Planning a trip is an exciting task, but it can be a bit daunting for some – especially if you’re new to traveling abroad. A lot of time goes into researching, obtaining visas, buying plane tickets, booking accommodation, and it can all be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, we have boiled it down into an easy step-by-step process that you can use to plan, book, and set off on your next international adventure.
How To Pick Your Travel Path
1). Choose Your Country (Or Countries 😉 )
Before you can ever begin to determine a travel path … you sort of need to know what countries you’re interested in visiting. Otherwise, it’s kinda like building a house without having the foundation set. So, first things first, decide which countries you’d like to visit. Ask your network for their top picks, read travel blogs, search on Pinterest, look at a map, and compile all your info. Next, take all your research and pick some countries. If you like warm weather maybe Russia in the winter isn’t for you. If you like the challenge of learning a different language pick countries where something else is spoken. Once you have chosen a location it’s time move on to looking for flights!
For our first long term travel together, we picked SE Asia, specifically: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. We may also add in Nepal, Japan, and Sri Lanka depending on how we feel in a few months.
2). Look For Cheap Flights
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is getting to where you want to go, especially when traveling from another country… or continent. Thus, scoring the cheapest deal possible is one of the most important parts of planning your trip. The more you can save on airfare the more $$$ you will have to explore awesome places once you arrive. The good news is that airlines post thousands of amazing deals each day. Whether companies accidentally publish dirt cheap “mistake fares” or slash prices to beat out the competition for your business, cheap fares are out there if you know how to search for them.
If you want the process we use, then check out Nomadic Matt’s “13-point guide to easily finding cheap flights, based on over ten years of travel and thousands of flights flown”.
When searching for flights to start our year-long adventure through SE Asia we started by searching for the cheapest day to fly for the entire year on Skyscanner, Google Flights, Kayak, ITA Matrix, and Momondo. We searched all the countries listed above and found that it was hundreds of dollars cheaper to get one-way tickets into Indonesia! So, we booked those (knowing it would be shoulder season- see next step) and flew into Bali a few months later 🙂
3). Focus On Low/Shoulder Season
One of our favorite ways to save on our travels is to ride the shoulder and low season. What are these seasons? Well, they’re descriptions of time spans based on weather, holidays, and when tourists typically travel to said areas. Traveling in low and shoulder is great for many reasons:
- You’ll spend less money (places are much more expensive during high season), you’ll have more opportunities to explore on your own (during low season some tours shut down and you can do the treks yourself without paying a fee or seeing many other people).
- There will be fewer travelers (you’ll get amazing views and landscapes all to yourself!)
- You can be more flexible and save more money (fewer people traveling overall means you can wait longer to book your accommodation and flights).
- You’ll have more opportunity to interact with locals (naturally people are more keen to chat when they’re not bombarded by foreigners).
If there is a certain activity or place that you are dying to go, you’ll want to make sure that it still runs/is open during these seasons – you don’t want to be heartbroken if you find out you can’t do something in particular!
To figure out when would be best for us to visit different countries in SE Asia we built a spreadsheet (Alli loves spreadsheets!) and listed out the seasons for each country by month. This way we had a nice and easy visual representation (that we color coded 🙂 ) of the seasons to help us chart our path.
4). Consider Visas
Just because you bought a plane ticket and are excited to see a new country doesn’t mean they’ll let you in. Make sure you check out visa requirements based on your country of citizenship! If you’re traveling to a country that requires you to get a visa at home before you travel make sure you do so. If you’re traveling to a country that requires a visa but allows you to get it at an embassy or consulate abroad make sure the country you’re in beforehand has the appropriate consulate.
Some countries will also require you to show proof of departure in the form of a ticket out of the country (this requirement is often dependent on what country your passport is from). Sometimes, you can prove that you’re leaving the country by any means, so boats, trains, planes, and automobiles are all fair game – but planes are your safest bet. If you aren’t sure what your next destination may be after visiting one of these countries, then you can always buy the cheapest possible ticket option out of that country and just consider it a lost cost (e.g. a cheap bus ticket to a bordering country). Obviously, visas are not the most glamorous part of planning your adventure but don’t be the naive traveler. We have heard horror stories of people being turned away at the border or airport for failing to meet visa requirements and trust us, you DO NOT want to be them.
5). Travel In A Logical Order (Geographically)
You’ve picked your countries, found a sweet deal on a flight to start your journey, mapped out the seasons you want to travel in, and have considered visa requirements for your country of citizenship but there’s still a little bit more to do. Next step – charting a travel path that makes the most sense based on geography and movement. A great way to save money and time is to travel to countries (or cities) that are close to one another instead of darting back and forth across a continent (or country)! In other words, instead of starting in Portugal, heading to Poland, and then darting back to check out Spain… do it the other way! Go from Portugal to Spain and then over to Poland. There’s no sense in going back and forth especially if you can partake in some amazing train travel to see the countryside and save yourself the $$$ of plane tickets 🙂
When it comes to our journey in SE Asia we try to travel in as logical an order as possible (given the other requirements listed above) so that we can make the most of our time and money in this magical place. Thus, after leaving Indonesia we left for Malaysia (home of our favorite place we have visited thus far, the Cameroon Highlands, pictured below) and then traveled to Thailand. While we have extenuating circumstances (see below) that change our path from here… it would have made sense to go to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and then Vietnam next. But we’ll just have to hop back over and hit those later.
6). Think Of Extenuating Circumstances
By this point, you’ve probably got a pretty neat list of where you want to go and a really exciting connect-the-dot travel plan formulating before your eyes. Wohoo! Before you “set it in stone” think of extenuating circumstances. We put this in quotes because as every long-term traveler knows… one of the keys to an awesome trip is to be flexible! Sure, we have a plan of what countries we’d like to hit and in what order, but we rarely ever have things booked more than two weeks in advance. You never know what opportunities will come your way and you don’t want to miss out because you already have a ticket booked.
Back to extenuating circumstances…. These can be hard to predict, but try to think of any before you leave. Family coming to visit? Need to get an immunization abroad (like when TJ got Japanese Encephalitis in Bali because it was 1/8 the price of the States)? Want to see a ceremony that only takes place once a year? Make a note and think about how it will affect your travel plan.
In our case, we have two. The first is the reason we’re ditching our logical travel path from Thailand to Myanmar. Some great friends are flying into Indonesia so we’re headed back there to meet up (don’t worry … we’re still making sense of this move geographically and stopping in Singapore on the way!). The next is Alli’s parents and TJ’s sister coming to visit us for Christmas! We’ll likely travel Vietnam together so we’re leaving this country out of the travel plans until December.
7). Don’t Leave Home Without Travel Insurance
Yeah yeah, we know what you’re thinking, “travel insurance is expensive, I’ll be fine”. Well, you don’t own a car or a house without paying for the safety net that insurance provides… do you? Well, you shouldn’t go on a trip without it either!
Why? Because travel insurance will cover most anything that happens to you! Get sick or injured – they cover the medical bills. Computer gets swallowed by a wave – they’ll help replace it. Flight gets canceled – they’ll reimburse you. Family emergency – they’ll help you sort out how to get home. Luggage lost – they’ll cover the new items you need to purchase.
Sadly, traveling is not all fun in the sun. Bad things happen and you want to protect yourself for when they do. Travel insurance is all-purpose emergency coverage and is the single most important thing that we recommend people to purchase before setting off on their next foreign adventure. Trust us! We have heard far too many stories from hostel mates who crashed their motorbikes or became seriously ill abroad (like going into anaphylactic shock from a citrus allergy in Koh Phi Phi) and had to foot the bill all on their own (medical expenses can quickly climb into thousands of dollars overnight). You don’t want to regret being cheap as you stare down at a crippling medical bill when for the price of a coffee you could have been completely covered.
Although we have been lucky thus far and hope we never have to use our insurance to cover anything serious, we have been able to use it for some things like when TJ needed to get a vaccination in Bali and Alli needed to rehab her ankle and went to physical therapy in Chile.
God forbid you get in a horrific motorbike accident in Vietnam, or fall off a cliff while trekking in Patagonia and need to be airlifted to the nearest hospital to be saved all on your own dime. Do yourself a favor and get a quality insurance plan to cover your next trip. We always use World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. They are also recommended by Lonely Planet and National Geographic so you know they are good. Do Not Set Off On An Adventure Without Travel Insurance!
Now That You’re All Ready It’s Time To Let The Excitement Build And Set Off On Your Adventure!
Planning a big international trip, especially one that’s going to be long-term can be daunting but it’s so much more manageable when you break it up into little chunks. What once was an overwhelming task suddenly becomes “easy” and it takes a lot of stress off your back knowing that you have a solid plan ready to go. Now that you have all that taken care of it is time to celebrate – the adventure of a lifetime that awaits you! Enjoy 🙂
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