The vacation of your dreams can feel so out of reach between budget constraints, a lack of time, and feeling overwhelmed with searching for deals. You don’t want companies to take advantage of you, but maybe you don’t know where to begin.
I’ve been there. And it doesn’t feel good.
When the average vacation costs thousands of dollars for a one-week trip through a travel agency or tour company, it’s no wonder that people feel they can’t travel.
But, here’s the truth: traveling does not have to be that expensive!
Below, I’ve compiled the steps and tools I use to book my own travel, and I travel full-time. I want you to feel the power of seeing the world, and if I can help you get there, then that’s a win-win to me!
The first step to any dream trip is figuring out where that is for you!
Is it a road trip through Ireland? Backpacking in Southeast Asia for 3 months? Traveling Europe by train? Going on a safari in Tanzania?
All of the above (and then some)?
Getting travel inspiration is where I always start. Here are some links that can help you:
- From the Aisle Seat, my Friday newsletter for travel lovers
- My Travel Inspiration board on Pinterest
- Blog post: 33 Countries to Visit in 2020 (written before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic)
Once you’re inspired to visit a place, it’s also important to learn what you’ll need to do before leaving the country. This can involve applying for tourist visas, buying insurance, or getting a vaccine.
I highly recommend to research blog posts, Medium articles, op-eds from publications, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc. for first-hand accounts of travelers’ experiences in the country you intend to visit. But, take it a step further and actively search for accounts of people who look like you.
For travelers of color: Does your intended destination target people of your race for discriminatory reasons? Will you have support resources or protection from that country’s government and/or your own country’s embassy if necessary?
For female travelers: Based upon your research, can you reasonably determine if your intended destination is safe for you to visit at all, and to visit alone (if you’re a solo traveler)? Would you feel more safe to have a hotel or hostel room to yourself? Is it in the best interest of your safety to postpone this trip until a friend or family member can go with you?
These are unfortunate questions for any traveler to have to ask themselves, but our safety is of the utmost importance.
Here are some resources that can help you determine what you’ll need to do before you go!
- Blog post: 8 Steps Everyone Should Take to Prepare for International Travel
- Travel Health Insurance: SafetyWing
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- State Department’s Travel Advisories
- U.K. Foreign Travel Advisories — their specific country maps with security level by region are helpful
Plan a budget
There’s no trip if you don’t have the budget to make it happen!
One of the ways we can afford to see more of the world is by changing our spending habits at home and prioritizing travel if that’s what we want. There are also ways to make money while traveling and living a more nomadic lifestyle.
Here are some tools that have helped me see over 20 countries on a low-to-average U.S. yearly income:
- Travel Planning Spreadsheet
- Blog post: How to Travel on a Budget
- Blog post: How to Afford to Travel Internationally
Map an itinerary
Now that you know where you want to go and you’re setting aside the money to get there, it’s time to decide what your itinerary will be!
This is the time to determine how many places you’ll go on your trip and how much time you’ll spend in each one. If you have a specific day tour or attraction in mind, figure out the best day on your trip to go there.
Flights are by far the most expensive aspect of most trips, especially if you’re traveling abroad! Due to airline policies and tons of scammer third-party services out there, it’s so important to know where to book your flights.
Bottom line: Always, always book your flights directly with the airline! I speak from personal experience and past regrets. This is the mantra I follow now with all my traveling, international and domestic!
Here are my favorite places to search for flights, and I’ve written some articles that can help you search:
- Blog post: How I Flew From Atlanta to Scotland for $280
- Blog post: My Nightmare Experience with Hotwire
- Flight search engines: Google Flights + Skyscanner
Find Winning Accommodations
You’ve found flights that fit in your time frame and for a price you’re willing to pay, and now it’s time to figure out where you’ll sleep when you get to your destination!
Accommodations can make or break your experience. From sketchy Airbnb hosts to hotels with high hidden fees, there are so many duds to dodge. You want a place to stay that’s affordable and comfortable, at the very least.
Some of my best experiences abroad have been from staying at unique hostels, adorable boutique hotels, and cozy guesthouses.
- Blog post: 5 Steps to Book the Perfect Accommodations
- My Favorite Places to Stay Around the World Recommendations Page
- Hotel search engine: Agoda
- Hostel search engine: Hostelworld
- Homestay search engine: Airbnb
Choose unforgettable Actvities
If you don’t already have in mind the attractions you want to see, there is a wealth of info online for you to book awesome tours and experiences!
As a more independent traveler, I’m not a big fan of organized tours and activities. I prefer to find a DIY guide through a travel blog or through TripAdvisor forums, and go for it! The adventure is in the unknown, so I enjoy winging it.
But, there are some places you can’t legally visit without a tour, or the logistics are too complicated to plan without a local’s assistance.
I started using GetYourGuide as a study abroad student, and still use it to this day! I also found Klook to be helpful when I was traveling in Southeast Asia.
Here are some helpful links to get you started:
Book your dream trip
Your Airbnb list is made, you’ve got your eye on the perfect flight, and the activities you’re interested in are bookmarked. The legwork is done! Yay!
When it comes to booking and actually paying for your itinerary, there are some important things to consider. Are you a rewards member of that company? If not, sign up for a free account to earn points and miles! Are you using a credit or debit card? Will your bank stand up for you if you need a refund for negligence?
Aside from these important aspects to consider, you also may want to use browser extensions to earn money, gift cards, or even bitcoin back on your purchase. I’ve earned a refill of my favorite Philosophy moisturizer before just from booking a mid-range hotel on Expedia!
Pack like a pro
When it comes to packing, your suitcase will depend heavily on your needs for that trip. Are you a carry-on-only traveler (like me)? Are you sharing a checked bag with a companion? Are you a pack rat (like former me)?
I’ve found that I can fit everything I need into a hardshell carry-on, personal item-size backpack, and a small crossbody purse.
You can find my packing tips here:
- Blog post: My Top 5 Packing Tips for International Travel
- Blog post: A Guide to Packing a Personal Item Like a Pro
- Packing lists for moving abroad: Study Abroad + Peace Corps
- Book List + Bookshop.org profile
In the few days leading up to your departure, there are some things you’ll want to take care of. I prefer to pack at least two days before I leave for an international flight, so I have enough time to buy anything else I need.
If your flight leaves early in the morning, I especially recommend having a checklist in your phone of what you’ll need before you leave. My checklist has saved me many times over!
The purpose of your last-minute prep isn’t to stress, but to feel more prepared.
Here’s a post that can help you out:
- Blog post: My Early Morning Flight Survival Guide
Time to Travel!
I hope you have the adventure of a lifetime, and that this guide helped you get there.
Hi, I’m Sarah
Welcome to my oasis! I am a writer and budding entrepreneur with a love for caffeine, capital gains, and seeing the world. If I’m not writing, you can find me reading a good book, trying out a new vegan recipe, or adding to my coffee mug collection. My goal in life? To see every country in the world. Come along for the ride!
Become a Blogger
Get Up to $55 Off Airbnb
Book with the Best