Top 6 resources to use to plan your next vacation - no matter where your travels take you

My family is in major vacation-planning mode. It will be spring break for us soon. So, while my sons get ready to neglect their books for a while, my husband and I are feverishly studying up on how to make the most out of our vacation.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We aren’t ardent trip planners. We don’t chart every single moment of every single day. But, when we travel with our sons, we like to have a general game plan before we land in our chosen destination.  If we’re heading to a country with different customs, different foods, different norms, and a different language, we want to take the time to get smart about it all – and share our wisdom with our sons, too.

It may sound a bit daunting, but it’s really not at all. At least not when you know which travel resources to find, open and peruse first.  Once you develop your own go-to list of favorite resources, it will get easier every time!

Here are the top 6 resources I consult first when planning a vacation:

1. Twitter. From the moment we finalize our plans to a given destination, I start trolling Twitter, looking for helpful “tweets” with links to stories on what to do, what to see, and where to go in our chosen destination.

To kick things off, I usually search for specific people or media outlets to follow. For example, I might look to see if there is a Time Out Twitter handle for that specific city. I also like to follow the local tourism board or consulate, too.

Other ways I find good information on Twitter is to search for tips on family travel in the city – like “Paris family travel.” You can search users or hashtags.

I know Twitter can be overwhelming. So, here’s another helpful tip for you to consider. If you see a few stories that you want to check out, but just can’t do it at that point in time, click “favorite.” That will put the tweet into your “favorites.” You can then go back at any time to read the article, and then, “unfavorite” the tweet to clear it from the list.

Don’t worry. No one will take it personally that you “unfavorited” a tweet. At least I wouldn’t!

2. Blogs – Similar to my approach with Twitter, I always try to seek out family and/or travel-minded bloggers in the cities I’m going to visit with my family. Often, I find them by doing general web searches for “London mom blogger” or “London family travel.” Sometimes the bloggers are based in that specific city. Or they've just spent time there and want to share their best tips with you.

Once I find a few bloggers that fit the bill, I’ll peruse their sites, review past articles, and even reach out to them via the comments section on their posts or via email or a Facebook. As a blogger myself, I can say that I don’t mind this approach at all! In fact, I love it. It allows me to provide like-minded families and travelers with helpful information on my home turf. Plus, it lets me meet people from all over the world, too.

3. Travel TV Shows or  Videos – I feel like I “grew up” traveling with travel guidebook author and guru, Rick Steves. When my husband and I set out on our first travels to Europe, we did it with Rick Steves. Well, at least his guidebook.

I got to see Rick Steves speak live at the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show

I got to see Rick Steves speak live at the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show

Now that we’re more experienced travelers, we don’t need Rick Steves to “hold our hands” quite so much. But, we still appreciate and value his Europe-centric tips and suggestions.

These days, we often will search online to see if we can find a TV show or web series to watch to give us a look at our destination.

Before my husband and I went to Berlin, we watched videos from Rick Steves and also Samantha Brown, a travel guru who has one of the best jobs in the world – at least according to me and Oprah! The videos helped jog my memory of the same city I visited more than nine years ago.

I also was recently introduced to Travelocity's Let's Roam by Courtney Scott. Courtney recently spoke at the Women in Travel Summit. Her site is now on my list of go-to resources as well.

4. Fellow Travelers – There’s no one like another traveler to help give you good, helpful travel advice. Thanks to social media, there are an abundance of options to connect with other travelers.

To start, you can always post a message to your Facebook, Twitter or Google+ contacts to see who’s been to your chosen destination and has some recommendations to share with you. People love to talk about travel, so I’m sure you’ll find people who are more than happy to provide you with their personal tips and tales. Even if they haven’t been to a certain location, they may know someone who has and will be more than happy to connect you with him or her.

Another option is to look at local Meetup groups that are focused on travel. They may offer ways for you to connect with fellow travelers in your hometown who can help shed light on travel to other locations. In Chicago, I just signed up for the Go Girls of Chicago group to connect with even more travelers in Chicago.

But, all “meet ups” don’t have to happen IRL. You also can look seek out fellow travelers in Google+ communities. Just try searching for something like "Paris travelers" or "European travelers,"  and then post a question looking for insights on your chosen location.

Travelers like to talk about travel. So don’t be shy about reaching out and asking for advice before you head out on your next trip.

5. Apps – Before I head out of town, I always search for helpful travel apps that will enable me to more easily navigate a city. It’s always best to search for them ahead of time so you can download them via a Wi-Fi connection (without using up your smartphone or tablet battery either).

My go-to apps for Chicago

My go-to apps for Chicago - with a few language ones always at the ready

Typically, I search for apps that will help me find my way through a city’s public transportation system. I like to always have information on the transit lines, closest stations, and current schedules with me at all times.

I also like to download mini guides to events and entertainment happening in that city – like Time Out.

A few quick web or app store searches will lead to lots of good and usually free options for you to download and use as your guide as needed.

A related suggestion is to make sure you know how to find and use your “maps” app on your smartphone. There have been many times when my husband and I have found our way through winding European streets thanks to Google Maps on our smartphones.

6. Books – Last, but not least, are books. Yes, in the digital age, I still rely on travel guides to help me plan for an upcoming trip. But, these days, I hardly ever reach for the big, thick travel guides. Instead, I opt for the small, more pocket-sized books designed to give you all the ins and outs of a specific city.

photo 1For me, smaller is better. I want a book that sticks to the highlights and is small and light enough for me to pack in my urban tourist bag – without weighing me down. One of my new favorite travel guides are the Lonely Planet pocket guides. My husband and I didn’t go anywhere without our Pocket Berlin book – as evidenced by its badly dogged pages. And, we’ve got another one all set for our upcoming trip.

If you’re traveling with kids, I have two great city-specific options for you: City Walks with Kids (50 Adventures by Foot) by Chronicle Books and Fodor’s mini books of great things to do with kids in a specific city. My family used both for our recent trips to Paris and London – and they were great.photo 2

With City Walks with Kids, you can easily pick out a few cards for the sites you’ll be visiting that day, and then easily get to see all of the places, stores and restaurants you should stop by on your walk throughout that particular are of the city.

With Around London with Kids, we could easily flip to any site and find out all of the crucial information – hours, cost, ages, highlights, and nearby places to eat. The only thing it’s missing is a list of the closest family-friendly bathrooms. But, I guess you can’t have everything…

I recommend using all three of the guides together – they’re the perfect complement to each other. It will help ensure you have all of the information you need at all times. And, will be great for the whole family to read during any plane, train, bus or car travel time.

How do you plan for your upcoming vacations? Are there other resources you typically consult as part of your travel-planning efforts? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Happy planning and happy travels!

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Filed under: Travel

Tags: Travel, Travel Planning, Vacation

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