on navigating and exploring new places

Who holds the map when you are in an unfamiliar place? Do you brilliantly accept all responsibility for delivering your family/friends to their final destination or does everyone dive-tackle you for the map at the merest suggestion of a route??

I hold the map. Always. Or, if someone else insists on holding the map it takes all my energy to not look stressed. Because I like to know that we are going the right way. Getting lost is only fun if you are doing it on purpose 🙂

I am also the queen of research, so when we plan a trip somewhere, whether it’s a two week long holiday on the other side of the world or a weekend in a neighbouring city, I like to be well prepared. I find it helpful to have at least a couple of key things to do each day, with enough space to be flexible if the weather changes or you find something else more fun to do when you get there.

I thought it would be fun to tell you some of the ways I do my research:

  • Travel websites. Like Lonely Planet and Frommers. I used Frommers a lot when we went for our weekend trip to San Francisco and I especially liked that they have suggested itineraries mapped out for you. So if you’re in a hurry, this is a great place to start!
  • Blogs. I read a lot of blogs, and a lot of the ones I read will occasionally or regularly write about their home town or city. If it’s a place I am planning or hoping to visit, I gather their recommendations is a word document for future reference. So for recent examples, Elise who writes Enjoy it lives in San Diego, and Sharon at NYC Taught Me lives in, obviously, New York. And don’t forget to check the comments of the post where they give their tips, as other locals usually chime in with their own!
  • Recommendations. Friends and family are a great resource! Sometimes you don’t even know that a person has been to the place you’re heading to though, so here facebook (and I guess twitter too) can be great resources. I put out an “I’m going to NYC! Give me your best tips!” post on facebook and got reams of great responses from people who’d been before.
  • Google maps. This is one technique I just started using recently. You’ve probably noticed that Google maps have all those little signs marking (roughly) where restaurants, bars, attractions, shops are. This was surprisingly super useful when we were in New York. One evening we had no dinner plans but knew we’d be in the Meatpacking District after our visit to The Highline, so we opened up google, spotted nearby restaurants on the map and then googled them to find reviews (on Yelp mostly) and check the menu and prices. We could then go out with a list of two or three which looked good, and see which had walk-in space.

Doing this much advance research is not everyone’s preferred approach, but I love it. It helps me find enough places that we have an idea of what to do each day without losing space for spontaneity. When you’re actually there, that one street might look far more interesting to walk down than the one you had planned and then going with your gut instinct can open up a wealth of local treasures to explore! And finding the places that the locals love rather than just the tourist hot-spots, makes for a much more interesting trip.

I’m curious – what kind of traveler are you? Do you research everything or just jump in and start exploring?