Effective Ways To Research A Solo Trip – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

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!

-Alex

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Destinations For First Timers – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

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 Andy M. he asks,

Q. “What are good destinations for first timers?

A. – I’ll answer this question from a North American perspective. However, given the international nature of my readership – please custom tailor this advice to your own native language, and cities/countries that may be a good fit for you personally.

When taking your first international trip there are a few key factors to keep in mind that will take what can be a relatively terrifying experience, and make it more manageable.

1. Language Barrier – If you are an American going abroad for the first time, consider countries that are native English speakers as launching points for your trip.  Even if you are semi-fluent in French or Spanish, cities like Madrid may not be ideal for your first time out of the country.  Instead, I suggest countries like England and Ireland which will be exotic, different, but also far easier to navigate.  While the language barrier really isn’t something to worry about, your first major trip can be stressful and most of your experiences will be new and novel. This includes everything from ordering a sandwich to navigating the metro and asking for directions when you get lost.

2. Public Transportation – A great first time city is a city with fantastic public transportation. If you can avoid it, don’t plan on renting a car right away.  Focus instead on countries and cities that have well established public transportation systems that are reliable, easy to navigate, and which are simple to figure out and use.  London is a prime example of a city that has an extensive public transportation system that is ideal for most first-time travelers.

3. Passion – Ask yourself what history and culture is most interesting to you.  Most people have a certain period of history, or cultural region they are more interested in than others.  While there can be a lot of pressure to visit certain places right off the bat, I always suggest launching your travel career in the region or area you are most curious and passionate about.  While this may conflict with tip #1, it is important to go where you want even if that means an American might take their first trip to somewhere like Tokyo, where you’ll find English to be fairly common but not spoken as the native language.

4. Use a Program – If you are looking at your first trip abroad and uncomfortable doing it yourself, consider using existing tour programs. For younger people there are a wealth of fantastic options which range from semester, or summer abroad programs to Contiki, Intrepid and GAdventures style organized trips. While these are not destinations per-say, they are beneficial tools for exploring areas fresh out the door which might otherwise be too intimidating or challenging to tackle on your own.

5. Security – I suggest starting in a safe city.  While your safety and general experience will vary largely based on your own behavior in a given city, it’s usually advisable for first time travelers to avoid cities that have extremely high mugging, kidnapping or violent crime rates. This is another reason I tend to suggest cities like Dublin, Edinburgh and London for first time travelers.  While they have their issues, and dodgy areas all three tend to be relatively safe and well policed. Bribery also tends not to be a major issue, which helps first time travelers avoid uncomfortable situations.

So, what specific cities would I suggest? For an English Speaker from the US or Canada I would suggest launching your travel career in the British Isles.  While London and Dublin are far from my favorite cities, they will offer you a wonderful starting point for your trip. They are easy to reach, and have fantastic rail and bus systems (metro as well in London).   Trips out into the surrounding country side are easy, and for those eager to also explore places like Paris and Rome – trips as part of the second leg of your visit are easy.  Other cities in Europe that are extremely visitor friendly are Amsterdam where the language barrier will be nearly non-existent, Paris, Rome (I would avoid Naples initially) and Madrid which regularly handle massive numbers of foreign tourists, many of whom are novice travelers.  Other prime candidates include Sydney and Auckland in the Oceania region.  If looking for countries in Asia consider Seoul in South Korea and Tokyo in Japan.

Ultimately, where you start is up to you and your sense of adventure.  Remember that your personal mentality and approach to the experience will be what defines and shapes if it is positive, negative, or just a neutral experience.  Chose to chase your passion and pick your initial destination based on what your comfort level is. You know yourself better than anyone, though hopefully your first trip abroad will help you learn about and strengthen parts of who you are.

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

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