Typically, I write about easy getaways from DC. That’s my niche. Quick flights or road trips that clock in around 4 hours or less. Vacations you can squeeze into a long weekend. Vacation time isn’t unlimited and we’ve got to make the most of our time away! But, sometimes you end up with a bigger trip on your calendar (I aim for one a year!), so today I’m going to dive into how to tackle planning a trip to a country you’ve never visited before.
PLANNING A TRIP TO A COUNTRY YOU’VE NEVER VISITED
Maybe there’s somewhere you’ve always had on your bucket list, maybe you just happened to see a flight deal online, or maybe a friend was like, “Hey, want to go to Croatia next month?” However it happened, you have a trip coming up to a new to you country! Now, the planning starts, and you’re wondering, “Okay, I’ve never been here, where on earth do I start?” But, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’m going to walk you through the 5 tips that get me through planning a trip to a country you’ve never visited before.
CONSULT FAMILY AND FRIENDS
My first tip is always to put out the call on Facebook to see who has already visited said country. I guarantee that no matter how obscure a place you’re traveling, someone you know through Facebook has been there. And, if you’re visiting a country lots of people have been to, even better! When we were planning our trip to Ireland, I posted on Facebook asking for recommendations. I received no less than 16 posts from friends with fabulous and detailed recommendations.
This is also a great route to take if you’re still deciding exactly where you want to go. Maybe you know you want to do a Caribbean long weekend or a vacation in Europe, put out there what you’re looking for and see what your Facebook friends have to say. People love giving advice, particularly when it makes them feel well traveled.
REFER TO TRAVEL GUIDES BY WRITERS YOU TRUST
Once I have a high-level idea of things to do from family and friends, I turn to writers and bloggers whose tastes I trust to start honing in on neighborhoods, hotels, activities, and restaurants. For me, the biggest thing to figure out is where to stay. Location can make all the difference in setting the tone for your trip and allowing you to easily explore a city or country.
I check to see if any of my favorite travel bloggers have been to a particular country and, if so, whether they discussed where they stayed (typically they do). For example, when we were in Paris, I read that the St. Germain neighborhood was a wonderful place to stay for a classic Parisian experience – and it was! As soon as we walked out of the subway from the airport, I was like, “YES, this is everything I imagined Paris would be.” Had I not done research on travel blogs, who knows where I would have stayed.
Travel blogs will also fill you in on when and where to hit the tourist spots. Again, while in Paris, we read that the key to enjoying the Louvre is to go first thing in the morning on a weekday. So, that’s what we did, and we saw the Mona Lisa before the crowds came in. Researching travel blogs also led to our best day in Ireland – our trip out the the Aran Islands and an excellent and cozy meal.
CHECK OUT TRIP ADVISOR
I can’t stress enough how much of a resource Trip Advisor has been in booking our trips. I use it to research itineraries, to choose one city v. another, to check out hotels – the possibilities are endless. All you have to do is search “Should I go to Montreal or Quebec City?” and you’ll find a slew of responses from every type of traveler. Not sure if a hotel is legit? The traveler photos on Trip Advisor will show the real story.
DISCOVER LOCAL FOOD BLOGS
When it comes to eating, do a bit of searching and find the local food bloggers. Skip the travel guides here, unless you really trust the writer, and go straight to the source to eat like a local. When we were in Paris, I was constantly pulling up Lost in Cheeseland, a blog by a writer who lives in Paris and she never steered me off course. So, do your legwork, discover the bloggers who are writing or instagramming all the hottest foodie spots, and do as they do.
RESEARCH THE LOCAL VISITORS BUREAU
Looking for specific itinerary advice? Check out the local visitors bureau website. They’ll likely have itineraries for every variety of trip, and you can pull from this directly. This was our #1 resource both when planning our Ireland trip and our Bordeaux trip. Visitors bureaus are there to help visitors! They want tourists to visit their city or country, and they want to make it as easy as possible for you to figure out how to get there and what to do. Their goal is for you to spend money in and enjoy their country, so take advantage of all the information they have to offer.
A FEW FINAL NOTES
What about y’all? How do you plan a trip to a country you’ve never been to? I’m dying to know any tips and tricks you may have that I’m not currently utilizing! And, along the same lines, my next trip abroad is 6 days in Cartagena for my honeymoon. Where do YOU think I should go and what should I do? I’m sure some of my readers have been there, so send your suggestions my way!