It’s better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee
Once you have an idea of where you want to go, now the real fun begins! I try to read as much as I can about a city, including the surrounding region. I find articles and websites online, of course. I watch YouTube videos and see what Rick Steves has to say about the place either from his PBS show or his very robust website. I go to my folder of magazine articles I’ve torn out and filed over the years about places that looked interesting and see if there are any possibilities. And, I go to the good old bookstore and head straight to the travel section. Yes, it’s easier to go to Amazon and that’s certainly an option. But I like to flip through pages and compare guidebooks and maps, and most good bookstores (if you can find them anymore, but that’s another topic!) will have a nice selection. I love my Kindle, but I think reading about travel destinations is one of those topics that doesn’t fully translate to an e-reader format.
I like reading about the history of a place before we visit. I like to get an idea of what has shaped a place culturally and politically. I like to have an idea of what sorts of things a particular region is known for before we get there. Sometimes the first several hours in a new place can be so overwhelming that it’s nice to not have to think too hard about it when you’re just off a flight and don’t have your bearings. If I have a little bit of an idea of what’s around our first-night hotel, for example, then if our room isn’t ready and we’re hungry and tired and need a glass of wine, I like to have an idea or two in my head so that we don’t get “hangry” or relegate ourselves to eating something fast and terrible just to take the edge off.
When you have studied up a bit on your history and know the backgrounds of some of the places you are about to visit, it frees up your gray matter to actually absorb some details and be able to appreciate fully the wonder of whatever it is you’re looking at in the moment. Sometimes in this instagram-crazy, over-stylized world I feel like there are a lot of people who are only interested in seeing something because it will make a great insta-feed. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to take amazing pictures. But if you come home with a bunch of pictures of cathedrals and monuments or other stuff that you saw a bunch of other tourists taking photos of so you figured it must be something important…well, what do you learn from that?
I know some folks who will travel halfway around the world, only to complain about the food because they can’t find anything that looks like something they want to try. They go to a famous museum but get so hot and tired and cranky from wasting half a day in a long line that they couldn’t care less about what’s actually waiting inside. Then, once they are back in the comfort of their own living room, they sit down to read all the brochures they picked up at all the various places, only to have a bunch of “a-ha” moments like, “wow, I had no idea that is what I was looking at!”
I’m not saying to prepare for your vacation like a mid-term exam, unless you want to. But if you have just a little curiosity and do a little bit of research beforehand, chances are that you’ll find some really interesting, off the beaten path spots. You’ll be wowed at how much more you are aware of little details about a place and appreciate them.