by Annie 

Published: July 24, 2022

Updated:  August 6, 2022
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Before you start to plan an international trip it’s helpful to know what you really want from the experience. So often we jump into researching and booking without thinking about our motivations and desired outcomes. When we take the time to intentionally design our trips, we create more unique and fulfilling experiences! It also saves a ton of planning and research time because we’re clear on what we’re looking for so it’s easier to make decisions along the way. 

There are five simple questions that will help you get clear on exactly what you’re looking for. In this article, we’re going to walk through each of these questions so you can easily build the foundation that all the other elements of your trip will build upon. Your answers will likely change from one trip to the next so save this article for reference the next time you want to plan an international trip!

***This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using the link, I receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. This helps me keep the lights on around here. 🙂 I ONLY recommend products and services I personally use and love. ***

Question #1 to Plan an International Trip: What is the purpose of this trip?

image of a woman looking from a boat onto to the landscape of water and craggy mountains in the background

When my mom and I went to Norway, the whole purpose was to see as many of the incredible landscapes as possible!

There’s a motivator for every trip and it’s time to find yours. Take a moment to think about what’s motivating you to take this trip. What is it that you’re looking for as you plan this international trip? Relaxation? Adventure? Solitude? Connection? 

When you understand your desire, it’s much easier to create! This information also helps you narrow down your choices. If you’re looking for tranquility and relaxation, you’re probably not going to choose a big, bustling city for your destination. If you want solitude, staying in a hostel dorm isn’t going to give you what you want. You deserve to have the experience you’ll enjoy most so take the time to figure out what that is!

Question #2 to Plan an International Trip: What do I want to get out of this experience?

image of a tent on a green lawn with a river lined with trees in the distance to show reasons to plan an international trip

When I planned my six-week solo trip camping through Eastern Europe, I was looking for a grand adventure and to prove to myself that I could do it!

Once you know what’s motivating you to take this trip, it’s time to figure out what you’re hoping to take away from the experience. Are you craving new connections and friendships? Do you want to learn a new skill? Maybe you’re looking to immerse yourself in a culture that sparked your curiosity. Simply wanting to have fun, party, and laugh your ass off is a good enough reason to plan an international trip too! Placing too many expectations on your travels can be a recipe for disappointment so hold this idea lightly. 

There’s no wrong answer to this question. For us thoughtful humans, it’s easy to tell ourselves there has to be a deeply transformational element or the experience isn’t worth having. I want to remind you that craving fun, excitement, and memorable moments of wonder is reason enough to plan an international trip. It’s okay to keep things light and fun!

Question #3 to Plan an International Trip: How do you imagine spending your days?

image of two scotch glasses sitting on a red wooden table with a row of white buildings on the right and the sea stretching out to the horizon on the left.

When Stan and I were planning to go back to Scotland, one of the things we imagined doing was visiting distilleries so we chose to make the trip out to Islay.

Now that you’re clear on why you want to plan an international trip and what you’d like to get from the experience, think about the activities that will help you find what you’re looking for. If you’re craving relaxation and peace, what does that look like for you? What brings you peace may be completely different than what is peaceful for me. 

When you close your eyes and think about this trip, what do you see? How do you imagine spending your days? Are you wandering aimlessly through winding alleys or a dense forest trail? Are you relaxing in a cafe watching the world go by or next to a beach watching the waves crash along the shore? Take the time to daydream about the trip and see what comes up! These images are going to be essential to answering the next question.

Question #4 to Plan an International Trip: What environment is best for the experience I want?

image of blue water with a green mountain in the background and buildings at the base. Plan an international trip with environment in mind.

When I was choosing a destination for my 40th birthday, I wanted a place with nature, interesting cities, and somewhere off-the-beaten path. Vlorë, Albania was one of my favorite spots on that trip because it had it all!

After you have a picture of how you’d like to spend your days, think about the types of environments that support those activities and desires. Is it a bustling city? A quiet cabin in the forest? Maybe a small town that has a bit of both? Having an idea of the types of places you're drawn to for this trip will save a massive amount of time in choosing your destination(s).

Here’s an example for you -- when I was planning an international trip for my fortieth birthday, I was really struggling to figure out where I wanted to go. Taking the time to think through these questions helped me narrow my choice to the Balkans -- it has laid back cities for some vibrance and exploration, tons of nature that I love (both forest and beaches), incredible food, and a relaxed pace of life that would provide the opportunity to unwind after being cooped up for nearly two years! I also had the chance to revisit one of my absolute favorite places, Sarajevo, along the way. It was the perfect mix of fun, relaxation, nature, solitude, connection, along with both new and familiar places!

Question #5 to Plan an International Trip: How quickly do I want to move from place to place?

image of the old walled city of Dubrovnik with the deep blue Adriatic Sea below and red tiled roofs beyond.

When Stan and I visited Dubrovnik, we chose to spend four days in the small city rather than one or two so we had plenty of time to relax.

It’s incredibly tempting to pack your itinerary, trying to see as much as possible when you plan an international trip. I know, I’ve done it on many occasions only to wish I’d slowed down and had more time in the places I visited. If you’re looking for excitement and adventure you’ll probably want to be on the move more than if you’re craving rest and relaxation. Let your desired experience be your guide!

Before you start planning an itinerary, think about how quickly you want to move from place to place, if you’re considering a trip with multiple stops. If you’re traveling for more than a of couple weeks, I highly recommend building in “rest days” where you have nothing on the agenda. Keeping in mind all the answers you’ve come up with so far, give yourself the space to really enjoy the things you want from this experience instead of being on the run the whole time! 

Wrapping Up

image of a canal with small houses packed together along both sides and flower boxes with bright pink flowers showing there’s no one right way to plan an international trip.

When Stan and I chose to go to Amsterdam, we were really looking for food, fun, and interesting historical sights, but other times we want to get off the beaten path or find awesome nature.

There is absolutely no one “right” way to travel or to plan an international trip. The whole point of indie travel is that you have the freedom and flexibility to create whatever experience makes you happiest! Simply taking the time to get clear on what that is will make the entire process more fun and much easier. 

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to choose a destination for your adventure! It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of crowdsourcing ideas or endlessly scrolling through social media for inspiration. Keeping your desired experience in mind will help you sort through the noise. 

Additional Resources

It takes time and energy to plan an international trip that you’ll love. That doesn’t mean it has to be overwhelming! I’ve created resources to help you get started so you don’t have to spend hours scouring the internet for information. There’s always more coming so check back often!

Additional resources to help you plan an international trip:

There are more articles about travel planning on the site and if you’re planning a trip to Europe, here’s a complete step-by-step guide. If you’d like to talk to a real human or get a little help putting the pieces together, check out these travel consulting services designed specifically for indie travelers. When we work together, you still have all the freedom but will set out with more confidence and peace of mind knowing you’ve got all the best information at hand! 

Let’s Connect!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, let’s connect! You can sign up for the Indie Travel Dispatch -- a weekly email packed with travel stories, inspiration, useful tips, and news. You can also find me over on Instagram where I share my travels, interesting destinations, tips, and more! Come on over and say hello!

Now get out there. The world is waiting for you. 

Your Turn

What other questions do you ask yourself when planning an international trip? How have they helped you create awesome experiences?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About the author 

Annie

Fun Lover. Food Eater. Bold Explorer. Big Dreamer.

Annie is a fiercely independent traveler who loves to create unique and interesting experiences. She thrives on finding the magical moments and hidden gems waiting around every corner. Her passion for helping others make their travel dreams come true fuels her work as a travel planner, consultant, educator, and community builder.

  • I’m usually the one who makes plans for all of our family’s trips and I totally agree with the tips you shared here. My husband, the most spontaneous person when it comes to traveling, needs to read this badly! Thanks for sharing such a detailed post with very useful tips.

    • Ha! There’s definitely a place for spontaneity, but it sure does help to have an idea of what you want rather than totally winging it. 🙂

  • These are really some great tips! There’s always a lot you need to think about before an international trip so these tips are very helpful 🙂

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