Posted: 30 Sep 2013 10:43 AM PDT
I remember when I started planning my first trip. I had no idea what I was doing. When I decided to quit my job and travel the world, I walked into a bookstore and bought Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on Shoestring. It made the trip seem more real but it didn’t prepare me for planning a long world trip. Back then, there weren’t really blogs, guides, and apps like they have today. I was lost. I figured it out as I went; just hoping I didn’t miss anything.
Planning a long trip can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? What's step one? what's step two? what's step three? It's easy to get overwhelmed in the beginning, especially when you haven't done something like this before.
I’ve planned countless trips for myself (and even some for friends). Over the years, I’ve developed an efficient little check-list that ensures I don’t miss anything important (I like lists). I don’t want to get somewhere and then realize I forgot something.
There is a lot of information on this website (and even more information packed into my book), but one question that comes up frequently is "Matt, how do I put this all together? Tell me where to start."
In a continuing effort to get out the door and into the world, I've created this step-by-step guide to planning a trip that breaks so planning becomes easier and less overwhelming:
Step 1 – Decide Where You Want To Go
Resources for picking your destination:
Step 2 – Decide the Length of Your Trip
How much does it cost to travel? I have no idea without knowing for how long you're going away. You can't figure out how much you need to save if you haven't decided on how long you'll be in your destination. After you say "I'm going to Paris," add "for 10 days."
Step 3 – Research Your Costs
So you know where you're going and how long you'll be there, but to really nail down how much money you need, your next task is to research the costs in your destination at the style of travel you want. Do you want to backpack, or would you rather stay in luxury hotels? How much are hostels, hotels, restaurants, and attractions? Knowing will allow you to estimate how much money you’ll need for your trip. You can begin with my travel guide section or simply buy a guidebook (which are really good for things like this).
If you are going to Paris for 10 days and need $75 a day (not including your flight), you know you need to save $750 (though round up to $800 since it's good to have extra) for your trip.
Now you have a concrete goal to work towards.
Step 4 – Start Saving Money
For example, if you need $2,000 USD for the trip you're taking in 8 months, that means you only have to save $8.33 per day. Couldn't you find a way to save $8 per day? Heck, your daily coffee is most of that! Here are three easy tips that produce big wins:
You can read this post for more in-depth and creative ways to cut your day-to-day expenses:
Step 5 – Get a Travels Rewards credit card
If you want a free flight, use the cards that help with that. If you want free hotel rooms, get a hotel card. You don't need to sign up for very many cards; pick one or two and focus on those. Do this the moment you decide you want to travel. Don't wait – waiting equals lost miles, which means less free travel.
I am always doing this so I can travel for as cheap as possible. This post will give you more information as well as a list of the latest deals: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/picking-a-travel-credit-card/.
Step 6 – Switch to No-Fee ATM Cards
Don't give banks any of your hard-earned money. Save every extra dollar you can by using a no-fee ATM card. I use Charles Schwab, but there are lots of other banks (don't forget to check your local banks) that don't charge ATM fees. Additionally, you can join a bank in the Global ATM Alliance.
Step 7 – Stay Focused and Inspired
Keep feeding your desire to travel. Here are some inspiring stories:
Step 8 – Check for Last-Minute Deals
Okay, you're inspired, prepared, and on your way to saving money for your trip. But before you go buy that flight or book that hotel, check for deals you might have missed. You may dream of Paris but maybe there are great deals to Berlin right now. Maybe you can get a 7 day cruise for 70% off, a package deal to Hawaii for the price of your flight to Paris, or 50% off sailing trips around Greece.
It's a big world, and there are lots of places I want to see so if I end up choosing B over A, I'm happy! If you're flexible too, make sure you look for any money-saving deals.
Step 9 – Book Your Flight
There are still many ways to avoid being the person on the flight who paid the most. For more tips that can reduce ticket prices even more, read this blog post.
My favorite sites for finding cheap fares:
For the best deals, book your flight about two months in advance.
Step 10 – Book Your Accommodation
Love hotels? They won't save you money, but you can sign up for some hotel credit cards and get free rooms, too. Marriott has a great rewards card whose sign-up bonus is equal to one week's free stay. Starwood's AMEX card is wonderful too, but the spending threshold in order to get the points bonus is higher.
The following booking sites offer the best rates for accommodation:
Alternative: Contact people on hospitality websites like Couchsurfing or Be Welcome and ask if they would be willing to host you. You want to do this in advance so people have time to rearrange their schedule and plan for your visit. Moreover, you can also consider apartment rental sites like Airbnb or Wimdu.
Step 11 – Plan Your Activities
Step 12 – Sell your stuff
If you are going on a long-term trip (6 months or more), sell your stuff in order to earn extra money for your trip. Start doing this about 60 days before you leave. Sites to use:
If you aren't going to be gone that long, skip this step. If you are going away long-term but want to keep your stuff, move it to a friend's house or keep it in storage. A good storage company in the U.S. is Public Storage, which starts at $50 per month.
Step 13 – Automate your bills
Get rid of your mail, go paperless, and set up online bill payment for your recurring bills to ensure you won't miss any overseas. If you are still going to get paper mail, use a service like Earth Class Mail, which will collect and scan your mail for you. (If you are going on a two-week trip, you don't really need to worry about this, so you can skip this step, too.)
Step 14 – Tell your credit card companies you'll be traveling
No matter how long you'll be gone, it's a good idea to let your credit card companies know you will be overseas, that way any transactions that you make aren't flagged as fraudulent and your card is less likely to be blocked. There's nothing worse than having to sit on the phone with your credit card company instead of enjoying your vacation.
Step 15 – Pack
Step 16 – Buy Travel Insurance
While a lot of people think "I'm healthy, I don't need travel insurance. I won't get sick," travel insurance is much more than just medical protection. It covers you when your camera breaks, your flight is cancelled, a family member dies and you have to come home, or if something is stolen.
Travel insurance is something you will need on the road. You never know what might happen, and most health plans won't cover you overseas. I never thought I would pop my eardrum while I was scuba diving or break my camera in Italy. My friend never thought he would break his leg hiking or that another friend's father would die and she would have to fly back home.
Travel insurance is only a few dollars a day and only a doesn’t buy it. Here’s my ultimate guide to picking a good insurance company. (I use World Nomads for all my trips.)
Step 17 – Enjoy your trip
By using this post as a guideline, you can better organize and prepare for your trip (and if you are looking for more in-depth information about planning a trip, check out my book for next steps). You'll check all the boxes, not miss anything, and have plenty of money for your vacation. A can be as simple as booking a flight and packing or as complex as rearranging your entire life to go backpack the world forever.
But no matter your trip length, this list will help you stay organized as you prepare to step onto that plane and out into the world.
(P.S. – Yes, I did leave out visas and vaccinations because needing those isn’t as universal as the other stuff on this list but don’t forget to check if you need that too!)
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