It is a truth universally acknowledged that planning an international vacation is a daunting task. Even the cheapest trip abroad is tough on your wallet and you want to make sure you hit all the “must-see” places to get the most bang for your buck, whether that’s in the form of Polish złotys or Moroccan dirhams.
Not so surprisingly, the Twelve Springs team loves to jetset! As a result of experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly of international travel, we’re brimming with advice gleaned from our adventures and misadventures alike.
Whether you’re a meticulous super-planner or more of a laissez-faire type, this list of FAQs is sure to guide you, starting with where to go and then how to ensure you’ll experience life to the fullest while you’re there.
1. Where in the world should we go?
The first big question when it comes to international travel.
To best answer this one: decide when you want to travel. Take it from me, you should plan on devoting at least 7-10 days to any international trip. Why? Because two of those days are devoted to transporting yourself there and back and it may take a day, even two to adjust to the new time zone.
Perhaps you decide that Christmas and New Years would be a good time to take this epic trip, to capitalize on the office holidays. Europe may be too chilly in the winter so this is a great time to go to the part of the world where it’s summertime. Plus, it’s pretty awesome to bring in the new year on the other side of the globe. You’ll be able to Instagram your happy-new-year selfie well before your friends back in the USA.
My personal recommendation? New Zealand and Australia plus Fiji. I threw Fiji in there because it’s on the way to New Zealand and out of the 28 countries I’ve visited, my 2.5 days in Fiji were hands down some of the most memorable.
Fiji is made up of 330 islands. This sweet spot is an absolute paradise. Whether you’re traveling with kids, on your honeymoon, or on a post-college trip with your buddies, everyone in your group will fall in love with this place.
2. What’s the easiest way to book international flights?
If it’s within your budget, I would recommend getting a travel agent to find you the best deal and to get you and your family seats together on all of your flights. It can get pretty complicated when you have 2-3 layovers both there and back. It can also get awkward sitting next to a stranger for 12 hours with the risk of falling asleep on their shoulder; it’s better if it’s your husband.
My family used AAA and man did it save us a lot of stressful hours of searching for flights from Los Angeles to Fiji, to New Zealand, to Australia and back!
If you want to book your tickets on your own online, one super useful money-saving tip is to clear the cookies on your internet browser. This way the ticketing websites won’t know how much you’ve paid for airline tickets in the past.
Yes, this is a thing! Yes, it’s creepy. In a world where it feels like your personal info is being stored in little clouds in the cyber sky (i.e. when you see that same pair of shoes that you Googled last week on every website you browse) you have to be strategic about online shopping. To clear your cookies, here are detailed instructions.
Side Note: A lot of international airlines have incredibly delicious food! This may not strike you as immediately important, but after you’ve been in the air for half of a day, a nice hot meal is more than welcomed; it’s a must. Feast your eyes on the burger, pictured below, from Air New Zealand. I’d definitely book foreign airlines like Lufthansa or Korean Air before booking American or United.
3. How should I plan out my days abroad?
First of all, do your research and read reviews. There’s nothing quite so unpleasant and boring as stepping into a stuffy museum where everything is in a foreign language. Get on Trip Advisor and see what the crowd-pleasers are and plan accordingly. Also, know your group.There may be a ton of great reviews for a particular art museum, but if that’s not your family’s cup of tea, adjust your search filters for the best hikes or the current theater productions in that city.
Before we went to Fiji, we found out about a day trip to a remote village. Sound a little too adventurous? Well let me tell you, it was amazing!
We traveled there on an exhilarating high-speed boat ride and then attended a beautiful Fijian ceremony where we danced and sang with the incredibly friendly native villagers before sitting down to eat traditional cuisine. It was unforgettable.
The worst thing that can happen when you’re overseas is to get burned out or sick.
By the way, you may want to get a temporary international health insurance policy, especially if you’re out of the country for more than a week.
I recommend sprinkling in a few “chill” days in your packed itinerary of adventuring, museum-ing, and outdoor-ing. Take an afternoon to sip on a pina colada on the beach and crack open that book you’ve been meaning to finish.
4. How can I avoid doing just the “touristy” stuff?
Like I said before, take the time to do some research. Commission one or two members of your family to find things they’d like to see and experience. Some great places to look other than Tripadvisor or Expedia: Lonely Planet, Rick Steves’, and Frommer’s. Also, if you’re booking a vacation rental, ask the host! Chances are they can recommend the best local hot spots.
Nowadays, more and more travelers want to absorb the local flavor of the places they travel to. Research shows that millennials are more hungry for experiences than material things. An article from Business Insider said it well: “…there’s a lot of happiness to be found in an experience…experiences make them feel more connected to their communities, other people, and the world”.
So while you’re broadening your horizons by traveling to a foreign land, find ways to broaden your heart too.
Spending time with the children in Fiji was rewarding, to say the least. Even though you don’t speak the same language you can always show someone photos of where you’re from. And no kid will say “no” to playing with your iPhone; especially children from remote villages.
5. What’s the easiest way commemorate my travels abroad?
If you’re like me, you don’t have the bandwidth to make a scrapbook with every last museum ticket stub, train ticket, complete with captions under each photograph.
Here are a few super simple ways to keep those wonderful memories from your trip alive.
The first one is from Martha Stewart. Make a little box with the name of the country you visited on it and stash all of the memorabilia from your trip in it. Set it on your bookshelf and voila! Make one for each country you visit and stack them up as you go.
Another way is to dedicate a wall in your house to photographs from your travels. This is a great conversation piece. Each photo will have at least 1 or 2 exciting stories behind it, to be sure!
And lastly for the minimalists out there, this is a great keepsake that won’t take up a lot of space. It’s a tear off calendar with photos from your trip! This is great for those of you who snap a ton of photos on your trip. Visit the Social Print Studio to customize your 365-photo calendar!
Speaking of photographs…
Do you have an up-to-date passport?! This is the number one thing you must get in order to travel abroad so make your way to the DMV to get that passport photo taken. It can take up to six weeks to get it in the mail!