How to Plan and Budget for an International Trip: College Edition

When you’re thinking about making an international trip, there are a lot of things to consider beyond just where you want to go, although the destination is super important! Here are all the things you need to know before going abroad.

Passports

The first thing you’ll want to think about when planning a trip is making sure you have a valid passport. If you’ve never had a passport before, you’ll need to fill out an application and pay all of the fees, and allow time to for that information to be processed. For example, if this is your first United States passport, you must apply in person. This process usually takes four to six weeks.

If you already have a passport, you’ll want to make sure it is up-to-date, or renew it if it is not. The renewal process can be completed online and also takes around four to six weeks.

We’re going to talk all about air travel in just a few short sections, but please, PLEASE, do not book any international travel until you have your passport! Passports can be delayed, applications can be lost, and you’ll want to leave plenty of time to get your passport before departing.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you need your passport quickly, you can expedite the process for a fee and it will take two to three weeks to get your passport.

Visas

Depending on the country you want to visit and for how long you plan to be there, you may need to get a tourist or travel visa. Every country is different, and there are some that may not require one at all.

Do your research ahead of time on your given destination and adjust your plans accordingly. There are often fees associated with getting a visa as well, so you’ll want to budget for it.

Plane Tickets

Let’s talk about airfare, baby! There are tons of options on how to travel internationally and I could write for hours and still not cover everything, so this section is going to cover the basics.

When you’re booking a plane ticket, try to book with reputable airlines. Sounds a little obvious, right? I want to emphasize this because sometimes there are less reputable airlines that offer extremely cheap flights that can seem very tempting. In my experience, it’s always better to book with an airline that is a little bit more expensive if it means your safety (and the safety of your bags!) is prioritized. Another thing to think about is that some of those cheaper airlines sometimes upcharge you for checking your bags and can end up costing you the same as the more expensive airline, especially if the more expensive one includes the cost of a checked bag in the ticket price.

Another thing to consider when purchasing plane tickets is to compare prices and do thorough research. Personally, I have found that booking through third-party “best deal” websites can actually be more expensive than booking directly through an airline. However, if you find an amazing deal through a third party, go for it!

One last thing to consider when looking at flights is when to actually buy your tickets. Once you have your passport figured out and are looking at visas (if necessary), you’ll want to get your plane tickets booked ASAP.

I’m a fan of buying international airfare as far out from the trip as possible because it’s significantly cheaper. For example, I have an international trip planned for January 2020, and I bought my roundtrip tickets in March of this year for $600. That may seem expensive, but if I had waited even just a few more months, I would be looking at anywhere from $1000 to $1200, maybe more, for the exact same tickets and travel dates.

Places to Stay

Your accommodations when traveling abroad don’t have to be booked as early as your plane tickets. You’ll really want to start looking at places to stay around 3 or 4 months before your departure, depending on whether or not you’re traveling in peak tourist season.

When you look at places to stay, you’ll want to consider a lot of factors before booking. How far is it from the airport? Are there easy and/or inexpensive ways to get to and from the airport? How close is it to public transportation? Do you need to rent a car? Does the place you’re staying offer any food or have a kitchen? Do you want to stay in an Airbnb or hotel, or are you more comfortable in a hostel?

This may seem like a lot to think about, but your accommodations are your home base, your home-away-from-home while you’re abroad. It’s really important to choose something that fits your needs, your comfort level, and your budget.

THE BUDGET

This is the big one. There really isn't a "right way" to budget, so this section is just going to cover all of the things you should consider when putting yours together.

The biggest cost of international travel is often airfare. Depending on where you plan to visit, tickets alone often cost upwards of $1000. The best way to plan for this is to book your plane tickets as far in advance as possible and create your budget around them.

Another extremely important cost to keep in mind is any passport or visa fees. If you need to get a passport or get it renewed, there are varying costs to consider. If you are getting a brand new, “first-time” passport in the United States, it will cost around $145. You have to plan for this fee if you don’t have a passport because you cannot travel internationally without one. As for visas, it depends on the country and the type of visa you need. Be sure to do thorough research and give yourself as much time as possible to apply and wait for it to be approved by the country's government.

The next thing to consider when creating your budget is international exchange rates and currencies. If you are traveling outside of the United States, you will want to exchange some dollars for the currency of the country you are visiting. Having cash on you while traveling is important because credit or debit cards can be declined, and banks can be hard to get ahold of. When you exchange money, there is often a fee and the exchange rate is rarely one for one. Again, be sure to do thorough research on the country you’re visiting and find out what the current exchange rate is. Although exchange rates do fluctuate, this will give you a place to start planning.

Accommodations are another big cost when traveling abroad. The cost of living in every country is different, and depending on when you travel, rates may fluctuate. When I book accommodations, I try to compare as many options as possible and choose based on all of the circumstances surrounding a given place – including transportation, where the accommodations are in reference to the places I want to visit, and, of course, the cost.

Food is another cost that can sneak up on you. This is something you’ll want to consider when looking at accommodations. Many places will offer meals for a slightly higher cost per night, or sometimes they're even offered for free. Others will have community kitchens available for use. Knowing your comfort level and what you’re willing to spend on going out to eat will play a massive role in determining your food budget.

Lastly, you’ll want to have some extra money in your budget for other costs, including any shopping you’ll want to do and an emergency fund, just in case you need it. Chances are, you’ll probably want to buy some fun souvenirs while you’re abroad, and those costs can add up quickly. You’ll also want to be able to buy any forgotten chargers and wall adapters if you’re bringing any electronics that need charging, and you’ll want to have them before you arrive at your accommodations. Having extra money in case of emergencies or forgotten necessities is really important and useful. Anything can happen while you’re abroad and having that extra resource at your disposal can be comforting.

There’s a ton of things to think about before traveling abroad, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Enjoy the process of planning your trip, and once you arrive, you’ll be able to relax and really appreciate all of the work you put in to get there. Happy travels!

 

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