First you should know that you’re getting advice on trip planning from someone who has a verified case of FOTP. (That’s Fear of Trip Planning, and no, it’s not actually a thing, it’s just something James likes to bring up on the eve of our trips while I bluster around the place removing items from my bag.)
It’s not that I don’t like to travel, and not that I don’t care where we end up, but I haven’t historically been very terribly good at getting around to making an itinerary or researching a place before boarding the plane to get there.
But, if you’ll allow me a very dorky post, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the resources I’ve tapped into in recent years that have helped my trip planning (and taking) go a little bit more smoothly.
I’m very sure I’m not the only person who has found myself walking down a street in a new city (or, often, right here in New York), hungry, maybe a little grumbly, but not wanting to dip in just anywhere for a bite to eat or a spot to rest my feet because I’m afraid that I’ll end up eating in a ho-hum café when just a few minutes away there’s a sweet spot that’s much loved and deservedly so. (Fear of missing out at may or may not also be at play.) And while I’ll concede that part of the fun of visiting a new place is to explore it haphazardly with a heart opened wide enough for spontaneity, if you ask me, one of the happiest results of the 21st century obsession with social media is an ability to plan a trip tailored to your particular tastes. Especially when you’re on the road, it can be awfully nice to know that you’re about to sit down for a meal or enjoy a quiet cup of tea, or lay your head to rest in a spot that someone you know or admire has also loved.
Here are a few ways that I use a bit of 21st century sorcery when planning trips, in hopes they might also be helpful to some of you:
My mom wrote travel guides when I was growing up, so I feel inclined to mention that investing in an excellent travel guide by a thoughtful writer can still be a useful endeavor. Still, I’m not convinced that toting around an encyclopedia-sized Lonely Planet is the only way to go. Wildsam and Cereal both publish (slim) print guides that are very lovely indeed (and make very sweet gifts). Long live books,etc.
In the digital realm, I’ve relied on city guides on sites like Design Sponge and Remodelista for years. And yes, they’ve been around long enough that I actually remember my sister printing Design Sponge recommendations before either of us had smart phones. Before I head to a new city, I’ll still often poke around on those sites first and see if there’s anything that I might want to visit myself.
Maybe best of all, I love doing a little bit of social media sleuthing to find gems to visit. While I find that general geo tags are usually too chaotic to wade through, I have had luck following Instagram accounts from folks I admire to get a sense of their favorite spots in a city I might be headed toward. Before we went to Seattle, for instance, I looked through Aran Goyoaga’s beautiful feed and through her, I found Jordan Carlson’s gorgeous Seattle-centric account. Both feeds gave us lots of inspiration for our trip (the lighthouse we visited above I first spotted on Aran’s feed) and we even ended up renting Jordan’s home through Airbnb! Put another way: It pays to snoop around a bit.
Beyond finding local experts, it’s nice to put out a direct call for tips. It’s not lost on me that as a writer in an online space, I have access to a lot of recommendations from readers, but the best part is that those recommendations are available to everyone else, too. Open up the comments section on travel posts and you’ll likely find a whole slew of local folks chiming in to give tips on their local favorites. More succinctly: Rely on folks with larger followings to do the work for you. When you notice that someone else has crowd-sourced a travel question or documented a trip they’ve taken, make a note and return to their posts later for more tips.
Because a lot of the places that I’m intrigued by are in locations I have no immediate plans to visit, it’s nice to have a system for stashing away finds for later. My favorite tool lately is on Instagram. A few months ago, they launched a Pinterest-like bookmarking feature that lets users save posts to named collections. I’ve made four collections so far (Places to Eat, Places to Stay, Places to See, and Spaces to Admire) and whenever I stumble upon a post that features a spot I’d love to consider visiting myself, I save it to the collection to revisit later. 90% of my saves are purely aspirational, but it’s so nice to know that they’re there if ever I find myself, say, planning a trip to Mexico City. (Screenshots above for the uninitiated.)
Here’s where I get really dorky. Once I’ve gotten together a list of places that I’m eager to check out, and before we head off on a trip, James and I like to make a dedicated Google Map, full of the places we’re hoping to check out. We tag all the spots that we’re eager to see and then refer to the map as we bop around a place. It makes actually finding the spot a breeze, of course, but it’s also super useful for getting our bearings in a new place more generally.
What about you guys? Favorite techniques for trip planning? Fellow FOTP sufferers out there? All ears and then some.