What do you do when you learn that you are going to a destination that you have never been to before?

For me, it’s a multi-step process, involving some research, talking to friends and co-workers, a trip or two to the library, and maybe even a movie.  I like to gather data from a variety of sources, because I want both hard facts and opinions, and it’s rare that you can get top quality information like that from only one source.

Here are some of the things I do, and places that I look, for information:

Primary online research:  One of the first places I go to is the official tourism website for the state or country where I’ll be visiting.  (Smiley Cat has done a great job of organizing and linking to the various official state websites.)  From there, I usually go to the Convention and Visitor Bureau of the state, city, or area for more specific information.  Both of these websites will usually offer a variety of free information, including maps, guidebooks, resource guides, and discount coupons.  If I have time, I request all this information.  It’s good information to read on a plane, and I can leave it behind.  A good search will turn up lots of information.

Secondary online research:  After getting some basic raw data, I next am looking for information with a more nuanced filter.  I want to know what to do and where to go from people who live and work in the area where I’m going.  I look for a couple of different writers, knowing that each one brings something different to their analysis and reviews.  At this stage I’m not looking for “tourist” information (like in step one above); I’m looking for a way to NOT be a tourist.

In person research:  If it’s a domestic destination, I head off to AAA to pick up a guidebook (usually filled with discounts) and maps.  This has always been a great source of free information, and is worth the price of membership.  I also head to the library to take a look at a variety of guidebooks.  The most current year’s book is usually not available for check out, but past year’s books do circulate.  I’ll check out everything that I can find — reading and skimming based upon what they offer me.  Only if there is a book that I feel is truly indispensable will I purchase the current edition.  At the library I can also check out travel magazines that have articles or information about my destination.

Email research:  I send out an email to all my friends, family, and contacts, telling everyone where and when I’ll be traveling, and asking for suggestions and referrals.  You’d be surprised and who knows whom, knows whom, and how happy people are to put you in touch with a local. 

Entertaining research:  If there’s time, I’ll try to pick up a book about the area where I’ll be traveling.  This isn’t a guidebook, but is usually nonfiction.  I look for something that tells me about the history of an area, or the culture, or in some way takes me a little more in-depth on a topic.  I also will see if there are any movies that have been set in that location.  It may only have been a so-so movie, but after watching “Under the Tuscan Sun” I longed to be in the vineyards somewhere in Tuscany.

For me, researching travel possibilities is both productive and fun.

How about you?  What resources do you use when planning a trip?  Please share your ideas and options in the comments.

Photo credit:  MorgueFile