Now That Travel Is Back, What’s the Best Way to Prepare for a Big Trip?

After years of staycations and local trips, long-haul travel is back. Readers share their tips for going far and wide.

Illustration of a traveler eating a baguette and cheese and drinking coffee

Book in advance, pack smart, and prepare for a changed world—here’s a crash course on how to travel again.

Illustration by Marina Paukova

After several years of backyard exploration and local getaways, many of us are yearning for longer, bigger, more ambitious trips. But am I the only one feeling a bit rusty when it comes to packing my bags and boarding a long-haul flight?

We asked AFAR readers for advice on how to prepare for a far-flung sojourn. Here are a few of the dozens of tips we received.

Pack smartly—and do the hard work before you leave home

The consensus was that you should bring much less than you think. The general refrain: Make a thorough list of what you really need; pick the right luggage; invest in some packing cubes; edit and edit some more. That comfy flight pillow can quickly turn into an albatross clinging to your backpack once you’re on public transport. “Take half the clothes and twice the money,” reader Cheryl Moore offered on Facebook.

Readers recommend thoroughly preparing for your trip before departure, making bookings for hotels, transportation, restaurants, and attractions. It’s also a good idea to make photocopies of your credit cards and travel documents, including passport (and check that expiry date). “Then enjoy yourself and be ready to pivot when needed,” Carla Stocker advised on Instagram.

Prepare for new realities

Travel in ’22 was a tale of busy airports, worker shortages, and canceled flights. But there are ways to protect yourself—by booking trips through quieter hubs, purchasing robust travel insurance (four words: Cancel For Any Reason), and ensuring you have a plan B if your trip is unexpectedly cut short or elongated. Look into Global Entry for an expedited experience at airport security on your return. It’s $100 for five years, but some credit card providers will cover the cost, and it pays for itself the first time you get to bypass a mammoth line.

Aside from the practical preparation, immersing yourself in a novel or memoir set in the area is a great way to get excited about a trip. It will also give you a sense of what to expect—think Elena Ferrante’s Naples or the Colombia of Gabriel García Márquez. (We have recommendations for books from 80 countries around the globe.) The same goes for movies; streaming sites have a wealth of international films buried in their archives.

Go with the flow

Balance all that planning with a sense of spontaneity—and humor—when things don’t go exactly as planned. Revel in serendipity, leave your comfort zone at home, and make memories from the unexpected. You don’t need to complete a checklist of experiences; if you don’t get to do everything you wanted to, that’s a fine reason to return one day.

Pack your patience, several readers advised. “Anticipation is good,” Kayla Whitney said. “Expectations are not.” And remember, as Mike Mentz reflected on Instagram, “The stuff that goes wrong makes for the best stories.”

I didn’t get to see the famous Haida poles at the UNESCO site of Gwaii Haanas in Haida Gwaii in British Columbia recently—but our diverted boat trip revealed some equally astonishing specimens, such as the Mosquito Pole, on the west coast instead.

Remember: when in Rome ... or Istanbul

A few shared words go a long way. Learn a little of the local language and familiarize yourself with regional customs. I once traveled around Türkiye reviewing small hotels for a guidebook and was offered a coffee at almost every establishment. A simple “teşekkür ederim” helped me thank the kind hoteliers.

Reflect on the trip afterward

Half a dozen AFAR travelers recommended keeping a journal on a trip or sending yourself postcards from your travels—analog ways to keep track of your memories in a smartphone age. “Journal your emotions, insights, and life discoveries about yourself,” wrote Rachel Troyer on Instagram.

A long journey is a significant investment in time and money, but it can bring myriad benefits. “Be prepared to be awed,” said Janice Moskoff from Gather and Go Travel on Twitter, “by your surroundings, by the goodness of regular people all over the world that does not get reported in the news, and most importantly, by your capabilities.”

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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