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Travel Tips Series: What to Do
How to decide what to do while on vacation
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Welcome to the second edition of the Travel Tips Series! I will be sharing a bit of how we decide what to do when we are on vacation. Check out the previous post for how to decide where to go. Next up: where to eat and the power of Google Maps!
After you have narrowed down your decision regarding where to go, there will be two things to determine: one is where exactly to go in the country or region that you are visiting - although you might already know this - and the other is what to do in that specific place. For instance you might have decided to visit Peru but are unsure where exactly to go in Peru, or you might have decided to specifically visit Cusco but don’t know yet what to do in the city.
If you are in the first camp - you have a country, state, or large area in mind but don’t know exactly where to go or how many days to stay in each place - I’d ask myself the same questions posted in the first tips edition. But, also:
I find travel books incredibly helpful in narrowing down where specifically to go in a country or place. We use Lonely Planet books a lot because they have useful “Top 20” lists and well as different itineraries per country. For instance, we knew we wanted to see the Caribbean coast of Colombia but didn’t know exactly where to go, turns out Lonely Planet Colombia has an itinerary specifically for that, which pointed us in the right direction to start researching more. Last year we wanted to do a roadtrip through several national parks in Utah but weren’t sure which ones, until I grabbed a travel guide and learned about 3 national parks I had never heard about, so we went to those. We knew we wanted to hike in Georgia but didn’t know which area to go, and again a travel book gave us two ideas to start researching more in depth.
Tip: because we are traveling for such a long time we got a Kindle Unlimited subscription to access travel books without having to pay for each one. Not all locations are available but it has worked out. If you don’t have a subscription, always look for the previous version of the book for a cheaper deal. Also, sometimes libraries offer digital copies, always check!
Travel books are the beginning of the process, not the end. After we have a few ideas, we turn to Google. We search for the town or place and look at pictures, read what other blogs have to say about it, literally search for “X versus Y” if we are deciding between two locations. You don’t have to spend too much time on this, even an hour will give you plenty of information and will help you decide.
We have gotten great ideas by looking at the itineraries of companies that run group tours in your location of choice. Many have them right on their websites, like Nat Geo Expeditions, but even if they don’t you can email them and they will send you a PDF. If you can afford a group tour then by all means, do it! they can be life changing. But generally, these are out of our budget and not our preferred way of traveling, so we just get ideas from them.
Lastly - and this could be your first step in the process - if you have friends that are from the area you are planning to visit or know people you trust who have gone there, then ask them: where did you go? what did you do? what was your favorite place? what would you recommend we do?. People LOVE to tell you about their beautiful countries and places they have visited. No amount of book or internet research will give you the info that someone that lives in that place or has visited can give you. But, we don’t think you should base your decision fully on this opinion, do your own research as well.
If you already know where you are going and want to decide what to do in that place, then do the following:
Broken record here but travel books are useful in this step as well, at least to give you the lay of the land. For example in Cusco they might point out some museums, a specific neighborhood, and also several activities to do in the surrounding area of the city. This will give you an idea of what the city has to offer and what aligns with your interest.
Do a walking tour as soon as you arrive at your destination. There are plenty of companies offering “free walking tours” (based on tips). A walking tour will help you understand the place better, know how to get around, and you will most likely get many recommendations from the tour guide. To find a tour I usually just google “free walking tour X city” and then look at which companies come up and their reviews. There is also GuruWalk, FreeTour, and Sandemans which are aggregators for some of the offerings.
Take a look at what other tours are available in the area. I usually start with Airbnb Experiences since these are generally tours run by local people and not organized tour companies. There is nothing wrong with tour companies - and we do plenty of stuff with them too - but there is something special about touring with a passionate local who just decided to start doing tours. Even if you don’t do any tours, taking a look at what is on offer will give you an idea of what’s important to do in the place. There are other global platforms, such as GetYourGuide or Viator, that you can take a look at. Travel books will also usually recommend a few local companies, and some of our best tours have come from this.
Don’t overbook your vacation! Leave time to wonder, and to add things based on what you hear once you are on the ground. Always ask people you meet, tour guides, and even your Uber driver and waiter what they recommend you do.
Before and during your trip, save everything and anything that you get recommended to *Google Maps*. I follow a system that I will explain in a subsequent post, but in essence: just save everything to your map. Lists will get lost, you will forget about that post you saved and that message your friend sent you. But Google Maps will remember, and the moment you open your map when you arrive you will already have things to do there. That is why I always have a Google Maps list with my favorite spots in every place we go to so you can just save that to your own map (like this Tulum list). I will publish a piece with all my recent lists soon!
These are just a few ideas to help you plan your next vacation. As always, my biggest advice is: just go! You won’t regret it. Let us know what we missed!
Stay tuned for tips on how to decide where to eat while on vacation, the next installment on the series.