Travel evokes images of letting go and getting footloose and fancy-free to seize the world as their own. In reality, travel stress is a very real thing most people gloss over when they’re sharing social media pictures of their latest travels. According to a study published in the journal Tourism Analysis, research participants reported the most stressful part of their trip was the trip planning stage. Those stressors included financial concerns, packing, travel arrangements and figuring out the itinerary.

The good news is you don’t have to throw caution to the wind and wing it on your next travels, nor do you need the help of a travel agent. You can take control of your own travel planning and scope out the countries you want to visit in advance before ever setting foot on a plane. Here’s how to get started.

Research the travel alerts and warnings

Before you choose a destination, it’s crucial to check the travel alerts and warnings in advance. But that doesn’t mean you need to mark a destination completely off your list. A travel warning in Mexico may point to specific regions or areas, but might not really impact a destination you’re interested in. You also might find online travel warnings that tell tourists that pick-pocketing in a certain area of the Bahamas is rampant, but diligent caution and keeping your guard up could help you avoid these incidents.

Consider your budget

Travelers often underestimate their budget and don’t plan around their interests appropriately. In other words, if you want to go skydiving in New Zealand or swim with the dolphins in the Cayman Islands, you need to break down the actual costs involved. Finding a safe and reasonably priced accommodation is also imperative to the trip planning process. It’s tempting to think you’ll score a great deal in Europe, just like a friend, until you realize you’re trying to plan a trip around a festival or peak travel season.

Check the data coverage

Many travelers gloss over data coverage completely when it comes to traveling, but this can make or break your trip. The first step is either turning your smartphone to Wi-Fi only to avoid costly roaming fees or temporarily upgrade to a plan that offers international data. However, even world-class destinations like New Zealand have an equation for poor data coverage and can really slow down the performance of your phone, making it harder to plan tours and excursions on the fly. In addition to solid coverage, your phone itself should have a reliable mobile processor that can stand-up to the demands of international travel and spotty data coverage. A quality mobile processor can help supercharge your battery life and provide immersive AR and VR experiences of prospective destinations. But travelers will especially love the superior connectivity so you can stay connected on the road and help combat any poor coverage along the way.

Do some visual sleuthing

Instagram is a treasure trove for travel photos, but are also full of travel “Instastars” looking for that gorgeous curated and completely unrealistic shot. That’s why you should only take so much inspiration from social media and instead focus on real, reliable photos.

Google Earth offers an innovative way to zoom in on an area to see what it’s like in real time. The Trevi Fountain in Rome has its own live feed where you can watch in real-time. Seeing the images and videos isn’t the same as the real thing, but can give you better context for what to expect and whether or not it suits your interests. Google Maps is also an innovative way to trip plan by collecting nearby attraction information and recommendations along the way.

Join a travel forum

You can always go straight to the source when it comes to scoping out countries before you commit to a trip. TripAdvisor is one place to start with non-promotional comments and reviews of areas right in the comments. Jump in and ask questions about what to expect and what your interests are. If you’re an avid hiker, ask about where the best places to go are in a country like Spain and what’s overrated. The more you can narrow down the comments to your specific needs, the better equipped you’ll be to make a decision about where to go next.

Travel planning will likely be somewhat stressful no matter how prepared you are, but embrace it as part of the journey to exploring a new country. With the right mindset and strategy in place, your next travels can be the trip of a lifetime.

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