We get asked: so what do you guys do to get prepared for your trips?
We are going to give you a behind the scenes view of our trip prep. We take one big trip a year and put a bunch of effort into it. On average we spend 8-10 months planning our adventures! Crazy huh? We have divided our planning regimen up to a few areas: tickets and tomatoes, the Fons (background in Catalan), keeping the homefires burning, and our favorite: depth charges.
Tickets and Tomatoes
This is probably the one step that we do the same as everyone else. Buying your flights and finding the hotels, hostels, and the perfect mom and pop linguini joint in Tuscany.
We are credit card points addicts. We admit it. Typically we don’t have the same “points card” at the same time. This forces us to fly on different carriers. We love the reaction we get from people when we tell them that we rarely fly together. Trust us…it is much better that we don’t fly together. The fights would fill up 20 blogs! We are both window seat people. Luci is a talker…Mike is a reader. Two very different approaches to long haul flying. Each year we take turns picking the location of our “big” trip. Once a location is identified and vetted with the other, we start the arduous process of getting points to fit the destination. This can be extremely difficult. At times we have taken short hops via Southwest to get to a departure city that fits within our points budget. Then we attempt to get the flights to land around the same time. So far we have been successful. We have had some harried convos with airline’s customer service.
Once the destination is decided we come up with a draft list of things/areas that we want to visit. From there our first step is to look for Hiltons. Luci and I are Hilton disciples. We both travel a ton for work and rack up some nice point totals. They also treat us really good as we are members of their “Diamond” class. It’s not unlike us to spend half of our vakay in Hiltons.
Wanna learn more about some great hotel deals? Just like our Fighting Facebook page and we will give your some great ideas!
One of the best tools we have found for finding research on hotels is Tripadvisor. Love the TripAdvisor! If your are not familiar with the site, basically is a free forum of travelers to post their reviews on hotels. Basically what you are looking for is a hotel with reviews in the top 10(small city) or top 100 (large city). Don’t get too caught up if you see one or two bad/terrible reviews. This is likely the competition being a bad citizen or a person that is really grumpy. Hone in on the tone of the entire collection of reviews.
Just a quick word about rental cars. When traveling into another country, always buy the insurance. Trust me.
We are planning nerds. We know. Go ahead say it! We typically find two or three interesting places we want to try in areas we are staying 3-4 days. If it is just a day, we don’t bother. Find something when we are “on the ground.” By far our best dining experiences has come from advice of the locals. We do use tripadvisor and urbanspoon. We typically eat breakfast in the hotels we stay in or grab some bread ect. We have had some awesome experiences with hotel food. At a little family run hotel we stayed at in Selchuk, Turkey, we hung out with the owners and had some great conversation watching soccer. We don’t get too hung up on having an amazing meal at every sitting.
The Fons (background in Catalan)
Warning: this section contains obsessive compulsive confessions. (if you actually have a “life” skip this section.)
This is the part where we are a little different than most travelers. We do a ton, and I do mean a ton of background work on the places we are going. We learn the language. What works for me is a list of vocab words in the shower, and then listening to how the words are said in the car on CD. We learn the religion. We learn the history. We took a college course on Turkish Culture before our trip there. We read not just the Fodors, but novels and histories of the places. I am reading Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” in prep for our upcoming trip to Barcelona. When we set foot in a country, we really want to have a context for what we are seeing. We want to drink deep. Never rely on a tour guide.
Keeping the Home Fires Burning
We have kids. They don’t travel with us on our annual big trip. We do involve them in our prep. They learn the language with us. They learn about the places we are going to see. On our return, we share with them our experiences, make presentations to their classes at school, and engage them on global issues. When we leave, typically for two weeks, we leave them with games that trace our travels day by day. They have to figure out trivia questions to get points and of course they get points for good behavior for grandma or the nanny. We generally travel when they are in school, limiting the disruption to their routine.
We saved our best preparation technique for last. I really hate the term “off the beaten path”. But I have not been able to come up with a better description. We look for sites that go below the surface and are truly explosive. Our recent post about our visit to the Marquis de La Fayette’s grave was a great example. We spent hours researching the site and the history. We want to know what happened at given place, how did it impact the world. If we don’t know more than the average tour guide, we have failed. The beauty of the internet is the access to information and people. We engage other bloggers that specialize in an area. What is so cool about these depth charges is that you walk away from traveling a more “deeper” human being. You did more than visit the cell where Mandella was jailed, you understand the why.
That’s it in a nutshell. We really do our homework on the places we visit. There are many out there that specialize in “slow” travel. Our focus is on “Smart” or “prepared” travel which can be slow or fast. Its not for everyone. So tell us, how do your travel? What kind of preparation do you put into your trips? What has worked for you? Leave us a comment below.