This is a four part series where we'll explore:
1. Choosing Your Destination
2. Researching it Out
3. Budgeting for your Trip
4. Building a Rough Itinerary
Researching it Out
Once Scott and I decide whether the length and season of our trip is a good match for our ideal destination, we jump in the car and head to the bookstore to check out the travel book section. We almost always end up going with the Lonely Planet guide books- they are well-written, organized, give a great overview, and they cover the topics we care about: Getting there and away, budget to high end accommodations, things to do, things to see, and food to eat. I would say to just stick with Lonely Planet, but some locations in Europe and elsewhere have travel specialists who write a really great book about that region. Explore your options in travel books, but I don't think you can go wrong with Lonely Planet. Then, I leave the book on my nightstand and spend my nights reading away. I highlight, sticky note, write in the margins... this book is my manual.
Next, I read blogs, join online forums, explore destination-specific websites, and best of all: talk to people who have been there! All my best restaurants, activities and hotels have been recommendations from people who have already traveled there. Don't be shy in asking for help, people are excited to talk about their experience with someone who cares, and I know I get a thrill from giving a friend a good tip. I have also started listening to podcasts on specific places, my favorite of which is Amateur Traveler where host Chris Christensen gives you a great flavor of each destination and generally gives more "off the beaten path" advice than others I know. He interviews people who have spent a bit of time in the location and asks great questions to his interviewees.
During this researching phase, I often post a large map of where I'm going to kind of get my head around the region, and be able to visualize places in relation to each other. I make a giant list of things to see, do and eat and try to group them together based on location.
The researching phase can take anywhere between 1 week to 6 months or more! Decide how much time you have and plan accordingly! For me, learning about each destination is almost as fun as going there!
Just remember, once you've arrived at your destination all the seemingly-endless planning will be worth it and you'll be anxious to start over again!