You’ve snagged the lowest airfare, bought train tickets, and booked the best Airbnb/Hotel that’s located right in the middle of all.the.things! You've got a list of the top sights to see and don't care if you are the gazillionth tourist to show up. At the same time, on the same day.
But what should you see first? What about pre-booking and buying tickets online before you go - good idea or not necessary? Where do you find that information?
And the pressure mounts.
As if having those questions swirling in your head aren’t enough, Instagram and Facebook are presenting amazing(ly well documented) trips in dazzling technicolor. You’re suddenly feeling like ” everyone’s trip looks so much better than what I’ve planned!” It’s as if you’re traveling later than everyone else and not one of the cool kids.
First, stop worrying about everyone else’s trip. But do look at those travel pictures on their social media so you can investigate and add things to your trip - or not. What makes a perfect trip is different for everyone.
So how do you find unique options to put together your perfect trip? How do you create an itinerary that flows, keeps down the overwhelm, and delivers a fabulous trip?
I believe it’s all about three things:
- Knowing where to find the information.
- Not getting sucked into the ‘trip research vortex.’
- Being realistic about how much you can see on one trip.
Numbers two and three are things you need to own. Trip research vortexes are a real thing - AKA analysis paralysis. And so is not starting to research a trip to avoid stress and overwhelm. Not researching will get you a trip by default - pay what you pay, random long line waiting, and lots of FOMO. (“Wait!! Those people are going behind the locked door! Are they on a private tour?”)
Don’t (Over) Plan Your Trip
And I’m dead serious about number three, too. It’s possible to overestimate your energy level, stamina, and interest in what you planned to see. I guarantee you’ll overestimate how much time it’ll take to see everything.
Do this: See anything you’ve prepaid or scheduled a tour for first. Then pick sights nearby to go to before/after your tour. If you’re short on time or money - move things to another day, or cross them off the list completely.
In other words, prioritize.
That’s the way my BFF and I handled our first trip to London. We had long lists - two of them! Castles, stores, museums, street markets, shows, pubs, restaurants, and cathedrals. We were starry-eyed at the beginning until we got a big fat clue. Turns out, it’s a huge city, and we’d planned to see every single thing. Uh, no.
So, at the end of every day, we looked at how many days we had left and agreed on the things we were ok crossing off our lists. Plus - we started new lists for the NEXT trip with those crossed off sights.
Just Google Travel?
So with those cautionary tales, here’s my advice on how to plan the perfect (for you) trip: spend time researching and planning your itinerary. Yes, it’s basic advice, but what’s the best way (or all the ways) to 21st Century plan your itinerary? The list is overwhelming even though I've pared it down to 10 for you. Psssst: don’t use every single one every time.
Note: For websites that offer ways to book tours, you’ll want to check more than one. Compare tour prices and availability as one site might sell out a tour, and the next will have room at your perfect time.
Sharing my top ten list with you here. Take a quick peek at these websites, so you know what they offer. That should tell you if it fits your tastes, style of travel, or your next trip.
- NYT 36 Hours Guides - I read the Sunday NYT and save the travel section for last so I can linger over the 36 Hours in (fill in the blank) city section. But you can go to this site anytime and search for the cities you’re traveling to and read what they suggest. I’ve picked up hotel ideas, pubs, hikes - so many things that I didn’t see elsewhere because ‘boots on the ground’ NYT travel reporters write the articles.
- Airbnb - Wait! Now they have Experiences and Adventures on top of lodging options. Just like the experience of staying in a local home (apartment or condo), these are brought to you by locals. You’ll find a mix of cultural and adventurous activities to add something unique to your trip. This option is going on my next trip. (Of course, I’ll write about it.)
- Culture Trip - Type the city you’re traveling to on their home page, and you’ll get options presented as articles to explore broken into categories. I searched New York City in the prominent search bar at the top of the home page. The site sent me to a well-organized page, and the options lead to articles with lists of places to go, stay, eat, and things to do. Great in-depth information and unique suggestions. Giving it four stars! (on my private rating scale.)
- Get your Guide - on this website you’ll search for the city you’re visiting and be able to choose tours of all kinds (this links to the tours for Berlin, and it's my affiliate link.) An aggregator of small and large tour companies, they’ve curated a great selection of different experiences. I’ve taken Get Your Guide tours in Berlin and two in Krakow. The Guide who led the Krakow city walking tour was a local who gave an insider perspective of the past, present, and future of this Medieval city. The other Krakow tour was actually to Auschwitz, and our Guide was Polish. I give that tour a Twenty Star rating (it’s my rating system - I’ll go as high as I want). You can read about my experience here. In Berlin, I did the Third Reich tour and didn’t have a local guide but a history expert. It was a great experience described here. Tours were pre-booked, prepaid (all low cost), and sold me on using Get Your Guide for all my travels.
- Context Travel - This is the website lets you, as described on the site, “Learn Directly From an Expert: Architects, art historians, ecologists, chefs, all scholars and specialists in their fields - natural teachers and storytellers.” All private or semi-private tours that offer something a little different: like the Met Museum After Dark tour and the Architecture of New York tour. If you can add one of these to your trip, you can kiss FOMO goodbye!
- Take Walks - A website that offers unique walking tours of cities in Europe and the US. It looks like the prices range from $ to $$, and the average group size was a max of 15 people. I searched the walking tours of Paris and found a ‘staff pick’ I want to try! A 4.5-hour tour of “Closing Time at Versailles: Small Group Versailles Tour After the Crowds with Gardens or Fountains Show” for $115/person. For that experience over 4.5 hours - it sounds like one of those things that can add the next dimension to an otherwise typical trip.
- Trip Republic - Another tour aggregator that covers many US and European cities with group tours. I peeked into the Paris offerings and found the usual “skip the line” offerings for some of the significant sites. This is a “Why wouldn’t you do that” kind of thing. Standing in line is Not Good, and these types of tours make that initial stress a non-issue. But I kept scrolling down their list and stumbled on a place to get tickets to see Pink in Paris! Love to! Seeing a great concert in a romantic city like Paris - again “Why wouldn’t you do that?” A good site to compare tour prices and availability.
- Peek - If you’re a culture seeker who’s into including a variety of experiences in your trip - this website is perfect for you. They have regular tours with a twist - like Broadway theaters in New York - but seen as an insider. Or the chance to take the same tour Glee took on their big high school tour of Broadway! The other offering unique to this site is they allow you to choose a price range as a filter for the tours you’ll see. Nothing like getting all excited about the private photo shoot tour at five locations in Paris - only to realize the $560 price tag ain’t in yer budget! So yes - check this one out!!
- Visit a City - This is a BIG website that also has an App, making it super convenient to access everything when your boots are on the ground. They cover 3500 destinations, including Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand - on top of Europe and the US. They also group offerings into single and multi-day complete itineraries, day and side trips, and then unique categories like cruise and water tours which are destination dependent. You may even find attractions for kids in their offerings. Inside the App, once you have selected your destination city, you’ll find an option for maps. BINGO! You can access this offline. A useful website and App - which I’ve downloaded and I’m ready to use on my next trip.
- Travel Zoo - I think this is one of those sites that you sign up for, get a lot of emails from, and finally find an unbelievable deal that keeps you hooked forever. Take a look at the website, and you’ll see you can even check out Cruise deals. And so much more. One day I fell into a black hole scouring the Spa deals. So put this maybe not at the front of your agenda because it’s not a spot you’ll be able to flush out a complete trip. But you might find a cool add-on or a great deal on the whole trip. Or nothing. That’s the hook.
- Google My Maps/Explore - I saved this for last! So - I’m a Google Maps fan. I use it on the daily even if I know where I’m going because I want to know exactly how long this traffic jam is going to set my arrival time back - and how long it will work. That might come up if you’re taking a Road Trip vacation but if not - that’s not all it’s got to offer. Talking about everything you can do with Google Maps will make an entire article (stay tuned) but for now, just know you can create your personal map (include lodging location and then all the other known spots you’re going to visit and save that map.) It syncs with Google Drive, so you can find the maps there along with your other travel info if that’s how you organize your travel details. Aaaaannnnd - just like anything else you do in Google Drive - these maps can be shared and co-created - perfect for small groups or a group of two. One of the unique things about using this App (or going to the website) to plan your travel is the Explore tab. Go ahead - click on it! The variety of pre-made maps is Epic, and you might even discover one that will send you back to the drawing board of designing the theme of your trip. Think “The London of Sherlock Holmes” or “The Walking Dead Television Show Filming Locations” - eeecckkk - mind blown!
Bonuses to Plan the Perfect Trip!
I have two bonus sites for you. They won’t plan your trip or let you book tours but if you have a little bit of time - go check them out. You can thank me later.
- Atlas Obscura + Gastro Obscura - On the home page of Atlas Obscura, it says “The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders.” I’ve been on their email list for a few years, and I can tell you, a thousand times yes it's absolutely true! What they offer is difficult to describe so, please check it out. I peaked at the page on London and found an offering of “324 Cool, Hidden, and Unusual Things To Do in London, England.” For instance - you can read about Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosity’s in East London, or where to find Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross train station - and maybe ride to Hogwarts? Atlas Obscura also offers a few full trips to different destinations, and they have a Forum where you can ask questions or read the advice and opinions posted - much like Trip Advisor. You’ll also find Gastro Obscura on the site where you can do a deep dive into weird trivia about food around the globe. This website is one that I love, love, and I hope you do too.
- WikiVoyages - I had a hard time coming up with a way to describe this website. It looks a little different from the original Wikipedia pages. You’ll find a lot of great and practical information, trivia, and tourist tips. Just look up your destination and use this as your go-to encyclopedia. I practiced using London - the City of London, and the page has information on Tube and Train stops, Eating - but broken down into budget, mid-range, and one splurge spot. There’s a list of pubs, bars, and clubs, and accommodations. And you can even access health care spots here (always be prepared - emergencies don’t just happen to other people!) Since this page was only about the City of London, it offered a “go next” section at the bottom with recommendations of different areas to visit (think West End London) and the tube info to get there. This is a must-read site to bookmark and take with you on your trip!
If you can't plan the perfect trip with one, two, or three (ok all) of these websites then, friend, I'ma have to put you in my remedial travel school. (Shoot - do I have to come up with one of those? Sounds like too much work.) Go out there and have an Epic Trip!