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Travel Basics | How to Plan a Trip Abroad

Travel Basics | How to Plan a Trip Abroad

We’re in the process of planning our first trip outside Australia since arriving here last year and I thought it might be a good time to discuss some of the basics of planning a trip abroad.  Some of the steps are fairly straightforward, but it can feel overwhelming at first.  Fortunately you can figure out anything on the internet if you try hard enough.

The key to planning any trip is finding the perfect balance of organization and spontaneity.  Ideally, you’ll have a solid plan and the resources available to get you through it smoothly.  At the same time, allow life to unfold in front of you.  If you meet a friend on the road and decide to take a detour to a city that wasn’t on the list, do it.  Don’t plan so much that you’ll miss out on experiences or lose money on flights you won’t end up taking.  The best things are usually unplanned.  For this reason, I recommend starting with basic accommodation and major transportation.  The rest can be done as you go.

Where are you going? 

So the obvious place to start is with where you’re going.  Everything else will depend upon this.  There are a lot of considerations when deciding like budget, time frame, and most importantly what you’d like to see.  If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to choose anywhere in the world to travel, take full advantage.  Even if you have constraints you’ll still be able to plan an amazing trip that works for you.  Check out our full guide for more detailed advice for deciding where to travel. 

What’s your budget? 

Money is another huge factor when planning an adventure.  That’s not to say that you need vast sums of cash to travel—you don’t.  There are plenty of ways to save money while traveling and with a bit of saving beforehand you can make due with what you have.  It is a consideration though as your budget will determine how long you’ll be able to travel, where you’ll stay, and what activities you can do.

Even if you’ve got money saved, look into the average cost of traveling in the region you’ve chosen.  Many travelers like to budget out on a per-day basis.  While we’ve never really tried it, the benefit is it’ll help you hold yourself accountable each day.  You may, for example, decide it’s realistic to spend $30 a day in Southeast Asia after factoring in accommodation, food, and transportation.  Knowing this, you can easily calculate how much you’ll need for a month in the region.  Blogs and guidebooks are great for this.  I’ve found Lonely Planet books to be pretty helpful, although if I’m being honest most of the info can be found online for free.

How long will you be gone?

Will your trip last a few weeks, a few months, or indefinitely?  While you can’t possibly plan everything out for an extended trip, if you’re leaving for a couple weeks you have less time to go with the flow.  To get the most out of a shorter trip focus on one particular area and make sure to hit as much as possible while there.  Remember, it’s much cheaper to travel slower and stick to one or two areas than it is to bounce around.  If your budget is tight, minimize transportation costs whenever possible. 

Where will you sleep?

What types of accommodation exist where you’re going?  The vast majority of backpackers stay in hostels, which are cheap and great for meeting people.  Maybe that’s not your thing though.  Different countries offer different types of accommodation.  Hotels are standard everywhere, but typically much more expensive and not sustainable for someone on the road for an extended period of time.  If you do go that route, use a booking site like Agoda to find the best price.  You may be able to find a homestay with a local family or a guest house.  These can often be more traditional forms of what a service like Airbnb offers.  Couchsurfing is the cheapest (free) way to travel, but requires a certain mentality.  Wherever you choose, read reviews whenever possible if booking in advance.

Save some cash on your first Airbnb reservation here.

Do your research 

Once you’ve got the basics decided, it’s time to thoroughly research.  This is best done when you should really be doing something else (i.e. homework), but maybe that’s just me.  Start with a simple Google search and then branch out—Instagram is great for inspiration and I like to read travel blogs for a real life look into what I'll see.  If you’re headed Down Under, we’ve got guides for almost everywhere we’ve spent time thus far.  This is the fun part because you can be totally open to anything you read online.  It’s where your trip starts coming together. 

Book the big stuff

You’ll need to book some of the big things before heading off.  Get your main flights sorted and look into hostels or other types of accommodation for when you land.  Don’t book everything in advance because it will limit your flexibility while on the road, but you’ll want to have a good idea of how you’re getting from place to place, what you want to see, and if it’s okay to book accommodation as you go.  You may, for example, leave for Southeast Asia knowing you’re landing in Vietnam and flying home from Thailand.  You may then want to book a few flights from country to country while they’re cheap, and give yourself the flexibility to make each of those flights however you see fit. 

Plan for the activities 

Leave for your trip with an idea of what you absolutely must see and do while there and how much those things will cost.  If you’re hoping to skydive or get your scuba certification, for example, look into how much those big-ticket adventures will cost so you can budget for them.  It’s likely that everyday won’t be full of big things like this because it'll quickly drain your bank account, but if you plan for them you’ll know to conserve on your other days.

Hopefully this will serve as a useful base strategy for planning any upcoming trips.  Your circumstances will certainly vary depending on where you’re going and how you prefer to travel, but these are things we always consider when going on any trip.  As I mentioned, don’t overthink anything.  Part of the thrill and liberation of traveling is waking up each day and getting to decide what’s on the agenda.  If you over-plan this is totally lost and you’ll end up feeling like you’re forcing your way through the trip.  If you’ve got any solid travel planning trips, let us know in the comments below!

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