Check with the appropriate consulate or embassy in your country to find out if you will need a visa to visit the country of your destination, especially for an extended period of time. Some countries have extremely detailed and complicated entry/departure laws, and treat visits of a week or two very differently from longer stays.
If you’re traveling to one area, check the cost of living there. If it’s high you’ll probably want to budget more carefully and save some money before leaving. The lower the cost of living the less you’ll have to save, but be sure to have a back up reserve in emergency cases.
Talk to other people who have done a similar trip.
If you don’t know anyone personally, try any of the dozens of online travel web sites full of first-person travel stories covering every possible type of trip.
Plan big and loose. Read everything you can about the area.
There may be sights and attractions you didn’t know about. A rough outline of your trip might have three or four target points and a variety of ways to get between them.
You don’t want to find out that the weather isn’t what you thought, or the guide book was incorrect, after committing to 6 weeks in a specific spot.
Some trips will allow you more leeway than others. Travel plans in Asia can often be made day-by-day while summer travel in Europe should be organized at least a few weeks ahead, unless you’re prepared to hunt around for hotel rooms and train seats.
Set up a pre-trip time-line so you don’t end up with a full todo list your last week of work or school.
Things to consider are doctor’s visits for a check up, inoculations, and prescription refills; purchasing plane tickets; renewing passports and obtaining visas and other documents.
Check your insurance coverage abroad and purchasing additional travel insurance if needed. Don’t forget visiting friends and family members!
The longer the trip, the lighter you should pack. This might seem strange, but it’s true you can afford to lug a heavy bag around for a week or two, but do you want to have anything extra for a year?
Stick to the absolute basics and know what you can and cannot buy at your destination(s). There’s no point in bringing 6 months of toothpaste to Europe or buying a sarong at home to take to the tropics. If you are visiting several climates, try to arrange it so you visit the warmer places first and coldest last. That way you can purchase sweaters and long pants and not have to carry them any more than needed. Alternately, visit cold climates first and then ship unneeded layers home — or sell them off.
A good rule of thumb is to bring one outfit for the hottest day you’re likely to encounter, one for an average day, and one for the coldest.
Make sure everything goes with everything else (if that’s important to you), and remember that layers are always best.
Be prepared for uncomfortable trips. You will often find yourself in a busy, cramped, economy class environment and it could be for many hours – especially long plane trips.
If you want to arrive at your destination refreshed and able to enjoy the sights, then try a good quality travel pillow to support your head, some ear plugs to block out the screaming babies, and an eye cover to block out the sun or cabin lights.
Just avoid those cheap U-shaped pillows from airport shops – your head drops forward and you wake up with a stiff neck.
Make contact with the locals before you go.
Maybe you have a friend-of-a-friend or a foreign exchange student from high school you remember, or just found a friend through a travel web site; almost everyone is happy to welcome a foreign visitor to their home town. This might be as elaborate as a home-stay for a few weeks, or just coffee in their home town or dinner at a locals restaurant.