I just recently booked a trip to Cancun for my birthday and I forgot how annoying it was to plan a vacation. Fear not, I have a step by step approach for this as well. Here’s Saanya’s guide to planning an international vacation:
Step 1: Make a Budget
This step is quite obvious but a lot of people don’t do it. You need to start by making a vacation budget. That being said, be realistic about it. A family of four is not going to be able to go on an international vacation for $300. Based on the saving you have done in preparation for this vacation, set your budget. Itemize it. Set a budget for airfare, hotels and activities. Also factor in food, souvenirs and emergency cash. Once you have created the budget, go back to it and make sure you update it with your actuals. This will not only help keep track of your money for the trip but give you a good idea of how much to save for the next trip.
Step 2: Choose a Destination
This is probably the step that will impact your vacation budget the most. Your destination will likely determine how much your entire trip will cost. Going somewhere like the Maldives or Dubai is going to cost way more than Costa Rica or Thailand. There are multiple reasons to choose a specific destination like seeing a certain culture or visiting a specific location/building. Take a second to reflect on what the tone you want to set for this vacation. I wanted to book a beach getaway where I could relax and that’s why I chose Mexico. I recommend choosing a country first, then deciding specific cities based on airfare prices. You can always use cheaper modes of transportation within a country to get to a specific city.
Step 3: Book your Airfare
The next step is to book your airfare. I recommend using the website SkyScanner to find the best deals on airfare. You can also Google Flights. I have a few tips to save money when it comes to airfare. First, try changing up airports. For me, flying out of the Philly airport is always expensive. I usually look at nearby airports or even DC. That way, I make a mini vacation before my vacation and it ends up being cheaper for me. You can also change up the airport you are flying to. As I mentioned above, you can try to use a taxi, train or bus to get to the city you actually want to.
My next tip is to watch out deals from budget airlines. Sure, they are not the most comfortable but sometimes Frontier has cheap flights to Mexico or RyanAir has budget flights within Europe. If cost is your first priority, then this is a really good option for affordable airfare. My final tip is to look for air-inclusive trips. Websites like Groupon have a specific area for air inclusive trips. If the dates end up working out for you, these can be a really good deal. I actually booked a trip to Punta Cana with these deals and the whole trip (all-inclusive) was about $1100.
Step 4: Decide where to Stay
Now that you have your airfare, it’s time to decide where you will stay. You have a few options here: hotel/resort, hostel or Airbnb. The traditional hotel or resort is a good idea for low-cost countries or if you found an all-inclusive deal. It also will likely have the most amenties like shopping, restaurants and activities. However, in higher cost countries the price of a hotel can add up. You can look into hostels as well. When I went to Colombia with my brother, we found a very nice (hotel like) hostel. The only catch was sharing it with other people. If you are okay with this, you can easily find hostels for less than $70 a night. Most hostels also offer private room options that you can explore. Use the website/app HostelWorld to look at rates and reviews for your destination.
The final option is Airbnb. This is a newer concept that some people (like my parents) are uncomfortable with. The idea is to use a rented property or live with someone in a destination for a better price. There are options ranging from staying on a couch, sharing an apartment or getting your own apartments on the website depending on someone’s budget. I have had pretty good success with the website. My caution for this option and all options for this matter is to ensure they are safe. Talk to the owner and get a feel for how comfortable you feel. Call the hostel or hotel and ask questions to investigate for yourself. Safety is the first priority when determining where you stay.
Step 5: Plan of Activities
Now that the logistics are out of the way, figure out what you want to do at your destination. Some people like to play it by ear and see when they get there. I recommend doing a quick search beforehand for two reasons. One, you can see if there are activities you actually want to do near where you are staying (otherwise you should change your accommodations). Google Maps actually has a cool feature that allows you to make a route with different locations. This will help you plan out your day. Two, some activities are cheaper when you book them online. You might be able to find a Groupon or discount when you purchase in advance so do not forget to look.
Step 6: Other Considerations
You’re done! The vacation is booked and your activities are set. Just a few more things you should keep in mind. Write them down somewhere so you don’t forget to do them.
- Currency – Make sure you have your money exchanged to the right currency before you go on your trip. Airport currency exchange or doing it at your destination is usually more expensive so just be organized and do it before you go. Also, keep all of your money split up in separate locations just for safety reasons.
- Credit Card – In case you run out of cash, understand your credit card’s international policy. A lot of cards charge transaction fees. If you do not want to pay the fee, take some extra cash just in case.
- Itinerary – Depending on how organized you want to be, make a plan for each day of the vacation. It will help you make sure you do all that you want to at the right times.
- Transportation – Make sure you know how you are getting to and from the airport. Usually hotels have services you can book. Do all of the research beforehand so you have your transportation all set.
- Language – Understand that there might be a language barrier where you are going. Maybe you want to type up key phrases you need and translate them or buy a translating dictionary.
- Apps – Have all of the right apps downloaded beforehand. A translator app. A transportation app if the country doesn’t use Uber. A food recommendation app. Download it all.
- Safety – Finally, I want to emphasize safety (again). Research the place you are going to. Are there areas to avoid? Food to avoid? Is the water safe to drink? You are going to go have fun, but we want you to come back safe and sound.
That is all I have to say. Now its time to pack. Stay tuned for a guide on that as well 😉 Enjoy your trip!