to look at the inclusions for that price. When you book with some airlines you will see the base fee first and you may pay extra for things like check-in luggage, seat selection, etc. While I often fly with budget airlines, sometimes a flight with a standard airline can be a little bit more expensive than the budget airline’s base fee but have more inclusions.
✘ Airlines: Depending on your preference, you can choose to fly with a preferred airline, which may include meals, baggage and entertainment, or – for a cheaper alternative – there are plenty of budget airlines that’ll transport you where you need to go without all the added frills.
✘ Arrival and departing airports: Where is the airport located in vicinity to where you’re going to be staying at the destination? Does the city have multiple airports?
✘ Transport to and from: What are the options of transport to get to your hotel (trains, buses, shuttles or taxis)? As above, what transport options will be available? If you’re a budget traveller, you might want to consider what will be your cheapest transport option.
Also, if you’re booking multiple flights that aren’t connecting be sure to give yourself enough time and consider any terminal changes.
There are so many sites that will let you browse through hundreds of accommodation options in one place. The site I use for my hotel or hostel bookings is booking.com. However, there are many other sites that you can browse:
Key things to research about your accommodation:
✘ Type of accommodation: Do you want to stay in a hotel, hostel, apartment, campervan or other accommodation?
✘ Location: Is it in a safe area? Is it centrally located? How far is the accommodation from what you want to see and do?
✘ Transport: How will you get to and from the accommodation? Is there public transport close by? What are the best methods of transport to utilise?
✘ Reviews: Even though I’m all about making up my own mind, I always do my research when it comes to accommodation to ensure I don’t put myself in an unsafe area or situation.
Once you’ve researched what you want to do at your destination, I’d advise that you also research how far in advance you should book the tours. Some attractions like Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco need to be booked months in advance, whereas other activities can be cheaper and easy to organise once you’re at the destination.
When booking tours online, I mostly use Viator or the attractions official website.
Book transfers (if needed)
Some people may prefer to book transport transfers to save the stress of having to sort transportation when they arrive at a destination.
8. Prepare for your trip
Apply for any visas
Will you be required to have a visa to enter the country? If so, is this organised online, by postal application, by appointment at an embassy or on arrival?
If you’re visiting a country that requires you to apply for a visa online make sure you do this in plenty of time to ensure you don’t experience any hiccups. With that said, ensure that you’re not applying for visas too early as some may have expiry dates.
Australian travellers can check the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website for visa requirements. Travellers with other nationalities will need to look at their respective country’s govenment websites for more information.
Have a travel consultation with a travel medicine doctor
When going abroad, I always find it comforting to know I am in good health and protected from any diseases that might be prevalent in different parts of the world where I am travelling. A consult with a travel medicine doctor can assist you with the following:
✘ Travel pack with medication and first aid items
✘ Written doctor’s letter for any prescription medication
✘ Vaccines (if needed)
Buy travel insurance
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have travel insurance and I would personally never travel without it. Here are two companies that I have used for travel insurance:
Consider how you will carry money
✘ Card vs. Cash: Nowadays, there are so many different cards that allow you to easily access your spending money abroad. It is also handy to ensure you have cash on you either to exchange or in the appropriate currency just incase you do have any issues. While in many destinations ATMs are readily available, in certain countries cash is still king. Ensure to do your research so you aren’t left without access to your funds.
✘ Backups: I always travel with at least two cards, my travel card and, as a ‘just in case’, my normal Australian debit card. I also try to carry a small amount of cash with me if neither of those work.
✘ Keeping your cards safe: I always keep my cards in card defenders, which is basically card-sized sleeves that protect chipped cards from unauthorised transmissions. I would also suggest not keeping all of your cards and cash all in the one spot, instead have at least two secure places to store your primary card and backup card seperately.
Organise an international license
If a road trip is part of your holiday plans, you may be required to have an international license to legally drive in some countries. Some countries will allow you to drive on your respective country’s driver’s license, however, another reason why you may want to consider looking into an international driver’s license is for insurance purposes.
Print tickets/ confirmations and make copies of documents
While we live in an ever-evolving digital age, it’s always a good idea to have a trusty hard copy of important tickets and documents on hand. I highly recommend travelling with a photocopy of your passport and any important visa documentation in case of any unlucky incidents!
Pull out that suitcase or backpack and start packing! Tips to consider before you start packing are:
✘ Your airline/ tour company baggage allowance (including the number of bags and weight of bags)
✘ The climate and culture of your destination
9. Arrangements for while you’re abroad
While you’re away from home seeing the world, there may be some things at home that will still need to be cared for in your absence. Some things to consider would be:
✘ Organise a house sitter/ pet sitter
✘ Advise your bank: Let your bank know when and where you’re going to be travelling overseas so they don’t mistake any of your spending as suspicious activity
10. Safe and happy travels!
You’re all packed and ready to go! Make sure you’ve got your passport and have the best time!
Have I missed something that you’d really like to know more about? If you have any questions about this guide or about booking your own trip please post them below and I’ll do my best to assist you!
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