It’s a rare day that people can say there is not enough information about where, when and how to travel. When sifting through all of the information you dig up while planning a trip, the problem, then, is how to make sense of all of it. Information overload can be almost as unbearable as not having enough information during the travel planning stage. With dozens of sources available to read, watch, listen to and digest, how can you make the most of your time and effort while conducting research for your next vacation?
I certainly don’t claim to be a travel planning guru. In fact, I’m not very good at planning my own trips, but I have spent a fair amount of time browsing through the resources available. As you begin preparing for your next trip, I suggest you turn your attention to the following sources:
Documentaries and other movies are a great place to turn for travel inspiration. If I’m interested in getting a brief overview about a new destination, I often find films that have been shot in or are about that place. These rarely go into enough detail to allow for any actual planning, but they do provide a three-dimensional experience by providing either a snapshot or general overview of a place with imagery and sound. I also check out several non-fiction books from the children’s section of the library to get an overview of a destination.
Talking to people who have been to or live in your destination of choice provides a first-hand account of a place. Locals are great for offering up details such as the best places to eat, shop and find live entertainment while travelers tend to be better for logistical issues such as how the cost of things compares to other places, where to stay and how to get around. If you don’t know anyone who has been to your potential vacation destination, hop on a travel forum such as the Lonely Tree Thorn Tree or the travel forum at BootsnAll to find others who might be able to answer your questions.
Admittedly, there are hundreds of travel blogs online, and digging through all of them can be time consuming. If you find a few frequent travelers that you come to like and trust, I recommend you get in touch with them during your travel planning instead of trying to wade through all the information online. In addition to fielding questions about the places they’ve been, frequent travelers know other travelers as well as expats who have likely been to the places you’d like to go and done the things you’d like to do.
As you begin to hammer out the nitty-gritty details about your vacation, I suggest you turn to a guidebook for details on where to eat, stay and play. The key here is to choose a guidebook series that speaks to you. For example, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are written primarily for those on a budget while Frommer’s and Fodor’s are for higher-end travelers. For European travel, I think the Rick Steves Through the Back Door series is the best on the market. If you want something that offers more in the way of cultural and historical information instead of simply tips on where to eat and stay, the National Geographic and Eyewitness books may be the best choice.
A quick caveat: I know that a lot of people are anti-guidebook, and I agree that you shouldn’t be married to them, but glancing through a guidebook can provide a basic structure for the activities or itinerary you might want to follow on a day-to-day basis. There is something to be said for simply wandering the streets and exploring a place by chance, but many people walk away from their vacations disappointed because they didn’t know what to do and felt like they wasted their time doing a whole bunch of nothing.
Finally, for on-the-ground assistance, consider finding a walking or driving tour that offers context for your surroundings. There are now a number of podcasts and iPod apps you can download for this purpose. I haven’t used any of these myself, so there isn’t a particular brand or company that I recommend. Rather, my preferred method for finding walking tours is to check with the local tourism board, any historical societies that exist in the area or the National Park Service (in the U.S., if there are any units in or near your destination). This is how we discovered the self-guided jazz tour on Algiers Point in New Orleans.
Now it’s your turn to sound off: What sources of information do you trust and consult when planning a trip?