Your flights are booked, the festival tickets are secured and the date is set. Excitement, sleep counting and smugness commences – you are officially going on holiday.
One problem remains, however. That idyllic destination you’ve had stuck in your head, that festival venue you’ve mulled over for months, is to be found in a part of the planet you know absolutely diddly squat about.
Therein lies an exercise which could make or break your trip – the pre-travel research.
For some, hammering search engines for key tips and tricks about an upcoming destination is all part of the fun of going away; an intoxicating aperitif before the much anticipated main course.
For many of us, however, the seemingly limitless information available online can leave you lost in a bewildering array of options, overloaded with recommendations, and none the wiser as to how you want to spend your valuable time away.
Never fear my friends, here follows my top tips on how to research a destination before travelling…
Learn from the locals
If you’re after genuine recommendations from those really in the know, look no further than the local inhabitants of your destination.
Meeting and learning from locals has forever been one of the great delights of travelling. However, the digitally connected world we now live in means you can interact with the people living at your destination before you even arrive there.
Travel-centric media sites like Culture Trip bring locally written stories from all over the world to your fingertips, allowing you to benefit from this inside knowledge as you plan your adventure.
Buy a book!
As useful as cyberspace undoubtedly is for researching locations abroad, the multitude of options it throws up can be a problem.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth understanding of the culture and history of the region you’re about to visit, you could do a lot worse than going analogue and investing in, horror of horrors, an actual book!
Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads is a personal favourite and covers the history of a huge region from Eastern Europe through Central Asia, the Far East and into the Subcontinent. An even more global view can be found in Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography, which showcases worldwide history and modern geopolitics through 10 regional maps.
Trust your instincts
If you’re struggling with, say, booking accommodation online, or lost in endless bar and restaurant options, your first instinct over the best option to pick is unlikely to lead you too far wrong.
If that hostel deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone advertising ‘the best pizza in Rome’ or ‘the most authentic pad thai in Bangkok’, probably isn’t.
Ultimately, the person with the best idea about what you want to do with your holiday is you, not Joe Bloggs and his mates on the internet.
You can research your destination until you’re blue in the face, but it’ll all be futile if you aren’t guided by what appeals to your own preferences.
Don’t forget the boring stuff
Sensible advice alert. When researching your travel destination remember to check the basics – travel documents, currency and weather.
Sounds obvious, but you don’t want to be that idiot who turns up at the airport with an out of date passport, dollars instead of pesos or board shorts in a monsoon.
Easy to use currency converter apps include XE Currency and Currency Converter Plus. WeatherBug will give you a pretty good idea of the global weather forecast, whilst many popular destinations have a country-specific weather app run by the official local weather service.
Don’t overdo it
There’s nothing worse than overly planned fun. One of the best things about travel is not knowing what to expect, living in the moment and taking the weird and the wonderful as it comes.
Ultimately, the amount you plan your trip will come down to the individual. However, you know what they say about a plan’s survival rate after first contact with the enemy – even the best laid of them are likely to fall apart as soon as you touch down abroad.
At some point, you’ll have to just let go and embrace what your journey throws at you, which for me at least, is what travel is all about.
Robi O’Cleirigh is a keen traveller and writer based in London, UK. When not keyboard bashing or jetlagged he can be found pounding the tarmac in the futile pursuit of running PBs and exploring a passion for history.