Dreaming of travel to exotic locations and foreign countries gives us a jolt of exhilaration, but the actual planning stages tell a different story. According to a study published in Tourism Analysis, travelers who were polled about anxiety and travel reported the most stressful part of their travel was trip planning, followed by actually traveling to the destination, and then the actual stay itself.

Long-distance travel can complicate trip planning even further when you really don’t have a way to scope out the actual location before you spend time there. The unknown is a little scary and can turn travelers away from overseas travel. But just because you can’t do some physical scouting before your trip doesn’t mean you can’t do it virtually. Here’s how to get started on your virtual trip.

Scour the forums

There are plenty of online forums full of world travelers who are eager to share their tips and insights about their travels. From Facebook Groups on a particular destination to TripAdvisor, travel forums are full of personal tips and actionable advice that you won’t find in a consumer magazine. Do a little research on your own and then dive headfirst into a conversation online to ask more about what the country is like, what to avoid, and what to see and do. The more you get first-hand travel accounts from world travelers, the less stressed out you’ll feel going it alone.

Ramp up the virtual reality

Google Earth VR is an enlightening and easy way to get a real-time look at a country you want to visit. The technology is similar to Google Street View but turns it into a more immersive experience so you can experience the environment in greater detail. Today’s fastest mobile processors take VR into previously uncharted territory with Room-Scale 6 Degrees of Freedom and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). This means you can freely explore VR without running into things. Eye tracking and multi-view rendering also contribute to an enhanced experience. You can also see what a hotel you’re considering staying at really looks like and the location around it. While you’re traveling, continue scoping out other countries as you go and check on destinations right from your hotel.

Ask the expats

Perhaps no one knows your travel journey better than an expat in the country you want to visit. They’ve already been in your shoes and know what the experience is like from researching a location to actually getting there and what to expect while you’re there. And unlike world travelers, expats can also focus on little-known areas and attractions that appeal to visitors while still getting off the beaten path. ExpatForum.com or a dedicated Facebook group to expats are two places to start connecting with expats for advice.

Check the travel warnings

All the advice and virtual reality in the world doesn’t replace some old-fashioned common sense and pre-vetting the safety of a destination. Check the U.S. Department of State website to see the latest travel alerts and warnings that may affect your area of interest. But remember that travel alerts are often short-term warnings relating to a specific incident including natural disasters, and a travel warning may be issued for an entire country but not necessarily impact specific areas. In other words, the specific area you want to visit may be perfectly safe and ready for visitors.

Whether you’re traveling across the world or just a few hours away, scoping out other countries before a trip can put your mind at ease. Start with the right equipment from virtual reality tools to smartphones with fast processors and branch out to online research and connecting with other travelers online. The more information you collect before you go, the more peace of mind you’ll end up with.

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