Updated: Jul 25, 2020
A Three-Step Guide to Planning a Trip Abroad
Where do you start when planning a trip to a foreign city? There are so many things to consider! This blog is for those of you who want the simple, logical path.
In the last twelve months I have planned and executed trips across 10 different countries. And I feel like I finally have travel planning down to a soft science. Everyone has their tips and tricks, but my method is really location based. When in a new city, it is important to be central, close to transportation, and walking distance to the things you want to see. I always book in this order:
To help illustrate my plan, we are going to be planning a trip to Athens, Greece from here in Denmark. Use this outline to plan a trip anywhere!
Step One, Book Your Flight
Some people claim that Tuesday afternoons are the best time to buy flights. And others say there is a benefit to booking a certain number of weeks out. But the truth is that airlines increase the prices based on number of seats available. So the best thing to do is track flight prices, and book early. There are lots of great websites that track flights like Skyscanner, Airfare Watchdog and Hopper. But by far, my overall favorite is Google Flights.
For Using Google Flights
Search Multiple Dates
After entering your departure and arrival cities, click on the calendar icon and you’ll see prices for each day of the month. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, you can use the tool to book the cheapest roundtrip tickets for your trip.
Search Multiple Destinations
Google Flights lets you save time by searching up to seven departure and seven arrival destinations at a time. It is a great tool if you live in a city like New York where there are multiple airports or if you want prices for all the airports in a country or region.
You can see below I've searched the three airports closest to me: Aalborg, Billund and Aarhus.
Use Flight Insights
You can save even more money on airfare by using Google Flight’s Insights feature. There are three boxes that will give you tips on how to improve your search, whether it’s changing your dates, analyzing price trends, or flying to a cheaper airport.
Use Discover Destinations
If you want to go on a trip, but you’re not sure where you can use Google Flight’s Discover Destinations feature. You can search by dates, places or interests and you’ll get instant travel inspiration!
You can also try using a fake location with a VPN or change your location at the bottom of the Google Flights screen, sometimes domestic flights are cheaper. And you might also try booking multiple one-ways to save on fares.
Step Two, Book Accommodation
As my mom, a former real estate agent, would say, “Location, Location, Location!”
Where you choose to stay will likely determine the quality of your vacation. It is best to be within walking distance of your key destinations, especially in Europe. And you also want to make sure you are in a safe neighborhood and have good facilities.
Narrow Down Location
First, decide what you want to see and do on your holiday. I use Google’s Things to Do feature to find the city's top attractions. In Google, search “Things to Do Athens,” and google will populate the top attractions. Off to the right of the screen you can see the city map.
If we were going to Athens, I would really want to see the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon and Temple of Olympian Zeus. You can see that two of my tops three things are super close together. So I will try and find a hotel within close vicinity to both the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
Finding accommodation is easier than ever with so many resources available, you can find hotels using google reviews, booking.com, hotels.com, or kayak.com. Or you can find a home away from home with a resource like airbnb.com or vrbo.com. When searching, use the map feature to find hotels close to your desired destinations.
For most of my own private travel I usually choose airbnb.com, because I really love having a kitchen and a homey vibe. On Airbnb I also always filter for “superhosts," which populates highly rated hosts and recognized homes that people love. Be sure to read the reviews.
Below you can see that I have pulled up an Airbnb map of accommodations close to our desired activities (marked by red Xs). And as you can see, we cannot exactly stay at the Parthenon (it is a 400 BC Greek temple, makes sense), but we can get pretty close.
Step Three, Plan for Transportation
Transport is generally the last thing you need to worry about. But it also can require a bit of research.
Many cities have their own special public transport apps. In Budapest they use Bolt, in Paris they use City Mapper, and here in Denmark we like DSB and Rejseplanen. Do a Google search to find the top apps for your destination.
In Budapest, Bolt was basically the local Uber. It was said to be trustworthy, and we had no problems. But we also learned that if you waived down a taxi without using the app that they would charge you at 10x the honest rate, even if it was a Bolt car! So doing your research is important, especially so you don’t get scammed. Never jump into a taxi without knowing the final price. And always have a bit of cash on hand.
When booking rental cars, be sure to book ahead. If you touch down at an airport and rent a car, it will be more expensive. Also, usually if you are under 25 you'll have extra underage driver fees. And in most countries you will also need an international driver's license. I actually just ordered one from - https://internationaldriversassociation.com/ and it was super simple. And I paid about $60.
In many countries you can rent a car for cheap; in Athens the going rate is around $15/day. Make sure to educate yourself on the local driving signage and regulations. And be sure you are covered by insurance.
In a quick search I found this great travel guide for Athens. It seems like Athens has great public transport that runs from 5AM to midnight. A standard ticket on Athens public transport costs €1.40. I found a great 3-Day Tourist Ticket (€22) that is valid for unlimited travel (including 1 round trip to/from Athens International Airport). In our case for Athens, I would likely opt for public transport.
Be on the lookout for great tourist tickets, many cities I’ve been to have these like Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid.
Easy as 1, 2, 3!
Always book flight, accommodation and then transport. I find my location based method to be super effective. I hope my travel notes help. Happy trails!