You’re getting ready to take an international trip to a country you’ve never been to. No worries – you got this. You know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing when you get there. Now all you need to do is these top 10 international travel planning musts early, and throughout, your international travel planning for the best solo travel experience.
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Top 10 International Travel Planning Musts
After you run through the international travel planning checklist below, feel free to visit my Travel Guides should they be able to further assist you with travel basics.
1 – Airlines and airports
Have you booked your flight yet? Do you use the same airline repeatedly? Taking advantage of airlines miles/points is a great way to save money on your booking as well as score up those airline bennies.
If you don’t have an airline mileage affiliation, perhaps sign up for one with an airline you use frequently and has great partner airlines.
If you don’t have an airline preference, don’t be afraid to check out the international partner airline sites directly – they may be the airline getting you to your destination anyway and have cheaper fares. Of course, there are also good price comparison sites like Skyscanner, Cheap Flights and Booking Buddy, to name a few.
How long is your flight (or flights)? Will you need to catch some sleep? Book in a seat where you know you’ll be most comfortable, and don’t forget to bring those travel items that make your flight more comfortable and fit in your check-on baggage. Find great travel gear and accessories on my Travel Resources pages, for your convenience, that have worked well for me.
Here are more Booking Resources for your convenience.
Airport services and gate connection locations can really make a difference with any layover. Do a little looking on the airport’s website so you may know where you’ll be arriving and where your departure gate will be. What services are in between the two that you may need? My airline mileage is through United Airlines so I always check in advance as to where the United Club locations are so I can great concierge services, free drinks and food, and an abundance of outlets to recharge.
Don’t discount long layovers in your international travel planning – they could be a great way to save some money on your airfare and explore the airport’s city. For example, if you have a layover of 6 hours more at SFO or Oakland, you could see top sights in San Francisco for the day.
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2 – Accommodations
Knowing all about your accommodations is another international travel planning must. How will you get to and from the airport (or train / bus station) to your hotel? Will your hotel offer shuttle service or, even better, free shuttle service?
Will you rely on taxis or rideshares to get around after checking in or will your hotel be in the ‘heart of it all’ so you can walk or take public transportation? Being able to rely on the latter can really help you save money on your trip.
Did your hotel booking offer free cancellation? No required prepayment? I recommend using Booking.com. I find them invaluable as they offer many places to choose from, in a wide range of prices, including the ability to cancel for free and/or provide no prepayments. I think the flexibility is worth it, even if the location could possibly be slightly pricier. In fact, I’m a Genius Member because I use Booking.com for 99% of my bookings.
Will your hotel offer free Wi-Fi? This is one of the top 3 filters I apply in my bookings.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Email or call your hotel(s) in advance of your arrival. They can provide great advice on their local transportation, food, and entertainment in the area – they love to give it. If they are worth their salt, they want to make your stay as pleasant as possible (so you’ll come back and write a good review).
3 – Health insurance and medications
Having health care coverage may not just be an international travel planning must – it could be a mandatory planning measure, depending on the country you visit.
Do you know if your current health (or dental or optical) will offer coverage overseas? Most do not, so do some researching under your current health care plan, especially if you are elderly or on Medicare. Perhaps, also look into coverage provided in your destination country – what do they provide and for what cost?
If you need to purchase international health care coverage, there are many to choose from, such as Allianz Care, which I have used. Make sure to shop and compare prices. Tip: research this early as prices can be lower the earlier you book prior to your departure.
Don’t forget to make sure you’re bringing any necessary medications or devices you take daily or frequently. In fact, it may be helpful to bring a little extra in case of emergency – what if you’re stuck in an airport due to weather?
4 – Travel insurance
Now that you have the first three down, do you need travel insurance? This may be impacted by where you’re going, what time of year you’re traveling or how long you will be gone. Check out your credit cards and see what travel coverage they offer. If they cover your bags being lost, your flights being delayed, etc., do you really need to purchase additional travel insurance?
5 – Currency exchange rate
This is an easy Google search of your currency vs. the local currency I recommend doing as soon as you know you’re going on your trip – how else to plan how much your trip will cost? Don’t forget to keep checking the exchange rates throughout your planning phase as rates can change. Note: I also keep checking throughout my trip, especially if it’s a long one.
Another good research item is to see if you actually need to exchange to local currency before you arrive in the foreign country and what places offer the best exchange rates.
6 – Travel documents and safety
I listen to the news a lot, but still, my first go-to site to check on travel safety is the U.S. State Department. They will provide all sorts of travel information for your destination country, including what travel documents are required to enter (will you need a tourist visa?), any travel advisories, or whether or not you should get vaccinations, etc.
Afterwards, research travel sites and blogs to get insights from others who have traveled to your same location recently. Those avenues might provide fuller information and provide you a clearer picture of what to expect. See also my ‘Solo / Female Travel Tips’ section of my Travel Guides pages.
Download maps and Google street views in advance so you can get a “lay of the land” of where you’re visiting, or at least staying overnight. Also make sure to note on the map where your country’s embassy is, in case of emergency.
Provide a family member or friend a copy of your passport photo/details page and your itinerary, just in case of an emergency.
Find a good travel day-bag or fanny pack that is comfortable, fits in your carry-on baggage, provides space for your day-trip necessity items, and keeps your belongings safe. I use a great Victorinox bag my friend got me for my birthday – it fits everything I need for a day out, including my Nikon 35mm DSLR (with zoom lens) and iPad Mini.
7 – Credit cards
Which of yours have travel insurance or other protections? Which one has no international fees? Do you need a PIN for transactions in the country you’re visiting? These are good to know before booking anything.
8 – What’s the weather like?
I know this may sound really basic, but continually checking the weather can really make or break a trip. Recall my Austrian wine tasting day trip? If I hadn’t found that Viator booking at the last minute, I would have been very bummed missing out on that opportunity to visit the Wachau Valley.
So, it’s a good idea to build in flexibility and some backups in your itinerary. If that day you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower is rainy, perhaps you can switch it up for a day in the Louvre instead?
9 – Got Wi-Fi?
If so, where? Will you need to purchase a SIM card or cellular service for your smartphone? If your smartphone can operate as it does at home, all the better. However, you may not wish to pay for international cellular service or purchase a SIM card.
I don’t – I operate on free Wi-Fi when traveling abroad. It cuts down my costs. It also helps me identify what apps and maps to download before I embark on my trip.
10 – Download apps
There are a plethora of smartphone and tablet apps you can download in advance to assist with your trip. These can be from translation apps, to Wi-Fi and bathroom finder apps, local transportation apps, social / meet up apps, maps, etc.
Will you want to bring some streaming entertainment with you? If you have accounts like Netflix or GoHBO so you may want to catch a late movie in your cozy hotel room, like you do at home. Check first whether or not you’ll be able to access your accounts internationally. Some may not let you stream so consider downloading as much online entertainment to your device(s) before you leave home.
Let Me Hear From You
I would love to hear if this was helpful to you. Post me your thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. Thank you!