I love to travel, despite an almost crippling fear of flying, it’s pretty much my favourite thing to do. Whilst it is my favourite thing, a trip doesn’t come without anxiety and, generally being a Type A personality, I overcome this with over-planning and a ton of research.
Probably my favourite Mindy Kaling quote ever.
I treat every trip as a one-off. I don’t assume that I will ever return—travel is, after all, a luxury. This means seeing and doing as much as possible in as little time as possible. Remarkably this isn’t as frantic as it sounds. I prioritize, I plan ahead, and I always leave enough time to explore and detour. As a result some people love to travel with me (fortunately this is the case with my husband and my high school best friend—the folks I’ve traveled with the most). It’s like having your own travel agent, guide and concierge. Some—those who prefer relaxing beach vacations (the type of vacation I do not perform well on)—do not like traveling with me and do not find it relaxing.
I usually select one area or neighborhood, or one major site per day. From there I build food, drink, shopping and tourist-type itineraries. Shopping is rarely a priority, unless it’s a place known for a particular craft or for vintage. Food or sight seeing is usually the anchor and I usually plan out “days” without assigning them specific dates or times (if the trip is very short then days are assigned eventually!)
When I visit somewhere new, my goal is to experience as much of it as possible—but not as a tourist. I want to go off the beaten path and live like locals. Ideally I’d make these discoveries all by myself, and it’s not as if that never happens (it happens frequently and my schedule is never so regimented that there isn’t time for happenstance), but since time and budget are usually limited I find knowledge is power and a little research can go a long way.
I use a variety of options to plan my trips; Google, and specifically Google Maps becomes my best friend. Once you have an area nailed down you can bring it up in Google Maps. From there, use the search function within the map to look for bars and restaurants. By searching “restaurant” within a map area you’ll find a bevy of choices; then it’s up to you to research each one. It makes it much easier to explore a neighborhood when you can search specifically in that neighborhood.
Since I tend to enjoy the vintage and unusual side of things I Google keywords such as “vintage”, “retro”, “kitsch”, “quirky” alongside typical search terms (like restaurant, bar, hotel)—this can bring up great niche sites and travel guides dedicated to your destination. For those of you that can’t stand chain hotels, search terms like “boutique”, “independent”, “family owned”, or search specifically for bed and breakfasts, motels, inns—and when in Europe, pensiones.
There are a number of apps, sites and guides that I adore, my favourite of which is “The Hedonist Guide to” or “HG2”. HG2 has a great website with a lot of free information— guides to restaurants, cafés, bars, hotels, sights, clubs and shopping for almost fifty cities.
I love that hedonism is available at all budgets, according to HG2, and all of their recommendations are categorized as one of the following: Achingly Hip, Budget Chic, Expense Account, Neighborhood Vibe, Old School and Uniquely Local. I have never gone wrong with a recommendation from HG2 and have used the guides in New York, Tokyo, London, Las Vegas and Rome.
Most of the guides are also available as books, at £12 each and most of them are also available as £2.99 iPhone apps!
If you want to learn a little more about Hedonist Guides, I wrote a review on them back in 2011 here.
I have to admit, when I first discovered the 38HOURS series, it was all about aesthetics—this series of magazines are really attractive—but once I dove a little deeper I realized how valuable they are for the discerning traveler. Unsurprisingly the taste level doesn’t stop at the cover art.
Each guide is curated by local tastemakers within each city and the focus is on food, shopping and drinking, as well as undercover finds such art museums hidden in WWII bunkers in Berlin.
There are only 9 cities currently available, Milan, Berlin, NYC, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Stockholm and Vienna and they each cost €10 (so $10 at the moment) they do ship from Berlin—but shipping is a flat rate of €2. So a bargain.
They also have an app, which is free with previews, but each full city is available for $3.99 as an in-app purchase.
The “On the Grid” guides are a very new set of guides produced by design agency Hyperakt and curated by influencers within each area. The guides are available online and are completely free. Currently only Charleston, Los Angeles and New York are available and only limited areas. Many more cities are on their way and they’re currently seeking influencers for even more cities.
I really like that they are divided by neighborhood. As I mentioned previously, basing my itinerary by neighborhood is essential to the way in which I travel. Whilst I haven’t used them to travel as of yet, I did check out the Los Angeles Guide. And although it currently only covers the Arts District and Santa Monica, they have some great spots on there, which is a good sign. Pro-tip—to find out if a guide series is the right one for you, look at their guide for your home town—if it features places you’d recommend to a visitor you’ve probably found a good match.
Alright. Now I need to go somewhere again. Wanderlust calls.