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Old 09-01-2014, 08:43 AM   #61
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Originally Posted by ItDontMeanAThing View Post
<snip>
-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.
<snip>
-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.

-In country: Follow your whim.
Thanks- the ones above are my favorites, especially the one on destinations of private tour operators! I read a story on Rosslyn Castle in an an-flight magazine just before a trip to Scotland (hadn't heard of it because we weren't Da Vinci code readers) and DH and I found it was an easy trip by public transportation from Edinburgh.

On my first trip to Europe I showed up at the Louvre on Monday. It was closed. (That was 1977.) I went to Versailles instead so all was not lost.

DH and I have had great experiences at places we learned about from brochures in the hotel lobby and in the local paper. I can fake my way through most European languages, which helps. Watch the billboards, too.
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Old 09-01-2014, 09:56 AM   #62
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Here's a tool that shows cost of living for various spots around the globe: World Map of current Consumer Price Index (CPI)

I figure it might lead to some interesting budget travel ideas for us (and others!). I found out Spain is generally cheaper than most of the rest of non-Iberian western Europe, and the southern parts are cheaper than the norther parts of Spain. Also, southern France is cheaper than the other parts of France.

FYI, the index is based on New York City costs = 100, so other areas are displayed relative to NYC prices.
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Old 09-02-2014, 10:04 AM   #63
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I now have three years of long term planning under my belt since ER'ing in 2011, and am happy to share how I approach our multi-destination planning, everything from one week to 10 weeks, our longest to date.

First I start with an idea, then I go onto either Frommers, Fodors (Int'l destinations) or TripAdvisor (Domestic destinations) to see if there are enough ideas listed to peak our interest. This also gives me a really good idea of how many days we'd likely find ourselves engaged, since by now I know our interests pretty well.

I then create a spreadsheet where I list where we want to go in sequential order, with corresponding columns for projected costs and things to do. This can take weeks if not months to do, given all the research involved. But the little gems I've discovered by doing so makes it well, well worth the effort. It also allows me to better manage our time since I know which attractions are open when, which are not, and, score, which may have free visitation days or tours.

For domestic trips, I also utilize MapQuest to determine mileage and driving time between each leg. I also utilize old fashioned maps, obtained from AAA. I scan the surrounding area of each pinpointed location on the map looking for nearby state and federal properties that might not have popped up in my original research. IMHO, state and federal properties continue to provide the best and most authentic experiences for the buck.

I also research interesting places to eat, because while eating out is not necessarily our focus while traveling, eating at unique places adds greatly to the fun, while ending up in bland, uninteresting places detracts significantly.

I book all lodging in advance, because the above research enables me to feel confident I know how long any one area is going to be able to hold our attention. Plus I don't want to have the worry of where, exactly, we are going to stay on any given night rattling around in my head. Favorite sites for this are, depending on mode of travel, RVParkReviews, Travelocity, Expedia, VRBO or Airbnb.

We make a point of stopping in at Visitor Centers as soon as we arrive in a new location. Sometimes it just supports the research I've already done, but often times things I didn't know about present themselves and we end up going in a different direction altogether.

I make a point of having at least one major activity planned out in advance for each day of travel. I pre-book freely, but limit those things not subject to last minute cancellation so that we can easily make changes as we feel appropriate based on all the variables that present themselves in travel - weather, budget constraints, energy constraints, traffic patterns, etc.

I think it's also important to accept that you will never be able to 'do it all' and that that is OK. As long as what we do is enjoyable, we are fine with understanding we may have left a few things undone. We also give ourselves permission to do nothing at all on any given day should we so wish. So far we've rarely evoked this executive privilege, because even within our flurry of activities I leave daily windows of downtime to simply stop and smell the roses.

Some may find this all to be way, way too much work. For us, it works because 1) I sincerely enjoy this part of the process, and 2) once we take off, we have very, very little to worry about. We can simply focus on the adventure before us, knowing the big details have been taken care of.
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Old 09-02-2014, 10:39 AM   #64
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Wow, some of you do take this to a higher level!

Since I frequently travel alone, I can be more spontaneous when I get to the destination. I often take advantage of flight connections in interesting cities and build in an overnight stay to have a look around. When I visit a city new to me, if there is an activity that I really want to do, I book it before I leave home, but leave the rest of the time open. I take a general tour on the first day, often on a hop-on, hop-off bus. This gives me ideas for further exploration. Sometimes the first few stops are so interesting that I have to skip several stops at the end! This happened in Berlin, when I spent a couple of hours each at the Bauhaus and DDR museums and Checkpoint Charlie. I have learnt not to over schedule myself. Finding the unexpected is half the fun.
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Old 09-02-2014, 10:52 AM   #65
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Wow, some of you do take this to a higher level!
That made me laugh.

Currently we are getting ready to leave on a two week trip to Peru where I've left all the planning to someone else. I'm calling it my vacation from vacation!
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Old 09-02-2014, 12:14 PM   #66
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Awesome write-up!
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Originally Posted by ItDontMeanAThing View Post
... Put color coded markers on a trip specific google map. I'd tell you my color coding but it keeps evolving.

...
That's just one great idea I am certain to use
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Old 09-02-2014, 03:32 PM   #67
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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.
Interesting - this is also the only really sketchy place I can recall in the USA. We were headed to U of Chicago for DD to visit. Fortunately she decided it wasn't for her.
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Old 09-02-2014, 05:14 PM   #68
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Interesting - this is also the only really sketchy place I can recall in the USA. We were headed to U of Chicago for DD to visit. Fortunately she decided it wasn't for her.
Pretty amazing that Obama's house (his Chicago house, not the 1600 Penn. address...) is not more than a quick walk from that really sketchy area. It goes from not so nice to pretty nice over the course of a mile or two.
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Old 09-02-2014, 08:11 PM   #69
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Like many others here, I like to plan as much as possible. I always try to book the flight and hotel months in advance. The flights are usually not cancelable without some fees and often will book hotels with free cancellation. Or if they offer a good enough discount from the rack rate, I'll go ahead and book a non-cancelable rate and prepay.

I used to get guidebooks the latest edition available. But like many others, I use web resources and go on forums to get specific info. Frommers.com, if it has anything about the destination, is a good overview to start with. Tripadvisor and fodors have good forums.

The end product of this research and planning is an itinerary that I print out, which has all the flight, hotel, rental cars, tours, etc. information. I use kayak My Trips now but I used to use TripIt for a long time. These services let you forward your flight, hotel, etc. confirmations to them and they will populate the dates for these bookings into your itinerary.

Then I fill out the rest manually with all the info. that I've researched. For instance, the attractions I plan to visit or may visit, so all the practical info., like opening hours, ticket prices, how to get there, etc.

I fill out day by day the places I would be interested in. I also put in lists of grocery stores and restaurants (separate entries) that I might go to during my stay.

Even if I don't end up going to some of these places, I figure the info. could be useful if I should visit these places again. Usually places like Rome and Paris I go through repeatedly while linking to local transport. So I often schedule a night layover.

I keep working on this itinerary until the day before I depart and then finally print it out. I also save a soft copy, as a PDF that I load into iBooks on my iPad.

Complimenting this itinerary would be some printouts of maps, which I either find on some web page or a part of a custom Google Map that I assemble. My custom maps will have pins for my hotel, the attractions I will visit, stores, maybe directions.

The map could encompass several cities, then I zoom in on each city and print out the portion (taking a screen shot) with the pinned places.

Again, many of these custom maps, I've re-used on subsequent trips.
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Old 09-02-2014, 11:41 PM   #70
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Sounds like several of us essentially write our own guidebooks. I also compiled things into PDFs that I loaded onto iBooks as well as a spreadsheet itinerary that contained the essentials for hotels, trains, public transport and suggested daily activities.

Preview on the Mac lets you combine PDFs, so I used this to pull together useful maps, brochures, notes, etc for each destination. It's nice having it on the iPad rather than carrying around a bunch of paper.

The nice thing so far, is that I already know in my head which bus to take or in general which direction to go. A quick glance at my itinerary gets me on track if needed, and DH also has a clue because he actually read some of the generated materials.

We stepped out into the gigantic Munich train station. I knew exactly where to go even though we'd never been there before, but I had reviewed online layout maps a few times. Got our luggage stowed, tram tickets bought, out to the tram area, didn't miss a beat (well, had to buy a pretzel to get enough change for the locker ). It's nice having a strong sense of orientation. There are still plenty of surprises, but it's not nearly as overwhelming.
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