From watching the Northern Lights in Iceland, to feeding Stingrays in the Cayman Islands, to eating Bucatini all'Amatriciana in Rome, travel has opened my eyes and mind to the incredible wealth of natural and cultural wonders the world has to offer. As a firm believer in the importance of travel, I've put together this quick list of items to consider before planning a trip, domestic or international.
1| Seek Inspiration
Whether you're an architecture junkie (like me), are drawn to calm and pristine beaches, or like the energy of a buzzing metropolis, choose destinations that inspire or captivate you. Many people have bucket lists of places they want to see and experiences they want to have, but if you ever find yourself unsure, there are plenty of ways to seek travel inspiration.
Pinterest is a good tool for image heavy wanderlust inspiration
Search the hashtags #travel and #travelgram on Instagram
Flip through magazines like Travel & Leisure or Conde Nast Traveler
Talk to friends and relatives - nothing gets me going more than travel envy
2| Do Some Research
Knowing a little bit about your desired destination is important for a variety of reasons. First, knowing the best seasons to visit various places is helpful for trip planning - whether you opt to go in the "high" season for optimal weather and activities or the "low" season to save money or have a unique experience, getting a sense of seasonality is incredibly useful. Trust me, you don't want to be in Tokyo in July. Second, having an understanding of safety concerns or general cultural practices is necessary to be prepared and to avoid total culture shock. Third, you probably want to know that you need a visa or certain immunizations etc. before you arrive at the airport. Lastly, having an idea of the sites you definitely don't want to miss will help you put together your itinerary for trips pre and post booking flights.
3| Passport & Visas
Make sure you have a passport and that it doesn't expire within 6 months of your trip. Most US passport applications and renewals are processed in about six weeks, so don't procrastinate and get this done early if you are planning to travel internationally.
As mentioned above, research your destination to see if you need a visa or have to pay some kind of reciprocity fee. Some countries, like Brazil if you are from the US, have an extensive visa process that can take up to two months!
After doing a bit of preliminary research on your destination and prices, determine approximately how much you want to spend on your trip. Add a 10-20% buffer for unexpected expenses or if you decide to treat yourself to something you discover along the way.
Although in general I believe in budgeting, I find that sometimes it's ok to just live in the moment while traveling. In the words of one of my best friends, sometimes you just have to "do you."
5| Book a Flight
Shop around online to compare flight prices. There is a considerable range when it comes to pricing for airlines, so it's important to do your due diligence. I find that the cheapest flights are typically available on Tuesday mornings. Good sites for flight finding include Kayak, momondo, and Hipmunk.
I'm the type of person that likes to know where I'm going to be sleeping in the coming nights. For that reason, I try to book all my accommodations before leaving home. Some of my more free spirited friends like to wing it. Regardless of your preferred method, I strongly recommend booking at least your first night or two before heading off. You never know how strongly jetlag will affect you and knowing where you're going when you land in a new and unfamiliar place can provide some comfort.
7| Before You Leave
Don't forget key housekeeping items before take off. Call or notify your credit card companies and banks where and when you will be traveling so they don't freeze your funds. If you don't already have one, get a credit card that doesn't charge international exchange fees - my favorite card for this is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but I've heard great things about the Capital One Venture card as well. If you need one, update your phone plan for international travel. Don't forget, when traveling internationally WiFi is your best friend. Make sure you have adapters that will work wherever you are going so you can charge your electronics. I always take two universal adapters & a small power strip when traveling internationally.
On a true housekeeping front, before leaving home do yourself a favor and clear out the fridge and take out the trash.
8| Don't Wait
I'm sure everyone has a dream trip that they are waiting for the perfect moment to embark upon. I'm an adherent of the "life's too short" motto. Why wait?