Do you plan your trips in advance or are you completely spontaneous?
I do quite a lot of research and planning before I go on a trip. It wasn’t always like this though.
There were places I travelled to without doing too much research, and although I enjoyed myself, I kind of regretted not being more prepared.
For example, when I arrived in Singapore a few years ago, I had very little knowledge of what to expect.
I was there only for a couple of days on my way to Australia, and didn’t bother with research, out of sheer laziness.
I ended up sitting with the hostel receptionist who showed me points of interest on the map.
So it turned out fine, but I can’t escape the feeling that I could have had a more profound experience there if only I’d done some reading beforehand.
Honestly, I had no excuses.
You can find out so much information about your travel destinations before you start your trip.
I’ve written before about how to choose your travel destination. After you’ve picked one, use this guide to find out everything you need to make the most out of your vacation time.
Plan Before You Go
These days I always plan an itinerary in advance. It’s the best way to make sure you’re going to cover all the places that actually interest you and also to make sure you don’t fall into tourist traps.
Plans, of course, can always be changed and usually are once you’re on your trip. That’s natural. You have better information about what’s available and what you feel like doing.
But it’s still good to have those plans as a base and change whatever you need as you go along.
I don’t regret having plans, because sometimes following the plan is the best choice. So I guess the lesson is to make plans, but feel free to ignore them — to see them as an option, not a requirement.Derek Sivers, What Happens When We Ignore Plans
You can also find tons of info once you’ve arrived at your destination, but I personally don’t like being flooded with so much information while I’m on vacation.
Your hotel or hostel (and sometimes vacation rentals too) will have flyers and maps and posters and business cards of all the local attractions, tours, restaurants, shops, museums, festivals, excursions etc.
This is especially true for very touristy places of course, but even smaller destinations will have much more info than you might expect.
I want to relax and enjoy myself rather than spend my first couple of days browsing through flyers and feeling the FOMO kicking in…
That’s why I prefer to take my time researching my destinations before I go.
All the knowledge, details, insider tips, special interest attractions and whatever else you fancy is out there on the web.
What are the Best Places to Find Information about Travel Destinations?
Tourism Board Websites
The official website of the tourism board of your destination will usually have a wealth of information.
In particular, look for their itineraries – many tourism borads will provide ready-made itineraries for the destination.
Tourism board sites are also a great place to find and an up-to-date calendar of local events.
TripAdvisor – For Handy Top Ten Lists
When you search for the name of your destination, it’s most likely the first or second result will be TripAdvisor.
That’s certainly one of the best places to find lists of attractions, activities, hotels, restaurants etc.
You can read user reviews and get a good idea of what’s on offer.
Say you want to choose between two or three guided tours of the city, and they all seem to offer more or less the same route and same attractions.
Reading the TripAdvisor reviews will help you decide.
TripAdvisor’s forums are an excellent information source.
Forum users are very active and you will get detailed answers to your questions, usually on the day you post them.
You can get quite specific in your forum questions.
For example, you can ask about the best day trips from your destinations that you can reach by public transport, which parts of the city are best avoided by tourists or what are the opening hours of shops and restaurants during national holidays.
Locals and other tourists will quickly reply and you’ll save yourself a lot of time you’d otherwise have to spend looking for those specific answers online.
TripAdvisor also runs Viator, the perfect site to find all sorts of guided tours and activities.
It will give you lots of ideas for things to do and see, with user reviews and ratings for each activity.
Travel Blogs and Travel Magazines
This is pretty obvious 😉
Read blog posts by travel bloggers about your destination and get a more informal and realistic perspective about what it’s like to travel there.
Some blog posts will give you a full guide, including everything you need to know from where to stay to which attractions to see etc.
Other blog posts are more specific, catering for specific interests.
For example, if you love street art, look for travel bloggers who write about that and design your trip around your particular interests.
Another good idea is to look for insider tips from local bloggers.
This way you can find out things that visitors probably don’t know about.
GPSmyCity is an app that converts blog posts into guides. It lets you explore a destination with offline maps on your phone, using info, tips and ideas from travel bloggers.
Travel magazines are wonderful resources for travel inspiration as well practical guides.
Some travel coffee table books will also give you inspiration alongside travel tips.
Pinterest – One of the Best Places to Find Travel Ideas and Info
Pinterest is a visual search engine and when it comes to travel, it’s one of the best resources you can use to plan your trips around the world.
The main advantage of Pinterest as a search engine is that it will show you results that you may not find on Google.
Enter the name of your destination on Pinterest and you will get an endless feed of travel guides and photos.
Click on any of them to go to the original website that the picture is taken from.
You can save whatever you fancy to your own Pinterest board and make it either public or private.
If you’re planning a trip with other people, all of you can collaborate on the same Pinterest board and add pins as you find them.
It’s a really efficient way to collect ideas and guides for your travels.
You can make one general board, for example “2020 Summer Trip”, and then create sub-categories (called “sections” in Pinterest) within that board, say for each country you’re going to.
To see an example of this, have a look at my own “2019 Trip” Pinterest board.
If you’re into travel photography, Pinterest is also a good place to find photo inspiration.
Save the photos that catch your eye to a board. For me this is the more exciting part of trip planning 😉
When you’re on your trip you can open that board and find the locations where those photos were taken.
Instagram – Visual Inspiration for Your Trips
This is the most popular visual source of inspiration for your travels.
Just search for the places you’re going to travel to on Instagram and start scrolling.
Instagram will auto suggest relevant hashtags when you search, that will help you get better and more specific search results.
Facebook Travel Groups
You can use Facebook in a couple of ways to research your travel destination.
I think the most significant use for Facebook at the moment are Facebook groups.
Facebook groups can be incredibly useful.
Search for general travel groups, where you can ask whatever you need to know, for example “What are the best day trips from London?” or “What are the best beaches in Sydney?”
You’ll get plenty of replies, sometimes within minutes, if it’s a very active group.
Destination-specific Facebook groups can also be extremely useful.
If I don’t know the local language, I normally look for information on expat groups and groups for digital nomads at my destination.
They might be called “Foreigners in…” or “English Speakers in….”
These are also good places to find local events and meetups, insider tips and ideas for things to do and see.
Quora – Ask Anything, Get In-Depth Answers
Quora is an amazing question and answer community.
You can ask any question you want and you are likely to get a detailed answer.
Before you ask, do a search on Quora to see if your question has already been answered.
The answers that appear first are the ones that got the highest number of upvotes by other users.
The site will also suggest related questions, and if you’re the curious type like me, you will soon find yourself clicking away and exploring Quora for hours….
WikiTravel or WikiVoyage
This is an immensely useful resource, covering almost nay destination you may want to travel to.
I love that it’s so well organised and easy to use.
It will give you an overview of your travel destination and a lot of local knowledge that can be very valuable.
Typically, an entry will include details on how to get to the detestation, how to get around, what to see, do and buy, where to eat and sleep and how to stay safe.
This is the first place I look for ways to get from the airport to the city. While you’d expect to find this info on any airport’s website, that’s not always the case
I prefer to use WikiTravel to get all the details. It covers all the options and even tells you how much each would cost..
Another useful section is “Stay Safe”. It will tell you what to be aware of.
For example, which neighbourhood or parks to avoid, or which areas have pickpockets or drunks.
It will also give you detailed descriptions of common travel scams, so that you don’t fall for them.
YouTube Travel Channels
Watch videos about your destinations before you go.
It will really give you a better idea of what it’s like to visit.
There are excellent destination guides on YouTube that you can access with a quick search.
There are also travel vloggers who will give you a more personal perspective about their trip.
You can even save videos on places you want to travel to and organise them in playlists on your account.
Traditional Travel Guides
There used to be a time when every traveller had a copy of a guide book in their backpack or suitcase.
These days you can save space and travel light with ebooks that will give you the same information.
Lonely Planet now let you download ebooks and even just certain chapters from ebooks about any destination.
This is probably the most traditional way to research a destination and is especially useful when you don’t have too much time to look for extra resources online.
I love listening to podcasts and travel podcasts are especially fun to listen to.
There are lots of podcast interviews with travellers, backpackers, digital nomads and so on, that will give you plenty of inspiration to travel.
When you research a destination, look for podcast episodes about that place specifically.
Some are akin to listening to a guide book being read to you out loud, and some will give you the personal perspective of the podcaster on that place.
Check out this list of the best travel podcasts selected by travel bloggers.
Trippy is a lovely community of travellers where you can ask questions and get answers, and also browse questions already asked about your destinations.
Users on Trippy sometimes ask the most specific questions, such as what to do on a 3 hour layover in Paris or what it’s like to stay at some hotel or other.
Other questions on Trippy are very general, such as “what’s you best travel tip?”
The answers are often detailed and include links to a map that appears next to the text, which makes trippy and extra useful resource.
Fiction Books (!)
Put more fun into trip planning by reading novels set in the country or city you’re going to.
This will give you a local perspective and a deeper knowledge of the culture.
For example, check out this list of books about London: Each of them can teach you a lot about the city and the culture, beyond the things you’d normally read in a guidebook.
People You Know
Do you know someone who’s been to the places you’re travelling to recently?
It always helps to ask for tips and recommendations.
Get Somebody Else to Plan Your Trip for You!
If you’re short on time or you decide that you have more important things to do than browse the sea of information online, it makes sense to get someone else to do the planning for you.
Travel planning services are pretty affordable these days.
Fiverr is one of the best places to find travel planners, starting from as little as $5.
All you have to do is give the planner the dates of your trip, your budget and your preferences, e.g. what kind of restaurants or nightlife you like etc.