Travelling to a foreign country is exhilarating – and a little bit intimidating too. You are venturing somewhere completely new and you really don’t know what things will be like there when you arrive. It’s always a massive learning curve when you leap into the unknown.
When you are planning your trip you’ll have so many questions. What will the climate be like? What kind of clothing is appropriate to wear? Will people speak English? What is the food like? What is the public transport like? How much will things cost? What local customs should I be aware of? These are so many important things to know before you board that plane.
This information is all out there, but the key is knowing where to find it. The good news is that these days there are so many ways to research your travels and find out the answers to these questions before you go. The guide book isn’t the only source of info- in fact Lee and I never use paper guidebooks as we prefer other methods.
Here are 25 ways that you can research your travel destination and find out everything you need to know before you go. Find the ways that work best for you – you’ll likely end up using several methods in order to cover everything. This can be one of the fun parts of travel – you’ll learn something new, ease your apprehension by feeling more prepared and the more you read about your destination the more you will build excitement.
1. Wikitravel Articles
Whenever Lee and I are heading somewhere new, we often like to look at the Wikitravel page first. It can sometimes be a little outdated (including prices), but most of the time it has a lot of very useful information in an organised and laid out format. For example, the Wikitravel page for a country is where I look first when I want to know how long the tourist visa lasts, whether or not I will need to apply for it and how the process works.
Wikitravel posts also contain information about things to do, places to stay, safety tips, ideas for day trips and much more. It works like Wikipedia in the sense that it can be edited by anyone. So, if you feel like after your trip you could contribute something you discovered to the guide you can make it even more informative for the people who visit after you.
2. Read Posts By Travel Bloggers Who Have Been There
Travel blogs can be a great way to learn about a destination! There are so many out there, so it only takes a quick Google search to find a blogger who has been to your destination. I like reading travel blog posts, because they offer a first hand perspective on the destination.
It helps to find a blogger who has a similar travel style, budget and interests as you do, as their recommendations will be more useful. It’s not very helpful to read about a blogger’s experience at a high end luxury resort when you will be seeking out budget accommodation on your trip.
3. Email Travel Bloggers
So you’ve found a great travel blogger who has written content about your destination, but they didn’t quite answer your specific question? Why not try emailing them? If they are not too busy, they might take the time to answer your question or point you to somewhere that has the information.
As a travel blogger there have been a few readers email me with more specific questions related to something they read on the blog and if possible I always do my best to help them.
4. Watch Videos on Youtube
Watching a video about your destination can be a way to learn things about it that are hard to express via the written word. You can see what the landscapes look like, listen to what the accents sound like and actually see footage of the attractions that you might want to visit on your trip.
There is an incredible wealth of travel content on Youtube, from travel vlogs to documentaries to footage of tours to videos from official travel brands and much more. Make yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable, sit back and learn about your destination via video.
5. Ask About it On Reddit
Check out forums such as /r/travel on Reddit to ask questions and find out more about your destination. These forums are used by a lot of passionate travellers and they often have plenty of experience to share with you. Before you start your own thread, search through to see if your question has been asked before.
Also, if you speak the language and you can find the subreddit for that country you could ask questions there. For example, if you are heading to Canada and you want to know what to expect you could make a post on /r/Canada and it will likely be answered by plenty of knowledgeable locals. Also, just reading the posts and content shared on that country-specific subreddit will give you a lot of insight into Canada.
TripAdvisor is a great source of information about your travel destination. It’s not just for hotels – you can also read reviews of restaurants, tour companies and local attractions. If you see a restaurant, attraction or a hotel mentioned while you are doing research somewhere else you can head over to TripAdvisor to see what people are saying about it. Also, you can search in TripAdvisor for the top restaurants, hotels or attractions in order to get ideas on what to do, where to stay and what to eat while you are there.
We have also found that TripAdvisor is great for choosing tour companies. If you are headed somewhere like the Amazon rainforest, you will need to hire a tour guide to take you into the jungle as you cannot visit on your own. It’s hard to find the right tour company when you are searching on their websites, as each company is going to say that they offer the best service. When you look at the reviews you will get an honest picture of what the tour was like, written by people who have actually experienced it.
A tip for using TripAdvisor: try to get the overall vibe of the reviews rather than taking very positive or negative review too seriously. Sometimes it’s important to take the reviews with a grain of salt, as they might be written by someone who is easily pleased or overly negative.
7. Read Local News Sources
If you speak the language, you could start reading local news sources from the country before you get there – such as newspapers, blogs and magazines. They will give you an insight into what is happening in the country, such as events, festivals, politics, popular culture and much more. Also, it will give you some great talking points when you are conversation with the locals, as you will be able to comment on current affairs. (although be careful what you say on hot button issues!)
Couchsurfing is an amazing phenomenon. It’s a website that brings together travellers with local hosts who offer their spare rooms or couches for free. Lee and I used it a lot during our trip across Canada and we stayed for free with some incredibly kind and generous people.
However, did you know that even if you don’t want to stay with a local – you can also use Couchsurfing to find out more information about your travel destination? You can connect with someone who lives there and ask them questions. Also, many Couchsurfing hosts state on their profile that they are available to meet with you for coffee or a drink and show you around. What better source of insider info can you have than a local who is willing to give their time to introduce you to their home?
9. The Staff of Your Hotel
If you have already booked your hotel, the staff can be a great source of information. They will be able to tell you how to get from the airport to the hotel and they can also offer tips on how to get around the city and what to do while you are there. You can even ask them to recommend local tour companies for activities.
10. Read Guide Books
Of course, we can’t forget about the classic guide book. Thumb through a copy of Frommers, Lonely Planet or Rough Guides and you will learn a lot about your destination. These guides usually have sections on the history and culture of the country, as well as safety tips, suggestions on what to do, information about local holidays, reviews of hotels and restaurants and much more.
I personally never use guide books. I find that the information that they contain can be easily found online with a quick Google search. Also, the content in a guidebook is already several months old by the time it goes to print, while more up to date information can be accessed online.
However, many travellers I know still use guide books and find them valuable. A guide book never needs WiFi, so even if you can’t get online the information is still there. Also, there’s something about the sensation of holding a physical book in your hand and flipping through it.
11. Read Non-Fiction Books
Travel guides aren’t the only books that can help you to learn about your destination. You can research almost every aspect of the country via non-fiction books. Read about the history of the nation and you’ll have a better understanding of its politics and why things are the way they are. Read about the cuisine of the country, its economy, its environment or any other aspects of it that interest you. Read books or autobiographies of famous people who are from that country or who have spent a lot of time there.
This info might not help you to book a hotel or a tour, but it will give you a deeper insight into the country and that understanding will make your travel experience richer and more meaningful.
12. Watch Documentaries
In a similar vein, documentaries are non-fiction in video form and they can be very interesting sources of information about your travel destination. If you watch a fascinating documentary it can inform you and be a great talking point later in discussions with people you meet on your travels. Check out the documentaries section on Netflix to see if there are any films there about your destination.
13. Watch Films or TV Shows
As well as watching documentaries, what about watching fictional films that are set in your destination? They will allow you to see what the destination looks like and get a sense of the culture, scenery and other aspects.
For example, City of God is an amazing film and it also gives a glimpse into what life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro is like. Midnight in Paris is one of my favourite films of all time and it perfectly captures the charm and elegance of the City of Light. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, another one of my favourite movies, is basically a love letter to the city of Chicago. Take a look for films that are set in the location you will be travelling to and take some time to watch them before your trip.
14. Read Novels Set in That Country
Another way to get a sense of the country you are travelling to is to read a novel that is set there. You’ll be able to feel immersed in the local culture and you’ll get a sense of what things are like. Depending on the novel you might gain some insight into the local customs, the history and the subtler nuances of life in that destination.
15. Look up Hashtags
Social media can be a great source of travel information and inspiration. Go on Twitter or Instagram and search for hashtags related to your travel destination. On Twitter you will find Tweets to articles and blogs about that destination as well as local news and media.
On Instagram you will find gorgeous photos that will fuel your travel daydreams. I like to look at the hashtag for where I am going next on Instagram so that I can get some visual inspiration of what to do while I am there.
16. Talk About it To People
Whenever someone you know asks you what’s new, you can mention the upcoming travel you are planning. When you do, they might have some suggestions to give you or they might say, “Oh that’s cool, my Aunt/Neighbour/Friend/etc has just been there, I’ll ask them if they have any tips.”
17. Read Magazines
Although magazines are a bit of an old style of media that you might not read anymore if you get most of your news online – they can still offer helpful content. Take a look for any travel magazines that feature articles about your destination.
18. Ask Someone You Know Who Has Been There
Reach out to your work, school and friend networks – there is a chance that you already know someone who has been to your destination. Whether it is your cousin, your parent’s neighbours or a friend of a friend, it can be very helpful to make a connection with someone who has already been to your destination.
You can email them a few questions or even offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for sitting down with you and talking to you about your trip. First hand experience is so valuable.
If you are a auditory learner and you remember things better if you listen to them, podcasts can be a great way for you to learn about your destination. There are thousands of podcasts out there covering a huge array of topics, so it’s just a matter of finding the right one.
There are podcasts that are about travel in general and you might also find podcasts related to your specific location. Here’s a list of 20 Travel Podcasts from OpenCulture to get you started.
20. Ask Expats Who Live There
Expats are people who have left their home country to live abroad somewhere else. The expats who live in the destination you are travelling to can be a great source of information, because they know what it’s like to visit that country for the first time. They have lived there for a while so they are very knowledgeable about local life.
Whether you are visiting Thailand, Turkey, Tanzania or Texas – these are some great ways to research your travel destination before you go. With so many methods to choose from, you’ll be sure to find the info you need to prepare for your trip.
If you have any other ways that you have found out information about a destination before travelling, please feel free to share them with us in the comments!