Many years ago, (before the days of the internet) , a friend and I drove from Canada to New Orleans, LA to take in the Mardi Gras.
We did our due-diligence by having CAA map of our route and CAA provided a few brochures. Beyond this, all we had available for pre-travel research was our public library. We had an “idea” of the things we wished to see and experience, but that was it.
We spent ten full days in and around “The Big Easy” and had an incredible time. On our last day in Louisiana before heading home, we drove to Baton Rouge. There, in the Old Governor’s Mansion, we picked up a brochure that featured a walking tour of the French Quarter in NOLA. Despite long days of exploring from early morning until late at night, we realized when we studied this brochure, that we had missed so much of what was available. The memory of this experience returns to me each time I research travel destinations.
Many years later, another friend said to me, “the best part of any vacation is the anticipation, because once departure date arrives, it’s all gone in the blink of an eye!”
I now use extensive research to lengthen the anticipation of our vacations and I have no regrets for doing so. It’s like turning a two or three week vacation into a 6-month adventure. In addition, all of the valuable information that’s available online today, helps to prepare for an enjoyable and mostly stress-free holiday.
I certainly don’t search or pre-plan every last detail and we always leave plenty of time available for impulse exploration.
These are the 12 things I find most valuable to research prior to any trip:
- TYPICAL WEATHER AT THE TIME OF YEAR YOU’LL BE VISITING – There are many weather web sites where you can find average year-round temperatures for anywhere in the world. This is a great help for knowing what to pack for clothing
- LOCAL CURRENCY AND MOST WIDELY-ACCEPTED CURRENCY – The second is as important as the first. When we visited Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, all I searched was local currency, which was the Dutch Guilder. When we arrived at the airport in Curacao, we switched approximately half of our vacation money to Guilders – only to discover that the American Dollar was the preferred currency in many of the local businesses and markets
- WHAT TO SEE AND DO – The tourism pages for most destinations give a great recap on what’s available. I check these pages for a general idea and make a list of what suits our interests. If there are certain tours that tend to fill up fast, I’ll pre-book them. That said, on a Trip to Miami, FLA – I pre-booked an everglades air-boat excursion for the day after our arrival in Miami. We had several flight delays because of weather and didn’t arrive on time for the tour. “Live and Learn”, as the old saying goes. Since that time, I don’t book any tours within the first 3 days of our arrival at our destination.
- A WORD ABOUT TRAVEL SITE CONTRIBUTORS – I regularly use both Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic to get an overall idea about accommodations and/or other traveler’s experiences. If there are 10 glowing reports to every 1 scathing report, I ignore the latter. We’ve found in our travels that those people are everywhere – you’ll recognize them by the scowls on their faces and their continual complaining. If they get less than stellar service, it’s most often directly related to their behavior.
- SAFETY – More so in the past few years, I’ve searched Travel Advisories for every place we plan to visit. If you just enter in your search engine “travel advisory” followed by the name of the place you plan to visit, you’ll find a wealth of information on everything from terror threats to drug cartel activity to current health threats
- VACCINATIONS – The CDC web site lists the necessary vaccinations for your destination. This one should be searched as far in advance as possible, as some vaccinations require time to reach their full effect and others require boosters
- NECESSARY CLOTHING – Some restaurants have strict dress codes and some countries have strict dress codes (for women in particular) in public places. One very useful tip I picked up in advance was to take water shoes to a Caribbean beach we were visiting because of the rocky shore line. Had I not researched and taken them along, I would have paid many times more for these at our resort.
- LOCAL CUISINE – One of our favorite travel experiences is to sample the local food. Pre-travel research helps to identify reliable and safe establishments to sample local cuisine.
- HOW MUCH TO PACK/HOW TO PACK – This is really opinion-based . Prior to our first cruise, I searched what to pack, and I had easily a full suitcase of clothing I didn’t wear. I’ve found this particular YouTube video useful with regards to how to pack, Since watching it, this is my “go-to” for packing for most vacations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDn9l20NlWw
- DECK PLANS FOR CRUISE VACATIONS – I like to check these out pre-travel so I feel a bit more prepared on these gigantic floating cities. It’s like reading a city map before you try to find an address. This is even more valuable if you try different cruise lines.
- FRIENDS WHO HAVE BEEN THERE – Not all friends will have the same interests, however from time to time, they may offer an idea that appeals to you. As an example: When we visited Branson, MO I had read about the “Ride the Ducks” experience and the idea was sort of “meh” to me. Prior to our trip there, friends who had recently visited highly recommended this tour because of the scenery, history, and unique tour vehicle. We followed their advice and we weren’t disappointed. It was the hi light of our stay in Branson
- ASK THE LOCALS – Pre-trip, it’s easy to connect with locals to ask their advice on things to see and do and where to eat. When you go to Trip Advisor, as an example, the home location of people who post there is displayed next to their post. If they live where you are visiting, you can email them from the site and ask for info/suggestions. Most people are more than willing to help.
While you’re planning, plan to enjoy! Any vacation is only as good as your attitude towards it.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.