Though preparing for a trip can be time consuming, it can save you tons of time and money once you are at the destination, and also avoid many problems. I mean, it´s easy to get excited about your next booked vacation and forget about asking yourself important questions: is there a dress code for this country? Is it easy to get around with public transportation? Which attractions should I prioritize?
Additionally, one of the worst feelings is to come back home and then find out about an amazing local restaurant you didn´t go to or a hidden sightseeing gem you didn´t know of. There are also those regrets about the stuff you did do but you wish you had known better before. Ever spent a lot of money on that attraction that turned out to be a drag? Yep, we have too.
So, after many “I wish I hadn´t spent my money on this” and “I wish I had known this before”, Mathias and I developed a routine in order to organize the best tailored trip for us. Today, we will share some with you!
. Watch “No Reservations”
Yes, there are hundreds of awesome traveling shows out there, but this happens to be our favorite. Anthony Bourdain had a way of pulling you into the screen with him to explore big and small cities alike like a local. Sometimes it´s hard to avoid the same old good touristy stuff, I know. I mean, if you go to Paris you kind of HAVE to visit the Eiffel Tower, for example. But Anthony Bourdain always found the perfect balance we dream of for every vacation.
The show has an emphasis on the regional culinary (prepare to be hungry watching it!), so most of the tips we get are about where to go in order to avoid the hordes of tourists and have tasty food with the inhabitants. Still, you can also gather useful tips about sightseeing. Anthony gave us precious tips about Hawker Centers in Singapore, the interesting Krampus folklore in Vienna, and recently, where to eat real Venetian food in Venice (believe me, that´s hard to find there indeed!).
. Research Restaurants and Attractions on Trip Advisor
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a busy city, starving, and that restaurant you wanted to try so bad is just too far away? And then you enter the first restaurant you find that seems to have a decent menu? Well, in this case, you can either get pretty lucky and indeed have a nice meal, or you will just wish you had chosen to eat somewhere else. I can´t tell you how many times we have done this and regretted, not always because the food was bad, but because we knew we could have done better for a cheaper price somewhere else.
That´s where Trip Advisor comes in handy. Before your hunger takes you to any open restaurant you see first, take a moment to research on the website what are the options around you. You can also write the name of the restaurant you are standing in front of and check its rating and comments. This way, you will definitely avoid overpriced food, small portions when you are starving, and will also get dishes´ recommendations from people that have been there previously.
The same goes for attractions like museums or landmarks. Let me tell you, if I had read about the peeing boy statue in Brussels before, I wouldn´t have wasted my time going there…This is particularly important if you have limited time in your destination and you need to prioritize attractions that are more suitable to your taste. For example, the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora was one of the things I got most excited about to see in the Czech Republic, though I´m sure that´s not for everyone.
. Find your regular go-to blogs
You will definitely research your destination online, right? As a result, you will stumble across many travel blogs/websites (I mean, many!). Some you will like more than others, be for the writing style, the valuable tips or for the content generally. Next time one article calls your attention because of any of these, take a quick search in the whole blog/website, and see if there is more that catches your eye, even if it´s not directly connected to the trip you are now organizing. If so, save the page in your browser.
This is how I have found some precious blogs that became my go-to ones every time I start planning a new trip. Though I started saving every page I liked in the beginning, in the end I only kept the ones that I have tested the tips and they have worked! The idea is not quantity but quality, in order to save you tons of time when researching a new destination.
By the way, one of my ultimate favorite travel websites is Trip Savvy!
. Download a few Navigation apps
Some apps can really save you during a trip. There are two we use constantly wherever we go, which have proved to be really effective: “Here” and “Maps.me”. “Here” is one of the best navigation apps we have used so far, always showing you different options to go from A to B, integrating different ways of transportation.
“Maps.me” works as an offline map, which is awesome if you, for any reason, don´t have wi-fi in your destination or outside your hotel. Before traveling, we download the destination country map on Maps.me and already tag all the information we researched like restaurants, bars, cafés, attractions and shops on the map.
Maps.me is rated 4.8 and Here 4.3 on Apple App Store.
Additionally, it´s always good to research which transportation apps can help you in your destination country. In Germany, for example, the Deutsche Bahn app is quite useful (the national train company), while Uber won´t take you anywhere since the service is now forbidden here.
. Search the destination hashtag on Instagram
Who doesn´t want to take nice the nicest pictures during vacation?! In this sense, Instagram is definitely the best app to help you find beautiful places for that perfect shot! You can even find some hidden gems!
It was taking a peek at #venice that we found a pretty cool tip for our most recent trip to Venice – the Libreria Acqua Alta, a beautiful rustic library with awesome stairs made out of books.
You can also take one step ahead and ask the people you find through the hashtag about local tips or what to avoid. The Instagram traveling community is definitely a helpful one!
. Pack a power bank
It would be great if we all could travel without our phones and really rest from all the craziness of the everyday life. Nevertheless, as we said a few lines above, your phone can be a big life savior during a trip. You will use it to navigate, to call a cab, to post the picture of the awesome meal you are having….so, do yourself a favor, and do not forget to pack a power bank! It can be extremely annoying to run out of battery in the middle of the day, when you still have so much to do. The power bank will allow you to use your phone for longer without having to worry so much about your phone deserting you when you need it the most.
. Take a look at your consulate website
I have realized people do not do this often. Nowadays there are so many travel blogs at our disposition that we tend to forget that consulates are the most trustworthy information providers there is when it comes to traveling.
Did you know you can access the consulate of your country in order to research information for traveling to all other countries? There you normally find precious tips not only about documents but also transportation, tourism infrastructure, safety, important laws and local culture you should know about. It´s an amazing resource, use it!
. Look for free walking tours
I never expected much from free walking tours because…well, they are free! But after trying them in different cities around the world, I can say that most of them are pretty damn good. Some took as long as 3h. At the end, you tip your guide accordingly to what you think the tour was worth.
It´s a good idea to do the free walking tour in the first day of your vacation, so you can get a general idea of the city and then go back to the places that caught your attention in the following days.
I have read threads online about this, and people normally tip somewhere between $5-$20, depending on how much they enjoyed the experience and the length of the tour. If I like it, I normally tip around $10-$15 for a long tour.