Last week I wrote about how you can add more travel into your life, but for many people, it’s the travel planning that is a huge barrier to actually getting out the door. Being a researcher at heart (and through training, I have a Masters in Research Psychology), this is one of my favorite parts of travel. However, I know that travel planning is insanely daunting to many people, including my dear husband!
To help you add more travel to your life, I wanted to also provide you with some of my how to’s for planning a trip, short or long. The first post in this series is researching a trip.
One of the best parts of trip planning for me is the research aspect. I love reading about travel, learning about destinations and checking out photos of places around the world. I have lists and lists of places I want to go and things I want to see for pretty much every country in the world. This part of researching for a trip is an ongoing process. I love my Listography app where I can easily jot down thoughts, locations and ideas when I see them.
I realize though that not everyone has these massive lists to inspire and guide their trip planning process. Instead, they feel overwhelmed and need a lot of help to plan or research a trip. If that is you, then continue reading for my tips on the first step of travel planning: how to research for a trip.
As I mentioned above, the zero stage of research is inspiration collection. Take the time to jot down places or things you read about, see photos of or hear about from friends to inspire your future travels. To keep your inspirational points easily accessible, I recommend either keeping a list in your phone like I do with Listography or even in your notepad. Also, consider starting a board on Pinterest where you can pin articles or photos that inspire you. Lastly, start a bucket list. Sounds cheesy to some I know, but having an actual list of things that you want to do, see or accomplish can go far in helping you actually achieve those goals!
For me, I tend to use Instagram to inspire much of my travels. I follow a ton of different travelers both locally in SoCal as well as throughout the world. This helps keep me inspired and full of wanderlust! It is also fun to search different hashtags to get new ideas. If you are traveling as a family, look up the hashtag #familytravel and see what destinations people are traveling to with their kids. Instagram also has a new feature (only on mobile) that works well to storing your inspirations – the bookmark feature. Use this when you see a photo or destination that calls out to you to save for later.
Now that you have the inspiration down, the first step in actually planning a specific trip is to brainstorm. What type of trip to do you want? Where do you want to go? When do you want go on this trip? What do you want to do? And what is the budget?
These questions can easily guide you into different directions. If you only have a 3 day weekend to take a trip, you can rule out destinations that are far off the beaten path or take several flights to get to.
If you have budget limitations, that will also lead in you certain directions. Perhaps you have very little discretionary spending for this trip. This might lead you to explore local destinations you can drive to or destinations where you can camp.
Answering these questions are the first steps in figuring out where you are going. To help guide you along here are some prompts to get you thinking more about each question.
What Type of Trip Do You Want?
- Relaxing (beach, all -inclusive, spa getaway, childcare included)
- Outdoor Adventure (camping, hiking, zip lining)
- Road Trip (outdoor adventures combined with driving vacation)
- Family Focused (amusement parks, child focused activities like zoos)
- Seasonal Activities (skiing, snorkeling, water sports)
Where Do You Want To Go?
- City Break
- National Parks
- Amusement Parks
When Do You Want To Go?
- Long Weekend
- Spring Break
- Summer Holiday
- Winter Holiday
- Off-season (i.e during school)
Once you have answered these questions, you will be much closer to figuring out where you should go. The next set of questions to consider for your destination are:
- What is the weather like when you would visit?
- Is it off-season? If so, is there a reason why – rainy at the beach, too cold, etc
- Are the activities you want to do available during your proposed visit?
Now that you have answered the initial questions of where, when, how and for how much, you can move on to the most important part of travel planning – destination research! The more you know about your destination, the easier your trip planning and ultimately your trip will be. Even at this point you do not have to have a destination locked in.
Keep notes on everything you research in case you come back to the other destination at a later point.
But where do you go to research trips?
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth recommendations are still one of the best ways to find out about destinations. Talk to friends about your proposed plans, see who has been where, what they liked and didn’t like, etc. This helps you begin to weed through the crazy amount of information you will ultimately find when you start looking online. Post on your Facebook “Hey I am thinking of going to Argentina this spring. Anyone have any recommendations on where to go or what to see?”. Crowdsourcing is an amazing way to plan a trip. You will be surprised who all comes out of the woodwork to talk about their travels!
Travel Guides still exist and continue to be a great way to research a destination. Hang out at the book store checking out different travel books or go online to browse. All travel books are biased towards certain readers in some way or another. It takes time to find your travel style, but once you do, it makes researching trips much easier for the future.
My travel style has changed over the years, from super budget backpacker to what I like to call flashpacker these days (meaning I still like to be budget conscious, go off the beaten path, but have a little more money to spend!). Throughout the years, some of my favorite travel books have been:
- Rick Steves is great for destinations in Europe. He suggests things off the beaten path, how to visit during high season and get the most out of a destination. He also focuses on culture and experiences, all for reasonable prices.
- Another go to for years has been Lonely Planet & Rough Guides. These are both a bit more geared towards backpackers, however they do have a range of prices for all travelers. You can read more online for both of those, as well as buy the books. Check for the date of update to make sure you are getting the most up to date information.
- Family Travel specific guide books are also becoming more popular. Many of these are published by DK and Fodor’s. It’s worth having a look if you need some guidance on what to do in destinations with kids.
Travel research online is where you can quickly get sucked down the rabbit hole of information. There are millions of different blogs online focusing on travel. There are blogs for traveling with pets, for LGBT travelers, for over 50 travelers, with kids, with babies, etc. A great resource for family travel blogs is listed on TravelBabbo. Eric has listed almost all of the family travel blogs that I know, follow and also use as resources while travel planning. It will take some time to weed through, but have look.
Even though I am a travel blogger as well, I advise you to take some of what you read online with a grain of salt. Until you have found a travel personality/style/type you like and gel with, it is difficult to know who to trust online. I have often followed the advice of fellow travel bloggers only to get somewhere and feel totally different about a destination. For example, someone says a hike is super easy for the whole family, but when we arrive, it is much harder than we anticipated. These are the live and learn type experiences, so keep that in mind while reading advice from different travel blogs. Also note that many blogs (myself included) are paid to post about certain destinations or are sent places for free to review them. This does not mean that the author’s opinions are altered necessarily, it’s just useful to keep an eye out for posts that say sponsored or provided for free.
Another great place to research more about a destination is on the actual tourism website for the destination. For example, if you go to Visit California you will see options for family adventures, road trips, culinary experiences and even more. There tend to be tourism websites for cities, counties, states and countries to help guide your travel planning research. Remember that the goal of these websites is to sell the destination, so don’t plan to see any negative reviews there! Once you have found some places that look intriguing head to trusted travel blogs to find out a personal view on the place or attraction.
My big secret in trip planning and research – Intrepid Travel. Intrepid Travel is actually a tour operator, however I went on one of their China tours in 2001 and loved it. It was such a wonderful mixture of culture, experiencing the destination from a local perspective and getting off the beaten track, that I have always aimed to plan my trips with the same thoughts in mind. Ever since that trip to China with Intrepid, I have looked to their itineraries as a guide to help inform me on different places or activities that I might have overlooked while researching a destination. It also helps to provide a reasonable idea on how long I much time I would need to do specific trips. These days, Intrepid also have family friendly tours which look great!
More Questions to Keep in Mind
While researching a destination, there are some questions to keep in mind that will come in handy for our next section of logistics. How many places can we go during our time frame? How do we get from one place to the next? Do we have time to go to multiple locations or is it better to stay in one place?
Now that you have started collecting inspiration for your travels, answering basic questions on what type of trip you want as well as researching the destination to narrow down exactly where you want to go there, what you want to do, the next step is putting it all together. Nailing down the logistics of putting the trip together will be made easier using our Travel Planning: Resource Guide post outlining our favorite sites for booking flights, accommodation and more.
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