Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Traveling Research

*note: In no way am I professional traveler, although that would be awesome. I have only been "traveling" for less than a year.*

When Luke and I found out we would be moving to London, our excitement for traveling went through the roof! Traveling from London is soooo easy. Currently, Luke and I have booked four weekend trips within the next two months. As for the rest of the year, we are in the works of booking a big trip, and discussing a few more short weekend trips as well as a long weekend. Sounds awesome, huh? It is but, oh my goodness, it is overwhelming. Trip planning takes a ton of thought and time. Luke and I are both OCD in general, and we want to make the most of our travel. So we go very deep into research.

I thought I would share with you my method of trip planning, and of course, I would love to hear your thoughts as well, in the comments section below :-) The first major trip we went on was to Bavaria (go back to November 2012 in my archives to read about it), and we piggy backed with our friends Dave & Jen who had been traveling for a while. Because of that trip, we learned many things: how we like to travel, how to do research to travel, how to save money, and then various do's & dont's. Here is generally how I plan a trip:

Determining the location - I ask others where they have been and ask their opinion. Because of this, Luke and I have a very long list of approximately 50 cities just in Europe that we want to visit someday. We have broken down the locations by day trips, 2 day trips, 3 days trips, 4-5 day trips and long trips.

Find the Sights - Luke and I travel to see & do, not so much to do & taste. We like to feel the city by walking all over and seeing as much as we can. We have learned that we travel well together because we both enjoy this way of travel. Plus, Luke likes to lead, and I don't mind just following him around :-) We have seen a ton of unusual things and different parts of cities because of our great teamwork :-) But we don't just meander about with out knowing anything so...
a.) My Places - We use Google Maps' My Places and pin sights on maps for what we want to see and do (click here to see our map from Paris). Doing this gives us an idea of, 1.) where to stay in the city, and 2.) how large the city is. How do we find these sights to see?...
b.) WikiTravel - The first website I always go to for research is WikiTravel. Sometimes you wont find much on a city, but most large cities/towns have a great deal of information. You can read about the districts of the city, how to get around in the city, a short history, things to look out for as far as crime goes, where to eat, what days trips to take, etc.
c.) Trip Advisor - The second website I use for research is Trip Advisor's list of attractions for the city. Most of these attractions will have already been pinned on my Google Map, but occasionally I find that there are some not mentioned on WikiTravel.
d.) Time Out (if available) - I discovered this site through London. It is a great site for unique things to do. It also gives great names of restaurants, bars and pubs.
e.) Frommer's - We have a Frommer's Europe book that has notes for practically every city/town of good size in Europe. This is the ONLY travel book we use.
f.) other - If I feel I want more, I browse through other websites about the city just doing the good ADD internet surfing.

Booking the Lodging- After I have pinned on my map, I now have a general idea of where to stay in the city. We spend most of our days out of the room, so we don't mind if the room is on the lower end of ideal. If it has a bed, a bathroom, and the temperature is good, that is all that matters to us. Depending on the length of the trip depends on where we prefer to stay. For 2 night trips, a hotel is ideal (usually go with hotels.com first). For 3 or more night trips, I prefer to stay in an apartment (using airbnb.com). I like apartments for longer trips because we can save money by eating breakfast in the apartment and will have a refrigerator to keep sandwich supplies which a hotel does not always have. No matter what, we do our best to get a place with free wifi, but sometimes websites lie about that.

Booking Transportation- There isn't much to say about this. I use Kayak to find the best deals for flights. To determine timetables for trains in Europe, I use Rail Europe - we have found that showing up at the time of the train is cheaper than booking ahead of time BUT sometimes reservations are required/needed or else you will have to stand as we have seen it happen.

Things I keep in mind- Again, in no way are we professional travelers, and we still have a ways to go before we can take a trip without any hiccups. As we have visited a few places, we have learned our lesson a few times.
a.) Timing at airports - We recently booked a trip but almost got screwed with travel time. We almost booked a flight out of London for 6am. Luckily, we remembered that the tubes don't begin running until around 5am, therefore we would have had to take a cab at the last minute (which would have cost over 80GBP). Close one!
b.) Timing for check-in/out - Check-in for lodging isn't usually until around 2pm, so if we arrive early, we have to hold our bags. Some train stations have lockers for rent that hold bags. Also check-out is usually around 11am, so we might have to hold on to our bags until our late flight.
c.) Inner city transportation - In larger cities, we try to figure out the transportation method. Sometimes we just walk it all, but in Paris, that ended up being 12 miles a day. If you plan to visit London, an Oyster Card is the way to go!
d.) Day trips - For longer trips, we usually end up taking a few day trips to nearby towns. I always make sure there is a way to get from one city to the next, usually by train. And for these day trips, I create a Google Map as well, so I know what to see and do.
e.) Eating - Luke and I don't like to plan our munching time. We are terrible when in comes to restaurants. We always have these grand plans to do research on Trip Advisor for good restaurants to try but never end up doing so. Either way, we try to avoid the places right in the middle of a square as they are usually the worst. A great app we use is TripAdvisor City Guides which can be used off line. Not all cities are available, but it comes in handy for the ones that are.
f.) Maps - iPhone is a genius! We use Google Maps while offline to determine where we are in a city while we travel because the little blue dot still shows up! So we don't 'purchase' any type of city map.
g.) Tips - I always take the time the day of or the day before the trip to carefully read the 'warnings' on WikiTravel. Most will say the same thing over and over again about pick-pocketers and hold your purse tightly and don't walk alone at night and so on, but they do give more specific warnings. Such as in London, a common crime is people will grab cell phones and sprint away as people are using them around the tube and trains. It reminds me to be alert while I'm traveling.
h.) Reviews - I like to read the reviews of sights in the city from Trip Advisor. I get a general idea of what to expect as far as cost of entry, if the entry fee is worth paying, and how long the attraction may take. I also learn things that I may not have learned otherwise (like at Sacre Coeur in Paris with the bracelet men).

Trip planning can be a full time job if you let it...  wait, maybe I should be a travel agent??!!! JK, I am way to OCD and too much of a people-pleaser for that! It takes a few go-arounds before the planning and traveling gets easier. But I will warn you, the traveling doesn't get any cheaper!

Do you have any websites that you recommend for researching cities/towns?
What things do you do to research a city/town before you visit?


  1. You need the skyscanner app for flights! It lists every airline under the sun cheapest to most expensive and then once you decide on flight it takes you to the website that it's cheapest.


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