Travel Tips

How to Plan Travel

We’ve compiled our top tips for HOW TO PLAN TRAVEL!

There are various stages in the travel planning process, but the key points are outlined below to assist you in your future plans.

Pre-trip planning:

  1. Decide on a destination (or destination region) – check the weather, festivals and celebrations, pricing for the season and costs per day. Depending on the location you’ve selected, I would suggest you check the state department for travel warnings in the country(ies) of interest to ensure it is safe for travel.
  2. Check your passport – most countries require 6 months validity remaining and enough pages to fit all your stamps/visas for the trip.  If you need to renew or get extra pages, no worries there are tons of services to help, even if you are short on time!
  3. Determine visa requirements.  For US citizens, they are listed here. Many visas take weeks to receive, but there are services to expedite if you want to shell out the cash.  Do note that many visas are also good for a long period of time (especially in South America – 10 years is standard on the more expensive reciprocity visas).  This means you’ll want to be sure you have a passport that won’t expire soon if you plan to shell out the cash for these (some are close to $200).
  4. Check on immunizations.  This can be done on the CDC website. If you need a shot outside of the standard immunizations provided by your local primary care physician you’ll need to visit a travel clinic. Travel clinics charge a fee just for an appointment, so be sure you have the full list of where you’re headed and shop around locally for the best facility. If your local hospital has a travel clinic it’s usually more affordable – do a quick Google search or call to ask. Some insurance carriers will cover the cost of the immunizations, but many will not. If you’re concerned about cost, I recommend calling the clinic to verify the list of shots/pills and then checking if your insurance will cover some/all of the costs.
  5. Get travel insurance – the kind that covers you in absolute emergencies.  I promise it is relatively cheap and it is worth it!  You can compare a bunch of options here to decide what’s best for you.

Awesome Apps & International Travel Tricks:

  1. Charles Schwab debit card and a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card:
    – Charles Schwab does not charge any ATM fees – which literally saved me hundreds of dollars – some countries have $6+ ATM fees and have $100 withdrawal maximums, so you’re way better off not having the fees!
    Chase Sapphire Reserve has tons of perks built into the card, don’t get bugged out by the annual fee, promise you it is well worth it.  You get access to lounges across the world, Global entry (which includes TSA precheck), $300 back on travel purchases immediately, 50,000 signup bonus points, which will get you free hotels, flights or rental cars. Best costumer service (avg 30 sec hold time), & concierge service accessible internationally!
  2. Be sure your phone is unlocked and able to accept SIM cards around the world.  This will keep your cost way down, grab a SIM in each country (or region depending on the provider). Get a data only plan (as you can use Viber and What’sApp to make calls through data) often times you can get anywhere from 1-5 GB of data for $10-30.
  3. What’sApp – keeps your local number while you travel and swap out SIM cards
  4. Viber – allows you to make calls to a phone number – user on the other end does not need to have the app.
  5. Google Translate – you can use the traditional type in a word translate feature, or you can switch to visual mode and hold your phone over a sign or menu in another language – and it will translate on the image!
  6. WeChat – this is especially helpful in Asia, you can add a local (a text messaging app on steroids) – type in your native language (for me that was English) – and the message shows up on their phone in their language (which in my use case was Mandarin).  This was a life saver, used on train cars with conductors, hostels with locals and the post office to send packages home to America from rural China.
  7. SnapChat – with it’s new SnapMap feature, I see this as a major added bonus, when you end up in a new country and you see where in the world your friends are located!
  8. Detour – walking tours in many cities around the world
  9. Uber – as long as you have a SIM or wifi in your destination, you can use this ride sharing service – double check that your destination city is on this list – once you get in the car, double check that there are operating seat belts are available before they start driving (every country has different requirements) and I personally will not ride without a seat belt!

In the booking stage:

I would suggest you check the flight fares to your destination, while evaluating the costs of visas/immunizations, just to be sure everything aligns with your budget.  When you are shopping for the best flight fare, I recommend:

  1. Flights:
    Google Flights
    Sky Scanner
    Also check this local list of airlines by country to complete individual searches for regional trips and legs within the trip.These aggregators will likely pull up the best fares, but I’ve written a separate post about booking airfare, as there can be some difficulties with the third party companies they sell flights through.  Be sure you are buying directly from the airline whenever possible – otherwise you could be subject to terms and conditions that are not in your favor.  You can read more about this here.
  2. Bus/Train/Car:
    Rome2Rio – this site is a master aggregator and will show all options at once with a map (great resource!) – use this first, so you know ALL your options before proceeding with securing your route.
    Wanderu – US and European bus routes…
    Go Euro – Bus and train routes across Europe…
  3. Lodging: – my favorite site as it’s started to integrate Airbnb style listings and offers free cancellation at most properties.

    Figure out roughly what you’d like to do/see (if you feel like going this far with planning):

    Lonely planet
    Trip advisor

    I often times may have an idea of some must sees, but enjoy relying on locals to get additional information and to make my daily plans on arrival…

Organize your trip – again another step only some of us would like to take :):

You can plug all your details into Tripit or Google Trips, but if that’s over the top for you, just make sure you have city guides available to you offline (tons accessible on the app store) when you get where you’re going.

Sites like will let you easily sync reservations to your calendar (google cal, ical, exchange, etc.) or add to passbook if you have an iPhone.  Look for the icons when booking on various sites to see if you have the option to do that or add flights to passbook, etc. to make your plans accessible wherever you are.

Hostels/hotels can hand you a map on arrival and you can do a city tour without much planning, but there are small things here and there that require pre-planning. Japan’s high speed rail for instance must be booked prior to arriving in the country. I would skim the basics and have some idea of what you’d like to see/how you can get there. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, planning can help you stay on track with your cash and ensuring you are taking the most cost effective option every time.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Great info, thanks! November 2, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Your tips on travel plans are really nice. I did not know about Sky Scanner! My next longer vacation will lead me to the US and Canada. So far I booked a flight to NYC and found a pretty cheap hotel on and I booked a flight back from Vancouver 5 months later. For this 5 months I have some places where I want to go and a very flexible route planned but my idea is to go where I want to go. Also domestic flights are quite cheap as well also on last minute!

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