I’m a planner by nature. I love researching, reading, planning and preparing. This skill comes in quite handy when preparing for a trip to a new place. I’m constantly preparing for some kind of travel. Whether it’s a visa run to a new country or a weekend on our own island, I like to be prepared to get the most out of our adventures. Often, I’m planning a trip to somewhere brand new. Maybe I’ve met someone who has been there before, but usually not. So I have to start from scratch.
So how do I do it? How do I plan a trip to a city I’ve never been before? I’ll share some of my favorite planning resources…
I almost start with WikiTravel. This is a user generated travel guide on a city. This helps me understand a few things about the city right away. Like, how should we get there? Can we drive or fly or take a train? I also can get an idea of the layout of the city. Usually a larger city will have it’s specific neighborhoods or districts highlighted on WikiTravel. While reading this, I start to get an idea of what area of the city we’d like to stay, and where some of the best things to see are located.
Once I have a basic understanding of the city, I can turn to Trip Advisor. I am a huge Trip Advisor contributor and consumer. How did we ever travel without this?!? TripAdvisor gives me real life experience with attractions, restaurants, and hotels. I hardly go anywhere without checking it on TripAdvisor first. If a restaurant has a TripAdvisor sign in the window, I’ll look it up on my phone before trying it out. It’s also a great way to get menu recommendations at a popular restaurant. The TripAdvisor map function also allows you to narrow down what part of the city you are exploring for the day or whatever. Super helpful.
Almost right away, I’ll open up the city on Google Maps. I love being able to “star” or save a location for future use. As I begin to note tourist attractions or restaurants that I don’t want to forget, I star them and keep them for later. The more I star, I’m also able to see geographic groupings of what I’d like to do. This is helpful in planning a travel route. Novice travelers lose so much time by crisscrossing the city multiple times a day to get to their stops. If you know where things are on the map, you can chart out a logic route that can save you time in the long run. Google Maps often will giving you the driving, walking and even public transportation routes between destinations. In larger cities with public transportation this is really key. You can set what time you’d like to depart, and it adapts the route to include subways or buses if available. Google Maps is probably the travel tool I use the most.
By now, I feel like I have a good understanding of the city. I know it’s neighborhoods and the basics of what to see and do. Now I turn to my favorite travel inspiration source: Pinterest. Here I can search a city and find beautiful photos, or links to other travel blogs & travel guides, or maps of the city. Pinterest is loaded with travel resources that constantly keeps me inspired. I’ve often found a photo on Pinterest and said “I need to take that photo”, and added it to my map. This is the fun part. What’s beautiful about this city? What’s a must-see? What’s off the beaten path?
If I need more photographic inspiration, I turn to Instagram or Tumblr. By using hashtags to search, I can find some great places, restaurants, or events to check out while I’m in the city. Most cities have a hashtag, but some are even more specific. As you find cool posts, look at what other hashtags are used. Maybe it’s a foodie tag or an explore tag, which are great. Those can help you find some great restaurants and cafes and more usually posted by locals from that city. For example, Bali has #explorebali, #balifoodies, #igersbali, and #thebalibible. Each of those tags have their own account, which is filled with must-sees in Bali.
My final stop in travel planning is YouTube. Ironically, this is my husband’s first choice! In my opinion, I feel like I have to wade through a lot of “junk” to find the “good” on YouTube. But the good is there! Usually if I can do a more specific search, the better results I get. I’m so thankful to the quality video bloggers out there, because I am not. I value their resources!
So by now, I probably have a long list of what I want to do, see, eat and try while in the city. If I’ve been starring my Google Maps along the way, I can see the general area of where stuff is grouped together. I can choose where we want to stay, and how we will get around. If the city is in a new country, I’ll research visa or immigration needs. I forgot this step once when we were planning for Australia, not realizing as an American that I couldn’t get visa on arrival! Glad a friend spoke up for me in time to get the application in! There’s plenty of hotel websites out there, but my favorites are Agoda and AirBnB. Agoda, especially in Asia, have the most selection of hotels. And AirBnB is my favorite for wanting to get off the tourist track. Staying in a local neighborhood really lets you immerse in the city.