international flightPlanning to take a trip past American borders can cause stress for many travelers, especially those who are unaware of the differences between planning domestic and international flights. There are so many factors to consider that travelers may end up feeling overwhelmed by the booking process. Luckily, there are a few tricks of the trade that can help you have a more pleasant experience when planning to travel abroad.

Choose a booking site that fits your needs

Knowing which travel site will best serve your international booking needs is a step toward getting the most bang for your buck. Some booking sites offer somewhat lower prices on international trips than others. During our testing, we found that Expedia, our top-rated travel site, stayed consistent with its knack for finding decent prices and offered some very affordable ticket prices on international flights booked both well in advance and last minute. Another good choice for low international fares is TripAdvisor, which outranked every travel site we reviewed when it came to booking internationally. Even when booking at the last minute, we found that TripAdvisor was able to offer some reasonable prices. You can also earn more bang for your buck if you choose a travel site with a rewards program.

In addition to low prices on airfare, you’ll also want to take into consideration any extras you might want from your booking site. Maybe you want to rent a car to see the sights on your own terms, or perhaps you want to book an all-in-one travel package that combines your flights and hotel stay into one convenient price. Expedia has mastered the travel bundle, and it also offers the option to add activities to your booking, something that Orbitz also excels at. The ability to take care of all your travel reservations from a single site can definitely aid in making international travel plans less stressful.

Timing is everything

You may think you have the timing down when it comes to booking a trip online, but the rules of the game change a bit when you’re booking internationally. As a general rule of thumb, domestic vacationers are usually advised to book their plane tickets about six weeks ahead to get the best price. Unfortunately, booking an international trip requires a bit more advanced notice in order to avoid getting hit with outrageous ticket prices. A recent study by CheapAir showed that in order to get the lowest price on international airfare, travelers should ideally start checking out flights six-to-nine months in advance. Prices will start to rise 90 days before the flight itself, and if you’re traveling during a holiday rush period, prices will be even higher, so you should be ready to book anywhere from five-to-six months (or longer) before you leave to avoid getting stuck with high ticket costs. Holiday travelers should also keep in mind that the time period from mid-June to mid-August generally yields the highest ticket prices, so they should aim to avoid booking international flights during this time if at all possible to avoid overpaying. Also, remember that where you’re trying to go and when matters. A cold location during the winter holidays might be easier to book later than a warm-weather destination since there’s less demand.

Keeping in mind that airfare prices are nearly impossible to predict, your best bet is to keep an eye on prices as far out as you can and be sure to jump on a good deal when it arises instead of waiting to see if anything better comes your way. Some people delay booking great deals because they’re worried something better might come along. While that’s potentially true, if you give yourself enough time to book in advance, you should find an international flight that doesn’t break your bank.

Prepare for your trip in advance

There are a number of requirements which accompany an international trip that domestic travelers have the luxury of foregoing. Errands like obtaining or renewing a passport or getting a travel visa should not be left until the last minute, as they can take weeks or even months to successfully complete. International vacationers should create a checklist of to-do items that are absolutely vital before they leave for their trip. Such a list may include things like making sure you’re up to date on all the vaccinations that are required to leave the country, tending to your travel documentation, locating your social security card and birth certificate and even doing some research to find out what you can legally pack to bring with you overseas as to avoid getting the contents of your suitcase discarded at customs. Something you’ll also want to be aware of is that you’ll need to be at the airport early —  the TSA suggests that international travelers arrive at the airport at least three hours prior to their departure time. It’s also wise to consider taking steps to protect your identity while you’re abroad and make sure you’re going to be using a chip-enabled credit card, since that’s the security method of choice in many places nowadays.

International trips are very exciting and offer travelers a chance to scope out an entirely different culture, but the planning process is not to be underestimated. Finding the right flights for the right price takes some time, patience and know-how, so travelers should be sure to give themselves plenty of room to prepare. Get started booking your next international flight with one of our top-rated travel sites.