How to plan a trip abroad for the first time
When it comes to following the steps on how to plan a trip abroad for the first time, it can be overwhelming to start with.
Although there are many things to consider during the planning process, I want to try and make it as straightforward as possible.
Although it makes sense to follow the steps in order, you’ll see that there are some parts of trip planning that overlap. This means you might need to complete two steps simultaneously in some instances.
Pro tip: Take notes during your planning process. Find everything you want to book and add it all together to check the itinerary works BEFORE you purchase.
Once you have found everything you are happy with and can see it all works seamlessly within your itinerary, should you start booking the various features you have found.
Some links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through my links I may make a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Decide on a travel style
Our first important step on our list of how to plan a trip abroad (for the 10th or first time) is choosing a travel style.
When people say, “I like to travel”, it doesn’t answer much. That’s because there are countless different ways to travel.
One travel style is going to create an entirely different experience from another. That’s why it’s best to work out the style best suited to you, early on.
For example, my general travel style is solo, long-term & budget.
This means I tend to aim for longer periods of travel (at minimum of a few months at a time) backpacking, and I tend to stay in hostels and sociable accommodation so I can save money and meet other travellers.
This travel style could be deemed a nightmare for someone who prefers to spend their holiday in a 5* luxury resort for no more than a week.
Some people like city breaks, whereas others need beaches and won’t settle for less.
Have a think about what type of trip you’re looking for. This is really important as without knowing your travel style, you’ll struggle to work out an appropriate budget for your adventure.
If this is the first time you’re taking a trip, it might be worth reading up on various travel styles, so you understand the type to add to your plan.
Figure out what you’re happy to spend
Let’s face it, unless you are stinking rich and can throw a few grand at something like its 10p, you’ll probably need a budget in mind.
When learning how to plan a trip, working out the budget can seem daunting, especially if it’s all new to you. But unfortunately, it is quite an essential piece of the puzzle.
Ideally, you’ll want to look at your incoming and outgoing finances and see what you can afford to spend. Maybe you already have some money set aside for your holidays, or perhaps you just have one big savings pot.
Regardless of how your money is separated, this is the time to work out what you want and are able to spend.
Remember: A short trip won’t require the same amount of money as a long trip of the same travel style. Knowing your travel style will help the budget come together.
Plus, if you’re familiar with my site already, you’ll know I love and recommend working holidays and gap years. These are great if you don’t have much saved and would like the option to work throughout your trip.
If making and saving money is a goal of yours, you can do so without giving up a travel experience!
Need to transfer money into another currency or use a travel card? Check out Wise! I’ve been using them myself since 2014 and haven’t looked back!
Choose the trip length
When it comes to trying to plan a trip abroad, you need to decide how long you wish to travel. Everyone’s situation is slightly different due to their jobs and personal situations.
This isn’t something that can be decided with research as this is more dependent on the individual’s situation. One of the main things to ask yourself is:
“Do I have any events I need to plan around?”
For example, do you have any birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers or weddings to be back home for? Or maybe you only have a limited number of days or weeks off from work?
If the answer is no, then great, you can go on any trip length that you can comfortably afford. This includes moving overseas or going on a popular gap year route!
Don’t worry, there is no wrong age for a gap year. (There are even gap years specifically for grown-ups).
If the answer is yes, then those are the events you should work around when you try to plan a trip. This will also determine “when” you can travel which we talk about in the next step.
Decide when you’d like to travel
When it comes to choosing “when” to travel you have a few factors relating to home to look into:
- Do you need to plan your trip abroad around home events?
- Are you restricted by work to only travelling at a certain time of year?
With these questions, you’ll start to create a picture of when you can or want to travel.
For example, if you have an entire summer filled with weddings and events that you can’t miss, you have 3 other seasons to consider travelling in.
Or maybe you’re a teacher so can only travel during the summer break? Or perhaps working in retail, Christmas is your busiest period so you can go anytime EXCEPT the 2 months before Christmas.
But not everyone is restricted by an employer or home events like the examples above. Sometimes the destination itself is the deciding factor when you try to plan a trip, but how?
- Is there something, in particular, you want to see or do?
- Will the weather in the destination be affected?
Or maybe it’s not as complicated as either of those and instead, you want to see the whales and orcas in Tromso.
Well, it would be pointless to travel there in Spring since their migration only happens between October and February.
If you’re relatively flexible in your plan and can take a trip abroad at any time from your end, you’ll want to make sure you’re not heading to a place during an unadvised time of year.
This could include hurricane or monsoon seasons or other bad weather forecasts.
Choose your destinations
This is honestly my favourite part of the trip-planning process! There are so many places around the world to visit.
Although people travel for completely different reasons, there are a few questions that can hopefully help you start the process.
This list of questions is just the tip of the iceberg to hopefully get your ideas flowing.
- Think about the climate you want to be in.
- Consider the local cuisines you want to try.
- Is there a culture or language you want to experience first-hand?
- Do you need to visit somewhere specific for a chosen activity?
Unless you already have a destination in mind (maybe you have a huge bucket list of places to visit), you’ll probably need to research different places.
There really is no “one-way” to research destinations so it’s always worth checking out the different resources available.
- Google – Google holds the answers to many travel questions
- Recommendations – Speak to people you know and listen to where they recommend
- Nomadic Matt – One of the original travel blogs for budget-conscious travellers
- Maps – Even just looking at an actual map can help give you inspiration
- Trip Advisor – This site offers real-person reviews of destinations and activities
- Read articles – Sometimes blogs can give you ideas you hadn’t thought of
- Use social media – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok are all full of inspiration
If you’re feeling spontaneous you could just close your eyes, spin a globe and see where you point to.
If it’s your first time making a trip plan, make sure you keep a note of where you find each piece of information. It’s always worth knowing where to look if you need to be reminded of anything.
Since I love to travel so much, I already have a huge list of places I’d love to visit. Throughout the year, if I happen to fall upon an amazing trip idea or a landmark I like to save it for later. You can easily bookmark webpages and sites into categories and folders.
Plus, you can utilise Pinterest and create entire boards of things you have an interest in.
Doing these things as you come across them can save a significant amount of time when it actually comes to planning a trip – since you already have a list!
Research average costs in destinations
During your research process, it’s always worth taking a look at the average costs within the destination you want to visit.
Not only will this give you an idea of what to expect, but it will also help you narrow down if the destinations you are considering will definitely fit into your estimated budget.
When it comes to making a budget plan for the first time for a trip abroad, this is a very important piece of the puzzle.
The best way to start this is by looking at the website Numbeo.
Numbeo is a site that allows you to compare the everyday living costs between different cities around the world.
You can check these locations individually or compare them with another city you’re familiar with (like your hometown). This allows you to make estimates on what it might cost you each day to eat and travel around that destination.
Arrange any visas needed
Ok so at this stage of your trip plan, you know your estimated budget, when and how long you wish to travel abroad and you’ve even decided on where to go.
Before you can officially start booking anything you should find out if any visas are required. In some instances, you need to have your visa booked in advance. Other times you can actually get a visa on arrival.
My favourite site to use is iVisa. Here you can learn what visa you need based on your passport country and trip destination and purchase them if necessary.
If you are planning on a long-term or work visa instead then you will often need to contact the immigration or government website for the country in question.
Want to learn more about what working holidays are? Or maybe check out what destinations you can get a working holiday visa (WHV) in.
If you’d like to see a step-by-step guide on how to get your own working holiday visas, check out these posts below of processes I have already completed personally:
Find appropriate travel Insurance
When it comes to knowing how to plan a trip abroad for the first time, one common thing people overlook (even though they shouldn’t) is travel insurance. I’m a firm believer that “if you can’t afford insurance, then you can’t afford to travel“.
Planning on visiting multiple destinations or travelling for a long time? Take a look at why you need backpackers travel insurance.
To summarise, not only does travel insurance help you financially if you get sick or injured during a trip, but it can also cover certain activities, travel disruptions, and cancellations, as well as cover your baggage.
There are always three travel insurance brands I compare when planning a trip. That’s because each of them has slightly different features.
Not every trip is going to be the same so I always like to have more than one insurance company to look at. My favourite brands are:
All three cover UK citizens. Not British? World Nomads would be the one to choose as they cover people from outside of the UK too.
After finding everything you want to book for your trip, make sure to book the insurance first. Then you’re covered if anything gets cancelled before the trip starts.
Plan your transport to the destination
When you start to plan a trip abroad, you will need to work out how to get to your destination. There are typically a few different methods of transport you can take to get places including car, bus, train, plane or boat.
Since each of the land transport options varies depending on the region you’re in, I’ll share my recommendations for land travel later on.
Flying is without a doubt the quickest way to travel long distances. It is not the cheapest option, however. When you need to find flights for your trip you will need to compare a few things before making your purchases.
If your plan for the trip includes flying for the first time, check out how to prevent jet lag on your journey.
Stops & layovers
Can you fly there non-stop? Or are there any stops or layovers included in the journey? If so, how many are there and how long are they? Do you require a transit visa or a tourist visa for the stopover destination? Are you eligible for one?
By understanding the rules for the individual stopover location, you can make sure to follow the rules and avoid getting into trouble at the airport. You might need a transit visa for a short 1.5-hour stop.
Or you might be required to get a tourist visa because the stop is longer than 12 hours. Make sure you know what you need.
How long is the overall journey, including your stopovers? What time do you take off and what time do you land?
By knowing this information in advance you have a much clearer picture of when your accommodation can expect you to check in at the other end.
Plus, if you’re travelling solo you might not feel comfortable landing in an unfamiliar location late at night. Knowing when you land can help you plan a safe route to your hotel or change the flight itinerary altogether.
How much do the flights cost? This is especially important if you are working with a strict budget. In many situations, if you need a cheaper flight, you’re likely to have to sacrifice comfort.
This could include taking a longer flight path with multiple stops, to save yourself £200.
What airline/s is the journey with? I’ll be honest and say some airlines have a much better reputation than others so this can be important.
Maybe they have a larger baggage allowance, more legroom or a better entertainment system in place than their competitors.
Plus, if you are planning on using an air miles type of program it can be worth trying to stick with the same airline or group each time to make points collecting worth it.
With these questions in mind, you should probably know where to look for flights so you can put the questions into action.
My go-to comparison sites are often Skyscanner and Kayak. Plus I like to use Google flights as well.
Skyscanner is my preferred site as it is easy to filter down the options. Plus if you want to choose your own stopover, they make it very easy to do so – without much extra cost (we will talk about this in another post soon).
Booking your accommodation
When it comes to accommodation there are so many resources to use. There are also a few different questions you need to ask yourself before booking somewhere to stay.
- What type of accommodation do I want to stay in?
- Where in the destination do I want to stay?
Let’s break these down step-by-step.
What type of accommodation do you want to stay in?
Remember back to step 1 when you had to think about your travel style? This step is where that answer comes back into play.
I always choose my accommodation by the type of trip I’m taking. For example, if I am travelling on my own I will make sure to book a hostel through HostelWorld.
This is because hostels are notoriously more sociable and really cater to the solo traveller.
If going on a trip with a friend or companion, I would prefer to choose a different style of property such as a hotel or apartment. You can look for these on the largest property comparison site Booking.
If I’m planning on a long-term trip I prefer to stay in more cost-effective accommodations so I have more money for the activities and experiences on the trip instead. I definitely do not need luxury.
Use these above examples as well as your style to help you decide what type of accommodation you need.
When you plan a trip abroad for the first time, these accommodations might seem confusing so check out this post below to understand their differences:
Hostels vs hotels: Which is right for you?
Where in the destination do you want to stay?
So, we need to first find out where exactly we’d like to stay.
- Do you want to stay near the airport?
- Would you prefer to stay near a specific attraction on your list?
- Do you need to stay within walking distance of anything in particular?
- Is public transport important (ie do you want to be near a train station etc)
- Are there any areas to avoid or deemed dangerous?
These are the top 5 questions I will always try to answer when looking to book accommodation in a new place.
If you are trying to plan just a short trip abroad then it is best to find accommodation that is close to as many of the attractions you want to visit if possible. Usually in a centrally located area.
If you are going on a gap year or long-term trip then you can be much more flexible. A cheaper accommodation a little further out of downtown could be better suited if your budget has to last you a long time.
To research the layout of a city, I recommend using Google maps as a resource. You can simply type in the city name and see a birds-eye view of the destination.
From here you can search where the airports are and the points of attraction are located.
When you first arrive at your destination you will need to find a way to reach your accommodation. This can seem more daunting when you’re carrying all of your luggage and have just arrived.
Because let’s face it, you’re likely to be tired, irritable and possibly jet-lagged. You probably don’t want to spend ages trying to work out how to reach your accommodation after a long flight.
That’s why it’s important to work out your plan BEFORE you take off.
There are normally a few different ways to travel from an airport to your accommodation. The most common options include:
- Airport shuttle
- Public local transport (bus or train)
- Private transfer
- Picked up by a contact
In many instances, airport shuttles are managed by the airport itself. This means that it can be harder to see a comparison of options for lots of airports at once.
How to research transfers
The easiest thing to do when researching airport shuttles and local transport is to manually look for the information in a search engine (ie. google, yahoo or bing).
“Airport transfers (enter city name)”
So, for example, you could search: “airport transfers Sydney Australia”. This brings up a selection of paid ads at the top of the page. Each of these is a private company.
Further down on the page, there are sites like Viator (that specialise in activities) as well as blog posts about multiple ways to travel from Sydney airport to different parts of the city.
Uber is only found in selected big cities around the world so if you’re staying somewhere rural or small, you’re less likely to see any uber drivers.
The best way to check this is by logging on to your app and searching for the destination ahead of time. The app will then either show you cars available or will give you a notification stating that uber is not available in this location.
Be aware: You will not be able to use Uber without an internet connection.
Plan your Activities
The next step of your plan for your trip abroad (whether for the first time or not) is to find the activities and tours you wish to go on during the trip.
9 times of out 10, I will book activities and excursions through my two favourite sites:
Both of these sites have a collection of day tours and attractions available for you to choose from. I don’t have a preference between the two, however, I find that Viator has more activities listed in rural locations.
If you are visiting a major city or a destination of high popularity, both sites have lots to choose from so you’ll have no problems with either.
If you are planning to visit more obscure places “off-the-beaten-track” then Viator is more likely to have tours available.
Both brands have great reputations and are listed on my Travel Resources page as two of my go-to companies for activity bookings.
If you are unsure about the type of activities you can expect to book through them, take a look at this table below. Of course, these are not all the categories, but they are certainly some of the most popular.
Examples of activity types
|Activity Type||Activity Example|
|Skills classes||Cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand|
Salsa dancing in Antigua, Guatemala
|Guided hiking||Acatenango overnight volcano in Guatemala|
|Wildlife related||Whale safari & boat tour in Norway|
Snorkelling day tour in Belize
Alpaca farm visit in New Zealand
|City or region tour||Walking tour of Auckland, New Zealand|
Cycling tour of Mai Chau, Vietnam
Minibus road trip of Kvaloya island, Norway
|Natural Landscape||Northern Lights chase in Tromso, Norway|
Wai-O-Tapu volcanic grounds in New Zealand
|Historical experiences||Angkor Wat sunrise tour Siem Reap, Cambodia|
Tikal Mayan ruins near Flores, Guatemala
|Unique to destination||Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, New Zealand|
Jack the Ripper tour, London, England
|Food & Drink related||Beer tasting in Amsterdam|
3 wineries in the Niagara region, Canada
To make it easier for those learning how to plan a trip for the first time, you can search for activities for destination and travel dates.
If you’ve already had recommendations and you know what you want to do, you can usually type in the activity for the site to give you recommendations of all tour companies providing that activity. They’re very straightforward to use.
In some instances, you might find activities that can only be booked in person at a specific venue, and in others, you may need to book with cash only (something you can’t do online).
Build your itinerary
If it’s your first time, this is probably the most complicated part of the entire planning process for a trip abroad.
So you’ve researched and saved each different part of the trip in tabs or in your notes, and now it’s time to build your itinerary!
This is where you try to fit everything into a rough (or very organised) schedule so you know exactly what you can or can’t officially book.
I will be making a step-by-step guide on this in another post (coming out soon), but the basics of the itinerary building include checking the dates and times of everything, along with how long everything takes and making sure it all fits into your trip timeline.
If you’re just starting out, just making a list with the dates and hours listed is a good place to start.
I often use notepads or a google sheets document to keep all my itinerary details in one place. I can access it anywhere through my Google Drive and it is easy to see where there are gaps when planning in time blocks.
Why do we need itineraries?
Itineraries help you see if you can physically make it to multiple excursions in one day.
There would be no point in booking 2 tours for the same day if one is 8 am – 4.30 pm and the second is from 2 pm – 6 pm since you’d not make it back in time to start the 2nd.
Having a visual itinerary can make it much easier to see where you have free time and when you are already booked up. This makes it easier to book everything you need – successfully.
If your trip is only a few weeks long then it can often seem harder to make an itinerary. This is because it’s common to want to do as much as possible, even though you might not have enough time to do everything.
If your travel style is relaxation, you don’t plan on leaving your resort and you want to take every day as it comes, then you likely don’t need a detailed itinerary. All you’d need to know are your flight details, transfer information and the accommodation address.
Long trips are surprisingly easier to plan and don’t really need a regimented itinerary since you have (potentially) months to do all you want.
This allows you much more flexibility and can plan part of your trip while already in the destination. Prime examples of this would be when on working holidays.
Once you have a draft written down with all your flights, accommodations, transfers, activities etc, feel free to FINALLY BOOK EVERYTHING!
Once your bookings have been made, move on to the final (but just as important) step of completing your plan for a trip abroad.
Gather your documents
When you prepare for any trip, you will need to get your documentation in order. Whether travelling on a short or long trip, the same documents are always recommended – just in case.
I’ll give you a rundown of the recommended documents below, but we go into much more detail in another post:
18 Important travel documents needed for a long trip
- Appropriate visas
- Passport-size photographs
- Driving Licence (or international licence if applicable)
- Travel insurance for the duration of your trip
- Money (either travel cards, traveller’s cheques or foreign currency)
- Vaccination records
- Emergency contact information
- Trip itinerary
- Trip tickets (flights, travel, activity printout etc)
It’s also good practice to take photocopies of EVERYTHING and keep them somewhere you can access them, like in an email to yourself.
Pro tip: Give a trusted person at home a copy of your documents if you are able to. This way, you can still have them sent to you in an emergency or if you lose yours.
Where to keep your documents
Any travel documents included in your plan and trip itinerary for the first time you travel abroad should be kept together.
What’s great about travelling in the modern world, is how many tickets are sent digitally now. This means that you don’t have to take everything as a printout.
Many tickets will be viewable on your mobile phone (assuming you don’t have a Nokia 3310 from the ’90s and early 2000s).
There are also many ways to store your documents in order to keep them safe for your trip. The easiest thing you can do is put all of your documents in one place so you can find them all quickly.
You can do two things:
- Store them digitally
- Print them out
Tip: For any bookings and tickets you receive, move them into a specific folder in your inbox. That way you only have one folder to go through when looking for things.
If you are not planning on getting a local sim card during your travels and just relying on wifi, I highly recommend taking a screenshot of each of your tickets so you can still access them, even without the internet.
If you would prefer to print everything out, consider getting a small travel folder or binder. This will keep all of your documents together and can be carried easily in a backpack or suitcase.
Plan a trip abroad for the first time – Complete!
You have successfully completed a plan and booking process for the first time for a trip abroad. Now the countdown is on until the big travel day!
If you have any questions, feel free to message me in the comments or by email & I’ll be glad to help!