Before leaving for a big trip, I like to do some preliminary research so that I know what might interest me in the area. This allows me to have a loose itinerary, as I already have an idea of what I might like.
Here are some of the ways I decide where to go in a new country.
1. Read travel blogs
A good blog is kind of like having your own personal tour guide- and there are plenty of great blogs out there.
2. Research festivals or events in the region
Research festivals that are occurring in the region where you will be.
This can mean making sure to be in Seville, Spain on Sunday because that’s usually the only day of the week when there is bull-fighting, or making sure to end up in Koh Phangan, Thailand when the moon is full to attend the Full Moon Party.
Also, the best place to celebrate may not be where the tourists are (Several Brazilians have told me it is cheaper and more fun to party in inland Minas Gerais for Carnaval rather than heavily trafficked Rio).
3. Watch Anthony Bourdain
Before I go to a new country, I download that country’s episode of No Reservations.
Tony’s show has led me to countless incredible places, from the Fuente Alemana, a pork and beer-happy sandwich shop in Santiago, Chile, to remote villages in the mountains of Sardinia.
I watch his show not only because I have a slight crush on him but also because his show really digs deep and can enlighten you about the philosophies, food and history of a place. 43 minutes very well-spent.
4. Tap into your personal network
Send out an email to your friends and family asking for recommendations or contacts. It may get you a few recommendations, a travel buddy or a place to stay.
For example, one time I called my uncle to let him know I was planning on studying in Spain that summer. He happened to be with his good Italian friend, Gianluca, who then offered to let me borrow his beach house in Sardinia.
If I wouldn’t have reached out, I wouldn’t have had an amazing week driving a Fiat Panda to secluded Mediterranean beaches with a group of Australians.
Another way to reach out is through social media. Simply post a status on Facebook asking for recommendations of where you are going and see if you can make any connections.
5. Consume books, movies and music for which the country is known
This goes along with the tip above, but before going to a country, I really enjoy reading, watching or listening to whatever the country is famous for.
This can mean:
- Reading The Belly of Paris before shopping at a farmers’ market in Paris,
- Listening to the Pogues before heading out to the pub to Ireland,
- Brushing up on your Greek mythology before visiting the Acropolis,
- Or watching El secreto de sus ojos before heading out to the streets of Buenos Aires.
It really makes the place come alive. A great place to find this kind of information is Lonely Planet guides, in the first few pages of information about a country. Anthony Bourdain also features lots of great writers and movies in his show (if I haven’t promoted him enough already, haha).