Heading out on a trip? Whether you travel by land, sea, or air, don't leave home without doing these 5 things. They are guaranteed to play a big role in the success of each adventure.
I am an extremely visual person. Aren't you?? I can read text until the cows come home, but it seriously doesn't really implant in my brain until I see it. Which is why notes are great - and trust me, I take lots of notes - but having a visual game plan in the form of a map is CRI. TI. CAL. to the success of my journey.
What's the easiest way to do this? Google Maps. Most of us use Google Maps for directions, yes, but have you ever created your own personal map? It's so so SO helpful. You can just add as many restaurants, stores, coffee shops, tourist attractions, whatever, as you want. Over weeks and weeks, so there's no rush. Then be sure to add your home base - i.e. hotel, Airbnb, etc., and your airport or train station, or any other "anchors" you want to remember. You get the idea.
While you're still planning your trip, just keep adding places of interest, so you don't forget them. Picture this: you're chatting with your neighbor's cousin's friend's daughter (you know this can happen). They mention they've been to the city you're headed to, and they offer a great recommendation. Just add it to your map right then and there!
Now, as the points of interest grow on your map, it may start to get a little overwhelming. At this phase, I like to color-coordinate my map to help keep things straight. For example, on a recent trip to New York City, I realized that I had accumulated an extremely long list of things I wanted to do! And, of course, I had loaded all of them into my personalized map. I saw that I had accumulated a pretty good list of bakeries and dessert places.... hmm weird.... so I decided to color-code all of those - in pink. Museums in blue, lunch restaurants were in orange, dinner restaurants red, bars in mint, "Must See" destinations (like Tiffany and Co., Bergdorf's, and our NBC Studio Tour) were in green, and so on. This served two purposes: 1) so I could see exactly how serious my preoccupation with bakeries and dessert really is and make some hard choices and pare that list down to a reasonable number, and 2) it helped me plan out each of our days.
For example, picture this: we're on Canal Street perusing all the adorable shops and we realize we've all gotten grouchy and are now famished, and should have really brought a snack but alas we did not. We could have a $2 hot dog at a street vendor (which you should absolutely do! But not every single time you're starving) or I can look at my Google map and see that we're literally a couple of blocks away from this highly-rated dumpling place I'd found online called New Shanghai Deluxe. We walk over and find that it's worth every bit of the waiting necessary to get those two measly blocks, and we have an incredibly delicious lunch. If I hadn't made a note in my map, we would have missed the opportunity. Score!
“I can look at my map and see that we're literally a couple of blocks away from this highly-rated dumpling place I'd found online.”
There's also another huge perk: you can share your Google Map with others in your group. You can either make your map private, viewable by others, or allow others to edit. This means your traveling buddies can either access your map easily themselves, but they can also add their own points of interest. And color code them. It's also an excellent springboard for discussing your travel goals with your travel buddies - those goals which you have in common, and also the ones that you do not. This can really help to work out some of the kinks ahead of time that can occur when traveling with a group. Really, it's a phenomenal tool that I highly recommend.
Ahhh the magic of the almighty pound sign... just kidding, I mean hashtag. Because it's 2020. What is a hashtag? I think the most basic definition I have found is on Wikipedia: "a type of metadata tag used on social networks such as Twitter and other microblogging services, allowing users to apply dynamic, user-generated tagging which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content." That's still sort of complicated, isn't it? Basically, it's a way to search for something specific online very efficiently. Here's an example.
First, choose your favorite social media platform. Really the best ones for hashtag use are Instagram and Twitter. Facebook users will use hashtags as well, but much less often, so it's not nearly as reliable.
So, let's say you love Instagram. You'll see every post that's ever been tagged with that hashtag. They could be photos posted by visitors to the area, or trail guides, or even a coffee shop near a trail in the area. You can simply peruse the photo history, and enjoy the pictures of some local trails or where to get a great cup of coffee, and be done with it. Or you could click 'follow,' and then every time someone posts a photo with that hashtag in their caption, it will come up in your feed. This is a great way to keep your' finger on the pulse' on the latest happenings in the area.
Using this method I've discovered LOADS of local details that I otherwise would not know. A fantastic cocktail at an adorable local martini bar, the best park to sit in while watching the sunset, the local bicycle rental shop and what they offer (all of which I can make a note of on my Google map!). You get the idea. Using these tools, I arrive in a new location - that would otherwise be foreign to me - feeling a lot more acclimated and familiar with many of its highlights. Trust me, it's pretty fun to walk into a restaurant and recognize the owner and already know what you'll be ordering because you saw photos posted online.
HOT TIP! Did you know you can use voice command on your iPhone to speak hashtags? This is especially helpful with longer strings. Try it!
3. Deal Me Baby
On a regular day, I'm not a huge Groupon person, or LivingSocial person, or whatever deal platform you may go to first. Though there was a time probably 10? 15? years ago when I perused them regularly. Nowadays, I only go to these sites for something specific - maybe a microdermabrasion special, ski lift tickets, or a month of classes at a new gym I'd like to try.
However, when I travel... things are different. How many times have you arrived in a city/town/island and looked at a local activities list suggested to you by your hotel concierge, only to find a ton of inflated pricing because they know tourists will sign up anyway? And of course, you sign up for them anyway, because while you want to be mindful of the money you're spending, you also want to seize the moment and enjoy your very limited time in that place by doing what locals do, and those hard-earned dollars begin flowing like water... stop!
Of course, we've all seen the deals that are available around our own home towns, and maybe you're signed up to get the daily or weekly emails with alerts for the best or new deals. But have you ever searched in a different city? Seriously, just take a gander a few different times before you leave home. You'll get TONS of ideas for things to do, as well as great deals on those things.
For example: once celebrated my winter birthday with a quick 3-night trip to Las Vegas, and I embarked on a singular challenge: only do things that I had a Groupon for. Seriously. And guess what? WE. HAD. A. FREAKING. BLAST. Fantastic restaurants. Indulgent spa treatments. Unforgettable shows (note the birthday wishes on my signed Raiding the Rock Vault poster above - um yes, of course I told them it was my birthday). Not to mention the intoxicating feeling of getting smoking hot deals everywhere we went. In fact, I had to keep telling myself to not keep doing math in my head because as the days wore on the amount we spent vs. the retail value that other people were spending was insanely distracting. In a really good way.
This Vegas trip was a one-off though - normally, I am not jumping on the Groupon Train quite so intensely. I reserve the Groupon purchases for individual items, like snorkeling one day, and another day maybe a bike rental or a lunch restaurant deal. By doing this, I know I've already saved money before I've even left the house, because I know I would likely have done something like this anyway but at full price. It also helps to ease my mind as I visualize what our days will look like, because - while having a completely blank schedule may sound lovely - sometimes it can cause a little anxiety when you want to really make the most of your limited time.
4. Schedule a Tour
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The very best - very best - way to acclimate yourself to a new place is to sign up for a tour. Food tour, wine tour, food and wine tour (yes there's a pattern here), architecture tour, walking tour, bike tour, whatever. This accomplishes multiple things:
introduces you to some friendly and helpful local people who have some time to answer your questions and give you insight/suggestions/ideas for the rest of your trip,
introduces you to other travelers who are interested in the city you're visiting and may have suggestions/ideas/advice that you'll find helpful while there, and
visiting multiple places without having to worry about directions/traffic/etc, helps acclimate you to the area itself, gives you ideas for places to return to, and immediately makes it feel more familiar and welcoming.
There are so many options, really something for everybody. TripAdvisor has a lot of ideas and suggestions on professional tour options (and feedback from others who've taken these tours). You can, of course, also just Google ideas, but that may send you down a bit of a rabbit hole that's hard to climb back out of. My go-to search starts at Airbnb Experiences. In 2016 Airbnb launched Airbnb Trips, which they described as "travel activities crafted and led by expert locals". In 2018 this program was renamed Airbnb Experiences, and expanded to 1,000 more locations around the globe. This is a phenomenal way to see the local sights and get to know local people. In fact, this is the first place I go these days when searching a new city! Prices are very reasonable, and if you have questions about the tour ahead of time, you're always free to ask. I have had nothing but good experiences (so far).
The key here is: book this tour for your first or second day. Learning a bunch of stuff about a city or its culture is terrific, but a little sad if it's the day before you have to leave it!
5. Get the BEST packing organizers.
There are a lot of options out there, and I've tried them all! After a ton of trial and error, I've narrowed down my list to the following The 5 Best Travel Accessories for Type-A Personalities. I own them all! Using these products you can pack more into a smaller suitcase, stay more organized during the trip itself, and be more comfortable along the way. Magically... with the use of these items, every trip just got better!
Note: The links included are affiliate links, and, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. I use (and love!) all of the products listed, and I recommend them because they rock and have made my travels better. If you would like to purchase any of these items, please use my links shown here. It helps support my website in a big way. If you have any questions about any of the products, please email me.
All of this may seem like a lot of work. Trust me, once you get started, it's really not. While I may employ all of these tricks to get my ideas organized and to create a mental road map for my upcoming travels, even if you just do one or two of these things, I am sure you will find it beneficial in the planning of your trips. Just choose one, and you'll feel the benefits right away.
Happy travel planning!