After flights, I am most often asked about my itineraries, especially when trips are off the beaten path or feature unique excursions: Do I use a travel agent? What about Groupon or Expedia – do I book packages? The short answer is no, but the explanation is a bit complicated. It all starts with a flight and a map (Google Maps, in this case):
- Honestly, where I go is based solely on price. Some of my favorite places in the world are countries I never imagined I’d travel to. Norway, for instance, was not on my radar, but a flight deal popped up a few years ago and I grabbed it. I book the airline tickets first, then worry about the rest afterwards. If for whatever reason my preliminary research has me doubting my decision, I can always cancel; there’s no penalty if you do so within 24 hours of booking.
- Once my tickets are secured, the real digging begins. I find it easiest to have two tabs open simultaneously: one with a map of the country I’m traveling to and the other on TripAdvisor. Note that I specify country and not city because although I’ll only be there for a short time, it is extremely rare that I’ll stay within the city I’ve flown into (unless of course it’s Rome💙). On TripAdvisor, I’m looking for those must-see sites. On Google Maps, I’m pinning each one to see what is doable and how I’ll design my route.
- Narrowing down can be tough, but that’s where TripAdvisor comes in handy again. This time, however, my focus is on forums. What can I absolutely not miss in Ireland? I don’t need to kiss Blarney Stone with a thousand other tourists but I do need to sleep in a castle. What are some cool things to do in Scotland? I’m not trying to listen to bagpipes but I would be down with rock climbing along the Atlantic. Open forums are incredible resources; they allow us to ask real travelers questions and get honest, unbiased answers. They also provide tips and insights you may not otherwise come across. Websites like Lonely Planet have forums too, but I’ve found TA’s to be the best, especially when it comes to excursions.
- Once I figure out where I’m going, I look into the best way to get there. Nine times out of 10 I’ll end up renting a car through Expedia, but I don’t always return it to the same airport; if I’m traveling far enough away from where I begin, I’ll research quicker means of transportation to my return flight. In Norway, for example, we drove East to West across the entire country, dropped our car off in Bergen (which was our last stop), then took a short flight back to Oslo to catch our plane ride home. & yes, this was all in a weekend!
- Finally, I choose accommodations. I’m a huge fan of Booking.com and AirBnB. Booking offers incredible prices and options way beyond a typical hotel. AirBnB allows you to live like a local in someone else’s home. I save this part for last because it’s honestly the least important. Don’t get me wrong – we stay in awesome places, but their location is determined according to what we’re doing along the way, not the other way around. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson is famously said to have proclaimed, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”