I’m a research nerd. No, seriously, it’s actually in my job title (the word research, not nerd. At least, not officially). Although I spend my day telling others about the value of scientific studies, the actual techniques are certainly beyond my mental capabilities. But research for a trip? That, I can handle.
As I mentioned in the first piece of this series, you’ll definitely need a guidebook, preferably a few from different publishers so that you get a nice, wide perspective. But please don’t stop there! These days, the best form of research is right at your fingertips … literally, since I’m assuming you’re on a computer or smartphone to read this. The Internet has such a wealth of information on destinations that very few places are undiscovered anymore (a good and bad thing). But, because there’s so much information available, you need to exercise some critical thinking when you’re looking at sources.Tripadvisor is a great standby for most of us, and I use it to check every accommodation I’m interested in. However, I don’t fully trust any of them, especially if many of the entries are too well-written or use odd words that are more business-like than casual. Some hotels employ folks to get on these sites and write both positive reviews of their own accommodations and very negative reviews of their competitors. Very few places will have a 100 percent satisfaction rating because, let’s face it, everyone is human – we all goof up at some point. Also, people’s opinions vary greatly, so what one person might rave over, another might absolutely hate. It’s just the way things work. What you’re looking for is a consistent trend of mostly positive feedback. One of my favorite aspects of Tripadvisor is its forums, which allow you to ask questions of its online community members. This way, you get real answers from those with experience in the location you’re traveling. You’ll still get the occasional troller looking to bash competitors or make false claims about a hotel, but they’re generally easier to spot in this format. I also make use of travel guru Rick Steve’s traveler’s helpline for queries, though some respondents there tend to be a bit grumpy. A simple Google search will lead you to many other such sites – it’s up to you to choose the best fit for your style.
My suggestion is to start this process as early as possible … not only does the process yield valuable information, but it builds baseline data for your comfort level, so that by the time you actually reach your destination, you won’t be walking in unaware. Take careful notes and organize them by country and city, and then scale that down even further to break tidbits into accommodations, restaurants, attractions, events and so on. Find directions from your hotel to public transportation and various sites you’d like to visit. In the next part of this series, I’ll discuss how to condense all this information into an easy-to-use trip guide, which we affectionately call our “trip brains.”