Preparing for a Trip Abroad (It's Easier Than You Think)

Ok...the ticket's booked, and you're freaking out! Imagining all the delicious foods you're going to try, the beautiful places you'll see, and the bomb-a** Instagram shots you'll take has your mind in a jumbled, excited mess.

There's just one little thing you still have consider though...

Planning.

Even if you travel abroad quite regularly, it's important to spend some time thinking about the details of your trip.

Thinking about those trip details ;)

Thinking about those trip details ;)

As an easygoing backpacker myself, I don't mean 'details' as in plan EVERY last second of your trip. That would be exhausting and not allow for much flexibility or surprises.

I mean 'details' as in the important stuff: visa requirements, setting a general budget for yourself, learning about the culture, etc. These are all things which will help you feel more organized and better prepared for a trip abroad.

Check out the rest of this post for my complete set of pre-trip planning steps!

Apply for a visa if necessary

To visit China, I had to apply for a visa first

To visit China, I had to apply for a visa first

If you've never heard of a visa before, it's an endorsement on a passport which allows a person to leave, enter, or stay in a country for a specific amount of time. Not all countries require visas of foreigners, but it's important to check on this before your trip and apply for one if necessary.

The reason I bring this up first, is because applying for a visa can take a considerable amount of time, and may be stressful if you've never gone through the process before.

Things to keep in mind with visas:

  • Not all countries require you to have a visa
  • Some countries require a visa prior to arrival, and others let you apply for one at the airport
  • Many visas fill an entire page in your passport (make sure your have a blank page available)
  • Visas can take awhile to process. Give yourself at least a month to apply for one
  • There are different kinds of visas depending on whether you’re traveling for work, tourism, etc.
  • Visa costs vary depending on your nationality

To get the most recent information on visa requirements, check out your home country’s Department of State website.

For Americans, that's the US Department of State country information page. Here you can type in the country you plan on visiting and get all sorts of visa and other travel information.

Read more: Applying for a Chinese Tourist Visa

Read through travel blogs

Reading through countless blog articles on China helped me find this waterfall

Reading through countless blog articles on China helped me find this waterfall

The next thing I do whenever I’ve booked a ticket to someplace new, is scour my favorite travel blogs. I prefer blog-style writing and travel advice because the information is more detailed, personal, and budget-focused than that from a professional travel company.

Few bloggers have been to every country though, so you may need to poke around a few different blogs till you find the right one.

An easy way to see which countries a blogger has visited and written about is by clicking on their ‘Destinations’ or ‘Adventures’ tab if their blog has one. This should take you to a list view or highlighted map of all the countries they’ve been to.

Some travel blogs I recommend starting with are:

The writers behind these blog are all experienced world travelers who have been to a wide-variety of countries.

** Check out my ‘Destinations’ page as well and see if I have what you’re looking for!

If all else fails, it can be really helpful to simply Google: ‘Country Name’ travel itinerary, or ‘Country Name’ travel tips. Searches like these will often come up with some of the most popular travel blogs for those countries.

Narrow down your list of cities/sights to see

We didn't plan on visiting this cave in China but it was a good addition to our trip

We didn't plan on visiting this cave in China but it was a good addition to our trip

After reading a few travel blogs, you’ll likely have learned about a bunch of cities and sights you’ve never heard of before. One of the best ways to determine which ones you should prioritize is by pouring through Google images and Pinterest.

Looking at images can help you decide which places look most interesting and should be researched more.

To start this process, type each city and sight’s name into Google images or Pinterest. One-by-one, track which places spark your interest the most.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list a bit, go back to Google and start researching those places individually.

Sample searches are:

  • ‘City Name’ travel itinerary
  • ‘City Name’ travel tips
  • Things to do in ‘City Name’

This extra bit of research will give you a hint as to how much there is to do in certain cities or places, and whether or not the images you found tell a true story.

Map out a general route

Planning our route among the peaks of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Planning our route among the peaks of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

When it comes to mapping out your route, there are a bunch of different methods and levels of detail you can use.

Personally, I like to leave my route pretty vague, and flexible to change while I’m abroad. Whether this is your travel style as well, or you prefer to have more structure, planning a basic route ahead of time can help you determine whether your plans are doable for your time frame or not.

One of my favorite tools for doing this lately is a Google service called ‘My Maps.’ Instead of marking up a paper map, ‘My Maps’ allows you to create and share your own digital maps.

I’M OBSESSED WITH IT.

Check it out and let me know what you think! There’s nothing wrong with a good ole’ paper map if you decide that’s more your style.

Read more: 3 Day Zhangjiajie Travel Itinerary

Read more: Backpacking Philippines: 3 Week Itinerary

Create a daily budget

Research how much an average meal will cost you is in the country you're visiting

Research how much an average meal will cost you is in the country you're visiting

To do this, figure out how much money you 'have available to spend,' and how much money you'd 'prefer to spend.' When I'm determining my budget, I take the amount of money I'd like to spend, and divide it by the number of days I'll be abroad.

Money leftover which still fits under the ceiling of 'money I have available to spend,' is extra funds I can use to cover unexpected costs or an emergency situation during my trip.

If you're not sure how much money you'll need for your trip, start by figuring out the average hostel or Airbnb price is in the different cities you plan on visiting. I like using HostelWorld to search for hostel prices (Airbnb is pretty self-explanatory haha).

After you've calculated the approximate amount of money you'll spend on lodging, do some more blog research and try to figure out how much a typical meal costs in the country you're visiting. 

Once you know food and lodging expenses, the only other things you'll likely spend money on are transportation (long-haul buses, domestic flights, taxis, etc.) and entertainment/activities. If you know any of these details ahead of time, it can help to research prices and subtract those estimates from your overall budget.

Read more: Money-Saving Tips for Puerto Vallarta

Plan your arrival and first night’s stay

When we go abroad, we always try to know where we're staying the first night and how to get there

When we go abroad, we always try to know where we're staying the first night and how to get there

Having your first night’s stay nailed down and knowing how to get there from the airport is crucial.

As a female traveler who sometimes travels solo, knowing my way out of the airport and to my first destination makes me feel a lot more confident about navigating a different country - especially when my flight arrives at night!

With your arrival and first night's stay set, you also don't have to spend any extra time lugging your baggage around then you already have to.

To get started planning your arrival:

  • Find out what your options are for leaving the airport.
    • Is there cheap, public transportation available or will you likely be taking a taxi?
    • How much should a taxi ride from the airport cost? (So you don't get scammed)!
    • Does your hotel/hostel offer airport pickups?

To plan your first night's stay, I recommend checking out HostelWorld or Airbnb for cheap accomodation. 

Consider only booking your first night's stay initially, because the hostel/hotel may not turn out to be what you expected. When I went to Sayulita, Mexico, the first hostel I stayed in was pretty overpriced and dirty, leaving me grateful to leave the next morning.

Read more: The Ultimate Sayulita Travel Guide

Learn about the country’s culture

Food is a big part of learning about a country's culture. In China, locals make fresh dumplings by hand

Food is a big part of learning about a country's culture. In China, locals make fresh dumplings by hand

Before jetting off to another country, make sure you get to know their culture a little bit.

Is the dress code for women more conservative there? What are their staple food dishes? Is the country going through a period of political unrest?

Answering these types of questions before you leave can greatly impact your safety, quality of time abroad, and general respectfulness as a traveler.

As I plan for a trip in Morocco, I’m putting a lot of consideration into the types of clothes I’ll be packing. Morocco has a fairly conservative Muslim culture, and is also on the warmer side. This means I need to bring clothes which cover my body appropriately, but are also light and airy.

Read more: Tips for Your First Trip to China

Find out what the weather will be like

The Winter in China is COLD up north. Had I planned on visiting Zhangjiajie ahead of time, I would've packed a warmer coat!

The Winter in China is COLD up north. Had I planned on visiting Zhangjiajie ahead of time, I would've packed a warmer coat!

One of the most depressing travel mistakes is getting to a country and realizing you packed ALL the wrong clothes.

To avoid this, research what a country’s weather is like during ‘x’ time of year, and try to get answers around ‘average daily temperature,’ ‘rainfall,’ etc. The last thing you want to do is show up in a place you thought had beautiful weather year-round, and be freezing or stuck in the rain without proper attire.

BONUS: Learn a few words of the language

Learning a few basic words of Chinese helped me feel more prepared on my trip to China

Learning a few basic words of Chinese helped me feel more prepared on my trip to China

If you’re traveling to a country whose native language is different than your own, learning 10-20 common words and phrases before arriving can make a HUGE difference.

You’ll suddenly have a leg up when it comes to things like ordering food and finding a restroom. If nothing else though, the fact you’re trying to speak the language and pronounce the words correctly is something greatly appreciated by locals everywhere.

Always remember when you’re traveling that it is not the local’s responsibility to understand you. Sure it’s nice and very helpful when they understand you, however, you’re in THEIR home.

To get started learning the basics of a language, check out Duolingo. They don’t have every language, but there’s quite a few and you may find what you’re looking for.

For translation help abroad, I highly recommend downloading whichever language you need onto your device before you leave. You can do this through Google Translate, and have access their translations even when you’re offline.

To do this, view Google’s instructions for downloading languages to use offline.

 

Where are you headed to on your next trip?

Let me know in the comments below!