Planning an International Trip
Part One: Six Months Out
There are few things in this world I enjoy more than planning my next trip. The anticipation of traveling is nearly as euphoric as the actual traveling itself. Jessica and I have been hard at work planning our honeymoon, which coincidentally will also be our first international trip. Planning an international trip can be hard work, but with the right balance of preparation, organization and enthusiasm, it does not have to be the stressful ordeal that many people make it out to be. Here are a few points of information that I have gathered thus far on my venture into the international trip planning arena!
Get Your Passport
One of the first things that anyone who plans to travel internationally will need is a passport. While they are a little on the expensive side, you must have one to leave the country so you may as well bite the bullet and get it now. Even if you’re not planning on traveling for another year or even more, get your passport now. They are good for ten years and are a great thing to have if you stumble upon a great last minute travel deal! Standard processing for a US passport takes 4-6 weeks, but you can also pay (a lot) for an expedited processing and have it within three weeks. But why pay extra when you could get your passport ahead of time and save yourself some money and unneeded stress?
I’ve had people ask me if they need to get a passport even if they’re just going on a cruise. The answer is a definite and resounding YES! I’ve heard horror stories of people flying to the port only to be turned away and told they can’t board the cruise ship because they don’t have their passports. Get your passport now and avoid frustration down the road.
Some countries also require a travel visa to enter the country, so make sure you do your research when you’re booking your trip. US based residents can go to http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html for country specific information.
Get A General Idea of Where You Want To Go
By six months out you want to have a general idea of where it is you want to travel. Begin looking at hotels in these cities. When looking into hotels & flights you should always use either an incognito browser or clear your cache before actually booking flights and hotels. This is because hotel & airline websites will actually track your search history and raise prices to destinations it knows you wish to travel. When I first began looking into flights to Paris for our honeymoon, I started receiving emails the next week with the price rising each consecutive day. The airlines want you to believe that the price of the flights is going to continue to rise and trick you into buying your flights right away, but this is not necessarily true. Don’t fall for the sales gimmicks of competitive airlines.
It is also a good idea to begin looking at hotels in the areas in which you plan to stay. If you’ve decided which cities you’re going to visit, begin narrowing down where you would like to stay. For instance, if you’re going to New Orleans, do you want to stay on Bourbon Street? Do you want to stay within walking distance of Bourbon Street? Do you want to stay as far away as possible from Bourbon Street? Start pricing different areas of the town and get an idea of what you’ll pay for different amenities. Decide if it’s worth the extra money to stay right in the heart of the city or if you would rather save money by staying somewhere a bit more off the beaten path. When Jessica and I went to Miami we were able to save quite a bit of money by staying about ten minutes north of Miami in Aventura. It was only a 10 minute bus ride down to the Miami Strip and we were able to save quite a bit of money and stay in a much more luxurious hotel.
Begin Learning a Little Bit of the Language
If you’re traveling to a country where they don’t speak English, begin learning a bit of the language. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in six months. At the very least, learn helpful phrases such as “hello”, “goodbye”, “can you please help me”, “do you speak English”, where are the bathrooms?”, etc. Begin learning these phrases six months out and practice at least once or twice a week. This will make it easier for your brain to quickly recall these phrases when you’re in the foreign country, as opposed to stuffing your brain with information a week before you take-off. It’s also a smart idea to take some time to learn road signs. Buy a phrasebook, stop at your local library, or download an app on your phone or tablet that will help you learn.
Personally, I use a mix of language learning podcasts/audio books and an app called Duolingo. Duolingo is a great free resource for anyone trying to learn a language. It’s essentially a free version of Rosetta Stone that you can use on your phone, tablet or computer. Just remember, a little bit goes a long way when it comes to learning a foreign language. (On a more specific note, my favorite podcast for learning Spanish and French are the Coffee Break podcasts - Coffee Break French and Coffee Break Spanish.)
Start Saving Money
Traveling, especially internationally, can be frighteningly expensive. If money is an issue, start saving up some cash reserves designated especially for travel. By putting $25 per week into a travel savings account (or even cash in an envelope), in six months you will have saved $600. That can be a huge relief on your wallet when it comes time to paying the travel bills. If you can put more away, then do! Any bit you can save ahead of time is that much less that has to come out of your checking account when the bill arrives.
I’ll be putting out another blog soon about how to save money before traveling & while traveling, so be sure and keep an eye open for that! Until then, start putting away a little money week by week, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it adds up!
Check Out Travel Deal Websites
Don’t be afraid of sites like Groupon, Living Social, etc. You can really get some amazing deals for trips that would normally cost twice as much! These sites can also be a great resource when you aren’t yet sure where you want to go. Pick a price point, pick your dates, & see what conforms to your search!
Things to watch out for when booking travel with these sites:
You’ll generally have to fly out of a certain city (usually New York or LA) so be sure to add in what it would cost to fly or drive to the departure city.
There are usually only certain dates of departure, so make sure the dates of your vacation can conform. If you have flexible vacation days, this won’t matter very much, but if you’re constricted to a certain time frame make sure your dates will work before you purchase.
Many of the travel deals have itineraries, so decide if you like being with a tour group or not. Some people love the fact that everything is planned out for them. They don’t mind going on a tour bus to see all the big sights. Some people would rather travel alone and make their own plans. They want a good price on a flight and that’s all. Either way is perfectly fine as long as people are traveling, but be sure to take this into account when researching travel deals.
Begin Watching Travel Videos
If you know where you’re going, begin watching travel videos of the places you want to visit. YouTube is obviously a wonderful resource for finding videos of other people’s travels. Take the time to learn from other people, both what to do and what not to do. For any place you plan to travel you’ll definitely be able to find both amateur and professional travel videos online. You can also check out your local library for travel DVDs & Blu-Rays. My library has an extensive set of travel videos for nearly every place in the world. You can easily learn local customs and attractions by sitting down with a well-made travel video.
Go To the Library
If you can’t yet tell, I LOVE the library! It’s a completely free resource that so many people seem to take for granted. There are countless resources at the library in the form of travel guidebooks, DVDs & Blu-Rays, and even audiobooks & CDs. I’m all about saving money wherever I can and the library offers me the chance to read up on the places I travel without having to actually buy the books.
I’ll usually go to the library and check out 5-7 books on the place I’m visiting. Then, I’ll often find the one I like best & buy a copy for myself. That way I can have a copy to take with me, write notes in & keep without spending money on one I don’t like. If you’re a AAA member, you can also visit an AAA office for free travel brochures and often times, free guidebooks.
Check If You’ll Need Vaccinations
Check to see if you need any vaccinations before traveling to certain countries. For most travel this will not be a big issue, but a quick Google search now can save you from a big headache down the road!
Start getting pumped!!!
Travel, in this writer’s humble opinion, is one of the most important things anyone can do in life. Travel will enrich your life. It is one of the only experiences powerful enough to give you a completely different point of view on the world. On top of all that, travel is exciting! There is nothing more in the world I enjoy doing more than planning my next adventure! They always say that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Well part of the journey is the anticipation of traveling! I don’t like my day job, but knowing that I have a trip planned on the horizon get’s me through the day to day drudgery. Travel is an amazingly powerful motivator. So get pumped, get excited! You’re traveling!!!
Comment below with your favorite travel planning tips!
Be kind to one another,