Planning Your Trip – Getting the Most out of Your Travel Experience

Planning a trip to an unfamiliar destination can be both exciting and stressful. Faraway lands offer new sights to see and experiences, but they also offer a lot of unknowns. Where to stay, where to eat, should I rent a car, do they speak enough of my language that I’ll be able to get by, what are the important attractions to visit and is there a way to prioritize what to see based on location and ease of getting to them? These are just a few of the concerns that travelers must consider.

Often, we buy books to help, like Fodors and Frommers, or read blogs and magazines covering the destination. Some travelers visit websites like TripAdvisor.com, which offer insights and suggestions for places to stay and things to do as well as let you book your arrangements. Some rely on the reviews of others that have visited, like YELP or reviews on hotel or travel sites, like Hotel.com or Expedia, to make decisions. One of the more recent additions to travel planning are the online websites that develop your entire itinerary based on how much time you should spend in each location, such as TouristEye.com or Inspirock.com. They also give recommendations for nearby attractions. These apps will plan your day-to-day and hour-to-hour itinerary while optimizing logistics.

These sites feature day-by-day and hour-by-hour itineraries along with nearby attractions

Today’s internet-based websites and apps give the traveler the opportunity to find the best rates and deals and highlight the must-see attractions but, provide limited context or information. This is where local knowledge is indispensable. How often have you walked down the street in a foreign country looking at all the wondrous things around you, but really have little understanding of what they are, how they came to be, and how they were influenced or impacted by other events over time?

At Buchenwald, a Memorial to the Sinti and Roma – But, what does it mean? Why the pillars and stones?

Sightseeing train in Wittenberg, Germany

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Tour buses (such as a Hop-on, Hop-Off bus in larger cities) and audio guides are routinely available to gain a better understanding of a location, but a local certified guide brings insight and knowledge that can’t be found or communicated easily in a book, website, audio tape, or drive-by sightseeing. An expert guide brings the local culture, emotion, and experience to life and if you arrange for a small group or one-on-one guide, they provide conversation and a sharing of knowledge. They understand how art, architecture, food, and culture have all evolved from the local people, traditions, or historical events over time. If you really want to experience the places that you visit, spend the little extra it might cost to invest in several hours with a local guide.

Wartburg Castle, Germany – Learning the story behind the mosaic and the women’s dressing room

With our guide in Montreal – Laying out an overview of the city and attractions

A guide will bring facts and events together in a way that will have you inspired. They provide local flavor and lore that are often not included or not understood in travel magazines and articles. They point out the significance of things such as: details of the local architecture; brush strokes in pieces of art; graffiti on a wall; the layout of city streets and buildings; the stones used to pave the streets; small markers of significance or memorial in the walkways or on houses; and the family lineage of famous residents and their descendants and how it has shaped the region. There’s a richness of information that comes together that only an expert can bring. They also have the relationships to gain access to places that might otherwise be off limits and can snap great pictures of you in front of important monuments, when asked, which is far better than a selfie. And if you want to know where to eat, ask a local guide, they know the best places based on what you’re looking for and not based on biased recommendations or sponsored articles.

Sightseeing with a guide in Quebec City – It’s like having a best friend that lives in the area

Our Game of Thrones guide answering questions from other tourists about the hidden cave

Our guide, Gerard was great about capturing photos of us in Northern Ireland

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One caution in your search of websites and use of guides, be sure they are not paid to endorse specific places or products. In today’s world, many websites, blogs, and information sources are really advertising disguised as an information resource. With that in mind, here’s a suggested approach to planning your trip:

  • Decide on a destination. Read magazines, blogs, books, and watch television shows that are designed to give you an overview of a destination that will pique your interest. Two shows we recommend are Rick Steves for the historical perspective or Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, if you’re interested in the culinary aspects of a region.
  • Determine how many days you wish to spend at each location and develop an itinerary based on your schedule by using an online site such as Inspirock.com. It will help identify the important attractions in the area and offer a travel plan for your trip. We suggest starting with at least one more day than you plan for each city or locale, just to see what you’ll give up by not spending the extra time in that location. It may cause you to revise your schedule and add time in one location while reducing time in others.

 

  • Find deals at your destination by using TripAdvisor.com or other reservation sites where you can see the costs as well as reviews from other visitors.

Inside St. Peter & St. Paul church in Eisleben, Germany – The church was converted from Catholic to Protestant and our guide was pointing out the changes that followed

  • Contact the local Tourism Office in the town or city you’ll visit. The Tourism Office has access to other deals and they can put you in contact with local trusted guides.
  • Prior to your visit, be sure to confirm all reservations. Sometimes things get lost in translation and you don’t want to arrive and discover that your hotel room was booked for the wrong day or that your dinner reservation wasn’t made and you can’t dine where you had planned with only one evening available.
  • And remember, if you’re traveling abroad, allow extra time to get adjusted to the time change. You might need a few hours to catch up on rest, especially when you first arrive.

With our guide at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany – Bauhaus is a philosophy as much as physical design and our guide discussed the philosophy and showed us how it is applied

We also suggest that rather than move from town to town, unless you are especially enthusiastic about staying in many hotels and spending a lot of time unpacking and packing during your trip, that you find a central location or a smaller number of locations to move between and plan to tour the surrounding area from there. If the drive to another location you wish to explore is within an hour, it’s much easier to spend a couple of nights in each hotel on your itinerary than constantly move to new properties. The constant moving can be exhausting and frustrating, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar country.

Model of the city in Erfurt, Germany where our guides gave us a lay of the land

If you have questions about this piece or travel in general, we are always happy to answer questions about our own experiences and the places we’ve visited and cruises we’ve been on, so feel free to contact us if you have questions.

Church in Eisleben, Germany – Guides often have access to places that others don’t, including the keys to the church

 

 

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