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Vacation Tips - Research Before You Travel

Updated on September 4, 2011

You dream, plan, and save for it all year long. The last thing you want is for a bad experience to ruin your vacation. There are no guarantees that everything will be perfect, but there are steps you can take to increase the odds that your dream trip won’t turn into a nightmare. Good research is a must. Several websites offer valuable information and reviews to help the traveler make informed decisions concerning everything from accommodations to dining to entertainment. I never travel without first consulting Tripadvisor.com, my favorite travel website. You can search for information by city, by region, or by specific hotel or restaurant. You can see the top ranked restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, or activities for any city, ranked by travelers just like you and me. Read reviews for excursions and tours, museums, and amusement parks, or search traveler forums for advice and answers to specific questions. The forums are easy to navigate, categorized by destination, but also by topic. That way you can browse only the topics that interest you. It is against the rules to advertise or promote any business, assuring that you will find unbiased opinions. A couple of other websites you might want to check out as well are Virtualtourist.com and Fodors.com.

All that research can be time consuming and overwhelming, but it’s also a lot of fun. I enjoy it and find that it makes the anticipation of my vacation that much sweeter. And I have found through experience that the reward is very much worth the time invested. Always remember when reading reviews and forum posts that each person has different expectations, tastes, and experiences, so in order to get the whole picture you will need to read several reviews and/or forum posts. It's always interesting to see how one person will praise a hotel, calling it the best experience ever, while another person will claim it was inadequate or even a horrible experience. It goes to show that while some have very high expectations and can't be satisfied by even the highest level of service, others are willing to overlook even major problems. I tend to discount the most extreme reviews as long as they are far and few between.

The downside to doing a lot of research and planning is that you may lose a little spontaneity. I have a friend who refuses to research any vacation destination. She claims it takes away from the sense of adventure. Although I am an adventurous and spontaneous person, my idea of adventure is not overcooked shellfish, rude servers, or bugs crawling across my table during dinner! It's always good to remember the old saying, "you can’t judge a book by its cover," so choosing a restaurant or hotel strictly based on outside appearances can lead to major disappointment. I have been lured by beautiful, colorful brochures, only to discover when I arrive that the pictures are obviously 20 years old! On the other hand some of the best meals I have enjoyed were in restaurants off the beaten path; hidden gems that I never would have discovered had I not done my due diligence.

I like to keep my options open, while at the same time lowering my risk of disappointment. To achieve this balance I suggest flexibility. Don't create an itinerary set in stone (2 pm Saturday dinner at the CrabTrap). It’s much better to make a list (5 top restaurants in the Destin area). That way you have choices but your options have been researched and validated as quality establishments by fellow travelers.

So next time you plan a vacation, set aside some time to see what's out there, and read about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Visit one of the travel websites I have suggested, or simply do a Google search for any destination, hotel, restaurant, or activity that may interest you. The wealth of information you will find may mean the difference between the dream vacation of a lifetime, or the trip from hell! Safe travels!






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