I remember my first trip abroad. I was 15 and I joined an exchange program to study in Japan, the school took care of everything at the time. My second trip abroad was to do an internship in Italy when I was 18. No matter how many times I’ve traveled, the excitement never fades away.

I prefer to plan the trip by myself, not by tour agencies, so I can visit all the places I want to go and travel at my own speed. But there are so many things to do to plan a trip abroad, it’s overwhelming if this is your first time doing this.

This article will guide you through 10 steps to plan a perfect first trip abroad! (If you’re heading to Vietnam, I got this Vietnam Travel Guide that will be more detailed than this one!)

Let’s get started!

1. Get A Passport

The moment you even think about traveling abroad, this is the first thing you should do. Why? Because you need a passport number to book flight tickets and accommodations! Airfares change all the time and you don’t want to miss a great deal nor pay a fee to change the passport number!

So trust me, get a passport first!

2. Decide Where To Go

I am guessing that you probably already have a destination in mind while reading this. If no, take a look at TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice 2017 for some ideas!

While choosing a destination, there are several things to keep in mind, such as political situation and weather. Avoid going to somewhere dangerous, we all want to come home safe.

Also, I’d recommend going to somewhere famous and touristy for the first time. Let’s say France, England, Japan, or Thailand. Because there have been millions of travelers been there so they developed services for tourists. Like hostels, airport shuttle, English speaking staff, etc. It will make everything easier!

3. Book The Flight

This is when everything becomes so real! You can purchase the ticket online by yourself or via an agency. If you want to save money, I recommend taking budget airlines which will save you tons of money.

Personally, I like to compare the ticket price on Skyscanner and TripAdvisor to find the cheapest ticket.

4. Apply For Visa

Now, it’s time to figure out the visa. You need a visa to enter the country. If you’re a U.S citizen, check out Americans Traveling Abroad website by government.

Visa regulation changes all the time so make sure you have the latest info!

5. Plan Activities

This is my favorite part! I would be browsing online all the time to find some hidden gems to visit. You will absorb a huge amount of information at this stage so you will need a handy tool to organize everything.

If you are using Gmail or Inbox by Google, it automatically organizes all flights and accommodations. Tripit and Tripcase are 2 websites that will scan your email and turn it into an itinerary. Trello is also a great tool to keep everything in one place.

Here are my favorite websites while planning the trip

  •  TripAdvisor: Reviews and tips about everything. From hotel, restaurant, bar, to spa.
  •  Google: “Must see in ___” “Must do in ___”
  •  Lonely Planet: Backpacker’s bible. Extremely detailed travel guide with all kinds of information. I usually buy the e-book guide and store it on my laptop so I can read it even without the Internet.
  •  Reddit: Best place to find off the beaten road attractions. /r/travel & /r/backpacking are my two favorite subreddits.
  • Pinterest: I like to create a board and pin images and guides.

6. Accommodation

If you’re looking for hotels, villas, or bnbs, I recommend checking reviews on TripAdvisor before you book. Here are some of the websites I use:

  • Hotels.com:My favorite. Stay 10 nights and get 1 for free!
  • Booking.com:No need to pay for the deposit. Have more B&Bs than other booking websites.

If you’re traveling on the budget and looking for something cheaper, I recommend using Hostelworld! Other options include:

  • Airbnb:Vacation rental by local people. Use this link to get a discount!
  • Couchsurfing:Stay at local’s house for free. But this could be dangerous if you’re traveling for the first time maybe skip this option.

7. Transportation

After you arrange the accommodation and figure out where you want to visit, it’s time to understand the local transportation! For instance, how to get to the hotel from the airport and how to get to the next destination.

The easiest way is taxi or Uber (if it’s available) or arranges a pickup service in advance. Other options include bus, coach, boat, rail, flight, and car rental.

8. Get the Money Right!

Now, it’s almost time for departure, it’s time to get some foreign money. Do you prefer cash or credit card?

If you prefer to bring cash, where should you exchange the currency? The local bank or at the airport?

If credit card, make sure you can use the card abroad and figure out the transaction fee. Also, you should also know what to do if the card is stolen.

Usually, I bring some cash on me and make sure I have some smaller change. I put some cash on me and others hid in my bag or luggage. I also bring a debit card on me but just for emergency.

9. Travel Insurance

This is my personal preference. It is your choice if you want to get one. Sometimes, my credit card company provides me insurance if I purchase the flight ticket with my card.

If you do get one, don’t forget to print out a copy and bring it with you. Figure out how the insurance work and what kinds of receipts you should keep to get the money back.

10. Time to Pack

Pack light. That’s all I can say.

Understand the culture and pack accordingly. If you’re heading to somewhere conservative, make sure you have the appropriate outfit!

6 Bonus Tips that will Make Your Trip Even Better!

  • Learn the Language
    Download Duolingo or other apps on the phone and learn some basic phrases! This will make your trip easier and if you’ll feel awesome when you can communicate in a new language!

  • Understand the Culture
    Buy a book or watch a movie that will help you learn more insight of the destination.

  • Have an Open Mind
    Experience new things and embrace the unknown!

  • Do your homework
    Know the emergency number and the location of the embassy in case of emergency.

  • Truly fit into the local
    Don’t just stay in the touristy area. Get out and actually taste the local food and talk to the people. (if you’re heading to somewhere dangerous then don’t do it)

  • Be more sustainable
    Bring a water bottle, support local business, say no to plastic bags or so. By doing this will not only make you feel better, this will also help the local community! If you’re thinking of volunteering, you can read my volunteer trip to Thailand and Cambodia here!