As you can probably tell, if you’ve read our journals, we don’t mess around when enjoying our trips. We always try to maximise our days so as to see as much as possible, without reducing the trip down to a whistle-stop tour where we don’t take anything in. It definitely takes some time and effort to plan trips like we take, but after much practice we feel like we’ve honed in on a process that works really well. Now we’d like to share it with you in a series of posts we’re creating that is all about planning a great road trip. Let’s jump right in!
Where To Go?
Well the first step is, of course, to decide where broadly you want to visit. For us the place we end up going might have started as just a thought or suggestion, to something that fits or works in with the time available, or flights to one place are cheaper than elsewhere in Europe and we haven’t been there yet, so let’s see what there is to do there! This was the case last year when we visited Italy. This trip originally started as Southern France/Spain, then went in the direction of the Baltic States, but when flight prices proved cost prohibitive for both of those ideas we saw reasonable flights to Venice and said “Why not?” and Italy it was.
For you the destination might be a place you’ve always dreamed of going, or perhaps you spin a globe and go where your finger lands when you stop spinning it. However you choose doesn’t so much matter as just picking a place and then get excited about the great trip to come. And if you have that feeling that you just have to see EVERYTHING (like Stacey does quite frequently), always tell yourself you can come back another day and make your plans with that in mind.
What To See and Do
Now that you’ve picked your destination the fun really begins – finding all the neat things to see and do that you can add to your itinerary! And that’s really where this series kicks off because in this post we’ll share with you all the places we look to find all the great things we find to see and do, no matter where we go.
The places mentioned in this guide are from the planning of our road trip in Cornwall, England in March 2017 (unless otherwise mentioned). This was our fourth annual March road trip – having been to Normandy, The Western Front of WWI and Ireland previously. This time we kept it domestic and visited the beautiful Cornwall peninsula.
So you know roughly where you are going, but what to see? You may have some things you know you want to do already. For us those things were the Eden Project and Land’s End and were easy things to provisionally pencil in. But then what? We had six and half days to fill. Off to our favourite trip planning resources we went!
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After the stuff we know about, our first stop is to key “top 10 things to do” and the place-name into Google. Invariably one of the first matches is TripAdvisor (but don’t dismiss the other matches – we check them too) and we will trawl through all the things listed to find things of interest to us. From this source we pinned the Minack Theatre and Geevor Tin Mine, amongst others.
TripAdvisor is far from infallible though when it determines whether something is “in” a place. In Phoenix, AZ, for example, we would have missed Tonto National Monument if we had relied solely on TripAdvisor as it deemed that wasn’t “in” Phoenix. We try to use as many sources as possible so that we catch all the best things that interest us.
Please note: Each of the screenshots in this post can be clicked on to enlarge so they are easier to view and read.
A recent addition to our search assets is Atlas Obscura. As the name suggests this has many obscure places that might be overlooked by more mainstream tourism sites. We use this every time we travel now and for this trip it provided us with Kennall Vale Gunpowder Works and The Lost Gardens of Heligan, again amongst others. Of course you will find many things on multiple sites.
The nice thing about Atlas Obscura, but also a bit of a flaw, is it shows a map of places and you can zoom in and out and scroll the map and then search the map as it is shown. This is really useful, but as it’s searching a square you can end up with it finding places that are outside of the area you want to search. For this trip it showed places in South Wales that we had to then filter out ourselves (or just add them to a map for a future Wales road trip!)
Atlas Obscura also now has a hardcover book to compliment their site which “celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world“. We have this book and would definitely recommend it to fans of the site. It’s beautifully designed and you could easily spend hours browsing through it discovering all kinds of weird and wonderful places.
Another source of things to see is the UNESCO website for the country we are visiting. Again just Google “UNESCO” and the country you are visiting and it will take you directly to the relevant site. Not all UNESCO sites are enthralling (housing estates in Berlin for example), but many are wonderful and not all seem to be major attractions.
We also check the tentative list for each country as many of these can be equally interesting, and one day might be confirmed to the UNESCO list. Cornwall isn’t a great source of UNESCO sites but the one in that area, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, did make our list.
Besides providing a source of inspiration we also consult this list for each trip to see which sites we want to visit to help Stacey reach her lifetime travel goal to visit 500 UNESCO sites. Perhaps you have similar travel goals or “bucket lists” so it’s good to keep them handy and refer to them often so you don’t miss out on a chance to visit a place from your list.
Ask friends, family and colleagues; it might seem obvious, but we have added many things to our list by discussing our travels. Who knows what gems someone else has already discovered where you are heading? Our colleague, Chris, told us about Gleiss 17 at Grunewald Station in Berlin, and the Tonto National Monument in Phoenix was a recommendation by long time reader and fellow blogger, Meredith, from Ponder the Irrelevant. Both were excellent suggestions and we were glad to have been able to visit these places that we might not have otherwise found.
Almost everywhere you can think of visiting has a tourism website. The country orientated ones will focus on the major sites you most likely will know about, but the more local sites can often throw up lesser known, and very interesting, things that could have otherwise been overlooked. Type “visit” and the place-name into Google to find the tourism site for just about anywhere you can imagine.
It’s also worth searching for organisations that look after ancient buildings and the like. As an example for our trip, English Heritage and the National Trust were both valuable resources for looking for things in the vicinity of our travels. The benefit of sites like this is that they may also offer passes to combine admission prices and if you are visiting enough sites they could be worth purchasing. This was the case for us on our Ireland road trip when the Ireland Heritage Card made sense to save us money over the course of the week on the sites we visited.
You shouldn’t assume a pass like this is worth the fee though and should take a few minutes to price it out and see if it is the best choice. We prefer to pick the places we want to go first, and then do the cost analysis so we don’t let that influence our wish list.
Whilst researching opening times and prices for places, we saw “nearby attractions” on some of their websites and took a look. This is how our research on Trethevy Quoit led us to King Doniert’s Stone that was nearby. Looking for information about Lanyon Quoit led to Men an Tol. And searching for Merry Maidens stone circle caused us to see that Tregiffian Burial Chamber is just a short distance away.
We also find nearby attractions to visit when we are pinning things to our Google Map. We zoom in a little and “travel” around the map and all kinds of neat things will pop up to prompt us to go look into them further.
Sometimes it is still cool to actually read a book and Stacey has quite a collection of travel guides to attest to this! There are lots of different publishers but favourites in her collection include: Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and Rough Guides. These are usually great ‘all purpose’ books about countries, but some will dig deeper into particular regions. For Europe her goto every time is, of course, Rick Steves. And for the not-so-common places to visit, like Albania, she’s found that Thomas Cook books are a good resource, although these are not as easy to find as the other options.
Not only does she pick these up for trips we have in the planning stages, but she’ll also pick up volumes for potential future trips if she finds them at her local library’s used book store. And it is also worth checking the library stacks as they will also have lots of options and they are all free!
Ah Pinterest… Stacey’s favourite way to
waste time do research for a trip. Pinterest is a wonderful visual search engine so it’s a great place to find beautiful places to visit. You can also set up boards to save all your favourites (including secret boards if you don’t want everyone to see what you’re up to). It is easy to set them up by location, type or trip, really any way you’d like to organise them. Stacey keeps tons of ideas for future trips, travel tips, travel gear and packing, world cuisine…you name it, if it’s travel related she’s saving it on Pinterest. She also pins posts from One Trip at a Time if you’d like to follow along with her boards.
Quite a few of the things on our USA map came from subscribing to the RoadTrippers newsletter. Whilst the website is a useful resource for North America, we find it a little tricky to use to search as it wants you to build a road trip within it. However, the newsletter regularly contains amazing things that get added to our map for future USA visits. We have a lot of stuff to see!
Stacey follows quite a few travel blogs with the help of Bloglovin’ and finds things on there all the time that she think we’ll be interested in for a future trip, whether the trip is in the planning stages or not. Bloglovin’ has a feature that allows you to “Create a Collection” and she has one for “Upcoming Trip Ideas” where she saves these things.
Keep your eyes and ears open
And finally, keep your eyes and ears open, we often pin things to maps from watching TV shows or reading books and magazine articles. And we don’t not note something down just because we don’t have a trip there planned, we record it for when we do. We keep several Google MyMaps to keep up with our ideas. Check out our “Future USA” map with all the things we still want to see!
Do you have any essential resources or tips for finding neat stuff to see?
We’d love to hear about them because we don’t think you can ever have too many resources for planning that perfect road trip.
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