So, you are now considering traveling independently. What next? How do you plan?
My rule for planning a great trip is know thy self; know thy destination.
Know thyself: What have you loved or not about past trips? What do you consider to be your best travel experiences? What do you enjoy doing? Are you a city person or do you want to spend time in nature? Do you like to be around a lot of people or in more isolated areas?
Do you enjoy museums? Shopping? Visiting cathedrals and temples and wats and pagodas? What kinds of food do you enjoy? What do you want from the hotel where you are staying? These are all questions to consider as you begin your planning.
Know thy destination: There are so many resources for learning about your destination. Guidebooks are invaluable. You’ll need to find a guidebook series that suits your interests. For some destinations you may well want more than one guidebook. Some guides are great for preparation; some are great to take along on the trip. Go to a travel bookstore or the library and browse guidebooks for your destination.
The Lonely Planet series is renowned as the source of choice for backpackers. But it also has great details for getting off the usual tourist track. If I’m headed for somewhere a little offbeat, if I need to know how to get from remote destination A to remote destination B the Lonely Planet is my guide of choice.
The Fodor’s guides are information-rich. They give good details on places you’ll want to visit and the background information you’ll need to appreciate those places.
The Insight Guides are another favorite of mine. The photography is great and really gives me a sense of my destination. They also publish some “Compact Guides.” These are often guides for a particular city, and offer highlights and walking routes that take you to interesting places that other guidebooks don’t mention.
There are, of course, many other guides – look at them all and buy what appeals to you.
Other Resources to Help You Plan & Learn About Places
In addition to guidebooks, consider other books about your destination, both fiction and non-fiction, historical and contemporary.
There are also lots of travel magazines. These magazines are as different from each other as individual travelers are. There are the slick magazines such as Conde-Nast Traveler. While this is not one I find useful, it may appeal to you. There is the National Geographic Traveler with the wonderful photography.
While I don’t find this one useful for planning, it might give you ideas about places you want to go. The only travel magazine I find helpful in my trip planning is the International Travel News. An odd publication, it is a compendium of reports from travelers, printed on newsprint and published monthly. There are reports of high-end tours, of independent travel to the ends of the earth and everything in between. You can request a free sample issue online and see if it fits your needs.
The Internet has brought travel forums to our desktops. These are invaluable resources and the topic of our next post!