Are you planning a trip overseas? International travel can feel intimidating or overwhelming at times, especially if it’s your first time leaving your home country.
I distinctly remember taking my first trip abroad as a child full of curiosity carrying zero responsibility. But as an adult, planning for an international trip can feel intimidating because, suddenly, everything going smoothly depends on you and you alone (well, you and some magic dust from the Universe). ✨
I’ve lived and traveled abroad as a slow-traveling nomad practically full-time since 2015. All of my trips are “international” trips, over domestic. So, if you’re currently reading this and worrying about how to plan your upcoming trip overseas—you can relax.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through a simple and effective process for going about planning any type of international trip—the process is the same whether you’re taking a two-week vacation or a two-month-long sabbatical to find yourself somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Are you ready to voyage beyond borders on your first international trip? Let’s get planning below!
How to Plan Your International Trip
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If you’ve mainly traveled domestically within your own country, you’ll soon realize that traveling internationally requires a bit more planning and preparation. But don’t worry—it’s nothing a quick checklist can’t knock out.
Step 1: Plan & Prepare a Checklist
A checklist is going to help you organize yourself and allow your brain to dump the hefty to-do list on paper.
Go, grab a pen and paper, and start writing down, in a neat column, the things you need to do to prepare for your international trip.
On that piece of paper, you’ll probably have a list that looks something like this:
- Flights and accommodation
- Passports, visas (if any), and travel docs
- Getting from point A to point B, find cell service, and other logistics
- Things to do, places to eat, and what to see
- Etc, etc
Once you have done a total brain-dumpage of things you need to do before, during, and possibly after your trip, then you can start to circle what’s a priority.
From there, take your list and turn it into an action plan. This is what this blog post helps you do. Planning and preparing the checklist was already step one—see how good it feels to tackle the action plan already?
Once you have a clear idea of what to do, start ticking off the to-dos one by one. You can do them in order, or by priority.
Priority tasks, for example, might include:
A) Getting your passport or any visas in order.
B) Doing ample research online for the destination country in question.
C) Preparing all important travel documents you may need and booking ahead of time to save money.
Either way, just start doing it! Don’t procrastinate preparing for your trip abroad.
Me? I like to start my international trip planning by seeing what’s possible in terms of flight deals.
Step 2: Find Deals on International Flights
Tips for finding cheap international flights:
- Search flights to/from nearby airports you could drive to (larger, international airports usually offer better flight connections)
- Use the “Date grid” and “Price graph” features to spot dates with cheaper rates (marked in green)
- You may get suggestions from Google on better connections, dates, and airports
- Select “Track prices” to get email notifications whenever a price changes for a particular flight
- Stay flexible!
Once you find a flight, click off/through to book directly through the airline website, NOT with an agency like Expedia, Rumbo, Kiwi, etc. It’s just better to reserve directly via the airline’s website to avoid mishaps and overbookings.
Always check baggage policies of the flights you are booking, so you don’t show up at the airport and get surcharge fees for extra luggage.
Note: You never need to pay for your seat on a plane, unless you want to. The same goes for insurance, hotels, and car rentals—you can book all that separately from the airfare (although, if there is a package deal that is actually good value, go for it).
Step 3: Book Accommodation & Rentals
Once you have an idea of the start and end dates (based on the best flight deals or your fixed vacation days) of your international trip, then you can start planning your accommodation, days you might need a car rental, and your general trip trajectory (i.e. how you’ll spend your time, things to do, day trips to go on, etc).
This is the most fun part!!
For hotels, I use Booking.com and have always had a seamless experience. I like using their platform to book and keep track of my reservations more than any other.
If you become a Genius member, you also get loyalty discounts and perks like 10% off, priority rates, and free breakfast in participating establishments.
Depending on the type of trip, we also search on Airbnb.
For reserving rental cars overseas, I search rates on Discovercars.com and go ahead and reserve in advance. I love using this website for rentals because the price quoted is the price you pay—no hidden fees, and their cancellation policy is pretty easy.
Step 4: Get Travel Insurance
Once everything is booked or, at least, saved for booking later, start thinking about everything else that involves travel that you might overlook or miss.
A perfect example is travel insurance. So many of us skip over this crucial step of international trip planning and yet, it’s arguably the most important.
I use and love SafetyWing — it’s a travel medical insurance for digital nomads. That said, you can’t book it before you leave the United States. It’s only once you’re abroad that you can purchase it.
The best part?
It takes less than five minutes to sign up and coverage starts immediately.
Just pop in your basic info, where you’ll be traveling abroad, and you’ll receive your insurance ID card by email that same minute you checkout. It costs only $40/4 weeks, too, which means trips shorter than that will likely even be cheaper.
Step 5: Take Care of Logistics
Part of the stress that comes with international travel derives from a feeling of unpreparedness.
To settle your anxiety, take care of the little things that are stressing you.
For example, “Once I land, how do I get from the airport to my hotel?” While it’s a simple question, it can unleash a motherload of other similar questions that will, eventually, overwhelm you because you don’t have the answers right away.
I’ve found the best way to deal with that is to just go ahead and plan, as much as possible, for the “next step.”
So, answer the question, what will you do once you arrive at your destination? Research the available options in advance; that way, you can have an idea of what to do next in person even if it’s not perfectly planned out.
Familiarity is everything with travel. And so, if you plan ahead, you’ll already feel familiar with what it is you have to do and where you need to go even in an unfamiliar place.
Step 6: Be Flexible & Consider a “Backup” Plan
Something that helps me plan my international trips is hypothetically making a backup plan. It can really just provide you with the bigger picture; the perspective that there’s always a solution, and everything will always work out.
Ask yourself “If, then” questions just so you can see that if something does go awry, you can follow it up with, “Well, what then?”
Trust me, it can really help put space in between you and your stressor; your big worry about something not going “right.”
For example, when I talk to my mom about traveling, she never fails to come back with, “But what if I miss my flight and can’t get home, or I get lost?” To that, I usually say, “Then you’ll get on the next flight out.”
Done. Problem solved.
Remember, your “big worries” aren’t likely going to manifest in real life, not unless that’s where you put all your energy and focus into… (fact: my mom actually did miss her flight from worrying about it so much—she survived).
Step 7: Pack & Get Organized
You’re almost there!
The last thing I do before traveling overseas is packing my bags—my backpacks, to be precise (I don’t travel with hard luggage anymore).
Take three hours to pack well a couple of days before your departure date. I have a handy moving abroad packing list here for you, and even though you might not be actually moving, it’ll give you a good idea of what to pack for an overseas trip!
Things to layout and prepare the night before:
- Your outfit for your travel day (I choose comfort > style for international trips because long flights are uncomfortable enough).
- Double check you have your wallet/credit cards, visa (if required), passport, keys, and all reservations (ideally, saved on your phone in digital—print them if you have to) before leaving your house.
- Saving emergency numbers, offline maps, etc, are good “just in case” safety measures to have/follow, as well.
Everything else—from your toiletries to your clothes to whatever—can be packed.
TIP: If your international flight is 10+ hours or longer, then you may want to bring a very small toiletry bag in your carry-on bag to “freshen up” on the flight. I personally hate going on long flights/travel days without brushing my teeth or at least wiping my face clean with a washcloth. 🪥🧼
Step 8: Relax & Enjoy the Experience
The last step is arguably just as important as all the others—relax and ENJOY your trip overseas!
Traveling abroad and visiting other cultures and lands is wildly exciting and eye-opening. It affords travelers wonderful learning and growth opportunities if you allow it.
For your return trip home, make sure to follow the same steps as above! Triple-check your most important documents and belongings (i.e. passport, wallet, IDs, medications, visas, etc) so nothing valuable gets left behind. If you forget clothing or other souvenirs, they can always be replaced!
If you have a particular question or worry about traveling internationally or would just like my advice on your itinerary, feel free to drop your comments down below and I’ll get back to you as best I can.
📍 PIN THIS INTERNATIONAL TRIP PLANNING GUIDE!