Planning your first international trip can be hard and super overwhelming. We’ve been on tons of international flights, so we know first hand how horrible long-haul flights are. Those tiny seats with hardly any leg room are awful, and plane food makes us wish we packed a three course meal instead of a couple muesli bars.
That being said, before this not-so-exciting experience can happen, you’ll need to plan and organise your trip. For someone who is traveling for the first time, the thought of doing this is probably making you a little queasy.
Are you nodding your head in agreement? Don’t worry – we’ve got your back.
Keep reading, because we’re about to share everything you need to know from choosing your destination to deciding what to take on the plane, and everything in between. Planning your first international trip doesn’t need to be stressful. In fact, it can actually be pretty fun! Here’s how.
Table of Contents
- 10 Easy Steps to Planning Your First International Trip
- 1. Choose your destination
- 2. Set a realistic budget
- Your budget should include the following:
- 3. Choose your travel dates
- 4. Narrow down your destination plans
- 5. Book flights
- 6. Search for & book accomodation
- Camper Vans and RV’s
- 7. Purchase travel insurance
- 8. Start writing your must-see list
- 9. Write a packing list
- 10. Start saving
- Pin it for later!
10 Easy Steps to Planning Your First International Trip
1. Choose your destination
Choosing your destination needs to be the first step, because, well, otherwise you won’t be able to plan anything else!
If you’ve come this far and are ready to learn how to plan your first international trip, you probably already have a general idea as to where you’d like to go. If not, it’s time to do some research!
Before starting your Google search, ask yourself the following three questions:
- Would you prefer a hot or cold climate?
- What time of year are you hoping to travel?
- How much money are you allowing for your budget?
Once you’ve made your list of preferences from the three questions above, you’re now ready to start researching the perfect destination.
If you’ve decided you would like to spend December exploring a warm climate, search for summer destinations in December. This is a great place to start, and you’ll generally come across some countries you probably didn’t even know existed!
There are so many options when it comes to international travel. Unless you have your heart set on a certain location, it can be quite overwhelming trying to make a decision. Narrowing down your options to a specific season or time of the year can make things a lot easier.
Since this is your first international trip, we suggest choosing a location that’s similar to where you’re from and what you’re used to.
For example: If you’re Australian, consider traveling to a place like the USA, New Zealand, Canada or the UK. Basically, a Western country that won’t give you too much of a culture shock. This is a great way to introduce yourself to international travel, learn what works for you and get the hang of the basics.
Solo travel tip: If you’re booking your first international trip as a solo traveler, the thought of heading overseas alone might be a bit nerve-wracking. If you want to travel but can’t find someone to travel with, consider booking your trip with a company like Contiki. They have a ton of amazing tours available, to countries all over the world. I did the Best of USA Contiki tour back in June 2015 and it was an incredible experience!
2. Set a realistic budget
Once you’ve chosen your destination, the next step is generally setting yourself a realistic budget. Your budget will depend on whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple or with a group of people. If you’re embarking on solo travel, your costs will obviously be higher, as you’ll be paying for everything yourself. If you’re traveling as a couple, splitting the cost is the easiest and cheapest way to go about it. Group travel will cut back your costs even more, as everything will be split depending on the amount of people in your group.
Your budget will also depend on where you’re traveling to. If you’re visiting Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand or Vietnam, the cost of almost everything is much cheaper than most Western countries. Staying in a five star beachside resort in Thailand, is actually really affordable. Not to mention clothing, souvenirs and food are also very budget friendly across Southeast Asia.
If you have decided to visit a Western country such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States or Canada, you’ll need to save more to be able to travel comfortably. Most things are quite expensive in these countries, and it can be quite a shock if you’re visiting from a place where the cost of living is much lower.
Your budget should include the following:
Flights – Both domestic and international, if you need to fly to a major airport within your country, from your home town.
Accomodation – If you prefer to live in style, you will obviously need to budget more for accomodation. But don’t worry, we’ll talk more about accomodation later on in the post.
Travel Insurance – This is probably the most important step, and we will tell you why soon!
Food – Your food budget will vary, depending on your style of travel. If you are someone who likes to eat out a lot while traveling, you’ll need to budget more for food. If you are happy to eat on the cheap and mainly live off street food, you won’t need to budget as much.
Souvenirs – Even if you’re not big on souvenirs, it’s always a good idea to put a little bit of money aside. You’ll more than likely find something small that you want to purchase, so you’ll be glad you budgeted extra. Not to mention those gifts for family and friends you promised you would buy!
Transport – Most major cities around the world generally have fairly reliable and decent public transport. That being said, it’s good to budget a little bit extra just incase you need to catch a Taxi or Uber as an alternate form of transportation.
Miscellaneous – It’s a good idea to be prepared for any extra costs such as tipping and taxes, especially in the United States. Tipping is customary in the United States, so having a bit of extra money already budgeted will help a lot. Withdraw some cash when you first arrive, so you’re prepared for a situation like this one to arise.
3. Choose your travel dates
Now that you’ve set yourself a budget, it’s time to decide exactly what time of year you’d like to travel. Remember back in step one, where you decided on the time of you you want to travel, to help you settle on a destination? Well now is the time we get a bit more specific.
Let’s say for example, you have chosen to spend the summer in my beautiful home country of Australia. Summer in Australia is from December until February, although it can still be quite warm a month or two on either side of this time frame. Naturally, December is going to be a peak and very busy time of year, being Christmas and the New Year. If you didn’t already know, we have some pretty spectacular beaches in Australia, and everyone wants to spend the Holiday season relaxing on one of them.
Unless you specifically want to spend Christmas in Australia, I suggest traveling towards the end of January to early February. There will be far fewer crowds, but you will still be able to enjoy a warm Australian summer!
Before settling on your specific travel dates, do some research about your chosen destination. Learn what their climate and seasons are, the best and worst times to travel and what is open and closed during the time of year you want to travel. This is the easiest way to settle on your travel dates, and make sure you’re not missing out on anything.
4. Narrow down your destination plans
By now you’ve probably chosen your destination and locked in your travel dates. But have you narrowed down the city in which you would like to start and end your trip? For example, if you have decided to spend a few weeks traveling around Australia, which city would you like to start?
If you love theme parks, you may want to begin your holiday in Queensland. South Australia is perfect for wine lovers, as there are over five incredibly popular and beautiful wineries in the Adelaide Hills. Sydney is home to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, as well as some famous beaches. The Northern Territory is great for outdoor lovers, and Uluru is one of Australia’s most popular attractions.
Again, Google will be mighty handy when deciding on the start and finish locations for your first international trip. We tend to base this decision on which city is cheapest to fly into, but more on that next!
5. Book flights
The next step in planning your first international trip, is booking your flights. Now that you’ve narrowed down the time of year you would like to visit, this part will be super easy. In step four I had you decide on the cities that you would like to start and end your trip in. Do some research and find out which city is the cheapest, when it comes to flights.
For example, we are currently planning our next international trip, which will be a combination of both Japan and China. Before booking flights, we research whether or not it is cheaper to fly into China or Japan first. You can do the same thing with individual cities in the country you’ve chosen to visit.
If you aren’t sure what the best flight booking website is, just do a quick Google search for book flights in _____. This should make it easy to find the most popular and commonly used websites in your country. You can also head to each airline’s individual website and search for flights that way.
When you’re ready to start searching for flights, have this information ready to go:
- The exact dates of your departure and return
- Time of day you would prefer to fly – if you aren’t too fussed about this, you can generally score some good deals for flying early in the morning or late at night
- How many people are going to be traveling – adults and children will be priced differently
- Whether or not you’re bringing checked baggage – This option costs extra, and essentially means a suitcase or bag that will be stored underneath the plane, instead of taking it on the plane with you.
- Whether you would prefer a direct flight, or a flight that has stopovers in one or more cities on the way to your final destination
Tip: Generally you’ll be given the option to purchase travel insurance when booking flights. You can opt to do this whilst booking your flights, otherwise keep reading – I’m going to be sharing more tips about insurance later in the article!
6. Search for & book accomodation
This is where things can get a bit confusing. Finding the perfect accomodation to suit your preferences can be hard, especially if you are new to traveling. There are a few different types of accomodation available:
Hotels are always going to be easy to find, regardless of your budget. Depending on the city you’re staying in, you’ll almost always be able to find something that suits you, is in your budget and in a good location. It basically all comes down to whether you’re willing to sacrifice luxury and comfort. We always stay in hotels. It’s something that we’re willing to spend a bit extra on, for that extra comfort and security.
This is a good option for families or groups of people traveling together. Airbnb’s are independently owned houses or apartments, that are essentially ‘rented’ to someone during their stay in the area. Airbnb’s are similar to hotels, but generally cheaper and a more home-like option. Most of the time they will have a kitchen, which is great if you want to save money on food and cook your own meals.
If you’re looking for super budget friendly accommodation, research hostels in the area you’re planning to stay. In most hostels, you will have a choice between private rooms, female only dorms and mixed dorms. The larger the mixed dorm is (the more beds the room can fit), the cheaper your nightly fee will be.
Camper Vans and RV’s
Some countries around the world are perfect for road tripping. Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand and Europe are some great examples. So depending on the location you’ve chosen, hitting the road may be the perfect option! There are lots of different types of camper vans. From super small (not much bigger than a regular sized car), to the huge, can-fit-an-entire-family style RV.
Camper vans are generally priced by the day, so the longer you plan on renting one, the more expensive it will be. That being said, choosing a camper van could save you a lot of money on accomodation. Given that you’re literally driving your accomodation with you, and there are a ton of cheap or even free places to set up camp for the night.
Choose the style of accomodation that suits you best, and begin your search! The closer you are to the CBD, the more costly hotels will generally be. You can also score some pretty amazing deals just by shopping around. Do some research and read reviews about popular hotels, hostels or Airbnbs in the area.
7. Purchase travel insurance
Purchasing travel insurance is the most important step in planning your first international trip, or any holiday for that matter! You should never leave the country without having valid travel insurance, because unfortunately, there are a lot of things that could go wrong while traveling.
From the small but very frustrating issues such as lost luggage, to a bad physical injury that requires medical attention. It’s always important to include travel insurance into your budget. There are a lot of different travel insurance companies around, and this will depend on the country you live in. But generally if the option is available, fully comprehensive travel insurance is the best way to go.
Tip: Compare travel insurance companies in your home country to find one that suits your requirements and needs. Most travel insurance companies are fairly similar when it comes to coverage, it will mainly be the price that varies.
8. Start writing your must-see list
I’m sure you already have an idea about what you absolutely cannot miss. After all, those places or attractions are probably the reason you chose your destination to begin with. But once you dig a little deeper into a city or country, you’ll find that there are an endless amount of things to see and do. What you consider a must-see will obviously vary depending on your interests. So do some research, talk to your travel buddy (or buddies!) and start compiling your bucket list!
Tip: If you’re traveling with family or a group of people, compromises will need to be made when it comes to visiting attractions. But there’s a positive outcome to this situation: you will have the chance to experience some amazing places, that you never would have considered otherwise.
9. Write a packing list
Packing lists are essentially when planning your first international trip. I used to be a severe over-packer, though I have gotten better at it over the years. Learn from my mistakes, and only pack what’s necessary. I’ve even created a packing list guide just for you, so if you’re unsure as to what are essentials and what you can live without, check out that post.
Tip: Be sure to include important documents and your passport on your packing list. It’s all well and good that you’ve remembered to pack twelve pairs of underwear, but that won’t mean anything if you’ve left your passport at home. Lucky I’ve never done this, but I know there are a lot of people who have. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared!
10. Start saving
If you’re planning long-term travel, it’s best to save as much as you can before heading off on your adventure. For short term travel, how much money you’ll need to save depends on the location you’ve chosen and your budget. As a general rule though, always save and bring more money than you think you’ll need. It’s better to have extra money when you arrive home, than be struggling to pay for food and general everyday items half way through your trip!
From this point on, it’s all pretty much excitement and as little or as much planning as you’d like to do! Some people like to plan their trip down to the last second, others like to totally wing it. The choice is yours, and ultimately whatever you decide, you can always change things up! That’s the beauty about planning your own holiday: everything is up to you!
Planning your first international trip will most likely be a combination of uncertainty, a small amount of stress and maybe a bit of nerves and anxiety. But both the planning stage and actually embarking on your overseas adventure, will be one of the best experiences of your life, no matter where you decide to go! There’s something so exciting and life-changing about setting off on your first international holiday, so enjoy every single second of it!
Where are you planning your first international trip for? Tell me in the comments below! If there is anything you would like to know, that isn’t included in this post, I’m happy to answer any questions!
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