You know this much — you want to travel long-term. It’s time for a great, big adventure. You are eager to see the world. But how to plan it? That’s where it can be overwhelming. This resource serves as a step-by-step travel planning checklist, as it will guide you through how to plan a long-term trip abroad (and without the headache!).
Just follow these easy travel planning steps — from creating an international travel itinerary to booking your flight to your first destination. Let the travel planning begin!
1. Create a very long travel bucket list.
The first step in how to plan a long-term trip is the “inspiration” phase. The goal isn’t to begin planning the logistics — it’s simply to get inspired. As you come across cities, sites and activities that pique your interest, write them down in the notes section of your phone.
- Flip through travel magazines, travel websites and travel guides with lots of photos. Skim through travel blogs on Pinterest and screenshot places on Instagram.
- Ask yourself: What is absolutely beautiful? What place looks cool? What looks interesting? Where will I learn a lot? Where will I experience something unique or different from home?
- If you need more travel planning inspiration, check these out:
2. Craft your trip wish list and map it with Google Maps.
Look at the long list of places from step No. 1 and place an *asterisk* by the cities/places/events that most excite you. This new list is your trip wish list.
Using Google Maps, plot all the cities from your trip wish list.
- Go to Google Maps. Click on “Your Places” and then “Create Map.”
- Type in each city, and then click “save.” A star will appear over the city.
- For activities/events, simply plot the city. For example, plot Munich if Oktoberfest is on your trip wish list.
- Zoom out to see all starred cities. What is the proximity of the destinations? Can you visualize a route to connect them? Is there a cluster of cities in a region/continent, or are they scattered all over the world?
Add and remove destinations to your map.
- Add close towns/cities: Let’s say that Rome is on your list, as you want to visit the Colosseum. You notice it’s near Florence, so you add it to the itinerary. “I can’t go all the way to Italy and not see Michelangelo’s David!” Trust me — you’ll start saying this to yourself.
- Remove the outliers: Is there a city far from the rest of the cluster? Consider removing it from this trip and visiting on another occasion. For example, if the majority of the places are in Europe, but you want to visit Thailand, I recommend saving it for a separate trip to Southeast Asia (unless you are planning a round-the-world trip). With the rise of low-cost airline carriers, it’s easy and affordable to jet set around the world, but I find value in staying in a general region for longer and truly experiencing the area.
3. Plan a trip budget and duration.
What is your trip’s budget?
Money dictates everything. And it’s likely the most important topic to discuss with your travel buddy (if you aren’t traveling solo). Research the amount of money you need for the countries you are visiting. Are you on track to save a specific amount of money?
How long will you travel?
Typically, your trip duration is determined by the amount of money you can realistically save. Then, you can decide the duration of your trip. Do you want to travel for two months? Three months? A year? Do you want to travel until your money runs out?
- If you’re a U.S. Citizen traveling to Europe, your time in most western and central countries will be limited to 90 days due to the Schengen Agreement. This means you can travel throughout most countries in Europe without a visa. If you want to travel longer than 90 days, be sure to leave any country part of the Schengen Zone and spend time outside of it. You must wait three months to re-enter the Schengen Zone.
- Additional resources for budgets and saving:
4. Choose the trip start date and finalize your travel itinerary.
Things to consider when picking your trip’s start date:
- Is important to travel during a particular season? Do you want to lay on the beach or ski in the mountains?
- Do you have a preference for high-season travel or low-season travel? Prices in the low season are typically more affordable.
- Are there specific festivals, sporting events or activities you want to attend? A few examples:
- Oktoberfest in Munich: Mid-September to early October
- Christmas Markets across Europe: Mostly December
- Wimbledon in London: July
You’re now ready to write out a realistic long-term trip itinerary, but keep it “flexible.”
When planning a long-term trip, you want the flexibility to change your route last-minute. When traveling, you learn about new cities and places that you didn’t think about during the travel planning phase. You will be glad you have the flexibility in your itinerary to add them! Because of a loose itinerary, I traveled to Freiburg, Germany to visit new friends.
Be sure to add the number of days you want to stay in each city, too. You can use Google Maps to build your route or check out the many other fantastic tools and apps (such as RoadTrippers).
5. Research transportation, accommodations and activities.
Book your flight to your first destination.
- Set a price alert on Google Flights. Google will notify you when the price decreases. There are several apps that help do this, as well, such as Hopper and Skyscanner.
Research transportation from city to city.
- Booking sites, such as OMIO, make it easy to review and book flight, bus and train options. You may pay a bit more than if you booked with the exact train, bus or flight company.
- I find trains the most scenic and least stressful. Overnight trains are also a great way to save a bit of money! For Europe, check the train prices on point-to-point tickets versus a multi-city rail pass, which you can easily look up on RailEurope.
- Hostels: Budget-friendly, community-centric. Staying in a hostel is an affordable way to meet other travelers. Before booking a hostel, review the guide to choosing the perfect hostel for you. You can then search and book hostels on Hostelworld.
- Airbnb, VRBO
- Hotels/Guesthouses/B&B: Search accommodation options through sites like Booking.com.
Research activities and things to do in each city:
- Check out travel guides to each city and make a list of possible activities and sights to see. For Europe travel, check out these destination guides, which include things to do, restaurants, food/beverages, accommodations and helpful travel tips.
- This is also a good time to research each country on the U.S. State Department’s Travel site:
- Check for visa requirements.
- Look at the vaccine requirements.
- Review the passport requirements: To be safe, be sure you have at least six months of validity left on your passport before entering a country.
- If you do not have a passport, apply for one ASAP
Something to note — if you want flexibility in your trip, it’s not necessary to book your transportation and accommodations far in advance. My advice is to research a few places simply to know your options. If you know your travel plans are concrete, book as far in advance as you’d like. Now, if you’d rather go with the flow, you can get away with booking only a few days in advance (and sometimes the day of!). Just note, you may not get the exact hotel or hostel you had in mind (like on my visit to Salzburg).
6. Notify appropriate people and companies of your long-term trip.
Register with the U.S. State Department.
Submit your trip through the department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, as it is completely free and will give you and your family peace of mind.
- You will receive an email in the event of an emergency in the country you are visiting. It is also helpful for the U.S. government to know an American may be in or near the city where an emergency took place.
- They will also notify you of minor events, such as a planned protest outside of the embassy or capital.
- In addition to emails, like the U.S. State Department on Facebook and set the posts to “first see,” meaning it’s the first post you see when you open the app.
Provide a forwarding address for your mail.
Credit card companies and bank
Inquire whether your credit card charges an international ATM fee. If so, research and apply for a new credit card. Reach out to your bank to inform them of your long-term travels and request only electronic communication. Write down an international customer service phone number for your bank and credit card company in case you have issues with your cards/bank on your trip.
Family, friends and employer
Of course, you need to share the exciting news with your family, friends and employer. Nervous to tell your employer? Maybe my story will inspire you.
7. Research, purchase and pack your clothes, gadgets and gear.
Spend ample time determining what to pack for your trip. Many factors will determine what you pack, such as the weather, environment, culture, personal preference and luggage type. You can check out my detailed packing list for backpacking Europe. Two important packing tips for any long-term trip:
- Pack as if you are going for 7 – 10 days.
- Pack quality clothes.
I recommend a backpack for a long-term trip abroad, as a backpack is typically easier to carry, and it certainly beats dragging a suitcase across the cobbled streets of Europe. The Osprey Women’s Kyte 46 Backpack has been my go-to back for nearly three years. It’s comfortable to carry and holds everything I need for any trip – whether it’s a six-day trip to Italy or a three-month trip across Europe. Furthermore, be sure to purchase a lock for securing your luggage/backpack in hostels and possibly on trains.
Gadgets and adapters
Research the type of adapter and converter needed in each country.
8. Finalize the last-minute details of your trip.
There are endless options to use your phone internationally. Inquire about offerings from your current provider. Other options are to simply use your phone when you’re connected to public wifi, or purchase a SIM card once you arrive in your destination. Before leaving your home country, ask your phone provider to “unlock” your smartphone so that you can put another SIM card in it.
Automate your recurring bills, and sign up for electronic notifications.
Reach out to your medical insurance provider to determine your international coverage. Research and purchase a travel insurance policy for your trip, as well.
Import your important logins and passwords to a secure password storing application. Ensure that a trusted family member or friends can access it in case of an emergency.
Make several copies of your passport. Email a copy to yourself, give a printed copy to a family member and pack two copies.
International Driving License
Whether you plan to drive or not, it’s useful to obtain an international driving license, which is easy [and cheap] to obtain through AAA. While most rental companies do not ask for an international license, on a long-term trip, it’s best to be safe than sorry.
9. Head to the airport … Prepare for takeoff!
You’ve planned. You’ve saved. Your bags are packed. You’re ready to travel long-term! Head to the airport and prepare for takeoff. Here’s to your great, big long-term travel adventure!
There you have it! You now know how to plan a long-term trip abroad. Use the other travel resources to continue planning your trip:
- 5 Easy Ways to Save Money to Experience More
- Packing List to Backpacking Europe
- How to Choose the Perfect Hostel for You
- Three-Part Budgeting Series
Are you traveling extensively? Have you taken a long-term trip? Share your questions, ideas and experiences in the comments below.
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