18 Easy Steps for Planning Your Next Trip

planning a trip overseas
Updated: 02/24/20 | February 24th, 2020

I remember when I started planning my first trip around the world. I had no idea what I was doing.

When I decided to quit my job and travel the world, I walked into a bookstore and bought Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on Shoestring. Buying that guidebook was my first step toward long-term travel. It made the trip seem more real, more tangilbe. It made it all seem possible.

While helpful, the book didn’t exactly prepare me for planning a trip around the world. Back then, there weren’t really travel blogs, guides, sharing economy websites, and apps like there are today. I was excited and determined — but I was lost. I just had to figure it out as I went, hoping I didn’t miss anything important.

Trip planning can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? What’s step one? What’s step two? What’s step three?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when you haven’t done something like this before — and especially considering just how much information there is out there these days. Blogs, social media, and guidebooks have never been more plentiful. There’s a firehose of information out there which can sometimes make the task of planning a trip even more challenging and overwhelming.

After a decade of traveling the world, I’ve planned countless trips and vacations for myself, friends, family, and even group tours. In the beginning, it was trial by fire and I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. However, that helped me develop an efficient checklist that ensures I don’t miss anything important during the trip planning process.

After all, I don’t want to get to my next destination and then realize I forgot something. And neither do you!

There is a lot of information on this website (and even more information packed into my book), but one question that comes up frequently is, “Matt, how do I put this all together? How do I plan a trip?”

In a continuing effort to help you get out the door and into the world, I’ve created this step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip. It works for any kind of trip and no matter how long you’re going for! Just follow this checklist and you’ll be off in no time!

Table of Contents

Step 1: Decide Where You Want To Go
Step 2: Decide the Length of Your Trip
Step 3: Will you Travel Solo?
Step 4: Research Your Costs
Step 5: Start Saving Money
Step 6: Get a Travels Rewards Credit Card
Step 7: Switch to No-Fee ATM Cards
Step 8: Stay Focused and Inspired
Step 9: Check for Last-Minute Deals
Step 10: Book Your Flight
Step 11: Book Your Accommodation
Step 12: Plan Your Activities
Step 13: Sell Your Stuff
Step 14: Automate Your Bills
Step 15: Tell Your Card Companies You’re Traveling
Step 16: Pack!
Step 17: Buy Travel Insurance
Step 18: Enjoy Your Trip

If you want to jump ahead, simply click on any of the links above.

How to Plan Your Next Trip
Step 1: Decide Where You Want To Go

a map of the world
Defining where you want to go sets a goal to work toward. A lot of people talk vaguely about travel. They never say where they are going, just that they are going. Picking a destination is immensely important, as it gives you a definite goal.

It’s a lot easier to mentally get behind “I am going to Paris in the summer” than “I’m going to Europe” or “I’m going somewhere.” Not only will your trip become more concrete for you and easier to commit to, but it will make planning easier as well…because you know what to work towards. Get specific with your plans. Get detailed. The more focused and concrete your goal, the easier it will be to actually reach it.

Resources for picking your travel destination:

200+ In-Depth Destination Guides
Five Destinations Under $30 Per Day
10 Destinations to Visit When You’re a Budget Traveler


Step 2: Decide the Length of Your Trip

How much does it cost to travel? That depends!

Without knowing how long you’re going away for, I can’t answer that question. And it’s a question you need to answer so you can start planning!

In order to figure out how much you need to save you’ll need to know how long your trip will be.

Are you going away for a week? A month? A year?

The length of your trip is a huge factor in determining how much money you need. Spend some time mulling that over until you have your answer.

For example, after you say “I’m going to Paris this summer,” add “for X days.” That way you can start to narrow down just how much money you’re going to need to save. “I am going to Paris for 10 days” is a trip that you can plan for. It’s an attainable goal.

Want to learn how I travel the world for free? GET MY FREE GUIDE


Step 3: Will you Travel Solo or Go With Someone?

One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is whether you’re going to go alone or travel with someone. Both are great options — but they are decidely different choices too.

Traveling solo will give you the freedom to go anywhere you want. No compromising. You just go wherever the wind takes you! However, it means you have to do all the planning yourself — which can seem daunting if you’re new to trip planning.

Traveling with someone means you have someone to help plan the trip with you. It will make researching your itinerary faster and you’ll have someone to spend time with on the road. However, it also means you’ll need to compromise sometimes. Perhaps on meals or activities or accommodation. It will just depend on you and the person you travel with.

At the end of the day, there is no wrong answer.

Personally, I love the freedom of solo travel. But I’ve had some incredible trips with friends too. Chances are you’ll get to do both over the years. But for now, what is this trip going to be? Solo or with someone?

Step 4: Research Your Costs

So you know where you’re going and how long you’ll be there, but to really nail down how much money you need, your next task is to research the costs in your destination at the style of travel you want.

Do you want to backpack, or would you rather stay in luxury hotels?

How much are hostels, hotels, restaurants, and attractions?

Knowing will allow you to estimate how much money you’ll need for your trip. Here is how to research costs:

Buy a guidebook.
You can begin with my travel guide section.
Ask on community websites like our forum and Facebook group or Lonely Planet.
Google prices for specific things you want to do.

You don’t need to do more than that. There’s so much information on the web that if you go down the rabbit hole of overplanning, you’ll get lost and confused by the firehose of information. Stick to those four things and you’ll be set!

In our example, if you are going to Paris for 10 days and need $75 USD a day (not including your flight), you know you need to save $750 USD (though round up to $800 USD since it’s good to have extra) for your trip.

If you were to travel around the world for a year, you’d need $50 USD a day.

Here are some other insightful posts that will help you better estimate your costs:

5 Ways to Make Your Money Last When You Travel
How to Know the Travel Info You Find is Legit
How I Research My Solo Travel Destinations


Step 5: Start Saving Money

saving money for travel in your piggy bank
Before you can start saving money, you need to know how much you have and how much you’re spending. Start to write down all your current expenses so you can determine where you are spending money — and how you can cut back.

People bleed a lot of money every day through small purchases: a coffee here, a snack there. It all of that adds up. In order to make changes to your spending habits, you first need to understand them. Making a list will do just that. It will also put your financial needs into a better perspective.

For example, if you need $2,000 USD for the trip you’re taking in eight months, that means you only have to save $8.33 USD per day. Couldn’t you find a way to save $8 USD per day? Heck, your daily coffee is most of that!

If you’re struggling to save money, here are 22 ways to cut your expenses and save money for travel. This will help you get started and on the road to saving money in no time!

Step 6: Get a Travels Rewards Credit Card

travel credit cards
While you’re working to save money, get a travel credit card so you can earn sign-up bonuses to redeem miles and points for free flights and hotel stays. Collecting points and miles from travel credit cards is how I get tons of free flights, free hotle stays, and free travel perks every singel year — and without any extra spending too!

These days, most cards have welcome offers of up to 50,000 points when you meet their minimum spending requirement. That’s enough miles for a free flight almost anywhere in the world!

If you want a free flight, sign up for the cards that help with that. If you want free hotel rooms, get a hotel card. Either way, sign up for a travel credit card and start earning points today. As long as you can pay off your monthly balance, you’ll get free travel credit.

You don’t need to sign up for very many cards either; pick one or two and focus on those. Do this the moment you decide you want to travel. Don’t wait — waiting equals lost miles, which means less free travel.

Collecting points and miles (which is called “travel hacking”) is what all the experts do to cut their costs and travel longer. It’s what has kept my costs down and me on the road for so many years.

I am always doing this so I can travel for as cheap as possible.

For more information on travel hacking and travel credit cards, check out these posts:

How to Pick the Best Travel Credit Card
How I Earn 1 Million Frequent Flier Miles Every Year
The Best Travel Credit Cards in 2020
The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking


Step 7: Switch to No-Fee ATM Cards

Once you’re abroad, you;re going to need money. While many countries will accept credit cards, in the majority of countries cash is still king. That means you’ll need to use ATMs to withdraw the local currency. And that also means you’re going to get dinged by ATM fees.

If you’re just away for a week or two, paying a few dollars in ATM fees isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re away for a longer period, those fees will add up and chew into your travel budget — a budget you’ve worked hard to grow. Don’t give banks any of your hard-earned money.

How? By using a no-fee ATM card.

I use Charles Schwab, but there are lots of other banks (don’t forget to check your local banks) that don’t charge ATM fees. Additionally, you can join a bank in the Global ATM Alliance.

By using a no-fee ATM card you can avoid those pesky ATM fees, leaving you more money for what it was intended for: travel

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