Hey guys! I was so excited when Jenna agreed to write up this guest post for Through my Lens, because I’ve always been jealous of her travels. I guess when you marry someone who is from Europe, you’re bound to end up well-traveled! Even if you’re not heading off to Europe anytime soon, these tips are pretty universal and useful for any trip. Thanks for posting, Jenna! Enjoy your upcoming trip!
Ciao! I’m Jenna, the author of That Wife. I like writing on my blog, taking pictures, and pretending like I speak Italian/ I have a son who is about 1 1/2, and a husband currently undergoing the MBA program at the University of Chicago. Anni and I have actually met a few times in real life, she let me practice my boudoir photography on her, and we’ve met up to eat few times, including a picnic in the park this spring.
Anni asked me to write a post on travel, and she let me pick the exact topic, so I chose to go in a direction that I am hesitant to label myself any kind of expert in this area. Though I might seem like a well-seasoned traveler (I’ve been to Europe 3 times in the last 3 years and am headed back on August 30th) it’s really a combination of a little luck and a good marriage (I married a Pole). What I wanted to do is share some of my theories about good vacation planning. If you love reading blog posts on people’s travels, you can read the 12 day journal I wrote up detailing my first trip to Italy and Poland in 2008, my blogspot blog updated via my phone whenever we go on big trips where access to a computer is limited, or my posts tagged with the word Travel on That Wife.
I feel like I got a taste of the unconventional vacation experience last year when we went to Vienna. We went at our own pace, we saw lots of famous things, but we also experienced some things that my friends on Twitter didn’t know to recommend. We felt like locals a few times, though I’m sure the maps and American accents gave us away immediately. We’re going to be spending 10 glorious baby-free days in Italy in September with an itinerary that includes Bologna, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and Lake Garda. I’m looking forward to squeaking out some Italian (I took three semesters in college) and eating gelato every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. The itinerary though, isn’t anything like I’ve heard from anyone else, and I like it that way!
My tips for planning an unconventional vacation, along with some pictures I’ve taken during my time in Europe.
1. Research and Network
Of course you can go to Rome or Paris or London and have a great time doing exactly what the guidebooks say you should do, but where’s the fun in that? I like trying to strike a balance between seeing the magnificence of the city and attempting to experience the area as a local might. If you want to make this happen, you need to spend lots of time reading forums, blog posts, travel guides, random books from the library, and pretty much everything else you have time for. You will start to hate this vacation you are planning. Then you will actually go on said vacation and love it so much you’ll decide to do it all over again!
Networking via the internet is an awesome way to learn more about a given area. I have an awesome readership that seems to include at least who has done pretty much everything I want to do in life, so I love turning to them. Twitter and Facebook are great places to put the word out and find people who have been where you are going. I’m in the middle of planning our Italy trip and I happened to connect with a girl who lives in Italy. When I emailed her and asked for her she went above and beyond with her suggestions, even making me a spreadsheet with a cautious itinerary.
I loooooooove Tripadvisor. I know there are all sorts of other great sites, but this one is so massive that I can find a hotel in just about every city. I like the layout, the way the ratings work, and that I can find either a hotel or a b&b if I so choose. I’ve really enjoyed searching through the forums as well, that’s how I learned that Lake Garda has a hot spring that’s in a cave!
3. New York Times Travel Guides
My very favorite vacation planning resource is The New York Times (an odd choice I know) because they have these really fantastic travel guides. I used one to map out our awesome trip in Vienna, and I still need to comb through the guides for Florence, Cinque Terre, and Bologna. They have one for Boston, and I’m kicking myself because I didn’t consult it before I went a few weeks ago!
If you’re heading to say, Milan, you can visit the NYT page for Milan and they even have suggestions for where to stay, what to eat, and what to do. I like sticking with the editor’s picks in this area.
4. Give Up On the Idea You Can See and Do Everything
It’s not possible. Let yourself sleep in, eat long dinners, relax.
5. Decide On a Priority
Our priority when we travel is food. I’m crazy about food, and when we go somewhere I want to eat the best of everything. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to eat at the most expensive places either. I want the best roadside stands, the best gelato, the best fancy dinners, and the best simple lunches. Maybe your priority is getting really cool pictures? Or touring lots of museums? Or staying up late and experiencing the local nightlife? Whatever it is, make your priority one of the main focuses of your vacation planning.
6. Set a Basic Schedule
Remember all that research you did? If you don’t write your notes down somewhere, and take said notes with you on your vacation, it’s all for naught. In my opinion the best way to enjoy your vacation is to prepare adequately beforehand, and for me that includes Excel spreadhseets with estimated costs, ideas for daily activities, how we will transport ourselves from one point to another, where we will be staying, etc. I keep everything on Google calendar as well, that way I can access the information on my phone whenever I need it.
One word of caution though? Have your schedule and your research and your planning, but be flexible! Sometimes you want to linger at Point A, and you’ll miss Point B. That’s okay! As I pointed out above, you can’t do it all. Live in the moment and enjoy what you are currently experiencing. Going on vacation shouldn’t be about checking things off your list (Vatican? Check. Eiffel Tower? Check. Big Ben? Check.), it’s about experiencing and immersing yourself in a new culture.
And if I can give you one last piece of advice: Keep a travel journal of some sort. Even if it’s just basic notes. I really value the picture I have from our trips, but you can’t take a picture of everything, and sometimes there are stories that need to be written down so they aren’t forgotten. Like the time my mom was told by the airline attendant that she had to buckle her coat into the seat next to her if she wanted to set it down. Or the time she accidentally brought a knife through security while leaving Poland. Those are the kind of stories that need to be remembered and laughed at, you know?