There’s nothing like the exhilarating feeling you get when you book tickets for a holiday and the excitement really kicks in. However, visiting a place for the first time can be overwhelming – there seems to be so much to see, do and photograph that it’s hard to work out how to fit everything in and really make the most of your trip! With so much information out there, it’s hard to choose which articles to read and where to find all the information and advice you need – here I break down the ways in which I like to prepare for a trip away, and make sure that I have a solid list of recommendations to try out during my visit. Let’s go!
1. Choose a well known guidebook for the basics…
Call me old-fashioned, especially for a travel blogger, but my first stop when planning a trip to a new place is always the bookshop. While there is tonnes of information out there online, there’s something about the thrill of purchasing a shiny new guidebook, heading to your favourite local cafe and devouring all the information that the book has to offer about your chosen destination. While these guidebooks don’t always have their finger on the pulse of the hot new thing that’s happening where you’re going, they are very thorough when it comes to the basics, and can give you a good feel for which tourist attractions you want to visit and which you want to skip. They are also great for breaking down a larger destination into smaller areas, meaning that once you’ve read up on your holiday location you’ll be ready to approach your online research in a much savvier way. While I find that guidebook food recommendations can be hit and miss, by noting down places that sound interesting and then having a second look online later on I can usually gauge whether or not they deserve a spot in my itinerary. I usually plump for a Lonely Planet guide as I prefer their style of writing, but there are always a few vying for my attention from the bookshop shelves: have a browse and choose the one that really gets you excited about your upcoming travels.
2. …but pair it with an indie guide for some offbeat recommendations
As well as choosing one of the bigger brand guidebooks pre-trip, I love to find smaller, quirkier guides to the same place for a different take on a destination. Some of my favourite recommendations have come from these independent guides, with my favourite publisher being Herb Lester, whose range of beautifully designed and compact fold-out guides pack a punch when it comes to insider knowledge and under-the-radar gems. At only £4 per guide, these are not only affordable, they will really start to build your anticipation for a trip by offering top tips that you wouldn’t find in the more mainstream guidebooks. They also make great gifts if a loved one is heading off on their travels – their range is steadily growing, so I check back now and then to see if any new guides have been published! Have a scroll through their current selection here.
3. Follow some local travel and food bloggers for easily accessible trip inspiration
We’ve all been there: you book a trip, think it seems forever away and make a mental note to do some in-depth research before departure day arrives. But before you know it, you’re en route to the airport, desperately trying to google a few foodie spots before you board the plane and turn off your data for the duration of your time away. Well, there’s an easy way to avoid this one: when you book your tickets, head straight online and look for some food and travel bloggers or Instagrammers who live in the city you’re visiting. Following a few food and travel accounts takes all of 5 minutes: I just did a quick search on Barcelona travel bloggers and found Foodie in Barcelona, as well as the IG accounts myfoodiefriendbarcelona, letsbitebcn and foodiesbarcelona, all of whom post regular content featuring the best of the Barcelona food scene. Without even trying, following some accounts like these will fill your feed with foodie recommendations for your upcoming trip, and you won’t even have to lift a finger (except when double tapping, which you’ll probably be doing a lot of!). Screenshot the places that look best, and when you’re sat on the plane before take off, instead of wishing you’d done a bit more research, you’ll be wishing you had longer to try all the amazing places you’ve read up on.
4. Use Instagram’s geotag search tool to cyber-stalk your foodie destination
Instagram is such a useful tool when it comes to planning a trip. Not only can you use it to follow Instagrammers from your destination of choice, you can also use the handy geotag search tool to have a look through other travellers’ pictures at hotels, cafes, restaurants and more. This is great when a recommended spot doesn’t have a website or IG account of their own, as you can still get a feel for the place without the tools you normally use. What’s more, it’s great to get different perspectives on these places when choosing which spots to visit during your stay. When I was on the hunt for the best gelato in Rome, I used this tool to have a look at photos of a number of gelaterias that had been recommended to me, and used this to narrow down the list of places I wanted to visit! By doing so I found the best ice cream I’ve ever had at Gelateria del Teatro – the screenshot below should show you why I was tempted!
5. Check out your destination on Pinterest
Another great resource for finding under-the-radar travel tips is Pinterest. I’ve always found that by doing a quick search on my destination, I can find a number of cool articles full of recommendations for the best places to visit, things to do and, of course, food to eat! There are loads of amazing Pinterest boards focusing on travel in all its shapes and sizes – find a few you like and follow away! You can also set up some of your own boards as a way to collect your trip inspiration, or follow travel bloggers from around the world to see which locations they are raving about – you can follow my blog Pinterest board here ;)!
6. Ask your network for travel tips!
One of the reasons that guidebook recommendations sometimes fall flat is that everyone has different tastes, and a guidebook author doesn’t know anything at all about your preferences. However, your friends do! If you and your pals love the same brunch places in your hometown, ask them if they know of any cool ones where you’re going! Even if your friend has only visited a city once, if they know your taste, chances are their recommendations for you could be a lot better than a whole guidebook’s worth of recommendations by an expert. When I visited New York recently, my sister mentioned a bagel place to me that she knew I would love: nothing fancy, just great bagels and friendly service. I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look had she not recommended it to me, but it proved to be the perfect breakfast stop on a couple of occasions during my trip. Your network really is an amazing resource when it comes to travel recommendations – use it!
7. Compile your finds in one place
Once you really hit your research stride, you’ll have recommendations everywhere you look: in notes on your smartphone, scrawled on the back of your latest gas bill, in an album of iPhone screen shots and that’s without even mentioning the pages you’ve turned down in your guidebook. The only way to actually make use of the research you’ve done is to compile these in one place, so that you don’t have to search for 15 minutes before you find the scrap of paper with the address of that ice cream place you wanted to try. There are a few options for this: one is Google’s My Maps, which allows you to create your own personalised map of a place, using different symbols and colours to mark destinations for sightseeing, shopping, and eating. These are great as you can also give multiple people access to your map, so if you’re travelling with a friend who lives in a different town or city, you can still have joint planning sessions and map out all the places you want to visit. In order to use My Maps on the move, you just need to download the app, which is currently £2.99 on the App Store. While you can use the app offline, making it useful if you’re heading abroad and won’t have your normal data allowance, it’s a quick way to drain your battery, and it can be nice to put your phone down while on holiday and really disconnect from your usual smartphone-dependent existence!
A great alternative to My Maps that I always invest in if I can is Crumpled City Maps, a completely genius invention that will revolutionize your trip. These maps are waterproof and can be crumpled and squashed as your heart desires. Yep, no more 10-minute attempts to fold a map back up, with these you just stuff the map back into your bag/pocket/bike basket and continue exploring. What I like even more about these maps though is their detail. Unlike the frustrating maps that you get from hotels or guidebooks, which helpfully leave off information such as street names and leave you wandering angrily around the streets near to, but not leading to, your destination, these give you all the detail you need, with important sights marked alongside all the other information necessary for getting around. Just before I travel, I like to grab a pen and mark the foodie spots I want to visit onto the map – it makes exploring joyfully technology-free, and reverting to a physical map has, at least in my experience, led me to get lost on a much more regular basis, leading me onto my last (and most important) point…
8. Don’t overplan!
This may sound a little contradictory to the tips listed above, but I strongly believe that while planning is half of the fun of any trip, it’s important to leave some things to be discovered when you arrive at your destination. Some of my favourite foodie finds have been ones which I stumbled upon organically, when lost en route to a sight or attraction, or when hunger strikes unexpectedly, miles from my nearest recommended restaurant. In Barcelona, I’d never heard of Mama’s Cafe before, but when my girlfriend and I needed to stop for something to eat during a morning exploring the beautiful Grácia district, we headed inside and had one of the most enjoyable breakfasts of our trip. Nowadays, it’s so easy to become tempted to plan every last aspect of a visit to a new city, and I’m definitely guilty of this myself, but I try to remind myself that it’s just as fun to find new places, to throw caution to the wind and to change plans last minute. I aim for a healthy mix of pre-selected foodie spots, spontaneous finds and on the hoof recommendations by locals: I find that this way, my holidays are always fun, relaxed and full of lots of high quality food, but that I haven’t gone overboard and taken the fun out of travel for myself by over-researching ahead of time.
I hope you found this blog post useful! I’d love to know what you thought, as well as what your top tips for researching a trip are: let me know in the comments below, on Instagram or on Twitter! Happy travels!