There's a lot to think about when planning any vacation, and even more so when it’s an international trip. Between figuring out transportation, booking a place to stay and getting local currency — it can be a lot to get done. But it’s possible if you give yourself enough time to plan.
We’ve compiled a list of international destinations that will require a lot of planning if one of them is your next big adventure. Some may require a visa or vaccinations, some are more expensive then you'd think and require a lot of advanced saving and some are just specialty experiences or fast-selling tickets. And if you’re heading out for a global festival during a popular travel time, check your schedule and plan far in advance to make the trip worth the wait — and so you have a place to sleep.
iStock.com/Chris J Ratcliffe
The Galapagos Islands are the ultimate getaway for animal-lovers, but to experience the most you’ll need to plan ahead for pleasant weather. Go between December and May, when temperatures on the island range from the low 70s to mid-80s, which is perfect for hiking through the wilderness, bird-watching and spotting sea turtles nesting on the beaches. For U.S. and U.K travelers, a visa is not needed, but you will need a passport valid for at least six more months from the date of entry into Ecuador. So make sure your passport isn’t near its expiration before you visit. Ninety-five percent of the land of the Galapagos Islands is designated as protected by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and can only be toured with naturalists, which means during busy seasons, you need to book your tours far in advance.
It takes over half a day on an airplane to get from New York to Japan, so if you're heading there, don’t just settle for visiting one city. If you main destination is Tokyo, plan to make the trip to Osaka to experience the delicious cuisine and culture and take in the gorgeous cherry blossom trees. You’ll need to plan months in advance to be there when the blossoms bloom. In Tokyo, the estimated window for perfect cherry blossom viewing is from late March to early-mid April and in Osaka, it’s at the beginning of April. The weather conditions could change everything though, so you’ll need to stay abreast of the blooming schedule by checking the cherry blossom forecast on Japan’s tourism page. Traveling to and from Tokyo and Osaka is easy using the Japan Rail Pass, which includes the bullet trains that cover the distance in under three hours. You must order your Japan Rail Pass prior to entry to the country, but they can’t be issued longer than three months out. No matter which city you see first, don’t miss the enchanting 16th century castle in Osaka or the colorful Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. A visa is not necessary for U.S. visitors to enter Japan.
If Oktoberfest is why you’re heading to Germany, book as soon as you possibly can for both travel and accommodations. The two-week festival in Munich is one of the most popular events in the world, which means nearby hotels, hostels and lodges sell out quickly and can be expensive. Hotels run anywhere from $300-$500 a night during Oktoberfest’s dates, which are generally between mid-September and early October. And the least expensive flights for trips to Munich in that time frame usually cost between $530 and $730 round trip. Use the pre-planning phase to save money and find the best deals before they’re gone.
When you visit countries like India that boast countless adventures in countless cities, you’ll need a generous amount of time to coordinate the details of your trip. You can’t go to India and only stop in one major city — you should at least knock off three destinations. For instance, plan a trip for the northern part of India, hitting Delhi, Rajasthan and the historical city of Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Rajasthan is home to a number of stunning palaces and places of worship, especially in the capital city of Jaipur. Aside from a multi-city tour that requires meticulous planning, visitors will need the extra time to get vaccinated before heading to India. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines for anyone traveling to India as both diseases can pass through contaminated food or water. If you’re an adventurous eater or enjoy visiting rural areas, you should definitely get vaccinated.
Like with most European countries, U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to visit Spain. U.S. citizens may enter Spain for up to 90 days for business or pleasure, though your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. There is plenty to see and do in the colorful country, but the Las Fallas Festival in the Valencia region is worth planning ahead for. The annual Las Fallas de Valencia celebrates the coming of spring with the burning of artistic monuments in the tradition of ancient Valencian carpenters. The festival also includes street parties, parades and fireworks. If you’re planning on being in Valencia for Las Fallas, make your reservations as soon as you can, because it’s very likely the town will sell out.
Carnival in Rio De Janeiro pretty much sells itself. The bustling festival is iconic and something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. The samba dancing in the streets, the glorious costumes and parades are widely popular with tourists. There are different tiers of tickets you can purchase to view the parades, and they’ll likely be in shorter supply the longer you wait. Airline tickets for the week of Carnival, which is the last week of February, are typically $1,000 roundtrip. Hotels in the area can be close to $300 a night depending on the proximity to the beach. You’ll definitely want to book at least a year in advance to get the best hotel reservations so you aren’t left with the most expensive or inconvenient accomodations come Carnival time.
There are an abundance of stunning sites to see in Moscow — Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Bolshoi Theater, just to name a few. But before that, there’s an extensive process to get entry into the country. To get a visa to go to Russia, Americans must file a lengthy visa application, which requires details on every country you’ve visited in the last 10 years. The sooner you get on that, the sooner you can fly off.
For a week-long safari to see the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras as they rumble across Makgadikgadi, go straight to Botswana. The best time to visit the African country is from December to April to see the migration and spectacular wildlife. Depending on what part of the high season you plan for, the prices can fluctuate. It’s a luxurious adventure and it doesn’t come cheap — typical 10-day all-inclusive trips can run up to $12,000. This international excursion requires a ton of planning, but the wildlife adventure will be an experience of a lifetime.
In 1911, a Yale University historian and archeologist, Hiram Bingham III, uncovered the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. Ever since, the Incan site has been a source of fascination, and the crowds are plenty no matter when you visit. To cross Machu Picchu off your bucket list, book your airline tickets as well as your local Peru transportation tickets well in advance as they do sell out, especially between May and August. You can buy tickets online through the official Machu Picchu website or pay a little extra to have a travel agency figure it all out for you. You can also pick them up from ticket offices in Cusco. The Peruvian government has been enforcing tighter regulations due to the influx of daily visitors, so your best bet is to start planning the trip as soon as you know you want to go, even if it’s a whole year away.
The region sits at the southern tip of South America and is part of both Argentina and Chile. For U.S. travelers, a visa is not required to enter either country as long as your trip doesn’t exceed 90 days. However, you should book tours and sightseeing groups in advance to be able to experience Patagonia's diverse wildlife, which includes flamingoes, sea lions, orcas, southern right whales and nesting Magellanic penguins on Chiloe Island. There’s also the Perito Moreno Glacier and Fitz Roy, which is a majestic mountain you can hike.
Morocco is full of life, with bustling bazaars, charming cities with mountain views and pockets of luxurious haute couture — it’s yet another country that has more than one spot to offer tourists. Plan ahead so you can visit three cities in one vacation: Fez, Marrakech and Casablanca. Also plan according to the Islamic month of Ramadan to either get a taste of how the locals live, or to avoid a particularly busy time of year — whatever floats your boat.
If you’re planning a trip to Tanzania to experience an African safari, the Serengeti should be at the top of your list. The wildlife reserve is a spectacle and visitors who have the budget to go, likely have their eyes set on seeing Africa’s “big five” animals — lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. Any wild safari is only possible with careful planning and execution, especially since most of the itinerary will be made via email or phone and months in advance. Private tours can cost up to $3,000 per person for six days.
Also in Tanzania is Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet. On average, and depending on various factors, it takes five to nine days to make it to the summit and back. If climbing the famous dormant volcano is on your bucket list, you absolutely need to plan well in advance. Not only does it cost a lot, but you’ll also have to build up the stamina and get in shape before taking on the grueling altitudes.
A trip to Iceland requires pre-planning for a couple reasons: the northern lights and a splendid winter festival. And you can experience both in Reykjavik, the country’s capital. If you can bear the cold (which you should be prepared for if traveling to Iceland at all), February is a great time to visit — the Winter Lights Festival in Reykjavik, which celebrates light after a long few months of darkness, happens at the beginning of the month. The city also boasts one of the best views of the aurora borealis, the breathtaking natural light display in the Earth's sky known as the northern lights.
A passport with a validity of at least six months and a visa are required to enter Jordan. Good thing is, immigration officials issue single-entry visas to U.S. citizens for a $56 USD fee upon arrival at the international airport. The Arabian country has a little something for every kind of traveler. Ancient monuments and the Dead Sea, but also the famous archaeological ruins of Petra. The city of Petra, nicknamed the “Rose City,” is known for temples and monuments that are carved in pink sandstone cliffs. Another spot to visit while in Jordan is Amman, which is home to the Jordan Archaeological Museum. It boasts artifacts like scrolls from the Dead Sea and remnants from the Paleolithic and Islamic Era that are fascinating must-sees for history buffs.
If you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran, this Ireland destination will excite you. Galway, a western coastal seaport, was recently named a 2020 European Capital of Culture by the European Union. If you want to be a “Galway Girl” (or boy), start booking your trip to this old-timey city filled with traditional pubs that are often ringing with live Irish folk music. On the whole, Ireland’s government puts a heavy emphasis on tourism and the impact overseas visitors have on the economy. Their goal is to have 10 million visits to Ireland annually by the year 2025. By placing tourism as a key element of their economic strategy and prioritizing environmental sustainability, the North Atlantic island will be a hot ticket in the months to come.
U.S. travelers need to obtain a visa prior to their arrival in the country and it is advised that you apply at least a month before your planned trip. Beyond that it’s all about what you want to do while you are there. Are you on a nature-heavy adventure? A city escape? Or a temple tour? You could take a food-focused tour in Dali — a city in southwestern China. The tour, “Travels Through Dali With a Leg of Ham,” is the brainchild of WildChina Founder Mei Zhang, who grew up in Dali and started the sustainable travel company to introduce Chinese culture and experiences to a global audience. The weeklong culinary tour requires you to be set up with a personal trip designer, so it helps to plan ahead. And if you want to see more regions of the country and need to book connecting flights or hop on the local trains, you’ll need a head start.
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have a history of being shaky, but the country remains a sought-after destination for American travelers. It’s full of vibrant spots like Havana, but going there can be a hassle, and there’s a few things you should know before planning your trip. First, U.S. travelers need to declare one out of the 12 valid travel categories to be approved for a visa, since tourism alone doesn’t technically count. However, there is a “Support for the Cuban People” category that is sort of a loophole, and some planned itineraries from certain travel companies count as such. The category works if your itinerary focuses on local Cuban businesses and restaurants that would be contributing to the country’s economy. Essentially, U.S. travelers need both a valid passport and visa known as a tourist card, which is good for 30 days and can be extended for 30 additional days. These usually cost $50-$100 USD. With all that said, one of the best beaches in the world — Varadero Beach — is in Cuba. So the hassle is worth it.
“Game of Thrones” fans will want to check this out. In southern Croatia is the quaint, right out of a fairytale city of Dubrovnik — the fictional site of King's Landing, the epicenter of HBO’s hit show. Tourism in Croatia increased 100% in eight years in part because of the show, and Dubrovnik is not a particularly large city. There has been talk of limiting visitors from cruises because of overcrowding, so it’s best to plan in advance for a trip during a quiet time of year. Start booking your trip now because Croatia is one of the 40 top travel destinations for 2020.
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