My husband laughs when I sit down to plan travel. I spend hours at it; he thinks I spend more time on the planning than I do on the trip – and that may be true. I love to pore over the websites and guidebooks, take virtual tours, peek at possible hotel rooms and read reviews. So much so that, usually, I know a lot about the destination even before we get there.
That wasn’t the case on my most recent trip – and I regretted it. A crowded schedule (thanks to some serendipitous events) left me so short on time, I did little more than grab a plane ticket, book a hotel room and register for the writers’ conference I wanted to attend with my sister. So when I got to the city where I was going to spend eight days attending the conference, I knew very little about it.
Item: I called the hotel and asked the best way to get there from the airport. The perky lady on the other end assured me that the train was best. Upon arrival, she assured me, we just get off the train, walk a couple of blocks, cut through the parking lot for the cinemas, walk another block and a half, and we’d be right at the hotel.
Item: My flight took eight hours and when I arrived, it was raining (not to mention, getting dark). No way I am taking that train. Luckily, I know from the Internet that there is a Blue Star Shuttle which will drop us off at the front door of the hotel, costing a little more but saving us in dry cleaning bills and shoe damage and keeping our luggage dry.
Item: Two days later, when we do take the train, it is a mix of unfortunates – homeless and drug addicts. The drug addicts leave us alone. The homeless do not. The heroin addicts pass out. The homeless panhandle us, or scream at us not to touch their stuff. As if we would. The city is very proud of its rapid transit system, but still has an immense traffic problem – probably because no one wants to take the train.
Item: A quick look at Yelp tells us the best burger in town is at the pool hall. It is correct. A great stop and wonderful people. Once again, the Internet steers us correctly. But after the train episode, we take taxis.
Item: TV show had recommended another restaurant, which we tried a few days later. TV show did not say that there are two entrances to the restaurant, and that we should use the side entrance, which enters into the main dining room, where everyone under age 50 eats. Anyone who uses the other entrance, and is over 50, is shunted into a booth in a little dining alcove. When we asked to see the main dining room, we were met with sighs and grudgingly taken back, but quickly ushered back to our booth in Siberia. After the trip, I checked the reviews to see if others had the same problem, and they did. I should have checked online before going here also.
Long story short: when going to an unfamiliar city – or even one where you’ve been before, but want to try some new stuff – check it out online. Thoroughly. It’s not worth your time, your money or your safety to just go and investigate on your own. I believe you’ll have a much better time if you know where you’re going, how to get there and what you’re getting into.
How do you investigate things to see, do and eat in a strange city? Or do you check them out beforehand? Can you share a travel experience that would have been made better (or was made worse) by Internet research?