Planning a trip, no matter its length can be an overwhelming exercise, especially if you’re going to a location that’s new to you. Part of the problem with travel research is how to start especially if you have a hundred other things to do. So how do you research a trip to make sure that you’re getting the best out of your visit?
We gathered expert long term travellers together for their advice and tips on how to plan a trip. These folks, like us, travel long term. They’re used to being in one place and planning to go to the next.
They’ve shared with us how and where to look for places to go and things to see. Their expert advice on travel research will help you streamline the time you spend planning a vacation – and let you into the mind of the long-term traveller.
We’ve rounded up the advice and added to our own go-to list of travel research tips and tricks and at the end of this article, you’ll find the Ultimate List of Travel Research Tips and Resources to help you make the most of your next trip.
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Traditional Methods of Travel Research
Using Guidebooks and Specialist Sites to Plan a Trip
Yari of the Beauty Backpacker starts with an old-fashioned approach to travel planning – the guidebook and then moves on.
Despite growing up (mostly) a digital native, I like starting my travel research the good old-fashioned way and perusing a good guidebook or two. Of course, these days that usually means ordering a few titles on Amazon rather than popping into a bookshop. But for me, there’s nothing quite like flipping through a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide and highlighting and bookmarking pages until I’ve built my perfect itinerary. Before taking off on my round-the-world trip, I relied on six different guidebooks to help me plan everything from where to go to what to pack to which travel insurance to buy.
Once I’ve designed a rough itinerary and have a topline travel to-do list, I tend to supplement my guidebook research with my favourite travel blogs. These help me with the finer details, like which hip boutique hotel and cool new restaurant I can’t miss at my destination. Sites like vogue.com and CNTraveller are fantastic too. I find that splitting my research up in this way makes it less overwhelming and I’m much less likely to waste time narrowing down exactly where to go!
Research Travel with a Guidebook, Get Inspiration from Travel Blogs
I still do often use a guidebook for planning travel to a destination, says Chris of Amateur Traveler. I tend to like the Eyewitness Guides which don’t spend as much time telling me about restaurant and hotel information but have more pictures since I am a visual learner. Paper guidebooks have some serious delays in publishing so even the best guidebook is out of date at the moment it is published. TripAdvisor is a better resource for picking hotels and TripAdvisor or Yelp are a better resource for finding a good restaurant.
That being said, I get a lot of my inspiration for where to go next from travel blogs and podcasts, yes including my own Amateur Traveler podcast which has 590+ episodes covering destinations around the globe. I will often download one of my older episodes and take notes as I listen this time for sites or activities that I think we will enjoy.
Then I might look online for more detailed information on Google. That can be the best place to find out useful things like:
- How can I get from the airport using public transportation?
- What kind of power converter will I need?
- What is the current exchange rate between the local currency and dollars?
- How can I say please and thank you in the local language?
For more trip-planning articles check out the Amateur Traveler’s Travel 101 series.
Search and Social for Travel Research
When it comes to Travel Research it’s best to Google It!
Claudia from My Adventures Across The World thinks it’s best to start with basics. Search Basics.
Believe it or not, the best travel research tip is actually that of looking on Google for information. It’s an incredible source of material, which is easily accessible (and free). All there is to do is typing the few words we need information about – it can be the name of a place, an activity, or even a specific restaurant or hotel. Then page after page come up, all with reference to the keyword we need information about. The best time-saving tip is to stay away from sites such as Trip Advisor which invariably come up among the first entries. Indeed, the information is – though good and up to date – fragmented in various contributions from different travellers and it takes a bit of digging to get everything we need. The best is to look for new and up to date blog posts among those that appear in Google searches.
Pinterest for Travel Research and Planning
Laura from Savored Journeys uses Pinterest to start her travel research.
Pinterest has a great search engine that quickly pulls up the type of information you’re searching for, and the visual layout is an appealing way to see what you’re getting before clicking. If you click on a high-quality, attractive pin on Pinterest, it’s pretty likely you’ll be rewarded with equally high-quality content that will be very useful to your planning.
You can use Pinterest for everything from initial brainstorming of interesting destinations, to finding where to stay, what to do, where to eat, where to find the most mouth-watering foods in that destination, even full itineraries that have been put together by travel professionals.
Because Pinterest is such a visual platform, you’ll be able to quickly see what the most exciting things there are to do and see in a destination, just by skimming the images. You will probably also spend less time researching because the information you’ll find is from top-notch bloggers and travellers who know what the best things are, so you don’t have to wade through a lot of irrelevant and unhelpful guides.
How to use Instagram to Research a Trip
Julia of the Freckled Tourist needs images to inspire her and so relies on Instagram to plan travel.
I’m a visual person so when I plan to travel, I need images to inspire me. Instagram is not only a great social media app, but it’s an incredible tool to help plan a trip! Once I decide on my destination, I go straight to Instagram and start following several accounts that are dedicated to that destination. To do this, you go to the search tab and just type in the name of the country or city you plan on visiting. You should have a ton of accounts to choose from, so just pick a few from the top of the list and follow them. I usually scroll through their feed right away and find photos of amazing places to visit in that country or city. From then on, every time you log in to Instagram you’ll have new photos of that destination in your home feed. If you don’t know where you want to go next, follow general travel accounts.
You’ll see photos of amazing places around the world and will hopefully be inspired to pick your next destination!
Specialist Sites & Apps for Travel Research
Using Specialist Sites to Research Travel
Scott from International Hotdish uses slightly more unusual methods when it comes to travel planning.
I used to not be much of a travel planner. When I travelled through Europe in 2010 I booked my hostels the day before. Sometimes it got stressful but overall it wasn’t bad. Now that I’m married, I am much more a travel planner. If you want to take a look at our process, you can head over to our website to see how we get it done.
For now, though, we’re going to share with you some tips on how we find activities to do during our adventures.
- AtlasObscura.com – This website is kind of like TripAdvisor but for weird and wacky sights and experiences. The site is modern and easy to use. You just enter the city and you’ll be shown a list of user-generated oddities (shrunken heads, sewers, battle armour, etc.) from your chosen city. We’ll often use this in conjunction with TripAdvisor to find sights in the same area. The beauty of AtlasObscura is the recommended sights are rarely overrun with tourists.
- Withlocals.com – Airbnb has an “experiences” feature with their services, but we often like to compare and use Withlocals in order to find truly unique experiences, guided by locals of the area you’re visiting. We’ve booked food tours, daily Buddhists alms collection, and meals in locals’ homes. If you’re the type of person who enjoys living life as a local when you visit a place, Withlocals is a great tool for finding those experiences.
- Reddit – Known as the front page of the Internet, Reddit often has subreddits (think of them as topic-specific pages) dedicated to the cities, states, provinces, and countries you want to visit. Say if we want to visit Moscow, we’ll head over to r/Moscow check out links like “Are the locations mentioned really worth visiting?” and see what they have to say. Many, many of these subreddits will have some posts related to tourism, and one of the major benefits of Reddit is often times locals will weigh in to answer questions. Once we’ve found some suggestions on Reddit, we’ll crosscheck those recommendations on other forums and websites.
Sometimes researching on the Internet feels like a hopeless endeavour. These websites are a few of our guiding lights to cut through the nonsense and find some of the best gems a destination has to offer.
Travel Apps for Travel Planning – Sygic
Lena Dre of Salut from Paris loves the Sygic app as a travel planning tool
Planning a city escape can be a real struggle, especially if I know not much about our destination. When we travelled to San Francisco, I discovered the Sygic Travel App and it was such a relief! What I love about the app is that I could plan our entire trip at home on my PC. Just enter your location and the app will suggest hundreds of activities and sights to add to your itinerary. Once you made your choices and added everything that interests you, the app will create an efficient map with directions. If you are staying several days, you can shuffle the activities around until it fits.
The best, however, is that you can access this map from your mobile device – offline! The GPS navigation will always indicate where you are and it’s basically impossible to get lost unless you want to. With this App, we didn’t need anything else during our vacation in San Francisco. Even when we wandered around, we always would know how to get back on track or could just skip one sight and head to another if our plans changed.
Using Couchsurfing for Trip Planning
Craig from No Real Plan says that there are many ways to research for travelling but one of the best I have found while backpacking around Asia and the Middle East is using the service Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com). Most people I know use it for free accommodation, and I have too, as I find staying with a local is a great way to experience a new place, and saving money on accommodation is obviously a massive bonus too.
However, I have also found that the great thing about the service is that it is just full of people that really will go out their way to help you. They are on the website to make sure you have an amazing time in their country! Numerous times on my trip, I would send out a few messages to locals on Couchsurfing to see what bars, restaurants, beaches and other attractions they recommend. I would then get very detailed answers back, even including what local bus route to travel on and where to get it from.
Having information, often from people that have lived their whole lives in a country, is something you can’t honestly put a price on. It’s like having access to the most thorough, up to date travel guide. The best parts? That it is free and sometimes it very much takes you off the beaten path and means you get an experience like no other traveller does.
Crowdsourcing & Finding Experts in Travel Research
Plan Travel with Facebook Groups
Owen from My Turn to Travel swears by Facebook Groups when planning a trip.
Guidebooks travel blogs, tourist information boards are good ways to help you plan a trip. But these resources could be out-of-date, sponsored, or don’t answer your questions. Here’s a suggestion: Facebook groups that specifically target the region you’re headed to.
For the past one year, I have been travelling South America and the most valuable resource I had was the ‘Backpacking South America’ Facebook group. This group currently has 24 000 members and everyday members ask questions about places to go, hostel recommendations, tour agencies, the frequency of buses, prices of tours etc. Post a question and you get a reply almost instantly.
A couple of months ago, there was a strike in the south of Colombia that resulted in the border with Ecuador being closed. Every day members post updates on the current situation and simply by reading, I was able to time my border crossing right without any problems.
A Facebook group is probably the best way to plan your trip, keep up to date and get answers to your specific questions in the shortest time possible.
Use TripAdvisor Forums to Plan a Trip
Kaylie Lewell of Happiness Travels Here suggests using TripAdvisor Forums to research and plan a trip.
Most travellers would have at least heard about Trip Advisor or have taken advantage of the review section when researching where to eat or where to sleep. But dig a little deeper into the Tripadvisor travel forums and you will find a goldmine of extra information, that you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Anyone can ask and answer questions in the forum and there are many “destination experts” just waiting to help out soon to be visitors.
Wait, before you go posting all your burning questions, look to the right side of the screen where you’ll see a bunch of frequently asked question already answered. Once you’ve browsed through those use the search bar to see if your query has already been asked and answered. A tip when using the search is to filter the result by ‘date’ rather than the default ‘relevance’. This will ensure you get the most up to date information.
When you are ready to ask a question, follow a few simple rules.
- Post it in the right place, a question about Berlin should be posted in the ‘Berlin’ Forum, not ‘Europe’.
- Give your post a relevant and specific title “Vegan food tour options” rather than “advice wanted.”
- Be polite, please and thank you go a long way
- Give some relevant details and background, the answer to your question might change a lot depending on your interest, budget, physical limitations and the time of year.
- Don’t leave them hanging, respondents want to know they aren’t talking into thin air, give them thanks and let them know the conclusion.
Use Specialist Travel Bloggers When Planning Travel
James of Worldwide Shopping Guide says that travel blogs are a big source of information for me when I’m researching a destination. We all read travel blogs, of course. Even if you don’t actively follow any travel bloggers, there’s a good chance that you’ll stumble across one or two while researching a destination.
While most travel blogs are a good source of information, some are better than others. I especially look out for bloggers who write a lot about one destination or part of the world. Migrationology is one blog I always read when I’m searching for information about SE Asia, for example. The writer, Mark Wiens, lives in Bangkok and his wife is from Thailand. When it comes to information about Thailand, especially Thai food, few people are as informative as Wiens.
This isn’t to say that other, broader, travel blogs don’t offer valuable information. They do. Often that information is more top-level, though. Country-specific blogs, or bloggers who really know a destination, are just more likely to provide recommendations that are not readily available elsewhere on the web.
Prioritizing & Making a List When Researching a Trip
Using the Top Ten to Plan Travel
Millennial Runaway’s Charlotte is an advocate for finding the Top Ten for the destination that you’re heading to.
Finding the ‘top ten’ for your destination is a good place to start when planning your travel itinerary to ensure that you at least catch the main attractions.
TripAdvisor and most guidebooks feature a top ten section and they’re worth paying attention to. While these top attractions will more than likely be touristy, usually it’s for a good reason!
You can start by highlighting the key attractions, and then work outwards from there, finding nearby attractions and sights that you can easily pull together into a day’s itinerary. Be sure to note down the opening times, the estimated time at the attraction, price and if there is the option to pre-book tickets. Be sure to pay attention to the days they’re closed.
But the Top Ten goes further than attractions, you can whittle this down to the top ten for almost anything such as top ten-day trips, top ten restaurants and top ten hotels.
Best Travel Research Tips -How to Prioritize Sights to See
Constance of The Adventures of Panda Bear hits the nail on the head (for me anyway) when she suggests how you can prioritize the sights to see. There are simply too many!!
The worst problem we have when travelling is always having too many places to go, we want to see everything! But with limited time, what can we do?
Usually, while we’re doing research on a destination, we’ll create a prioritized list with all of the places of interest and compile general information for each spot, such as opening hours, address, and estimated duration. This information can be easily gathered from Google, TripAdvisor, or Yelp.
Next, we’ll plan each day’s itinerary based on the sights’ respective locations. For example, we try to keep it simple by going to one area of a city per day. This strategy maximizes the amount of time we have for sightseeing while it minimizing required travel time between each location. At this point, we’ll also select several restaurant possibilities nearby; as much as we love seeing everything, we gotta eat too!
Finally, if there are some places that are further and more out of the way, we’ll consider travel time and see if we can swap replace it in favour of less prioritized sights in order to see the places we REALLY want. For more tips, check out our step-by-step guide to planning a trip.
Budgeting Travel. Researching Costs & Comparison Shopping
How to Set a Daily Travel Budget – a key element of Travel Planning
Erica of Mum Travel Diaries recently spent six months traveling throughout Southeast Asia and New Zealand with her husband and two young children. Setting a daily budget was an important part of the planning process – to be sure that we had enough money to do the things that we wanted, whilst ensuring that we wouldn’t be caught short halfway through our trip. We set a budget of £75 per day across the six months of travel, to cover all regional flights, transport, accommodation, food, activities, and miscellaneous expenses.
My top tips for setting a budget? Determine how much money you will have available while traveling – this could include income from employment, savings or income from renting out your home. Consider bills that would need to be taken care of while you are away, such as phone contracts and utilities. Identify significant one-off costs – long-haul flights and long-term travel insurance were two big expenses for us. These figures can be captured in a spreadsheet to find out how much money you have available during your time away. It’s really helpful to carry out a sense check of costs for the places you are traveling to.
There are plenty of online resources to check the costs of food, accommodation, activities, and transport. And remember, keep on top of your budget as you travel. Set aside a few minutes a day to record expenses to make sure you stay on track.
How Reviewing Others Budgets Can Help Travel Research & Planning
Dani of The Thought Card raises an important point about Travel Planning – the budget.
Ever plan a trip but had no idea how much to budget? One of the ways to create an accurate travel budget is to use a budget/spending breakdown from other travellers who publish their trip costs online. This takes the guesswork out of budgeting and helps you financially prepare for a trip.
I do this by simply googling “[Destination] Trip Budget” or “[Destination] Travel Costs” before every trip. There are many bloggers out there like myself who publish their spending breakdowns with accurate costs.
As a rule of thumb, the more detailed the spending categories, the better. Nevertheless, add 20-25% to give yourself some wiggle room.
On my blog The Thought Card, I publish budget breakdowns for nearly every trip including an Iceland Budget Breakdown, a Mexico City Budget Breakdown and so much more. In these spending guides, I detail every cost as well as how much I spent on the entire trip.
I even go a little further by sharing prices I saw at grocery stores, restaurants, bars or generally from walking around the city.
Check out The Thought Card on Twitter.
Comparison Shopping to Plan Travel
Kirstin of the Tinberry Travels is an advocate for taking a look at hotel and comparison sites as a useful way to research travel plans.
Everyone’s travel plans are different but one thing that unites us all is making our money go as far as possible. One of the best tips is to shopping around. Utilising third-party comparison sites for hotels is always worth it to see where you can save as prices can be drastically different and often booking directly isn’t the best option. Another useful search is for discount or promotional codes. Stick in your hotel, your tour or your planned attraction with these phrases and you’ll be amazed how many websites have collated this information for you.
It might not always reveal an amazing discount but we’ve had plenty of success; from saving 15% off airport parking to 20% off multi-day tours, just with a quick search. We often use voucher websites at home but these are big business in many countries and can be a bargain for restaurants, accommodation and activities! If you have an eye on a particular attraction it’s also worth checking out their schedules to see if there are discount days. Free days at museums or 2-for-1 event at parks and gardens have helped us save hundreds over the years. Quick online searches can save big bucks in the long run!
Out of Left Field Travel Research
Look for Retirement Spots When Planning Travel
Crystal of the Gnomad Family approaches travel planning a little differently. Here’s the background as to why my family (me, my husband and two kids who were 4 and 1.5 when we started our extended travels) took about 1.5 years and travelled across the USA and to parts of Central America. My husband works remotely so the location we decide must have reliable internet, but we all know there is so much more to finding a good place to call home for a few months.
When we were looking for places to take our family for months at a time we had a list of important ‘must haves’ for our destinations. We quickly realized that our list for a small family was very similar to that of someone looking to retire. We wanted good healthcare (cheap, easily accessible, and trustworthy), a safe area, economical (food and housing), and transportation (whether it be a bus, taxi, easily walkable town or rental cars available). So we started searching for best places to retire (add a location – Central America or USA etc.) and it really narrowed down our search and made it much less overwhelming!
Our kids were not school age at the time so the education was not as important, but I am sure if you narrow your list of places to retire that appeal to you then do a search on the schools in the areas of interest. This is a great tactic to really narrow in on a few good locations quickly!!
Follow the Gnomad Family on Facebook.
Remember To Protect Yourself
When traveling, it’s essential to take precautions to stay safe. The most important thing is to avoid being alone at all times, as even a seemingly innocuous stranger could be a potential threat. Always be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for suspicious characters or objects.
If you have a mobile phone, make sure you can always contact someone and let them know where you are and when you expect to return. Be careful about what you post on social media sites as well. Even innocent comments can end up being perceived in a way that makes you the target of harassment, both online and off.
It’s also best not to carry large amounts of cash when traveling in unfamiliar areas as this could attract unwanted attention from thieves or other criminals. Finally, try to stick to public transportation where possible, as this will help reduce the chances of an attack occurring.
Besides all this, protect yourself legally too. Just like you would if you’re in an accident, you’d hire an experienced car accident lawyer, you’ll need the same travel protections. Make sure you have the best insurance. And have contact numbers for embassies and emergency services on speed dial. This way, you’ll be ready for anything.
Ultimate List of Travel Research Tips And Resources
Here at ASocialNomad we’re also used to planning while we’re travelling. We’ve combined the advice of our travel experts with our own personal list of research locations to create a go-to list of resources to plan a trip.
- The Tourism Office of the country/city/area that you’re travelling to. These folks are PAID to understand the best places to see in their home. Check out their website and their offices in person too.
- A great guidebook. We tend to use the ‘Lonely Planet Guidebooks
- TripAdvisor – Love them or loathe them, they’re still a great place to find a list of attractions and places that you should see.
- Fictional books about the location we’re going to. We scour our online library resource (and then Amazon) to find fiction about the spot we’re going to. There’s nothing quite like reading a novel about the place you’re actually in. Think The God of Small Things in Kerala, India, or The Glass Palace in Myanmar.
- Non-fiction, true-life books about your location. Reading the Narrow Road to the Deep North while in Kanchanaburi made me shiver.
- A recipe book for the location. That’s right. Find out what you should eat. You can’t visit a place properly in our opinion if you don’t eat the food. We always look up and create a list of food to eat and the best places to eat it!. Our Guide to the Food of Laos is an example of what we do.
- Find details of local drinks, beer or wine. In the same way that eating the food of a country is important, you’ll also need something to wash it down with. You can find great winery tours, brewery tours or just discover something different, like the soursop smoothie we found in Sri Lanka.
- Find an expert writer who’s written extensively about an area – this could be a book they’ve written, or it could be a blog that they maintain.
- Facebook Groups – there are very few places that haven’t been travelled to. And for those that are travelled to, there’s a Facebook Group. Find it and ask a question.
- Ask your host. Whether you’re Couchsurfing, staying in a hostel, homestay, B&B or hotel. Your host lives in this area. Take advantage of it. They’ll know how to get to places, when they open, and what you should avoid. Check out Withlocals.com to get the local flavour.
- Go Social. Get inspiration from Instagram, check out friends old and new on Facebook, plan your trip on Pinterest or ask a question on Twitter. Social works 247 and you can almost guarantee you’ll get an answer to your questions quickly.
- Use a Specialist App. We use and have been introduced to a host of specialist apps that make travel planning easier. Here’s just 3 on my phone right now
- Use Reviews and Blogs to prioritize your time. When you only have a defined amount of time in a certain location you want to be sure you hit the top places, but allow the right amount of time. Check out reviews and local blogs for how long it takes to visit Hellfire Pass and the museum there for instance.
- Check out Local Transport. If you can’t get to a place without taking a taxi and you don’t have the budget for it, then you’ll need to replan. Check out bus and train times with the local provider so that you don’t miss the last bus home. Our guide to getting between Sofia and Bansko is the most comprehensive of this route, covering ALL options.
- Make a List. And prioritize it. Make a list of things to see. Combine them so that you’re maximising your time. Don’t walk or travel across a city, group together what you’re seeing. When you inevitably spend longer in one place something has to go, so plan ahead of time what you’ll drop if this happens.
- Figure out the Costs. Check out what other folks have paid and what the costs are. We visited the gorgeous Bagan in Myanmar but knew that we didn’t have the money for a balloon ride, so we rented electric bikes instead. Compromise is part of travel.
- Manage Your Budget by Comparing Costs. Always take 5 minutes to make sure that you’re getting the best deal. We use hotel booking sites like Booking.com to check our accommodation is at the best rate.
- Go Off the Wall. If you want to explore somewhere different be sure to check out Atlas Obscura, or Retirement Areas or World War II Sites or Specialist Museums. We all have different interests and requirements, why not check them out in a different place.
- Go for a Walk. You’ll find a free walking tour in many towns and cities now. These are great resources to give you an introduction to a new place. They’re run by locals who have intimate knowledge of the area so you’ll get lots of advice. Just make sure you drop them a tip when you’re done!
- Be Present. The hardest part of travel planning when you’re travelling is focusing on where you are at the moment. Don’t wish away your time because you’re always looking for the next best things or place. Enjoy where you are and set aside specific time to look for the next place.
Thanks to all our Travel Writers who have contributed to this article on the best ways to research a trip – and how you can maximize your trip planning. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments we’d love to add to the list!
More Travel Tips from ASocialNomad
- Tips for Socialising Abroad
- How Travel Has Changed
- Tips to Make World Travel More Fun
- Choosing the Right Technology for your Travel
- How to Find the Best Safari Holidays
- Tips on Travel Research
- Drinking Tap Water While Traveling
- How to Get Proof of Onward Travel
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