17 Easy Steps for Planning Your Next Trip

planning a trip overseasI remember when I started planning my first trip. 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. It made the trip seem more real, but it didn’t prepare me for planning a long world trip. Back then, there weren’t really blogs, guides, and apps like there are today. I was lost. I figured it out as I went, just hoping I didn’t miss anything.

Planning a long trip 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 in the beginning, especially when you haven’t done something like this before.

I’ve planned countless trips for myself (and even some for friends), and over the years, I’ve developed an efficient little checklist that ensures I don’t miss anything important (I like lists). I don’t want to get to my next destination and then realize I forgot something.

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? Tell me where to start.”

In a continuing effort to get out the door and into the world, I’ve created this step-by-step guide to planning a trip that breaks the process down so planning becomes easier and less overwhelming:

Step 1 – Decide Where You Want To Go

a map of the world
Defining where you want to go sets a goal to work towards. 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” than “I’m going to Europe.” Not only will your trip become more concrete for you and easier to commit to, but it will make planning easier as well.

Resources for picking your destination:

Step 2 – Decide the Length of Your Trip

How much does it cost to travel? I have no idea without knowing for how long you’re going away. You can’t figure out how much you need to save if you haven’t decided on how long you’ll be in your destination. After you say “I’m going to Paris,” add “for 10 days.”

Step 3 – 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. You can begin with my travel guide section or simply buy a guidebook (which are really good for things like this).

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

Now you have a concrete goal to work towards.

Step 4 – Start Saving Money

saving money for travel in your piggy bank
Time to start saving! 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 – that bottle of water, the dollar for that snack, that extra coffee. All of that adds up and creating this breakdown can let you know where you need to cut and save.

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

  • Cut the coffee – That daily coffee costs you $120 per month ($4 per coffee). An extra $1,440 per year pays for two months in Southeast Asia! What’s more important – your daily cup of Joe or getting to spend two more months enjoying the beaches of Thailand or exploring the jungles of Borneo?
  • Learn to cook – I learned to cook while in college (a skill that has helped me ever since) and before I left on my big trip, I cut down on eating out to two times per week. I cooked a large dinner and then enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day, thus saving more money. Cook more, eat out less, and travel sooner.
  • Get rid of cable – In the age of Hulu and free (and legal) streaming TV, there’s no reason for you to be spending $50 USD per month on cable television.

You can read this post for more in-depth and creative ways to cut your day-to-day expenses: 20 ways to Cut Your Expenses and Save for Travel

Step 5 – 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. Most cards have bonuses of up to 50,000 points when you meet their minimum spending requirement (often $1,000 within a 3 month period). That’s a lot of miles — enough for a free flight almost anywhere in the world.

If you want a free flight, use the cards that help with that. If you want free hotel rooms, get a hotel card. You don’t need to sign up for very many cards; 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.

I am always doing this so I can travel for as cheap as possible. This post will give you more information as well as a list of the latest deals: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/picking-a-travel-credit-card/.

Step 6 – Switch to No-Fee ATM Cards

Don’t give banks any of your hard-earned money. Save every extra dollar you can 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.

Step 7 – Stay Focused and Inspired

Keep feeding your desire to travel. Here are some inspiring stories:

Step 8 – Check for Last-Minute Deals

Okay, you’re inspired, prepared, and on your way to saving money for your trip. But before you go buy that flight or book that hotel, check for deals you might have missed. You may dream of Paris but maybe there are great deals to Berlin right now. Maybe you can get a 7 day cruise for 70% off, a package deal to Hawaii for the price of your flight to Paris, or 50% off sailing trips around Greece.

It’s a big world, and there are lots of places I want to see so if I end up choosing B over A, I’m happy! If you’re flexible too, make sure you look for any money-saving deals.

Step 9 – Book Your Flight

taking off into the sunset
After you’ve used your travel credit card and received your sign-up bonus, use your miles to book your flight. It is harder to use miles these days due to less availability, so make sure to book early to insure you get your desired flight.

There are still many ways to avoid being the person on the flight who paid the most. For more tips that can reduce ticket prices even more, read this blog post.

My favorite sites for finding cheap fares:

For the best deals, book your flight about two months in advance.

Step 10 – Book Your Accommodation

luna's hostel in panama city
If you have a set schedule, feel free to book accommodation for the duration of your trip, but if you are going to be traveling long-term, book just the first few days. Once you know the dates you’ll be in your destination, there is no real reason not to find a place to stay. My view is that waiting will just lead to you losing your top picks.

Love hotels? They won’t save you money, but you can sign up for some hotel credit cards and get free rooms, too. Marriott has a great rewards card whose sign-up bonus is equal to one week’s free stay. Starwood’s AMEX card is wonderful too, but the spending threshold in order to get the points bonus is higher.

The following booking sites offer the best rates for accommodation:

Alternative: Contact people on hospitality websites like Couchsurfing or Be Welcome and ask if they would be willing to host you. You want to do this in advance so people have time to rearrange their schedule and plan for your visit. Moreover, you can also consider apartment rental sites like Airbnb or Wimdu.

Step 11 – Plan Your Activities

plan the perfect adventure overseas
Sketch out the major activities you want to enjoy and how much they cost. Make any last-minute adjustments to your savings so you can ensure you have enough money. This will also help you figure out if you need any reservations for your chosen tours or activities.

Step 12 – Sell Your Stuff

If you are going on a long-term trip (6 months or more), sell your stuff in order to earn extra money for your trip. Start doing this about 60 days before you leave. Sites to use:

If you aren’t going to be gone that long, skip this step. If you are going away long-term but want to keep your stuff, move it to a friend’s house or keep it in storage. A good storage company in the U.S. is Public Storage, which starts at $50 per month.

Step 13 – Automate Your Bills

Get rid of your mail, go paperless, and set up online bill payment for your recurring bills to ensure you won’t miss any overseas. If you are still going to get paper mail, use a service like Earth Class Mail, which will collect and scan your mail for you. (If you are going on a two-week trip, you don’t really need to worry about this, so you can skip this step, too.)

Step 14 – Tell Your Card Companies You’re Traveling

No matter how long you’ll be gone, it’s a good idea to let your credit card companies know you will be overseas, that way any transactions that you make aren’t flagged as fraudulent and your card is less likely to be blocked. There’s nothing worse than having to sit on the phone with your credit card company instead of enjoying your vacation.

Step 15 – Pack

pack your bags
Time to pack for your trip! Here’s a suggested packing list.

Step 16 – Buy Travel Insurance

While a lot of people think “I’m healthy, I don’t need travel insurance. I won’t get sick,” travel insurance is much more than just medical protection. It covers you when your camera breaks, your flight is cancelled, a family member dies and you have to come home, or if something is stolen.

Travel insurance is something you will need on the road. You never know what might happen, and most health plans won’t cover you overseas. I never thought I would pop my eardrum while I was scuba diving or break my camera in Italy. My friend never thought he would break his leg hiking or that another friend’s father would die and she would have to fly back home.

Travel insurance is only a few dollars a day and only a fool doesn’t buy it. Here’s my ultimate guide to picking a good insurance company. (I use World Nomads for all my trips.)

Step 17 – Enjoy Your Trip

have a great time on your trip
Go on your trip and have fun! Head to the airport, board your plane (don’t forget your passport!), and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

By using this post as a guideline, you can better organize and prepare for your trip (and if you are looking for more in-depth information about planning a trip, check out my book for next steps). You’ll check all the boxes, not miss anything, and have plenty of money for your vacation. It can be as simple as booking a flight and packing or as complex as rearranging your entire life to go backpack the world forever.

But no matter your trip length, this list will help you stay organized as you prepare to step onto that plane and out into the world.

(P.S. – Yes, I did leave out visas and vaccinations because needing those isn’t as universal as the other stuff on this list, but don’t forget to check if you need those, too!)

  1. I am currently in the ‘sell your stuff’ phase. I am glad I started early because I have collected a lot of stuff over the years, most of which I haven’t used in a very long time. I am really enjoying the process of decluttering my home. It is a very freeing experience.

  2. You must be a mind reader. Just today, I thought I would start somewhere but didn’t know where. I’ve been reading your book with my left hand (finished today), you blog with my right hand and anything else in between. Like you I like lists, I like this one, 17 steps….

    hope to cross your path one day….


  3. Thanks for a wonderful and informative post, Matt. I was reading step 8 (last minute deals) and wondering how much success one has with it. I am a ardent shopper myself and would always want to get the best deal out there. However, I wait too long (in hope of last minute deals) and usually end up paying more or compromising on the quality. Then, I get to listen to the lectures of my wife to buy early :(

  4. Stephanie

    Another excellent and inspiring article. I don’t thank-you near enough for changing my thoughts of travel into dreams of travel, then plans, then actions, then reality. I’m still a budding traveler but it’s already changed my life and you helped me get here! Thank you for your amazing blog :)

  5. Definitely a must read! Thanks for the tips! We started our RTW trip and it is really tiring to plan for a trip but once you are there, it is all definitely worth it. Awesome job on this post :)

  6. Kim mitchell

    I’m planning a 14 day train. And hike it Paris to Rome next May. I researched hostels there they looked really cheesey. Is there a list of hostels and b&bs from Paris to Rome? I’m going alone is it safe? I’ll be charging the flight and rooms and have a budget of 1600$ any suggestions

    • Mackenzie Westphal

      Kim check out airbnb.com it’s awesome for apartment and room finding and the best part is that there are real reviews so u can see if u would feel safe in that environment . Also really affordable :))

  7. Glad we found your site, as the info is invaluable. This checklist is right on.

    We started to play our Europe Trip in early summer, and have taken care of our flights, accommodations and planning our travel from country to country.

    Coincidentally we will be in Rome for the canonization in April, that should prove interesting. Hopefully, the person who rented us an apt in Trestavere will not come up with some excuse as the demand will be high.

  8. Andy Anj

    I have taken your advice Matt, and i have now started to save more money,
    And bringing in my own food to work. Brilliant suggestion. Thanks.

  9. Mackenzie Westphal

    I am planning a trip to Europe in July 2014. I’m interested in learning more about your opinion of world nomads insurance. I’ve looked on their website since I saw you mention it and it looks like a great choice. Only thing I couldn’t find specified was electronkcs. Do you know if they specifically cover laptops or camera?

  10. Sarah

    Can you purchase travel insurance as soon as you have booked your trip or can it be done closer to the time? I’ve booked my flights for a trip to SE Asia in June 2014.

  11. Check your passport if it has enough pages for the countries you are going to. Some countries take a page. Check the validity as well. You are safe to have at least 6 months before your entry to any destination.

  12. Great article. I read your travel insurance post and you touch on that here too. Do you know of any insurance companies that would serve someone who doesn’t live anywhere? You touch on the importance of using cards instead of cash in your book as well.. is there a way for someone to get a pre-paid global card without having a residential address?

  13. Greg

    My bank blocked my credit card when I was in Istanbul, so it’s a great idea to let them know before you go travelling. I had to call back to the USA to my bank to get it fixed.

  14. Your tips on how to save money for travel are just priceless. For example who would think that you spend more than $120 on coffee alone. And the $50 on cable is a full $600 in a year. Getting to over $2000 is actually easy given your tips here. Thanks for the great travel planning tips.

  15. Eddy Bonnte

    this will info will come in handy when I start planning my next vacation. Thank you for the informative piece, will look forward to more.

  16. I found No 14 to be very important: while traveling through South America I had two different credit cards – both have been copied while withdrawling.

    Due to the Security Checks of my bank those people were not able to get money from my account as they mostly tried to make transactions in North America while I was in Argentina – because my bank knew where I am they blocked the card immediately.

  17. Good advice! I really need to commit to traveling more. I wish I had the guts to quit my job and just go, but I just can’t do it. I am not getting any younger. Thanks for the great advice.

  18. Hello Nomadic Matt,
    I’m having an absolute blast on your website here and I can’t wait for my own next adventure now! You make traveling look so easy – Ah I’m so excited.

  19. Useful guides. Choose and book the right hotel for staying is one of the most important thing to consider while planning a tour or travel trip.

  20. Great tips! I am a major planner and always have a rough outline of things I want to do and see. I say rough outline, because I like to leave a little wiggle room for unexpected surprises.

  21. Hah! I think the hardest part is realizing you have to just do it. Planning is important, but even more importantly is the desire and drive to pull the trigger and make it happen.

    More adventures, please! :)

  22. Tracy

    I’ve started fasting 2 days a week to save money and loose that surplus 1/2 stone!
    Normally a woman would eat 2000 calories a day and on fast days you only eat 500 calories that is a 75 percent saving on food bills per fast day. Or a 21% saving on weekly food bills which for me works out about £5 per week saving or £260 per year to go in the holiday fund. Also just signed up for the British Airways American Express Credit Card who are giving 9000 Avios points if you spend £1,000 on their card in the first 3 months – thats enough for a flight from the UK to Europe – no monthly fees either, just pay off the card at the end of each month and ‘bingo’ you got yourself a totally free flight.

  23. garvin

    I’m happy that I found this website so that I can plan my vacation that I’m going on. Just don’t want to over spend on unnecessary things.

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