This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.
This week’s travel question is from Zhu who asks,
Q. “Hey Alex, what do you think might be an EFFECTIVE way of collecting info for a solo traveller? I mean, every time when doing my homework for my next destination I feel that the information is overloaded even messy: so many resources, from lonely planet to personal tips… How to get useful useful info and save time at the same time?”
A. – Ultimately it all comes down to time, and how well prepared you want to be. I’m a pretty laid back traveler. I’ll do basic research on where I want to visit before hand, then leave most of the specifics up in the air. About 40% of my planning/research comes from word of mouth and social media (I love and rely heavily on my network). Another 20% is pulled from general blogs research and reading. The final 40% usually comes from a mixture of resource sites, news articles, photo sites, and wikis. It may seem odd but the resource I use most often is actually Wikipedia. I use it to research a city, or a region and to look at what a lot of the main attractions are. Then I use it to research each individual attraction to see if they’re something I’m interested in. There’s also WikiTravel which is similar but exclusively travel focused. I’ll spot check it for additional information, though I usually find it significantly more limited than Wikipedia. Another favorite is the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. I always review the UNESCO list when planning a trip, as these are typically great indicators of what you should make sure you see.
As you mentioned, there are also great resources like Boots n’ All and Lonely Planet which have a lot of online resources (and great discussion forums). However, I have to admit that I haven’t bought or traveled with a guide book since 2007. Which isn’t to say that I don’t reference them from time to time, but it’s usually only in passing or when someone shows me a “must see” from the guide book while in a hostel.
I spend a lot more time than most people reading about travel and the world. As a photo addict, photos of places tend to help me decide where I want to go next. For example, a few years ago I saw a photo of Preikestolen in Norway and decided it was somewhere I needed to visit. The same happened more recently with my trip to Cappadocia in Turkey after seeing a series of shots of the region’s strange rock formations and amazing underground cities. If you’re interested in selecting your next destination you can do searches for image blog posts like my 30 favorite photos post. You’ll find similar ones on a lot of blogs and even in major news papers and magazines – National Geographic and the Atlantic’s In Focus photo blogs are great starting points! If you want to do “word of mouth” research before you take to the road indie travel blogs are a great starting point. Keep in mind that the longer a travel blogger has been on the road, or blogging the more likely you’ll be able to run a basic search on their site for great info about the places you’re considering.
At the end of the day it depends on what type of experience you want. Do you want a very organized one? A food-centric one? Urban? Natural beauty? These factors will all play an important role in shaping which resources you need to look at. Personally, I prefer a middle of the road approach. I do enough research to get a feel for the big things I want to see, then I do some quick research to help me plan out generally how much flexible time I will work into my schedule while leaving the rest up in the air. Once the trip starts and I can talk to people in the country, or who have already been – I seek suggestions from them and do a lot of my research that way. I find that last minute invitations or suggestions are often the most difficult to force ourselves to say “yes” to, but are also often the most rewarding. I hope that helps!
Also, don’t forget to look at my Travel Resource List for a useful bookmark list of great travel resources!