There are diverse opinions from diverse people when it comes to the question of which is better: a planned trip or an unplanned one. The thought of packing your bags, buying the tickets and just getting on the plane to an unknown destination without any certain ‘plan’ in mind sounds extremely adventurous and fun to few but not everyone may feel the same. There are several factors which may affect one’s decision of whether to plan the trip or not. In my case, I have a full-time job and within the limited free time I get, I travel. So the last thing I’d want to do is to show up in the new city without knowing anyone or anything about it. I am not suggesting that you follow a fixed itinerary or book everything in advance but I would certainly advise you to do a minimal amount of research about the place you will be visiting and have an idea of the list of things you would like to cover in your trip. How or when you would want to visit what, that you can decide while on the trip. So this article is for those who prefer doing some prior research about their destination.
We all love the filtered pictures on Instagram. I personally follow hundreds of travel bloggers and looking at their brilliant pictures makes me feel like packing my bags and jetting off. So how can you use this to research for your trip? Let’s take an example: if I am researching about Cape Town, I will search for #CapeTown as a hash tag in the pictures. When I see thousands of people posting pictures of Cape Town, I would try to contact a few of them to ask them about the city or the places that they would definitely recommend. Most people may not be very responsive but even if 5 out of the selected 10 reply with even 2 places each, you will have at least 10 things to do in Cape Town from only one social media website.
Twitter is exactly the same as Instagram when it comes to researching about the place you have in mind. Look for the hashtags and contact the person. The only thing that differs is that on Instagram, you can message the person directly but on twitter you can’t (until the person follows you). You can always reply to their tweet with your question and once acquainted, take it to private chat and get more detailed information. A true traveller would never hesitate in sharing the information about the place if they know about it. That’s something a common quality among all wanderers.
Travel Blogs are my personal favourite in this list. You can always Google ‘things to do in *insert name of destination*’ and this will give you the list of things which every tourist would need. If you want some real insider information about the places, you
should look up personal travel blogs of travellers. They explore the hidden beauties within the city and write about it. This can be a real source of information and more close to reality when it comes to the expected costs, transportation facilities and safety. I always bookmark good travel blogs and try to fetch as much as information I can from them. It is extremely likely that not all the information would be useful for you but some of it is bound to help you in your travel. Some of the blogs which I follow regularly are: Atlas and Boots, Backpacker Banter, Backpacking Time, Tripoto and Dailyo. You can find many more here.
Yes, there can’t be any better source for realistic information than the locals themselves. Couch Surfing provides you the platform to connect with the natives of a particular place through different mediums (events, message, forum discussions, groups etc) where you can get your questions answered and find more useful information. I always prefer to do all my research first and then show my plan to a local to get their point of view on the plan. They help you prioritize your itinerary and select the best options to explore within your limited time. I would suggest you to definitely try out Couch Surfing. It might be a little time taking but all you need is a little patience and the results will cheer you up.
Another great source of information is travel magazines. The content can be a little touristy (for the lay tourists who are in for a holiday) but not if you have the right travel magazine in hand. I usually prefer to read these magazines on my flight to pass the time and learn something new. Apart from the places in the magazines they also provide important information such as local tour companies contact details which you might find very helpful in regard to my next point. Some of my favourite travel magazines are Wanderlust, Lonely Planet, National Geography, etc.
Local Tour Companies:
I am not suggesting you to book the tour. I never do that and would never suggest to anyone. But this is an old trick which I use quite often and surprisingly it works perfectly. The thing is that there are so many local tour companies these days that the competition is really high and they will do anything to convince you to book your trip with them. I just exploit their desperation. What I do, for example, is that if I am planning a three-day trip to Cape Town, first, I collect all the names and places for my research from all the above mentioned mediums and put them in a document in no particular order. I then find top the 10 tour companies in Cape Town and tell them that I want to book a trip with them for three days and ask them what are the best options that they offer me (forget about the money). They quickly send me their same old fixed tourist itinerary. I get back to them saying that I have done my own research and ask them if they would like to have a look at it and somehow accommodate these in the three-day plan. The guarantee of customer satisfaction can drive them to any extent and who knows the city better than them. So they come up with an entire three-day itinerary designed to cover all the things I want to do (not what they want). I choose the best itinerary and say goodbye to the tour company and use it on my own. Although it’s my super secret, I hope that none of the tour companies I may have contacted in the past are reading this right now.
The whole process of planning a trip can be time-taking and requires some real patience. But at the end of the day, you will have the best collection of things-to-do and a properly designed itinerary in hand. Now how you do the trip is up to you since no advance booking is required for my methods and so you can be as flexible as you want-drop/add things from your plan anytime you want. Do share your thoughts on this article if you liked what you read. I would love to have more ideas on planning a trip from you guys.