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How to Plan the Best First-Time Trip Abroad


My first-time trip abroad, and I was going to Paris. Finally. It was the Spring of 2009 when I found myself first wondering how to plan for the best first-time trip abroad. I'd never left the country and had only seldom left my home state of Louisiana. Yet I was facing my first-ever international flight on my own in order to meet my beau in Paris for an unforgettable French adventure. I'll never forget how scared I was (silly, I know) and how overwhelmed I felt trying to figure out what to even do while we were there.

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How to Plan Your First Trip Abroad | International Travel Tips | Travel Planning Tips | First-time Travel | International Trip

Taking that first-time trip abroad can be life-changing, fun and fulfilling. It definitely was for me. But traveling abroad for the first time can be very intimidating for some. All humans are curious about something, and when it came to travel I was no exception. Little did I know that my trip to Paris would spark a wildfire of interest in me.

As I've stated before, I don't travel full-time, and I don't travel for extended periods of time. I travel like most people, on my dime and my time (time off that is). I've learned that being a successful traveler means first defining what it means to take a successful trip to my desired destination. Jumping on a plane is the easy part. Knowing what you want to get out your vacation is a little trickier.

My First-Ever International Photo!

My First-Ever International Photo!

This series of posts is all about learning to travel smart. I've compiled my best international travel tips, beginning with how to plan the best first-time trip abroad. Planning for an international trip involves more than doing a little research about the country you're visiting. It involves exploring your own thoughts, ideas and feelings. Having a plan of attack can help make the most of your vacation time, something we all want to do!

In order to help you make the most of your time off, I've come up with a few questions that you can use to start planning the best first-time trip abroad. So grab a few sheets of paper or your trusty travel journal and follow me while I take you on a tour of your travel imagination in preparation for take off.

How to Plan the Best First-Time Trip Abroad

Let's begin at the beginning!

Every good vacation begins with the perfect destination that best fits your travel needs and desires. Sometimes the "where" is decided by forces outside our control such as work, family plans, etc. But other times we are able to craft our travel plans based on our wildest travel dreams. So, think about it.

Where do you want to go and why? How long have you been day-dreaming about this trip? What it is about the destination that's drawing you there? What do you already know about the destination? Do you know anyone who's been? Take a minute to write down your answers. You'll need them later.

Next, let's explore what hopes you have about your vacation.

Let's face wouldn't be planning a trip if you thought going would be a waste of your time. We all have high hopes for our travel experiences and set out to have an awesome vacation.

Once you've selected a destination you can begin to identify those hopes and travel dreams, whether they be yours alone or your family's. Talking with your travel partner, friends or family member about their hopes is essential at this phase of planning.

Knowing more about everyone's desires can help narrow down your travel to-do list. Not sure what you are hoping to see, do or experience in your destination? Use these prompts to get those creative juices flowing.

Think of your desired destination. What can you imagine doing there? Close your eyes; what do you see, hear, smell, taste? What are you hoping to experience? Is it the food, the people, the sights, or the overall experience you are seeking? What have you heard about or read about your desired destination? Is there anything you are hoping to avoid while there? Jot down your answers quickly.

Now let's explore your vacation expectations.

There is nothing worse than dashed travel hopes, especially when it can be avoided. Once-in-a-lifetime travels give us a unique opportunity to see and do unforgettable things. But poor timing and lack of planning can definitely lead to disappointment.

For example, I've been to Paris twice but not once have I stepped foot on the Eiffel Tower! It's something I regret terribly and would change in a heartbeat if given the chance. I tell you this so that you can avoid the let-down that comes with dashed travel hopes.

Use these prompts to help you prioritize your travel experience to ensure you make the most out of your vacation. What are the MUST-DO things on your agenda? How disappointed would you be if you didn't get a chance to experience those things? What things might you be interested in but not totally bummed if you miss? Add these items to your growing list of notes.

Lastly, let's make a plan of attack using your answers to the questions above.

Now that you have a better idea of where you're going and what you hope to do there it's time to figure out your travel budget. Don't worry, I'm not here to give you financial advice. Budgets apply to more than just money. You can find plenty of tips on saving for travels in my Travel Tips and Tricks board on Pinterest. Today I want to talk about a time budget or schedule.

In order to maximize your experience, it's always best to budget your travel time. Knowing how long you'll stay in your destination, how long it takes to travel to/from your destination and how many things you want to do/see will give you an idea of how much you'll be able to accomplish on your trip. Use these prompts to budget your time to include your must-see and must-do activities.

How long are you planning to stay? How long will it take you to reach your destination? or to return from your destination? Can you achieve your travel goals in that amount of time? Or are you shooting for the stars? Is this trip meant to be relaxing? fun? exhilarating? chill? How do you hope to feel when you return home: rested or exhausted?

Now you're ready to GO!

Based on your answers to these final questions you should have an idea of how much (or how little) you plan to do each day. The next steps will be to start researching the city or country you plan to visit. You need to begin plotting out routes, getting itinerary ideas, determining destinations and locating lodging. From there you'll be in a much better position to start phase 2 of my international travel tips series!

All these questions can inform your travel choices and are important to ask, especially for "major" trips. Remember, though, spontaneity can help foster authenticity in terms of travel, so be flexible and allow for the unexpected.

I hope you enjoyed my planning prompts and tips on How to Plan the Best First-Time Trip Abroad! If you're like me, you'll want to write down your answers somewhere you can review again in the future. Why not pick up a new travel journal to use for planning your trip and documenting it along the way. Journaling while traveling is one of the best ways to preserve travel memories for years to come! These are a few of my personal favorites.

Be sure to stay tuned for Part 2: What to Do Before Going Abroad and Part 3: What to Bring with You! Both are jam-packed with great travel tips.

In need of a little more travel inspiration? Head over to Pinterest to check out my best board, Travel: I Want to Go to There. New pins added daily!

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Thanks for all your support. It means the world to me. Until next time my friends!

Happy wandering!




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  • Reply
    Stephanie Langlet
    June 10, 2016 at 11:59 am

    That’s really a cool post to help the first-time travellers, congrats for this awesome idea!
    Just a thought: everyone, except fools, is afraid to go abroad alone for the first time and it’s just normal. But I’m sure that following your advice is a very good way to reassure someone.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      True, Stéphanie, but there are some folks who thrive on that fear and some who recoil. I am the type of person who usually gets super anxious about new things. I know there are others out there like me who might be tempted to let their fear stand in their way of traveling.

  • Reply
    Kevin Wagar
    June 10, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Great tips! I love the part about expectations. I don’t think I’ve been on a trip yet where I haven’t missed at least one big thing that was on my list.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Right, Kevin!?! Every single trip I miss something. But following these tips I’ve managed to not miss a MUST-SEE/DO since Paris.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Previously when I would travel I would try to have a few plans in place before arriving and find a few more interesting places to visit once I arrive. Since I have been traveling more, I don’t have as much time to preplan and I find I have a lot more fun chatting with locals and wandering around to see the sites. Sure, I miss some things but there is always next time.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      I know, Shelly. The planning piece tends to get pushed aside when traveling frequently, but I still try to use some of these prompts to figure out how to prioritize the MUST-SEE things for each place I visit. I like the idea of slow-travel, but I need to get the biggest bang for my buck when traveling.

  • Reply
    melody pittman
    June 11, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Awesome post! I loved it. I was that same traveler for 20 years, on my dime and on my time, having to figure out how to use my 7 weeks of PTO from my corporate job and chase my dreams in that time period. Well, it almost always worked out but I did have to take an extra non paid week at the end of each year for a family Christmas cruise. 😉 You have given even me, an experienced traveler, great things to ponder and questions to ask to decide whether the trip is worthy of my time and to figure out how much I truly want to go there. This is a fabulous guide for anyone thinking about getting started exploring our wonderful world. I hope you make it to the Eiffel Tower some day. 😉

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks so much Melody! I very much appreciate your kind words!

  • Reply
    Rob Taylor
    June 11, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Poor planning can also be a good thing, because it goes well with not having travel expectations. While yes, planning is great, especially if you already know a lot about your dream destination, not researching too heavily or making lots of plans allows you to go with the flow and experience a destination organically. That’s my favorite way to travel… but I’m a minority.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Very true, Rob! But I think the ability to roll with the unexpected takes experience. I know going with the flow is still hard for me, but I’m pretty Type A.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Great tips! I worked in the travel industry for years and loved helping people plan their first trip. I think the questions you encourage them to think about are awesome because so many people really approach it as if there’s a right or wrong way to travel or they approach it in an attitude that they need to make someone (real or imaginary) happy. They get caught up on the idea of an overrated (or underrated) experience, and really, it doesn’t matter. Do what you want to do. Great tips.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Thanks, Ann Belle! I really appreciate hearing that. I’ve found that setting my priorities really helps me relax when I travel. I know I’ll get to do what I’ve set out to do if I either do it first or schedule my travel.

  • Reply
    June 12, 2016 at 2:03 am

    These are great tips for a first time traveler! I remember the first time I went traveling by myself for a few months. I was so scared and at the same time very excited! I had two months of traveling ahead of me and only planned the first two weeks. I’ve learned to stop planning too much because it makes more space for the unknown. But if you only have two weeks of traveling, then it’s good to have a clear itinerary and make the best out of your time.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      Great point, Cynthia! I find that I’m more comfortable going with the flow if I get my Must-See things out of the way first. Then I relax a little.

  • Reply
    June 12, 2016 at 7:29 am

    When you are on the verge of leaving your home country and setting foot in a foreign land, you can feel the jitters as so many questions plague you, how are the people there, how shall I communicate, will I feel comfortable etc.. But once you get there you realize that at the core everything actually is the same except for cultural and other cosmetic differences.

    • Reply
      June 12, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      SO very true Vyjay! That’s the humbling experience that I look forward to the most on each of my trips.

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