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Old 08-23-2014, 08:33 AM   #41
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Lots of great info. DW and I would like to do a tour of the US when we hit retirement.

I am curious as to find out which cities or specifically which areas of cities to avoid? How do you know which areas are dangerous, high crime, wouldn't want to stay at a hotel there, don't go out after dark, etc.?

For example I heard on a tv show that Compton, CA is high crime and you could get shot in the street (not sure if there was exaggeration or what) but how do you know?
Ronnie,
If you are concerned about that, then google each city you plan to visit prior to driving there - either in advance of your entire trip or even the evening before you set out to drive to a city. When I google Compton, the 1st page comes up with links about crime rate, police carrying assault weapons and an Urban Dictionary caption saying: "A dangerous small city outside of Los Angeles,California. Compton has a lot of known gangs,drug dealers,pimps,prostitutes. The police basicly gave up ... " That was a 10 second search and I would know it is not a place to visit.

You could also ask locals before you head out to a city what they think about stopping for a visit.

Depending on what state/city you are in, you may want to be more or less paranoid than other locales. Compton is in LA, so based on reputation, and being a large city you should google. Many small country towns across the US, you probably do not need to bother to google since your instincts tell you it feels safe. Hope that helps ...

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Old 08-23-2014, 09:05 AM   #42
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DW and I would like to do a tour of the US when we hit retirement.

For example I heard on a tv show that Compton, CA is high crime and you could get shot in the street (not sure if there was exaggeration or what) but how do you know?
Great idea but... what kind of "tour" of the USA would include Compton CA? Apparently, an "exciting" one, I suppose.

I would suggest a more educational and enjoyable tour would be to go where other "tour"ists go. I wouldn't as a rookie traveler try to reinvent the wheel. For instance, the "real" U.S. is in the small towns, the national parks, the resort areas, etc. If major cities are involved (and they should be) then go (and stay nearby to) where the major attractions are. (They are popular for good reasons -- safety being one of them.) In any event, we have never felt threatened in any large city we have visited -- and that is about 95% of them.

Yes, tourists are an attractive target for mischief but not as much since very few people carry cash anymore. So just go and enjoy yourselves... there are few things that will match the pleasure you will get from your adventure. As they say in New Orleans (which should be at the top of your list): "laissez le bon rouleau de temps" or the current variation: YOLO (You Only Live Once).

Recently, I was given a bit of wisdom that I wish I had known many years ago: "I regret having wasted so much time thinking about things that never happened."
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Old 08-23-2014, 01:16 PM   #43
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Wow, I just discovered Google travel. Shows lowest airfares on a map, and you can add different airports. So I can instantly compare fares leaving from San Antonio, Austin, Houston, to all, for example, Caribbean islands, or European destinations. I usually spend at least 20 to 40 hours planning vacations and this is a huge timesaver, and shows me locations I may not have researched!
Yeah - that's how I've been doing the initial airfare search.
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Old 08-23-2014, 01:26 PM   #44
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Where does one find "Google Travel"? A Google search turns up nothing useful.
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Old 08-23-2014, 01:50 PM   #45
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Where does one find "Google Travel"? A Google search turns up nothing useful.
Just do an airfare search on the google search page.

Example https://www.google.com/#q=flight+IAH+London+October+15

The site is actually www.google.com/flights . But any google search will get you there.
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Old 08-23-2014, 02:04 PM   #46
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A train travel site I really enjoyed while researching
Covers train travel all over. The Man in Seat Sixty-One - the train travel guide...

Includes a section with very comprehensive guide to train travel within Europe. I particularly enjoyed the great train photos and lots of tips on pricing, web sites to use, etc.

He also occasionally answers questions on Tripadvisor, and has Facebook page (same name) where he sends tweets while traveling.
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Old 08-23-2014, 02:13 PM   #47
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The site is actually www.google.com/flights . But any google search will get you there.
Except "Google +travel." <chuckle> I was just taking things too literally.
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Old 08-23-2014, 02:22 PM   #48
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Except "Google +travel." <chuckle> I was just taking things too literally.
Right, there's no "travel". But when I did a search on "google travel" the first thing that came up we the google flights site.

If you do a search like "train from Munich to Vienna" it will display train info as well, so it's not only flights.
https://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en#h...nich+to+vienna
I can't get the time settings to work though - it used to work.

And google maps does routing with public transportation. Just click on a stop, see the buses, trams, subways, or trains that stop there. You can get directions. Sometimes clicking on a stop shows the route that bus or whatever runs.
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Old 08-23-2014, 05:54 PM   #49
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While there are some things about TripAdvisor I like, I find their "Ranked #x attraction in city" ratings a total joke. For example, I went up to Dallas this week for a meeting and had a free morning. I've seen the Perot Science Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum (both outstanding) and was looking for something else interesting. #1 is the Arboretum - not very interesting when it was going to be 97 degrees by 11am. # 2 is the Symphony Center - you've got to be kidding! #3 is the Sixth Floor Museum (I agree with that - should be in the top 3). #4 is the SMU campus, just ahead of the George W. museum (which is on the edge of the campus). #6 is an Opera House, and #7 is an extreme amusement park (not my thing, but seems to be pretty unique). The Perot is #11 even though it is now one of the premier interactive science museums in the country (world?).

So don't take the Top 10 too literally in any place - you may find some gems that are more interesting to you further down the list.

PS I ended up going to the George W. museum as we went to several presidential museums last year and found it interesting to compare them. Although it was interesting because of being so recent, I though his dad's museum (on the Texas A&M campus in College Station) much better - a lot more historical context into what made the man.
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Old 08-24-2014, 01:15 AM   #50
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Great idea but... what kind of "tour" of the USA would include Compton CA? Apparently, an "exciting" one, I suppose.

I would suggest a more educational and enjoyable tour would be to go where other "tour"ists go. I wouldn't as a rookie traveler try to reinvent the wheel. For instance, the "real" U.S. is in the small towns, the national parks, the resort areas, etc. If major cities are involved (and they should be) then go (and stay nearby to) where the major attractions are. (They are popular for good reasons -- safety being one of them.) In any event, we have never felt threatened in any large city we have visited -- and that is about 95% of them.

Yes, tourists are an attractive target for mischief but not as much since very few people carry cash anymore. So just go and enjoy yourselves... there are few things that will match the pleasure you will get from your adventure. As they say in New Orleans (which should be at the top of your list): "laissez le bon rouleau de temps" or the current variation: YOLO (You Only Live Once).

Recently, I was given a bit of wisdom that I wish I had known many years ago: "I regret having wasted so much time thinking about things that never happened."
Well I just threw Compton out there because of rumors, but if we were to do a 48 state tour, or go visit Gettysburg, which is >2000 miles away, we'd have multiple stops on the way. How do I know which is the 'wrong side of the tracks' when we stop in Omaha? IS there a wrong side of the tracks in Omaha? Just curious.
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Old 08-24-2014, 01:43 AM   #51
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Well I just threw Compton out there because of rumors, but if we were to do a 48 state tour, or go visit Gettysburg, which is >2000 miles away, we'd have multiple stops on the way. How do I know which is the 'wrong side of the tracks' when we stop in Omaha? IS there a wrong side of the tracks in Omaha? Just curious.
Look at a map showing major chain hotels. Usually they will be clustered in safer areas.
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Old 08-24-2014, 06:44 AM   #52
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While there are some things about TripAdvisor I like, I find their "Ranked #x attraction in city" ratings a total joke. For example, I went up to Dallas this week for a meeting and had a free morning. I've seen the Perot Science Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum (both outstanding) and was looking for something else interesting. #1 is the Arboretum - not very interesting when it was going to be 97 degrees by 11am. # 2 is the Symphony Center - you've got to be kidding! #3 is the Sixth Floor Museum (I agree with that - should be in the top 3). #4 is the SMU campus, just ahead of the George W. museum (which is on the edge of the campus). #6 is an Opera House, and #7 is an extreme amusement park (not my thing, but seems to be pretty unique). The Perot is #11 even though it is now one of the premier interactive science museums in the country (world?).

So don't take the Top 10 too literally in any place - you may find some gems that are more interesting to you further down the list.

PS I ended up going to the George W. museum as we went to several presidential museums last year and found it interesting to compare them. Although it was interesting because of being so recent, I though his dad's museum (on the Texas A&M campus in College Station) much better - a lot more historical context into what made the man.
Of course. It's based on reviewer's opinions. Kind of like ranking products by Amazon reviews. So you dig through the reviews to see what is really going on. And that is Tripadvisor's greatest strength - people sharing their individual experiences and stories rather than some marketer's opinion or spin. As you dig through the reviews you find the true gems, or the ones that match your typical likes and dislikes. Ignore the rest.......
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Old 08-24-2014, 07:42 AM   #53
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So you dig through the reviews to see what is really going on. And that is Tripadvisor's greatest strength - people sharing their individual experiences and stories rather than some marketer's opinion or spin. As you dig through the reviews you find the true gems, or the ones that match your typical likes and dislikes. Ignore the rest.......
Exactly. Ignore the "this place sucks" and the ones that are filled only with vague superlatives ("our meal was fabulous"). The reviews I post are detailed. If Room Service was overpriced and the indoor pool was tiny, you may not care because you don't plan to use either of them. You may be interested in the picture of the dust-encrusted vent in the bathroom ceiling if you have asthma or allergies. I do comment on the area, including what's within walking distance. Give more credibility to the ones from people with many reviews.

I'm seeing more and more hotels ASK that you review them on TA. (It's OK to ask, just not to offer bribes for favorable ones!) In one recent stay, they had a stack of little cards with TA's logo and URL requesting that you post a review after your stay. So, the hotels are paying attention.
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Old 08-24-2014, 09:00 AM   #54
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The Internet is a must check point for my planning. It tells me all I want with much accuracy especially when I am specific with my questions. I also get ideas on itineraries by just typing "14 days itinerary in ......" - the web sometimes take me to travel blogs. Of all the travel forums available, I use TripAdviser the most and am a contributor to it too. It has helped me a lot on choice of hotels, attractions, local tour operators, etc. when I have very specific questions, I ask them on their forum queries and usually get useful replies.
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Old 08-24-2014, 10:53 AM   #55
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I find Rick Steve's material an excellent place to start for the best "things to do list" in a given Europe destination. But I never use him for restaurants or lodging. He only touches on a few locations whereas TripAdvisor will have almost everything. You can usually look for a "hotel near XYZ" and start browsing from there. Same with dining. Or you can pop up on a location map and see what is there.

Bigboytravel.com has a bunch of European destinations self-guided tours online for free.
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Old 08-24-2014, 11:14 AM   #56
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To check how safe an area is, you can get a good rough approximation from looking at google streetview. If you see a ton of liquor stores and dudes loitering on street corners, it might not be the safest place (or most interesting unless you are seeking a vice vacation). Burnt out boarded up buildings, vacant buildings with weeds growing to the rooftops is another bad sign. Excessive poorly rendered graffiti and gang tags could be another one.

The only time I felt like I landed in a bad spot was in Chicago when we were taking public transit to go to U of Chicago and we had to transfer around 55th st. While waiting for the next bus we knew we were in a bad spot, but there were tons of armed police and unarmed "transit stewards" or something like that standing around the area. I thought the area looked sketchy from google streetview, but after asking a local who's fairly street smart he said it would be okay if you stick to the area around the station and don't stray far.

Or get the Ghetto Tracker app for your smartphone. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...n_3869051.html

I think it's actually not available any more...
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Old 08-24-2014, 03:42 PM   #57
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Traveled lower 48 for 5 years and never had to worry about staying in an "unsafe" area. Of course we always checked RVparkreviews.com to read user opinions before staying at any new RV park, and Walmart has good parking lot security at night.
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Old 08-24-2014, 05:29 PM   #58
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Traveled lower 48 for 5 years and never had to worry about staying in an "unsafe" area. Of course we always checked RVparkreviews.com to read user opinions before staying at any new RV park, and Walmart has good parking lot security at night.
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Old 09-01-2014, 01:52 AM   #59
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What, besides your own experience, are the tools, resources and processes one would use to put together a longish trip that will get you a reasonable bang for you buck and get you some travel memories worth having.
Your question matches the way I travel. By coincidence, I wrapped up trip planning a few days ago and then wrote a rough draft for a blog post on this topic. Thanks for the motivation to finish it.

Maybe these tools and processes are useful. Note, I use <> when describing search terms to be replaced. Don't type the <>.

1. I always start here.

== Strong urge to go?
- You're on your own here :-)

== Good reason not to go?
- Google <destination name> plus these terms and sets: bombing, foreigners kidnapped, violent crime tourists

2. Then check if I can afford it.

== Airfare
- Airfare search: Matrix - ITA Software
- Who flies where? Useful because airline search sites don't list all carriers: 1) Google 'airline carriers <3 letter airport code>'. Often gives wikipedia results, so who knows if up to date, and 2) Airline Route Maps
- Route maps also useful for planning open jaw trips on an airline.

== Cost per day?
Once I know airfare I search per night costs for private rooms in guesthouses (hostelworld.com) and rooms in mid range hotels (agoda.com or hotels.com). These usually have correlated well with cost per day. One can also search forums for 'how much per day', but that's usually too much slogging.

3. Because I have been traveling to get away from home during the less enjoyable times here, next I see how those times work for the destination(s).

Climate
- Monthly averages: e.g., Japan Climate and Weather Averages
- More and more detailed Averages : Beautiful Weather Graphs and Maps - WeatherSpark

Air pollution
- Air Pollution in Asia: Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map
- Also search destination town names and 'AQI', 'burning season'.

High - Low Season
- Google 'high low season <destination name>'. For more precision: 1) Search lodging price for various times, 2) See when airfare costs jump up or down, 3) For places where many drive to campgrounds, check price changes by week or month. They're probably open only during high and shoulder seasons.

Holidays
- Google school / bank / government / national holidays

School breaks
- Locals tend to travel when schools out for summer or whenever.

4. Now I see if my fantasy view of what's available to see, do & eat at the destination(s) compares to reality.

- The usual sources, e.g. guide books, tripadvisor. Put color coded markers on a trip specific google map. I'd tell you my color coding but it keeps evolving.

5. What ELSE to either see / do or avoid like the plague.

This is where I spend the bulk of my travel research. It's how I find the less than obvious places, the ones where you'll see more locals than foreigners. Sometimes these are well down in the tripadvisor rankings with few ratings and a high percentage in the local language. Also put color coded markers on the trip's google map.

Sources
- ESL forums. They often travel when not working.
- Bike routes. Dedicated bike riders tend who blog tend to provide marvelous detail. Plus they often return to the same areas and thus try to find different things to see and do.
- Private tour companies often list town names or attraction names you've never heard of. They won't give away very much info, but Mr. Google will.
- Art related sites often list events, galleries, hang outs. Good for identifying neighborhoods worth wandering. Check gallery listings for clusters not near tourist sites.
- Motorcycle touring forums. Many of the places they post about are not easy to reach using public transit, but I've found some gems that were.
- Google image search and Pinterest. Scroll past the common photos, looking for the uncommon. Often they link to someone who travels by
whim, or lives in country, or makes the effort to locate the less obvious places.
- If you like tiny harbor towns, search harbor info for traveling mariners using <destination name> and 'harbormaster' or the country equivalent. Often there is info on local things to see / do and land maps. On land recreational sailors usually travel by foot, bike or public transit.


Techniques
- Use google to search only blogs: https://www.google.com/?tbm=blg
- Once you find a useful site, goggle only that site for what you seek: e.g. 'Guinness on tap' site:walkingwhiledrunk.blogspot.com
- Read TA lists starting from the lowest ranked. Find items where large majority of reviews are in the local local language. If you find something
interesting, then search outside of tripadvisor.
- Google <destination name> and: 1) 'third visit -tripadvisor -review', 2) ‘overrated’ and ‘tourist trap’, 3) Substitute or Alternate X for Y, 4) 'Is it (was it) worth it'. Mostly useful for the other places mentioned., 5) Anything one is interested in, e.g. narrow lane, pre-war, cobblestone, 6) <word> town name, e.g. Kinky, Weird, Ghoulish, Playful, Amazing, Unexpected, 7) Difficult if you don't know <language name>, 8) 'difficult to reach', 9) 'rest day' or 'stayed longer' or 'great place to chill' or 'didn't want to leave', and 10) If you want to know if a once interesting destination has been crushed all but lifeless by the tourist industry: 'hard rock cafe'.

6. Verify or get second opinion. Take off the rose colored glasses. I look for reasons to change my enthusiasm for specific sites and things to do.

- Google maps, satellite view, street view and image search to preview the destination. Bad sign is if 90% of the images are of the same things.
- Use advanced google search to limit results to the last 6 months. Then search your destinations with some or all of the following: renovation, repair, scaffold, closed, construction, unfortunately, disappointing, over rated, dangerous, ruined, tourist trap.
- Find tripadvisor reviews containing terms of interest
<keyword here> "about <tripadvisors name for the site>" site:http: //www . tripadvisor . com/ (remove the spaces)
e.g. many stairs "about ugafuku shrine" site:http: //www . tripadvisor . com/ (remove the spaces)
This works because 'about <name for site>' is on every tripadvisor review page.

7. Assemble possible days or day parts.
Determine what places make sense to group together in time

- Are you using bus, subway or trains? Plan routes where you arrive at one station, walk between sites then depart from another station, especially if that requires walking through an ordinary non-tourist oriented neighborhood(s). Obviously, it's useful to know how safe this is before trying.
- Do travel sources all give the same info for the walking portion of how to reach a heavily visited site? Use google maps to plot an alternate route. Such a route is usually longer but you'll avoid both the crowds and shops selling tourist crap to tourists. Alternate routes I found usually have a few shops for the local tourists mixed in with normal businesses for such a neighborhood.
- List things available on specific days or days closed, e.g., 'Any day except Sunday', 'Tuesday morning only'. I review this each night before deciding what to do the next day.

8. In country: Follow your whim.
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Old 09-01-2014, 04:54 AM   #60
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Driving in Europe depends on where you are. I had a very challenging experience with a stick shift on a nearly vertical hill that GPS sent us on. With five people and luggage in the car, it could not go up, and after 3 tries, the clutch smoking, and negative progress, I was several inches from being pinned up against the curved, stone wall bordering this tiny street. Fortunately with some guidance, I was able to inch slowly back down the hill and avoid scraping the wall.


That said, I would suggest also expanding your "impromptu" skills. Our best experiences in Italy were often unplanned, explorations off the beat path. Like when we stumbled across a sheep herder and his flock in the mountains.
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