A step-by-step guide on how to plan your next trip abroad.
How’s the week going? My apologies for the radio silence over here the last few days — we ran into some issues with the back-end of the site this week, so if you weren’t receiving new post notifications, it should be fixed now. (That’s also why I haven’t been able to get a post up ’til today — I’ll make sure this Friday’s Cool Sh*t to Share is jam-packed with good sh*t since we missed last week’s.)
At the moment, I’m wakin’ up in Vegas.
It was a last-minute trip, but my sisters and I found really cheap flights ($80 round-trip) so we just booked ’em. Details on that in tomorrow’s recap.
And while we’re on the subject: I have a post in the works for you on how to find cheap flights — domestically and internationally — but I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself, which you’ll see why as you read on.
First things first:
I am so excited to kick off our new travel series/recap my six-week European adventure with ya’ll. I know damn-well that I’m very lucky to be able to pick-up and travel to my heart’s desire (for any amount of time), and that’s in large part to you guys. So thank you for following along, for your interests, suggestions, kind words over my unexpected career change and everything in between.
For today, though: Square One.
Out of curiosity, have you ever been to Europe? Or another country in general?
Even if you haven’t, I’m sure you can relate: An international trip — or vacation in general — can be a really daunting task. You know the feeling, right?
Where do you even start? What’s step one? Step two?
Yep, I’m with you… And that was my cloudy brain leading up to my departure as well.
It’s really easy to get overwhelmed in the initial phases of planning a trip abroad — especially if it’s your first one.
… But if you’ve ever dreamt about traveling or experiencing another place in the world, I really encourage you to do it.
And yes, you can make it happen. Which is where we’ll start.
How to plan your first
(or next) trip to Europe
I don’t want to overwhelm you with loads of itinerary advice and information (yet), so I thought it’d be best to break this down into a multi-post series.
Today, it’s just the foundation — which is really important. It’s the stuff that comes before you even think about booking a flight or spending your hard-earned money.
That being said, please allow your imagination to wander(lust) freely and authentically.
(Also, for the sake of speaking from my experience, I’m going to use the phrase “Eurotrip” or “trip to Europe” below — but I encourage you to explore wherever it is in the world that your heart-strings tug you towards.)
Here’s a handy graphic you can pin or save for later reference, but my advice, explanations and own personal experiences are detailed below.
1. Make a bucket list.
And dream big, gals.
I know, “dream big.”
… This may seem like a vague little Pinterest’y notion, but it’s worth reminding as this is how you’ll bring your trip to life.
Grab a pen-and-paper or create a folder (“collection”) in your Instagram of the places you’d love to travel to. They don’t even have to be near one another, just let your wanderlust flow.
I organize mine like this: Europe, Paris, Spain, Australia, Asia. Reason being, Spain and Australia are the next two destinations at the top of my wanderlust list… And you can never have enough of Paris.
In thinking about planning your dream trip, write down things you like, what you’d love to do, see, eat, experience and so on. These things don’t have to be super fancy or even “legit,” so-to-speak.
For me, I fantasized about riding a vespa, sitting on the beach in Cinque Terre under those cute colored umbrellas, and eating my weight in pasta and red wine throughout Italy, among other things…
As my plans became more firm and the trip slowly came to life, even still — the only “set-in-stone” goals I had before I left the US were:
- Explore Europe by train.
- Go to Cinque Terre.
- Drive a vespa.
- Travel through Italy by myself.
- Meet new people.
- Stay in a hostel (or two).
- Skydive in the Swiss Alps.
And more loosely speaking, it was a bit like this:
- Have no expectations.
- Let go of the need for a strict agenda.
- Be flexible enough to implement last-minute trip recommendations from locals/etc.
- Let yourself be vulnerable in trying new things.
- Just let go.
… But that’s what I mean.
So, what do you dream about doing? Where is the most-pinned country or destination on your Pinterest page? What type of experiences will you say “YOLO” to?
And hey, listen — it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
In fact, I’d encourage it.
As I recapped in this post, my absolute most favorite thing about traveling solo through Europe (for the first time) was that I found myself able to let go and just live.
And that feeling originated in the “planning” phase of my trip.
You don’t have to have it all figured out.
… And I’m not just talking about your travel plans. Wink.
Now, once you have a decent idea of things you’d like to do on your trip, you start the actual planning phase:
2. Decide where you want to go.
I know it’s a tempting desire to set something in stone ASAP, but don’t get too ahead of yourself and book a flight just yet — we’re getting there!
Firmly deciding where you travel to go puts a plan in place and sets a goal to work toward. A really fun one.
Your trip will become more concrete and easier to commit to. In addition, it’ll make the rest of the planning process a bit easier as well.
Location-wise, I knew I wanted to go to Switzerland, Italy and France — Germany and Slovenia were secondary destinations (where I’d love to go if I had time/was able). I had a general idea of some cities and places I wanted to see within each of those countries, but that was it.
I decided where I would begin and end (Croatia and France), but I was (annoyingly) patient and flexible in bringing the rest to reality.
You probably have an idea where you’d like to go, but if you’d like my advice, it would be to choose somewhere where you won’t need to rent or use a car.
3. Passport, people!
Your Passport is up-to-date, right?
Most of you are saying “um, duh,” but listen — I’ve experienced it first-hand with a friend. He didn’t realize his Passport expired until we were literally on the way to the airport for our trip to Thailand.
I felt so bad for him, but like… Sorry? (He made it a few days later, lol.)
If you don’t have one, all good: U.S. Passports aren’t difficult or expensive to get or renew — unless you wait ’til the last-minute to do so. Plan around four to six weeks for this process. You can get a photo at many USPS or FedEx facilities, and major-chain convenience stores.
4. Plan your trip length, seasonality and timing.
Depending on what type of trip you wrote down during step one, do some research about the season you’ll be traveling during and how much you can explore/relax/bounce around based on the length of your travels.
(NOTE: This step might come more naturally before deciding where you want to go. Some examples might be: Beach vaca, winter get-away, hiking, camping, walking everywhere, getting a tan, being nature AF with fall foliage, etc.)
You’ve got to understand the seasons — both weather-wise and as they pertain to tourism — so you know what to expect.
June through August is high-season in much of Europe, for example. I went right on the tail-end of it, which means I still caught great weather but lodging and train tickets were cheaper and didn’t need booking too far in advance.
In my opinion, don’t travel somewhere during peak high season if you can afford not to (with timing and financials). It’s fine if that’s how it works out, but know that prices will be higher and the city will be more crowded.
5. Research, research, research.
The fun part, yay!
So now you’ve got a general idea of where you want to go, for how long(ish) and what you can expect. Let’s bring this bitch to life!
Allow yourself some flexibility during this process — and please, don’t try to nail down every single little logistic upfront.
Doing the following things will help you decide how long you need (or you’re able) to travel for.
Here’s my advice on how to research an international trip — in chronological order:
- Figure out where you can fly in and out of (and compare the costs/flight times).
I find it’s best to take a red-eye when flying East so that you have a full day upon arrival.
- Look into lodging.
Using apps like Booking.com and AirBnB to explore the lodging/hotel situation — and don’t shy away from hostels. These were some of my favorite memories (but we’ll discuss that in a separate post).
Start with your arrival and departure cities, the rest you can figure out as you go/your trip gets closer.
Keep a running list of things like cost, ideal location and whether or not there’s free wi-fi. (That last one’s a non-negosh.)
If you’re planning to travel for an extended period of time, think about grabbing an AirBnB with a washer/dryer mid-way through your trip.
- Decide your primary mode of transportation.
RailEurope was mine — it’s so easy.
- Estimate your budget for lodging, transportation and other costs.
Make lists. Compare them. Microsoft Excel is your friend.
6. Block off your calendar.
Based on the costs/routes/etc you’ve found, determine the number of days you could (or plan to) stay — in total and in each place that you’ve been researched — knowing that you’ll probably have to trim or switch things up later.
I find that it’s nice to balance time in big cities with a few days in smaller, tranquil villages.
And guys, if I may offer another piece of advice:
Don’t plan to stay somewhere for just one day.
Don’t. Just don’t — unless it’s a day-trip from somewhere.
You’ll want time to absorb.
Recently, Jess and I took a day-trip to Bordeaux from Paris during our last trip (since it’s a quick two-hour train ride) and we ended up staying more than two days there. We loved it so much!
I cannot stress this enough: Allow yourself flexibility.
When I look back on my six-week trip to Europe, it’s these 10 experiences and moments that I remember. The trip of a lifetime where you want to see and eat and experience and smell and absorb as much as humanly possible.
Be patient with yourself, this process is supposed to be fun, educational and exciting. Don’t let the initially daunting tasking of “where the f-ck do I start?” hinder you from making this a reality.
We’ll pick up where we’re leaving off with a few travel-themed posts next week, including (1) what not to do when you’re planning a trip to Europe and (2) my advice for finding cheap or last-minute flights.
If you have questions or just generally feel stuck, talk to me! Comment below with your questions and comments.
And seriously, guys, I’d love to know where you dream of traveling — that way, I can tailor the next few posts in this series to be as useful to you as possible.
… And hey, who knows? You might find a travel buddy with the same big dreams as you.
Let’s get lost…
Iron & Honey Photography