How to Plan a Trip: Step by Step Guide to Your Dream Trip
Perhaps you’re new to travel or seasoned and looking for some inspiration for your next great adventure. We’ve been traveling since 2001 and have learned a lot along the way. If anyone knows how much work it takes to plan a trip, it's us!
Planning your own trip is not an easy task.
Fellow travelers come to us often, asking where to start, what is the first step, how do you find cheap flights and hotel deals? The questions are endless. Never fear, we are here to help you take the stress out of planning your next vacation.
This page will help you plan your trip from start to finish. We will not only give you our best advice, but share with you our secrets and teach you how to maximize your travel budget through strategic planning.
This step by step travel planning guide will share our favorite resources, including booking sites, that we use to plan our own travels.
PLAN A TRIP: QUICK GUIDE
Our top asked question about travel is how and where we book our flights. We always start out by searching available options and prices on Skyscanner.
Most of our flights are booked through Skyscanner. They show all airlines, even the budget ones.
Occasionally you can also find good deals here. Worth a look.
Worth a read:
Finding accommodation can be a stressful part of travel, but it doesn't have to be. We use the following resources to find, review and book accommodation in our travels.
- Our custom hotel aggregator
We've partnered with one of the top hotel search engines in the world to bring you a comprehensive hotel search engine that looks at all your best options and gives you the best prices available on the web for your search dates. Try it today!
We love renting apartments with AirBNB to have more relaxed stays. If you’re not on AirBNB already, the link above will give you a $40 credit.
We use TripAdvisor to read hotel reviews.
Need help with your itinerary planning? Check out our extensive travel guides section.
- Ultimate Travel Photography & Video Gear Guide
- Photography Gear Every Adventure Traveler Should Carry
- Man’s Travel Essential – Bluff Works Pants
- Best Carry on Backpacks for Travel
- Best Sleeping Bag Liners: Top 12 Favorites
- Best Compact Binoculars for Outdoors & Travel
- Best Hiking Backpack for your Next Adventure
- Best Travel Rain Jacket to Stay Dry on the Go
- Best Sleeping Bag for Cold Weather: From Africa to Greenland
Pack lighter on your next trip: Your Guide For Doing Laundry While Traveling
Find the perfect travel bag:
- Best Carry on Backpacks for Travel
- Best Hiking Backpack for your Next Adventure
- Affordable Travel Gear Every Adventurer Should Carry
- Gear Review: 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack
We never leave home without travel insurance and neither should you!
The first thing you do after booking a trip is purchase insurance to protect your investment.
Our Recommended Travel Insurance Providers:
Our go to travel insurance agency, we carry a multi-trip plan with them that lasts for an entire year, covering all of our trips in that period.
- World Nomads
One of the best travel insurance companies out there. They offer coverage for adventures activities and electronics too.
Articles on Travel Insurance:
At the beginning of 2012 we began executing a plan to take a 1 year Round the World (RTW) trip. We documented the process on this site before finally leaving in February 2014. Our RTW trip ended up lasting 2 years.
That said, we haven't stopped traveling since our RTW trip.
Preparing for our RTW trip:
- What We Told Our Families before our RTW
- It's All So Real. RTW
- The Inner Fight Selling Everything To Travel The World
- Giving Up Our Couch To See the World
- Where Will 2 Years of RTW Travel Take Us?
- Let's Talk Budget: Pre Trip Guesstimates
- A Look At RTW Accommodation Options
- A Look at RTW Transportation Options
- 20 Days Till RTW Liftoff
What happened after we left:
- Redesigning My Life At 30- RTW Career Break
- From House to Hostel- A Married Couples Perspective
- 6 Month RTW Recap
- 1 Year RTW Travel Recap
- Our Year 2 RTW Travel Plans
- 2 Years of RTW Travel Down- What’s Next for Divergent Travelers?
To read every single article we've posted on this site about preparing for, planning, executing and experiencing a multi-year RTW trip, CLICK HERE.
CHOOSE A DESTINATION
First things first, where do you want to go? This can be both easy and hard, so remember that there is no right answer. The perfect trip looks different to everyone. This decision alone will set the tone for how you plan a trip.
If you already know where you want to go, great but stick around as there are plenty of tips here for helping you make your plans.
If you are starting from scratch, we’re here to give you actionable, first hand advice to help you choose a great destination for your vacation.
How much time do you have for this trip?
Knowing how much time you have for your trip will set the stage for where you go and how your trip gets planned. We find that most people are dealing with either fixed vacation time or flexibility when they start the trip planning process.
Either way, how much time you have for your trip will have a big effect on where you can go and what you can do on your vacation.
The biggest oversight is that people often forget to factor their actual travel time into their itinerary. Seems easy to remember but it’s simple to overlook once you get wrapped up in your research and planning.
This information is critical in the planning process and for choosing a destination.
If you have, say, 8 days/7 nights to work with, and you choose to go to Europe, assuming you are coming from the USA you will spend 3 of your 8 days in transit. Meaning you will have only 5 full days in your destination.
Alternatively, if you choose to visit the Caribbean or Mexico, your transit days are a half day each, meaning you’ll get 7 full days in your destination.
The same can be said for transport times once you are in your destination. If you want to visit multiple places, be sure to do your research and factor in transit times. It’s nice to think that you can be in Paris today, Amsterdam tomorrow and London the day after, but if you do it that way you’ll spend all your time touring the inside of a train instead of actually seeing those fabulous cities.
Travel between places takes time, do not underestimate this in your travel planning.
Who Are You Traveling With?
Are you planning a solo, couple, friend or family trip? Who you are traveling with will have a massive impact on the type of trip you choose to take and where you choose to go.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to sit down with your travel companions and discuss your trip.
Use that time to toss around travel ideas, discuss interests and give each person a chance to talk about places they want to visit and things they want to do on the trip. Chances are you will realize that everyone you are traveling with has a different idea of what your trip looks like.
Utilizing the ideas of your travel companions will ensure that everyone has a memorable experience. Most importantly, don’t leave all the decision making to one person.
We’ve been on trips solo, together, with friends of similar interests, with friends of different interests, with family, with elderly grandparents and they have all been successful. The key is to tailor the trip to the people that are on it.
Travel Style – How Do You Like to Travel?
Believe it or not, this is one of the most important steps in planning your trip. Putting together a trip that caters to your interests and fitness level will go a long way in making your trip everything you dreamed it could be.
Below are some of the most popular travel styles and remember that it is okay to be more than one. A lot of people will combine these trip styles to meet their needs.
Adventure: If you like to try new things, be outside and want to add a physical type element to your trip than you’re likely to enjoy and adventure style trip. If you want an adventure trip, consider planning in some hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, skiing, biking or scuba diving. Think Patagonia, Antarctica, Alaska…
Luxury: If it is the finer things in life that you seek, and you want to be pampered in the best hotels and eat the best food, you’re likely to enjoy a luxury style trip. This will be the most expensive of the trip styles, even if you manage to snag some deals, but will be the ultimate in a pampered, upper cut getaway. If you want a luxury trip, consider planning your stay at a 5-star property in an exclusive destination. Think Fiji, Maui, African Safari… you get the picture.
Budget: If you want to stretch your dollar to get the most bang for your buck and you don’t mind making compromises on the quality of accommodation, food and transportation, then you’re likely to enjoy a budget trip. It is possible to travel anywhere in the world on a budget, but some destinations are far easier than others. This trip style is best for people that like to explore on their own, make their own itineraries and manage the day to day spending to a cent. If you want a budget trip, consider visiting Vietnam, Mexico, Egypt…
Urban: If you like cities, architecture and thrive in a fast-paced environment, you’re likely to enjoy an urban style trip. This kind of trip will help you to explore every nook and cranny that the world’s best cities have to offer. There are many advantages to being based in a city, including the opportunity to not only explore the city in depth but also take day trips to the surrounding areas. Europe is a prime place to travel if you want an urban vacation. Some of our favorite cities include Paris, Budapest, Rome, Bangkok….
Beyond your style, what is it that interests you when you think of taking a trip? Is it the freedom to explore through a road trip? Is it going on safari in Africa? Is it walking through history in Europe?
Combining your travel style and interests will give you the maximum potential of living your dream trip. We’re here to help you figure out your travel interests.
To provide some inspiration, we have broken up several main travel interest categories on our site to make it easier for you to find information about the kind of travel that speaks to you.
While you're in the planning process, you can use this as a tool to figure out where you want to go on your next trip.
When Do You Want to Travel?
While this may seem irrelevant, the time of year you plan your trip can have a big impact on the destination you choose, how much money you spend and your overall enjoyment. Every destination experiences high, low and shoulder seasons.
High Season Travel: Well, you know what they say, high season is high season for a reason! This time of year typically revolves around the most ideal time to visit a destination. It is peak season for the best weather and if there are any popular events. High season travel can be enjoyable but is also notoriously crowded. You’ll also find the highest prices for air, transportation and accommodation during this period. It’s not a deal breaker for us, but we are always mindful to research when high season is for a destination and to be honest, we typically avoid it.
Low Season Travel: There are many perks to traveling in low season, such as lower prices on flights and accommodation, way less people and easier planning. However, the trade off is often less than ideal weather conditions and often many businesses will close during low or off season, leaving you with less options when you are in town. Whether to consider low season travel really comes down to where you are planning to go and what your objectives are. There are plenty of places in the world that don’t experience weather related low season, such as the Caribbean, that can be perfect for off season travel.
Shoulder Season Travel: We won’t lie to you; we love shoulder season travel and purposely try to plan all of our travels during this period for each destination. It is the sweet spot of travel, the calm before, or just after, the booming high season. Prices are generally reasonable, flights priced affordably, and accommodation options are not limited. The weather is typically just as good, if not better, than you would get in high season and you get the luxury of not dealing with crowds.
Once you’ve figured out the type of trip you want to have and when you want to go, you can start building your trip budget. There is no one number that will fit every scenario and everyone will have a different number. We recommend starting by setting a total trip budget and working backwards from there.
Ask yourself: What is the maximum amount you want to spend on your trip?
Once you have this number, you’ll have a better idea of what destinations are a possibility. Something you’ll realize early in your planning is that not all destinations will fit in your budget, with heavy factors being your trip style and preferred travel dates.
That is why I recommend having a number in mind before you settle on the destination.
If you don’t already have an idea for what your dream trip will cost, it is advisable to do some pre-research to see what the average prices are around things like flights, accommodation and activities. Often when we are planning a trip, these things combined will help us determine if we want to visit a destination.
We recommend having 3 to 5 destinations in mind and then using your pre-research of them to identify how much you want to spend on your trip. It is important to look at a number of things and not be sucked in by flight or accommodation prices alone.
Look at how much it costs to take day tours or do activities. Look into average prices for meals and transportation. I have heard more than one story about someone scoring a cheap flight deal only to be met with costs that are well over budget once they started booking accommodation and activities.
Trip planning is very much about the big picture and if you have a set budget you want to stick to, it is essential that you do some research in advance of planning.
This practice will also help you to determine future trip costs and give you numbers to save towards.
The key takeaway on budget planning is to make sure you plan for every foreseeable expense associated with you trip. To make sure you don’t miss anything, use our checklist:
- Day Tours & Activities
- Meals (both in transit to your destination and while on your trip)
- Guide & Restaurant Tips
- Travel Insurance
- Airport Parking Fees
- Pre & Post Trip Accommodation if you’re nearest airport is not close
BOOKING FLIGHTS FOR YOUR TRIP
You can start searching for and watching flights to your chosen destination up to a year before you want to travel. As soon as you have determined your dates, I recommend to start looking at flight options and setting up flight alerts to watch fares.
Even doing this for a couple weeks will give you a good idea on trends.
If you ask anyone that travels a lot, they will all have a different process to search for flights. However, it is all done with the same goal in mind; to find the best deal to wherever it is you want to go.
Using a Flight Search Engine
We typically start our search by using a flight search engine. Our favorite is Skyscanner for the simple reason that it aggregates all flight options, from all airlines, all across the world.
They even include the budget airlines, which we find helpful when booking short haul flights when in destination, if needed.
By using a tool like this, we are able to see what companies are flying the route we want and what the price points will be. It shows us who flies cheapest and allows us to analyze the number of stops and duration based on those prices.
Using them can be a very effective way to determine your options and gauge prices for your upcoming trip.
One thing to watch for when using flight search engines is who provides the flight. These aggregators will sometimes pull in random online booking companies. While the flights and prices are legit, if you book them you will get a confirmed booking, you will be 100% locked into that flight. Meaning you cannot change or cancel the flight without losing all of the money you paid for the ticket.
If you know your plans are concrete and won’t change, you can save some significant cash going this route. But if you want the assurance of being able to switch your flight and talk to someone who represents the airline, then use this as a tool and book direct with the airline.
Booking Direct with the Airline
Going this route can have numerous benefits if you fly often, let’s say for work. Is there an airline that your office always uses? If so, you likely have a mileage account and status with that airline. This can give you the benefits of earning miles for your flights, lounge access, free checked bags and possible upgrades.
These days, we fly almost exclusively on United. As a result, we hold a high membership status that gives us all those perks I mentioned above. More often than not, we will book flight routes on our preferred airline, even if the cost is slightly higher, just to exercise the benefits and earn miles.
Something else we do is to start by using Skyscanner, to see available airlines for the route, then we go directly to the airline site to book.
This method also gives you the option to manage your booking with the airline if any changes arise. They can help you make changes to the ticket without having to deal with any third parties.
Using Miles to Book Flights
If you have been loyal to a particular airline, either personally or through work, and have an account with some miles in it, you may be able to use those miles to book your flights.
Every mileage program is different, but you can start to book roundtrip tickets for as little as 15,000 miles per person.
Using miles to purchase flights means you only have to pay the taxes for that ticket, the actual flight is essentially free. This is why opening up member accounts with airlines that you use and staying loyal to them is a popular option for travel.
Many travel savvy people, us included, have also perfected the practice of using credit card mileage offers to accrue large banks of miles that can be used to fly all over the world for almost nothing.
If this is something you are interested in learning, check out our Mile Hacking Guide to get started.
Next up is securing a place to rest your head, one of the most essential moves you’ll make to plan a trip. It can also be the most stressful because let’s face it, the options are endless, and the internet can be an overwhelming place.
Your chosen trip style and destination will play a huge factor into how much you spend on accommodation and what will be available to you. Before you start searching, have an idea in mind of how much you want to spend per night, based on your budget, and what kind of accommodation you are looking for.
This will go a long way in helping you to filter through the available options.
Use a Hotel Search Engine
While we have used all of the methods we will share here, the hotel search engine is by far our preferred way of searching for and booking accommodation in our travels. There are hundreds of places to book hotels online that figuring out where to look can be overwhelming.
Each one pulls different information and we were finding that we spent hours searching all the sites for deals. So we came up with a solution to save time and money when it comes to accommodation.
In 2018 we launched our own Hotel Search Engine for DivergentTravelers.com, that gives you the best hotel deals found across the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and many more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you (ok, we use it too!).
If you’re looking for a hotel, using our hotel search engine will ensure you get the best deal available on the web. You’re welcome!
Alternatively, if you prefer to stay in apartments, condos, houses or apartments when you travel then AirBNB can be a great option.
We’ve found that using this type of accommodation will give you a more local experience and more freedom during your trip. You’ll have access to a kitchen to prepare your own meals, a living room and will typically be located in a residential area.
We love to use AirBNB for longer term rentals or when we want a break from fast paced travel with the comforts of home.
Bonus, use our link to get $40 off your first AirBNB stay!
Once you arrive in your destination, you’ll have to determine how you will get around. This will likely be a combination of many methods, some of which should be booked in advance and some that can be booked in the moment.
It is important to do enough planning, so you know your options and rough prices before you arrive.
Planning your Arrival
A small part of your trip, but essential to make sure you start your trip right. Have a plan for when you arrive. Whether that be a pre-arranged taxi or notes on how to use public transport to get to your hotel.
Chances are you are going to be tired, possibly jet lagged if you’ve crossed time zones and arriving in a new place can be a shock. Being armed with information can lead you to a smooth transition into your vacation.
Seems simple enough, but we hear it all the time that people overlook this small detail!
Rent A Car
Whether you’re planning a major road trip or just want to see the immediate area of your destination, renting a car can be a fantastic option. It will give you the freedom to go where you want, when you want to, and is one of our favorite modes of transportation.
It is recommended to make rental car reservations in advance to ensure you have a vehicle upon arrival, especially if you have a preference in car class. It also gives you the chance to lock in a great deal at a reduced rate versus paying counter prices, which are typically very high.
Like with flights and hotels, there are many options for booking car rentals online and it’s possible to book through a third-party site or direct with the rental agencies. We’ve found that you typically get way better deals if you book third party.
Some of our favorite places to search for car rentals:
Train Transportation in Europe
If you’re planning a trip to Europe, one of the best ways to get around is by train. It allows you to skip out on the potential headache of driving and navigating with road signs in different languages.
The train system throughout Europe is extensive, meaning you can access every nook and cranny across all the European regions. Depending on the length of stay, there are a number of passes available to maximize your budget and route. In 2016, we spent 4 months traveling through Europe by train with Eurail.
They offer pass options per country or in time chunks across multiple countries, which offers great flexibility for your trip.
Any destination you plan to visit will have some type of public transportation system in place. This typically includes some combination, if not all, of the following:
- Tourist Bus
These transportation options will all run on local schedules and be bookable when you arrive in your destination. It is usually easy to find information online about prices for these modes in advance, so it is recommended to do that so you can budget accordingly.
This step is going to look completely different for everyone and will be highly dependent on your travel style, budget and personality. The biggest piece of advice we can give you is to not plan every second of your trip. It might be tempting, especially if you are short on time and there is a lot to see but leave some time for spontaneity.
When we worked full time office jobs and planned our trips around vacation time (hello, we did this for 13 years!), we used to plan every second of our trips to maximize our time. It was rewarding, we saw a lot and had a ton of fun, but it was exhausting. Don’t be like us.
Find a balance in your itinerary for relaxation and activities. Give yourself some time to just wander around and engage with the local scene. You never know what you might come across and I promise you that those moments will end up being your favorite memories.
Figuring Out What to Do
One word, research. You already know where you’re going and what you’re travel style is, so use the power of the internet to find things that interest you. We are huge fans of using travel blogs (ahem) to research trips.
They can give you fantastic, first hand insight into a destination and help you to learn what is available.
We also love to read guidebooks. I know, we're nerds, but they really do provide valuable information on the places you are planning to visit. Any brand will do but we prefer to use Lonely Planet.
Day Tours & Activities
While many things will be possible to do on your own, most of the best sites will be available in some kind of day tour. We like to explore on our own, but we also like to book day tours. They can help get you into places that might be logistically challenging to access.
Day tours are often available both in your destination and the surrounding area. This can be a great way to see more during your trip. It’s also a great way to get local information and meet people during your travels.
It is possible to book some tours once you are in your destination, but keep in mind that availability can be limited. If you’re traveling during high season, things may also be sold out.
Keep this in mind when you plan a trip and be prepared to book tours in advance to ensure you get a guaranteed spot on the tours you are eyeing up.
Our preferred company for booking day tours and activities worldwide is Viator. This company aggregates tours that are offered by local companies is hundreds of countries. Their website is fun and easy to navigate, breaking up tour options by destination and interest. They also run a lot of web deals and offer early booking deals.
Perhaps you’re finding this information overwhelming and would rather leave the planning to someone else. There’s no shame in this, sometimes we like to travel like that too! If that is the case, we highly recommend you look into taking a group tour.
There are many advantages to going this route, including:
- Set itinerary
- Accommodation included
- Transportation included
- Led by a knowledgeable guide
- Meeting new travel companions
We’ve done plenty of group tours and we prefer the intimate experience of small group adventure travel. Our favorite company for this is G Adventures.
Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, G Adventures offers a wide range of award-winning trips to more than 130 countries on all 7 continents. They are an industry leader in sustainable travel and work hand in hand with the non-profit Planeterra to make a positive impact worldwide.
PASSPORTS & VISAS
If you’re planning to travel internationally, you’ll need to make sure you have a valid passport for your trip. Depending on your passport nationality, you may be required to apply for a visa to enter the country as well.
Doing your research in advance will help you to navigate this process with ease.
If you’re traveling in your home country, you will not be required to carry a passport, a valid driver’s license or ID card will suffice.
Apply for a passport
For those of you taking your first international trip (yay!), you will need to apply for a passport in your home country. The process varies, depending on where you are from, but is usually straight forward.
It is advised to consult with your nearest passport processing center to obtain a checklist of needed documents and step by step instructions on the process.
If you already have a passport: Most countries around the world require that all passports have more than 6 months of validity and 2 blank pages for entry for the duration of the time spent in their country. This is not negotiable and while your passport is technically not expired if it is under the 6 months, you will be denied boarding on your flight or fined heavily if you leave with less than 6 months validity. If your passport cannot meet this requirement during your planned trip, you will need to renew it prior to your trip.
Research Visa Requirements
Depending on the issuing country of your passport, you may need to obtain a visa to enter your chosen destination. Doing a little research ahead of time will tell you if you need a visa, how much it costs, the process and whether it can be obtained online or at an embassy.
The visa costs and process vary significantly across countries you’re traveling to and where your passport comes from. This being said, make this part of your initial trip planning process and ensure you have more than enough time to apply.
If you're looking for a great tool to help you navigate the visa process, we recommend checking out iVisa. This site offers information on what countries require visas and offers assistance in obtaining them. This tool works for all nationalities.
Make Copies of Important Documents
Once you have all your important travel docs for your upcoming trip, make copies to carry with you and to leave at home. These come in handy in the case of an emergency and is a good practice for anyone traveling.
When we travel, we always make copies of the following documents:
- Flight schedule
- Chosen accommodation
- Travel Insurance Policy
We leave one complete copy at home with someone and scan one complete copy into our computer and save in our email. We also carry a hard copy of our passport, visa and travel insurance information on each of us while in destination.
If you’re traveling somewhere abroad, chances are high that you’ll need some vaccinations. Many destinations do not require immunizations to enter their country, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be potentially exposed to disease while you’re there.
Do some research in advance, we always check out the CDC Website, and go on those recommendations. You can also schedule an appointment with your local international travel clinic, who can advise you on health recommendations for the destination you are traveling to.
Keep in mind that some immunizations are series that can last a month or more, plan enough time to complete these before you depart.
PHONE & INTERNET ACCESS
In today’s world being connected is a priority. We know this, as we work online. We’ve come accustomed to being able to access the internet at all hours of the day and night. If this is something you want when you travel, there is a number of options available to help you stay connected during your trip.
Most places you visit these days will offer some kind of WIFI connection. The quality can vary greatly depending on what country you are in and how remote you are during your trip. For the most part, you should be able to access free WIFI a couple times during your trip.
Some countries offer WIFI but you have to pay for it. The same can be said for hotels too. While other countries have it available in all public places, restaurants and even on buses.
Jumping between WIFI points can provide you with inconsistent access to the internet while you travel, so you have to decide if that is fine or if you want to explore other options for staying connected.
Local SIM Card
While we spend a lot of time using WIFI, the nature of running this website means we need to be connected while we’re on the move. Buying local SIM cards to access the local cellular data networks has been a go to option for us in our travels.
Unlike in the states, buying a local SIM card is usually very cheap and easy when traveling abroad. Most major airports will have cellular kiosks in the arrival terminal where you can purchase a SIM and data plan when you get off your flight.
In today’s world, we’re finding that the major cellular networks will offer tourist packages with data packages often up to 20GB and include a local number with unlimited texting and limited calls. It makes being connected while you travel, very easy.
Note: To do this, you will need an unlocked, GSM phone. It will not work otherwise. If your phone is not unlocked, you can call your provider and they can unlock it for you. Most of the time, for free.
While we don’t recommend that you go this route, it is an option. You can have your at home network turn on international roaming.
Companies like AT&T or Verizon have designed travel roaming packages that give you the option of using your home service abroad for something like $10 per day.
This option can be okay if you’re going on a short trip or don’t have your phone unlocked and are okay with high charges for data use. (Hello, 7 days, $70.)
DEALING WITH MONEY ABROAD
We have extensive experience in dealing with money while traveling, from short weekend trips to 2 years of traveling consecutively. Not to mention that Lina used to work in banking.
The length of your trip will greatly affect our recommendations for dealing with money, so we’ll be sure to outline below what works best for what.
You know the old adage, ‘Cash is King’, well forget that in travel. At least when it has to do with your home currency and exchange rates.
Unless you are required to bring a certain amount of USD in cash on your trip or are traveling to a place that uses your home currency or need it to exchange on the black market for better rates (this is real in some developing countries), then we don’t recommend bringing large amounts of cash with you.
Why? Because cash gets you terrible and inconsistent exchange rates.
Instead, we recommend planning to access your money through debit and credit cards.
Using Debit Cards
This is our absolute preferred method for accessing money when we travel. Why? Because we can use ATM machines to withdraw money in the local currency at the highest conversion rate available on the market at the time of withdrawal.
We know what you’re thinking, won’t you lose money with all the fees? Well, no. There are many ways to get around conventional ATM and debit card fees when traveling.
For us, we have a dedicated travel account opened at Charles Schwab that not only refunds every single ATM fee that hits our account, but also does not charge us foreign transaction fees on our debit card.
We transfer money into this account for each trip and use our debit card to withdraw it in local currency. We get the best exchange rates available and pay no extra fees. It’s gold and has saved us thousands of dollars over the years.
Not all banks offer these debit card benefits though. So, we recommend starting by asking your bank about any fees associated with using your card abroad.
Most of the time, even if they charge some fees, because you get the best exchange rates you will still pay less than if you exchange cash.
Using Credit Cards
Going beyond the use of debit cards, we use credit cards all the time when we travel. A great way to get around debit card fees is to apply for and travel with a credit card that accrues points or miles and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Use your credit card when you travel with the intention of paying off the expenditures as soon as you return. This means, you need to set aside any money from your budget that you charged to cover it.
If you’re disciplined enough to do that, using a credit card to pay for everything once you are traveling can have some great perks and avoid a lot of unnecessary fees.
A couple credit cards we love, that do not charge foreign transaction fees and accrue points/miles:
- United MileagePlus Visa
- Chase Sapphire
- Delta American Express
Notify Your Bank(s)
No matter how you decide to go about accessing your money when you travel, be sure to notify all banks and credit card companies prior to leaving. Let them know where you are going and how long you will be gone.
This will ensure that you will have access to your money without any hang ups or account lock outs. Trust me, those are no fun (we’ve dealt with them before!) and can suck up a lot of your precious vacation time.
PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE
In today’s world of wild weather, flight delays, flight cancellations and schedule changes, it has been an invaluable asset to our travel arsenal. From the second you hit purchase on your flights/tour/hotel, you should purchase an insurance policy to cover your trip.
We do not travel without travel insurance.
Why? Because if anything unforeseen should happen (think natural disaster, death in the family, political instability…) from the time you book until you’re safely home from your trip, you will be covered. Taking a vacation is an investment and you should want to protect your spend.
In the scheme of things, the price of purchasing a travel insurance policy to protect your trip is negligible in your total budget. Don’t skip it, you never know what can happen.
Two places we recommend to purchase travel insurance:
Allianz Travel Insurance: A leader in travel insurance, this company offers a variety of plan options depending on your budget, length of trip and party size. We’ve been using their annual travel insurance policies for 4 years and love them. They have had our back for every single delay, cancellation, lost luggage and natural disaster. It costs you nothing to browse policies.
World Nomads: If you are not from the states, I recommend looking at the options offered by World Nomads. They offer worldwide coverage to most nationalities and offer two plan options that cover most travel related possibilities.