Your International Vacation Planning Checklist in 15 Steps
WHERE TO GO, WHEN TO GO & HOW TO GET THERE
1. If you already know where you want to go, jump to number 2 and skip this bullet. If you're still thinking about which destination to head to next, here are a few ways to help make up your mind:
a. When can you travel? If you want the best weather for your trip, start looking at places that have greater odds at good weather during your allotted travel time-frame. In addition, consider your level of comfort with tourists. If you seek more peace and tranquility, it may not make sense to go to Barcelona in July. Instead consider low season for cheaper prices and less people.
b. Are you going solo or with company? While no country is 100% safe for solo female travel, consider countries with lower crime rates for your destination. For example, the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland) can be great places to start, as they are some of the happiest countries in the world.
c. How long do you want to take to get there? If you have to fly someplace for over 12 hours in an economy seat, you want to be really psyched about where you're heading. If you don't get a lot of time off from work, you may want to consider something within a 6 hour flight so too much time isn't lost to travel.
d. What are you most drawn to? Is it a nation's food, architecture, beaches, museums, culture, language, sights, or tempo? This will make a big difference in the kind of place you want to spend your time. You may not want to deal with a language barrier, but still, want to experience paradise, so maybe Kauai, Hawaii is the answer. Or perhaps you really need to see a lot of sights and have a buzzing energy around so then a city like London might be for you. When researching your desired destination consider the vibe and energy, pace and tone of a travel itinerary you want to have.
e. Why are you taking this trip? Are you burned out and just need to hit the re-set button? Maybe it's do nothing and eat all you want type of holiday, so then an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica is what you need. Do you want to be unnerved and experience a deeper understanding of a culture that is quite different than yours? Perhaps visiting Luang Prabang, Laos or La Paz, Bolivia are for you.
f. What is your budget? This is a big one! If you're dying to go Europe but the euro hurts your pocketbook, consider traveling to parts of eastern Europe like Montenegro, Macedonia or Sofia, Bulgaria, where your money will go farther vs. Italy and Spain. If you have more time for air travel maybe you'll consider southeast Asia countries like Cambodia, Malaysia, or Vietnam.
2. If you read number 1 and you know the time of year you want to go to your destination, skip this number 2. If not, and you do know where you're going, determine the best time of year to go and what to expect when you are there. This will inform how you use your time once you arrive.
3. Research the best ways to travel to and through the country/cities you are visiting. Find the airports you need and determine the best mode of transportation in the cities you're visiting. Is it OK for seeing the city by foot? Does the city have reliable and safe buses or trains? Are you in need of an Uber? Will you fly in between major cities or take the high-speed trains to get there. For example, the subway in Buenos Aires is efficient for travel, but you'll want to be careful of the time of day you are training through certain parts of the city. Perhaps you'll switch over to Uber after dark.
If you plan to drive, ensure you have an International Driver's License is required, determine the correct side of the road to drive on, and what to do in the event of roadside emergencies.
4. Research your ideal part of the city to stay in and the type of accommodation for your budget. You can end up saving a lot of energy and transportation if you stay in a part of the city that is close to the action you crave. If you are willing to be flexible with the type of accommodation you stay in, that may also have an effect on the neighborhood you stay in.
5. Determine the hours of operation in a city. Are things closed on Sundays? Museums closed on Mondays? Is there a siesta and you will need to avoid shops in the afternoon? This will inform your itinerary. You won't want to be in a city for a couple days and one of those days has everything shut down.
6. Confirm the time zone and update any contacts you wish to be notified. If you need to stay on top of work or want to be able to communicate ok with family, the time-zone is important to take note of.
7. Determine what the wifi is like in that destination. You may not care if you aren't able to access the world easily and this may not matter as much, but if you want steady and reliable wifi it will eliminate a number of destinations for you. This may also affect your choice of getting an international data plan or purchasing a SIM card on arrival.
PUTTING YOUR ITINERARY TOGETHER
8. Determine the necessary budget. Plan to go over your budget. Start saving accordingly.
You may not want to miss everything and anything on your first trip to Paris, so while you know what the flight and hotel may cost, your expense on food, transportation once you're there and sight-seeing will vary. You never know what may inspire you or cross your path. Have a great understanding of what your investment will look like and then add 10% more to it. You don't want to have to kick yourself for passing on something you really love if it wasn't in the budget.
Research, research, research!
9. Review your favorite travel websites and blogs for information about what to do in your desired city. Also, a great idea is to look at the city or country's Tourism Board website. They are deeply motivated to ensure you have an amazing time, tell all your friends about it, and come back to their city again. As a result, they will showcase a variety of things to do for multiple travel styles so you're very happy. And it's a great way to find out what events are taking place in town while you're there. This could also affect what may be open if you travel during national holidays or holy events.
Are you looking for hidden gems, off the beaten path sights, or common do-not-miss tourist destinations? Spend so much time on this. You don't want to get back from a trip and realize you missed something really interesting that was potentially right under your nose.
In addition, plan to talk to your hotel concierge, Airbnb host, taxi driver, bartenders, waiters, and new found friends to see what they like to do and where they like to eat once you arrive. This will be a key way to gain insight into unique places that are likely cheaper, quieter and maybe even more delicious.
WARNING: Recommendations are amazing and you should ask for them! BUT, be careful who you ask for travel recommendations and what you do with the advice! Travel experiences are extremely subjective and have a lot to do with weather, timing, and a unique set of circumstances. For example, folks may love a particular city because they had a grand time with friends or something truly spontaneous happened or they just haven't visited a lot of the world to know the difference. But you get there and you have no idea why they felt the way they did. Really qualify the advice (dig deep) if you ask people you know or put up a random recommendations post on your Facebook wall.
10. Use your favorite social media platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest to determine the types of photos you'd like to take and what you'd like to see yourself wearing. It's important to also plan your photography. There's nothing more frustrating and cringe-worthy than coming back from an amazing vacation only to look at crooked photos, pictures overcrowded with tourists, and seeing yourself look too much like a tourist. Understanding the best time of day to take a photo of your favorite landmark or how to shoot your favorite landmark will make a difference. And once you are finally there, remember to take your time to marvel and look at stuff from all angles. You may find an even more interesting way to appreciate the famous landmark or snap the shot.
11. Leaf through a travel book or two. Travel guides still have a place in travel preparation. They are a one-stop shop containing everything you need to know for a country you are visiting, beyond the itinerary, especially if you're traveling solo and looking for more expert/local advice. Generally, the contributors are highly vetted in these publications.
12. Download any necessary travel apps to help with your plans. Travel apps will not only help to inform your itinerary, they can also keep things efficient for you once you arrive. For example, Google maps doesn't work well in Seoul, but using their local map guide will ease the burden of getting around.
13. Research the style and fashions of your travel destination. This will inform your capsule wardrobe and give you enough time to purchase and plan what you need to pack. Design your wardrobe to match the environment, architecture, weather, and what the locals are wearing.
14. Don't overpack your itinerary! Some of the best travel moments come from spontaneous choices and a flexible schedule. You may get lost, but that could be a good thing. Leave windows of time for rest, wandering and seeing where the trip takes you.
15. Plan to be flexible. There are an infinite number of variables of things that can happen or go wrong when you're in a place you've never been before and especially if you're solo. So, if the luggage gets lost or you scrape a knee, keep a light-heart and know this is what's meant for you right now. It will all make more sense later. Enjoy every moment that you can.
Have any different personal favorite travel planning tips? Send them in!
Enjoy planning your next vacation get-away.