Sources for destination research depend greatly on your style of travel and interests. If you want a week of partying all night and sleeping all day, you won’t want to search sites that focus on art exhibits and classical music performances. Rather than providing information for specific interest groups, I’ve guided you toward broader sources of information, where you are likely to find people focused on your exact area of interest.
Tripadvisor’s forums are the best place for destination information. Join the forums, and lurk around for awhile. In my experience, any question I can come up with has already been asked and answered. Do you want to know the best and most economical ways to get from any airport to your vacation destination? Tripadvisor. Do you need to know how best to plan a 10 day multi-island stay to Hawaii? Tripadvisor. Aside from everything else, often I meet people traveling to the same destination and hotel prior to the trip. It’s wonderful to have a worldwide network, especially if you’re traveling alone. A Tripadvisor friend from the UK met me in Dublin for dinner last year.
Chowhound – the foodie’s bible. Not necessarily the fanciest, Michelin style restaurant in town but often the best, for any budget. Again, lurking before posting here is important. Whether you need a place for client entertainment, a special birthday, or the best dim sum for miles – you will find an exhaustive amount of information and debate about food on Chow.com and Chowhound.
Yelp is adding more and more cities all the time. A great source of comprehensive destination information including restaurant, entertainment and shopping reviews.
Conde Nast’s Concierge.com highlights top restaurants and hotels for many popular destinations.
Frommers, Fodors, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, BootsNAll– are all great sources of information for travelers that skew toward a certain type of travel. Frommers and Fodors are more general and can be used for travelers of all types for certain destination information, but for backpackers and independent travelers, the later 3 may be better options. They provide updated local transportation information crucial to independent travelers as well as listings of accommodations, restaurants, sights and entertainment more geared to a less structured traveler. The itinerary sections are often a great starting point for trip planning. BootsNall excels in gear and Round the World (RTW) travel.
For more about Guidebooks, click here.
Since I get seasick snorkeling, I am not your best source of cruise information. Cruisecritic is a great place to start. There are a variety of discounters who can find you last minute openings on cruises – CruiseCompete was recommended by experts at the NY Times Travel Show.
Destination specific forums – if you’re finding the information on Tripadvisor’s forums is too general or sparse for your destination, look for area specific forums. Often you can find these via Google, or mentioned in guide books or more general sites. You may even be able to find them through Facebook. Some active and thorough forums are Bonairetalk; Belizeforum; Locogringo
Webshots, Flickr, Youtube – there are millions of photos and videos of every destination on these sites. When you’re considering a hotel that strangely has a lack of pictures on their site, or few to no guest pictures on Tripadvisor, it’s always worth searching the shared photo and video sites.
Area web sites – Most areas, towns and cities have decent sites either created by their official tourism board, tour operators, individuals, corporations or bloggers. Search as many of these as your schedule and interest permits. If you love museums, information about different discounted museum cards and line-avoiding cards for other major sights can usually be found on these dedicated area sites. They’re also often a good source for finding smaller hotels not listed by the major travel packagers. Take advantage of free literature, maps and discount card offers from visitor bureau sites.
Google’s street view tool is probably the best mapping resource available for trip planners. If you don’t already use this tool, check it out. After searching for the location on the Google map link above, drag and drop the little yellow man onto any yellow street on the map for a view of the actual street. Check it out for your own neighborhood (although the further you are from a major city, the less likely Google has mapped you yet) – its pretty cool! Although I can tell by looking at my own street how outdated it is, it will give you a good feel for restaurants and other services near most hotel locations.
Most small cities and towns will have good area maps on their web sites. They will also provide comprehensive information for getting around the town, upcoming events, nearby locales worth visiting and the local tour operators who can get you there. The major city newspaper is also a great resource. The New York Times has thorough information for travelers both for NYC and the rest of the world. SFGate is my go-to tool for researching San Francisco.
Destination specific food (and more) bloggers like DavidLebovitz, Heather Stimmler- Hall’s SecretsofParis and Alec Lobrano’s HungryforParis (Paris), New York Magazine’s GrubStreet (NYC and other US cities) and SeriousEats (NYC+) showcase the latest hot spots and provide updated information on old favorites. There are countless destination specific shopping, event and entertainment blogs.
Travel Agents – It’s a new world. Travel consultants have gotten a lot more sophisticated and are offering travelers more specialized, customized options than ever before. Today you can hire a specialist to plan an amazing trip to any destination in the world – and it will cost you less than doing it yourself, if you value your time. Agents like me get 100s of emails every week with offers from destination specialists and properties that consumers will never see.