So you’ve finally decided to take a leap of faith and travel abroad. Kudos to you. Yet if you’re anything like me, you’re filled with questions and have 50 tabs open in Chrome all with “How to Plan a Trip Abroad” or “How to Plan My Dream Vacation with Friends” or “How to Plan an Epic Girls’ Trip”, am I right? If this is you, don’t worry I’ve got you , because I’ve been there.
Ya girl is a low key a control freak and travel is one of those things you can only control so far. Delayed flights, missed buses, overpriced Ubers, hurricanes canceling your plans. I’ve lived through it all. So why not control the variables you can with research right?!
If you’ve been following me on IG, which you should be because I’m the best, you saw I kicked off my summer travels with a week trip to Paris with my friends Nikki and Bijan. What started as a few days in Paris for The French Open to see Serena play became a week-long birthday celebration with two of my favorite travel partners and closest friends.
Fortunately, we traveled together before and had some prior expectations of what the experience would be like, but tackling travel in another country is a whole other beast. If you’re going to be crossing an ocean and putting yourself in a flying box for several hours, you need to make sure you are as prepared possible and accomplish everything you would like to with comfort.
So how did we plan this trip abroad you ask? And how can you replicate this research process to have your own epic girls’ trip? Well, keep reading so you can discover how to plan a trip abroad with friends!
Phase 1 – The Outline ( 6 months to 1 Year Timeline)
First things first, you want to start thinking about where you want to go and when you’d like to be there. This Paris trip was easy because it was initially about Nikki and I attending Roland Garros aka The French Open. We had our tentative dates and set up flight alerts to figure out which dates would be the best for us.
During this time, I think it’s good to look up the weather and popularity for tourists to visit. For example, I would never tell anyone to visit my hometown of Orlando during the summer because that’s PEAK peak tourist season. Everyone and their momma be like
Starting this early gives you time to change your destination in case the weather won’t be what you’re seeking or accommodations during that time are out of your price range. This also helps with budgeting. Giving yourself 6 to 12 months to set aside coins each month will make a big difference. I may be a procrastinator but even I know when it comes to travel the sooner the better, good people.
Phase 2 –The Rough Rough Draft (3 months to 6 months Timeline)
If you don’t have a passport, this is the perfect time to apply for one. For the current passport holders, make sure yours isn’t going to expire within 6 months of your trip date. If so, it might behoove you to start the renewal process during phase 2. Some countries require you to have at least 6 months validity on your passport for entry. I know next summer I’ll have to renew my passport as mine expires Jan of 2021. You never know if your application will get flagged or require extra processing time. There’s no point in doing all this planning if you can’t even leave the country ,right.
Also, look into any visa requirements and ensure they don’t exceed your budget if you need one. Most times us Americans can travel easily, but requirements are changing every day. You don’t want to get stuck at customs because you didn’t plan properly.
Phase 3 – The Rough Draft ( 3 months to 6 months Timeline)
Once you’ve taken care of the pesky housekeeping items, it’s time to check in with your friends to see if the trip is still on. No use in requesting those days off work if it’s not happening. In my case, the trip was still on and Bijan had decided to join us as well ,because May is her birthday month like Nikk’s. Plus Paris is her favorite city. So it then became a group trip!
This is also a good time to decide your unofficial group roles. Maybe one person will handle the budget. Another person could handle activities. The other person is good at transportation. Once you’ve managed to distribute labor, things should run smoothly. That way no one feels overworked.
Once you’ve all confirmed, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Booking the tickets and accommodations! You’ve already set up your dates for flight alerts, so you’ll know if you should wait a few more weeks or book ASAP ,so your bank account won’t be too angry with you.
Tip: Set up alerts on Hopper, Skyscanner, and Google Flights for the best prices.
Once you’ve done that, you and your friends need to discuss accommodations. At first, we were going to do a hostel, but Nikki and I wanted to make some designer purchases. We would’ve given hotels a try, but we all wanted to be together and have the accessibility of a kitchen in case we felt like cooking one evening. So for comfort and security reasons, we decided an AirBnB would be our best option. Luckily for us, it was also our cheapest.
Phase 4 – The Peer Review (4 Weeks to 3 Months)
Now that you have copped your tickets and know where you’ll be sleeping ,it’s time to talk budget and excursions and expectations. Since we all have different income levels, we had a conversation about splitting costs and sharing meals. When you have this talk ahead of time, it helps to ease things up. Perhaps someone has more discretionary funds and volunteers to make purchases all at once, then the others pay that person back over the months. If you’re going this route, you must have a serious talk and know in the back of your mind there’s a possibility you might not get that money back.
Since our trip was more about Roland Garros we planned everything around it. Nikki and I decided to do two days there, while Bijan only did one and had some alone time at Disneyland Paris. Which was nice for me because I arrived two days after everyone else, so it was good to get alone time as they’d had.
Just like with airfare, when you purchase things further in advance you typically have more wiggle room and things are cheaper. Having the option to leave your schedule open or flexibility during the day is nice , because you won’t have to get that 8 AM museum ticket now that the other line hopper ones are sold out, especially in a huge Paris city. It is okay to have a general idea of what to do from day to day, but don’t try to jam pack everything. Allowing yourself to have leisure time will certainly make all the difference and help to manage the various personalities.
Tip: Use Pinterest and Instagram to look up food and activity ideas
The more time and money you save yourself, the happier you’ll be during the trip and when you return home. You don’t want to be stressing out about money. while you’re on vacation If you’re the friend with the bigger budget, be a bit accommodating and understand you may only have one or two nights of fancy meals and that’s okay. Instead of spending that money on food you can throw it into shopping or take the afternoon to do something away from the group. At its best, travel is a bit stress inducing ,so why add to it unnecessarily when effective communication is the answer.
Phase 5 – The Fact Checker ( 2 Weeks to 4 Weeks)
You’re now in that one-month window, so you should slowly be gathering everything you need. Think about how you’re going to style your hair. Will you need to set up an appointment with your braider or order some bundles? Are you running out of haircare products and need to fetch some travel sizes?
Additionally, begin to create a folder with all your important travel documents. I keep it on my cloud, computer, and phone for easy access. This folder includes copies of tickets, reservation codes, maps to destinations, and screenshots of public transportation fare. I also email these documents to a couple of close friends and my mom. For the group, make sure everyone has something similar. If your flights are coming in around the same time, plan a meeting point to travel to your accommodations together. It might be cheaper or quicker to take a taxi or something this way.
Tip: Some cities off reduced rates if you have their metro card. They might require a passport-sized photo. Save yourself the 5 dollars and bring one with you.
Don’t forget to register your trip with the state department. Here you’ll receive information from the Embassy about safety issues as well as register an emergency contact. God forbid you’re harmed, encounter civil unrest, or live through a natural disaster it’ll help the Embassy account for you quicker…in a perfect world. You can also list who you’ll be traveling with and their important details. Even though I’m living in Spain currently, each trip I take to another country I still do this process.
Be sure you and your friends have each other’s emergency contact’s info. While you never plan for anything bad to happen, you never know what will occur. During our trip, Bijan had an asthma attack. It wasn’t anything serious, but if it had been, knowing I had her mom’s number and full name would have been one less thing to worry about.
Phase 6 -The Last Edit (1 Day to 2 Weeks Timeline)
The countdown is on and the travel jitters or excitement are probably starting to set in. If that’s that case, busy yourself with some last-minute housekeeping. This would be the perfect time to call your bank to alert them of your travels. The last thing you want is your card no functioning while abroad. It would be wise to ask about acquiring the currency before leaving your home country in case you need to take a taxi or have a cash-only emergency.
Tip: set up your mobile wallet such as Google Pay or Apple Pay as contactless in becoming common. No need for a PIN or signature.
I also begin to monitor the daily forecast in case I need the make changes to my pre-planned wardrobe. The weather was all over the place in Paris. We kicked off our week with rainy, 60 something degree weather and ended it with sunny, almost 90-degree weather. Until the day I left, I was editing my outfit selections.
Take the time to charge all your electronics, offload your phone’s camera roll, and to format any SD cards you have for a real camera. Also, check-in with your friends to see what electronics they’re bringing. You might be able to leave a few things at home if you coordinate properly.
Make sure you’ve downloaded all the apps you’ll need to navigate the city and that you know how to use them. You don’t want to be standing on a corner trying to figure out how to work City Mapper or some other app. Make sure all the homies have these things as well in case you guys decide to do things on your own for a day.
Some of my favorite apps to have include: Google Maps, Free Now(formerly My Taxi), Booking, Hostelworld, MobilePassport, App in the Air, Uber, Yelp, OpenTable, Swarm, Life360, Google Translate, Duolingo, XE Currency. They all serve various purposes but I wouldn’t travel without them
Print out anything and everything you might possibly need. Sure you’ve created your PDF copies ,but what happens if you need the physical form, you lose your electronics, or your battery dies? You’re SOL sis. Always have a copy of your passport in a separate location in case that gets stolen/lost and you need an emergency replacement. Having a color copy will speed up the process.
Phase 7 – The Final Edit (Trip Day)
It’s the day of our trip and you want everything to go smoothly. Remember to eat and pack snacks or pick up something if you don’t want overpriced airport food. You can generally bring a full meal with you through TSA as long as it isn’t a liquid. Do a double-check of your carry-on to make sure you have all the essentials.
Be sure to give yourself ample time to get to the airport. Factor in traffic jams, delayed metros, and missed buses when you’re thinking about setting off to the airport. You don’t want to miss your flight and have to be on standby for the next one.
I could ramble on and on for hours. I know I’ve probably forgotten some tidbits, but this is the gist of everything. I have some other travel tips here if case you need them.
I’ve had enough travel mishaps, stories to come promise, so when I tell you the more time you take to plan the easier things will go for you. You want to kick off your trip with smiles and laughter, not headaches and tears. So now you have all you need about “how to plan a trip abroad”, so you can worry about one less thing. If you think there’s something essential that’s been left off this list, please comment below.
Thanks for reading and be sure to follow me on Instagram for travel highlights!