Question: How much would it suck to finally arrive after a brutal 8-hour bus ride to the Mayan Ruins of Tikal on a Saturday night (read all about it here), only to be told that the tours don’t operate on Sundays or Mondays, and you’ve already booked your flight out of town on Tuesday morning? Answer: LOTS! Yes, we’ve all been there one way or another. Travel experiences we’d like to just put on an Etch-A-Sketch and shake the hell out of until they are erased forever. I always say, my most successful and enjoyable trips have ALWAYS been a result of a good amount of research and preparation. For me personally, that means making the weekly visits to the book store in the months leading up to my trip.
My travels always begin long before I even arrive at the airport. They begin the very day I decide where I’m going to go (and they kick into high gear right after that nerve-wracking click on the airfare “purchase” button). At that point, my focus shifts to all things related to that place…its culture, people, local customs and etiquette, native foods, road conditions, weather, where to buy Tums, etc….all the logistics of getting acquainted with and getting around in a place that is totally unfamiliar to me. I treat it like my homework…do the reading and take good notes! There are many resources available to us to help us do our homework before we travel. Book stores, such as Barnes & Noble (where I have logged hundreds of hours while consuming superfluous amounts of steaming Starbucks lattes), have a healthy supply of travel books, magazines, guides and maps for most countries around the globe. The internet is perhaps the most valuable resource out there. On-line travel sites such as TripAdvisor.com and VirtualToursit.com are essential for me because you can access forums, read reviews and communicate directly with people who actually live in, or are natives of your chosen destination, or those who have recently traveled there (the locals are always your best resource). This is very important if you want that “insider” information that isn’t available to you in a publication. Also, it’s the best way to get current information, such as prices, tours and bus schedules, or whether or not a particular hotel or restaurant is still in business. (Not to mention info about that little tucked away slice of paradise that only the locals can guide you to!) People always love to share information about their homeland and travel experiences and the forums are great ways to get the inside scoop from those who are familiar with the area you are intending to visit. Just make sure you’re not reading an outdated forum from 2005, or you might end up arriving at a former restaurant that has been replaced by a neon-lit strip club (though some may consider that a good score).
In addition to being a travel, football and mint chocolate junkie, I am a total research junkie. I want to feel like I’ve already been to the place I’m going and know exactly where to go before I even get there. I admit, I get a little over-zealous with the studying and memorization of topographical maps, but it totally helps when you’re trying to figure out practical travel times and distances. A little preparation before you get underway can go a long way to help you avoid the pitfalls of an ill-prepared vacation (like applying for your passport or Visa last minute and having to nervously wait by your mailbox for your travel docs to arrive just days before your flight. Yeah…been there! You have no idea how much discontent you can have for the post office until you experience your entire vacation being held hostage by the mailman!) Map out your itinerary and learn as much you can about everything you are planning to do during your visit. By doing this, you’ve already removed 50% of the stress that is typically experienced by travelers: inconvenience. This is the benefit of doing your homework before you travel!
Now, if you’ll excuse me…it’s time to go suck down a Butter Pecan Latte and read a few more books on Puerto Rico…and listen to some Tito Puente. Salud!