How to Plan for Traveling Someplace New

I know many of us have had to delay or cancel vacations due to the coronavirus. And while it may not be the best time to be traveling, it never hurts to daydream. I’ve spent countless hours scrolling through Pinterest looking at travel pins and making a list of all the wonderful places I hope to visit someday. Given everything going on this year, I think we all deserve a vacation when/if life gets back to normal, so let’s get a head start on things and talk about how to plan our next trip to somewhere other than the grocery store.

Search the Internet:

The very first thing I do when planning vacation is an extensive Google or Pinterest search. These days there’s nothing you can’t find on the Internet. From the best hotels to sights that are off the beaten path. Google is great for finding things to do once you’ve already arrived to your destination, but I love to use Pinterest when searching for things to do when I’m in the beginning stages of planning because I can save pins to my Travel Boards and go back later and read it. I have found so many great food recommendations this way and I’ve even found activities available in the cities I travel to that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Because I have a long list of places I would like to go I created sub-groups, or sections, within my Travel Board. This helps me keep the pins I save easier to access and more organized.

You can also use Instagram to find attractions and restaurants. One Instagram page I love to browse is @nybucketlist. They share everything from where to stay, the best sights to see, restaurants that are wildly popular, and those that are lesser known. If you have already booked your next trip or if you have a good idea of cities you would like to visit start following pages that are dedicated to spotlighting local spots. This will help give you a better idea of what you may want to add to your to-do list while you are visiting. You can also save posts and create boards so you don’t have to worry about forgetting something you quickly scrolled by but didn’t exactly stop to read.

I also like to find some local Instagram accounts to follow leading up to a trip. Local foodies and magazines make it easier to find fun restaurants, cafes, and bars that Yelp or Trip Advisor might not know about yet.

Lastly, I check out local websites for a city or websites that have city guides. My personal favorite is eater.com. They do a really good job at listing restaurants that maybe aren’t the trendiest, but are some of the most delicious. Also, the Edible websites (and magazines) and timeout.com are both really great resources. I use timeout.com a lot when looking for events or have a particular cuisine I’m after, even in my home city.

This is what my Travel board on Instagram looks like.
As you can see it mostly consists of restaurants.

Ask your Friends:

If you know someone who has lived in the city you’re planning to visit don’t be afraid to ask them for suggestions. When I was planning my first trip to New York City I knew that my friend’s husband had lived there for awhile, so I asked him for suggestions on places to see and where to eat. He sent me two great lists that I saved because I did not get to check out all of his recommendations and I plan on visiting again. (These lists are a couple years old, so check ahead before going to any of them to make sure they are open.)

I have also been on the receiving end of being asked for recommendations and I was thrilled to share my advice. I find that people love to share their experiences with others so this is definitely a must when planning a trip. When we went to Belize for our honeymoon one of my husband’s coworkers suggested a place to stay that we hadn’t seen online. Our “hotel” room was more like a two-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, dining room, and living room. We also had a huge balcony that overlooked the ocean.

If you don’t personally know anyone who has been to the destination you’re traveling to post on Facebook and ask for advice. I’m certain someone on your friends list at least knows someone else that has been there and is willing to share helpful tips.

Watch TV Shows or Movies:

I know I have mentioned this before but, just in case you forgot: I love watching cooking shows! I’ve discovered and tried so many restaurants from watching various TV shows like ‘Top Chef’, ‘Best Thing I Ever Ate’, and ‘Burgers, Brew and ‘Que’. I can honestly say I have never been disappointed when visiting a restaurant that was featured on one of these shows. I keep a list of all of the restaurants featured on TV that sound like something I would like. We have friends who live in Kansas City that we visit regularly, and we have taken them to new places we discovered from watching these shows they didn’t even know about.

Compile your List using Google Maps:

Before you get started on the Google Maps aspect of this tip, let me suggest becoming familiar with a map of the city you plan to visit. Before I went to New York City for the first time, I searched for every location I wanted to visit on a map and I even studied all of the different boroughs of Manhattan. I typed up a list of every restaurant I hoped to eat at and broke it into sections so that no matter what part of the city we were in I could locate a place to stop. Being so familiar with the city before even getting there made moving around so much easier unlike when I went to London and relied on my husband to navigate. I never knew where we were therefore I had no clue what sights were near us.

After my New York trip is when I discovered how to make a custom Google Map and I will now never travel to a new city without first making one.

Here’s how to make your own custom map on your PC using Google:

  • First, go to https://www.google.com/maps/d/
  • In the top left hand corner click “Create New Map”.
  • You can change the name of your map by clicking “Untitled Map” in the top left hand corner.
  • Use the search bar at the top to start adding locations to your map. Just type in the name of the place you are searching for and google will pull up the address.
  • In the info box that pops up for the location you searched click “+ Add to Map”. Repeat this step until all locations are added.

Once all locations are added to your map you can customize the icons to group locations together and make them easier to recognize. To do this just click on a location in the list on the left, then click the paint bucket icon. You will see different colors and shapes appear to choose from. Now you can make your map even more customized by grouping restaurants, bars, and museums together using a specific color and icon as well as adding a unique icon for where you are staying.

Here’s an example of a map I customized for my trip to Miami.

Tips on Deciding Where to Stay:

I don’t usually stay at swanky hotels, but I usually don’t stay in the suburbs for trips either. I personally love a walkable place to stay and love getting to know a city on foot versus behind the wheel. But usually the hottest neighborhoods are the most expensive. After researching some neighborhoods of where I’m visiting, I will pick the neighborhoods I know I’ll spend the most time in. If I’m considering getting a hotel or Airbnb not in that neighborhood, I always consider the transportation to go to and from. If it’s going to cost me $30+ in Uber fees each day, but I’m only saving $20 a day by staying in a different neighborhood, I’ll opt for the more expensive stay and save money on transportation.

You should also take into consideration how much time you will be spending in your hotel room or Airbnb. For instance, when we did a family trip to Breckenridge we knew some people (uh hum, Dad) would spend most of the time in the cabin so we looked for something spacious and comfortable enough for us to enjoy. On the other hand, when I went to New York City with my cousin I knew we would be gone most of the day and would only be at the Airbnb to sleep and shower so we decided to pick a place that was more affordable and we shared a bed.

Next time you start planning a vacation try following some (or all) of these steps to get the best experience while you’re there and to make sure you don’t miss anything. How do you plan for traveling to new places?

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