I am chronically incapable of being footloose and fancy free without doing any due diligence, of visiting a place I’ve never been to and just seeing where the wind will take me. If the good lord wanted me to go where the wind blows, he would’ve made me a dandelion instead of an obsessive, anally-retentive girl scout. I know, I know. I sound like a pill. I’m only a pill in the beginning, though. I promise. *hand on heart* Once I’ve gotten everything under control and can tell myself I’ve done all I need to do to be prepared, I can be as cool as a cucumber.
But first, I need control. I need a sense of knowing. I need security. I need to know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go, what I’m going to eat, and how I’m going to get to where I want to go before I do it, especially when it comes to travel. (You can take a girl out of a travel agency, but you really can’t take a travel agency out of a girl!)
Google has a suite of travel tools that I use a lot. Flights is great when you’re shopping for airfare, and I particularly love their “flexible dates” option and the way prices and locations change automatically depending on where in the world you happen to be hovering over. Hotels is a very well thought out, intuitive way to look for possible places to stay -it’s easy to read reviews, check out photos and compare prices. Maps is one of my favourite and most trusted travel tools. It gives a sense of security in an otherwise alien place, because you’ll always know where you are and how to get where you want to go, especially if you’ve downloaded a map of the area in advance.
I don’t feel constrained to book travel directly on Google’s website though. Neither should you – if you can get points booking travel on a certain site or with a certain type of credit card, by all means do so. I like to book directly with the airline when it comes to airfare, but with hotels I can be a little more flexible. I tend to go with Expedia for sentimental reasons, and also because they have very competitive prices and an excellent points program.
The following sites are what I use when I go in-depth. Other than the usual go-tos like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, I’ve found some really interesting information off of these sites, and you may already know some if not all of them. I hope they help you as you prepare for your own trips too!
WikiVoyage provides a condensed, Lonely Planet-esque overview of your destination. I use it particularly when I want information about districts and modes of transportation but don’t want to feel overwhelmed or pressured to book anything. Like Wikipedia, it’s less about the bells and whistles and more about the actual information but don’t let the wall of text intimidate ya. There’s a lot more information to digest than just districts and transportation, although that is primarily what I use WikiVoyage for.
Yes, attractions are famous for a reason, and they should definitely be seen, it’s just that sometimes being able to enjoy what you see becomes impossible when there are too many people also wanting to do the same thing. If, like me you like to avoid touristic mosh pits, Atlas Obscura is great for the weird, the quirky, the secret little things that not a lot of people may be into. It also welcomes suggestions from fellow travelers, and is filled with unusual, off-the-beaten-path suggestions (hence the name!).
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and sampling the local cuisine is the best way to feel like a local. I like to try and not eat anything other than local staples wherever I get to go, to get a really well-rounded experience of what living in a certain country must feel like, and Taste Atlas is an invaluable resource. Is food a big part of how you travel? It should be!
Lastly (but not leastly), never underestimate the power of Reddit. There’s no better advertising than word of mouth, and Reddit is invaluable for checking out what the locals say. Think about it as a place to go for insider information, because locals can (and do) say a lot!
Do you have any travel sites that you’d recommend? Feel free to share, and happy travels!