7 Ways to Research a Trip - Before You Leave Home
You’ve already decided where to go, when to go, and where to stay on your next holiday, but what are you going to do when you get there? Even those who prefer to remain “unscheduled” like to have a few things in mind. While I also like to try to be spontaneous once I am there (and anyone with kids knows that the gift of flexibility keeps everyone sane), I do like to read up on a destination before I go. Not only does the researching help me to prioritize potential activities, it helps me feel a little more connected to a destination, too.
We are currently going through this process for our spring break trip to Portugal. We will spend 10 days exploring Cascais, Sintra, Porto and Lisbon with friends—a total of 4 adults and 6 kids. With so many locations to explore, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can easily chart out your next holiday—whether you want to schedule down to the last minute or simply make a short list of must dos (and must eats in our case!). I’ve collected a list of the 7 best places to start planning for your holiday, all from the comfort of your own home! Here’s how I do it:
1. Watch TV shows
Thanks to modern way we now use our TVs, it is easier than ever to search for TV shows about your upcoming destinations on your local cable provider or on Netflix. We used this technique for making ourselves familiar with the region we traveled to last year when we visited Italy and we decided to do the same for our upcoming trip to Portugal. Thanks to my father-in-law’s suggestion we’ve now watched a show that featured Lisbon’s market, Mercado da Ribeira, which was has now moved to the top of my must-visit list!
Google is usually many people’s first port of call when it comes to holiday research and it needs no introduction. I use terms like “Cascais with kids” or “Portugal with family” to get specific information on family-friendly options at our destination. As I scroll down I usually skip big websites and look for blogs for their more personalised family focus. Google is awesome for finding specific suggestions so when I was looking for Portuguese chicken suggestions in Cascais I googled “the best chicken in Cascais” and came up with a couple of suggestions. Note down the suggestions you find but also the blogposts you stumble across, too, as they can be helpful later.
3. Other hotels
A hotel’s website is usually a good starting point for finding information on what to see in the area you’re staying in. Even if you aren’t actually staying at that specific hotel, the information provided on the website for prospective guests is a good spring board into a destination. While the offerings may only include things bookable at the hotel, take inspiration and find your own tour guide/company offering something similar. For our upcoming trip I popped on to the website of the Cascais location of the Martinhal and I noted some ideas off a PDF of tours they provide. Many hotels also have contacts to the concierge desk—and if you’re staying there, request a list of restaurants and activities that they would provide to their guests. This way you can get a head start on the fun.
4. Ask FB groups
The many Facebook groups dedicated specifically to discussing travel plans are a great source of information. The key to getting the most out of these groups is to ask very specific questions. This way you are more likely to get helpful replies which are more helpful. So instead of asking for “tips for a family trip to Portugal” say, “We’ve got our accommodation booked for 10 days in Cascais/Sintra, Porto and Lisbon and are looking for suggestions on what to see and eat that your kids loved.” This will already narrow down the replies you receive. I am (of course!) a member of Swiss Family Travel where we chat about travel based in and around Switzerland, but I also belong to the German speaking group, Mamalicious Family Travel.
5. Ask friends
Asking friends is another obvious choice so don’t skip it. My friend Kate from Mom in Zurich was able to give me some wonderful suggestions for our upcoming trip over coffee last month and next week my friend Miriam, who has spent time in Cascais, and I will chat about Portugal while our kids play. Don’t forget to put out a call to your friends on social media as well. It’s a great excuse to get together for a coffee and a catch up!
6. Social Media
Thanks to everyone sharing everything about their holidays these days, social media is a great way to get a feeling for a holiday before you go. Use the hashtag search function on Instagram to find family specific suggestions. The hashtag #portugalwithkids is my first port of call for this trip. If you are uncertain if something is up your ally, you can also search You Tube for a sneak peek. On instagram specifically I use the save button (located under the photo to the right) to save ideas I want to come back to.
Good old books cannot be forgotten when traveling. Head to your local library for books on your destination or purchase a travel guide. We have borrowed a book specifically on Lisbon from my sister in law and also have a Lonely Planet guide to Portugal, which although is not specific for kids is still a great starting point.
But don’t just look for traditional travel guides. I also find books for the kids to read ahead of time, especially if there is a lot of walking around old cities on the itinerary. It makes them feel a little more connected to the place we are going to, where they will often shout out, “hey, I saw that in that book we read!”
Organising those thoughts.
Now that you’re brimming with ideas, what do you do with all of that information? I employ a two-pronged approach:
1. Take notes
While I am researching I keep a word document open on my laptop so I can add all the information I find. I keep it organised under location and then divide the information under the following headings:
What to see,
Where to eat,
If I find something when I am not at my laptop I will just email myself and add it to the list later.
2. Mark it on a personalised Google map
This is the fun part! After all the hard work has been done, I then mark each location on my Google map. I add every suggestion, even if I am not sure that we are going to use it. If I’m unsure if I’ll have reliable internet access I download this part of the map to my phone before we head out, so I can easily check for a restaurant suggestion or activity in the area.
AND DON’T FORGET
Asking for recommendations in person when you actually get there is a nice way to validate your research. I have gotten some of my best suggestions (of where to eat, in particular) by interacting with the locals. I’ve been the beneficiary of a list of the best 5 restaurants in Port Grimaud from the lady who sold me a pair of sandals, and we’ve found the best pizza we’ve ever had thanks to the suggestion of a local fish restauranteur near Venice. Don’t be afraid to ask!