Travel Blogging

Use Multiple Resources To Plan Your Best Trip Ever

My husband and I just returned from a ten day trip to Scotland this week in honor of our dating anniversary (crazy to think we’ve been together for 12 years!)

I’ve always considered Scotland to be my favorite country, so I was excited when we found affordable tickets to Glasgow from the US a couple months ago. Every year we try to take a vacation during the week between our dating anniversary (August 25th) and the American holiday of Labor Day (the first Monday of September) because the timing works out beautifully for his job.

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Kilchurn Castle, Scottish Highlands, Golden hour on August 25, 2018

We both had separately been to Scotland before, but both only for long weekends. The thrill of planning this trip was that we had a much longer amount of time, and we wanted to see as much as we could! Probably sounds familiar to most travelers, no?

Although we had both been to Scotland in the past, it had been so long that we needed fresh information. When I logged onto Google to start our research, I was immediately struck by the number of options we had for our itinerary. CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW MANY CASTLES THERE ARE IN SCOTLAND?! TWO THOUSAND!!!!

By using a variety of planning resources, we were able to hone in on the best options for our ten day trip, and have a truly amazing time! Below I’ve outlined the list of tools we used, and the order they were leveraged:

  1. Friend Recommendations:

Before starting our research, we first emailed three close friends that we knew had gone to Scotland recently and asked for their highlights from their trips. We ended up using at least one recommendation from all three people, despite the fact that many of their trips were during different months and with different purposes (i.e. one person did a whisky tour and one person did an Outlander tour!) Their insights were invaluable to help us determine how many days/hours were needed for certain destinations – but most importantly, we must tip our hat to our friend Dustin for telling us to rent the smallest car possible for our road trip through the Highlands!

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Our small economy car for the single lane road on Isle of Skye!

 

2) Paper Guidebooks:

“You use guidebooks?!!” – you

“Yep.” – me

I don’t always purchase a paperback guidebook, but the longer the length of my trips, the more helpful I typically find them to be. For this trip we ordered the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook on Amazon and began by reading the intro section, where he recommends specific routes based on the number of days you have. The reason I chose Rick Steve’s guidebook over others like Lonely Planet was because his word choices often make me chuckle at their honesty or silliness – which adds some incredible levity to our trips.

Once Rick helped us decide which towns we would visit and for how long (yes, I personified our guidebook as if it were Rick Steves leading us himself!), we then read through his hotel suggestions for each location while cross-referencing their latest reviews and prices on TripAdvisor and Hotels.com. Sometimes we used his suggestions, and sometimes we chose ones we found on the booking sites.

3) TripAdvisor and Hotels.com:

I cannot emphasize enough how helpful TripAdvisor was for our trip! I’m not always the biggest TripAdvisor advocate after I had to write a glowing 5-star review of my favorite restaurant in my old NYC neighborhood in order to counteract some goober’s negative review that the place was “too nice for the area.” (TOO NICE? You gave a 1-star review about a restaurant being TOO NICE!? Ugh, some people.)

That being said, while planning, I found it difficult to obtain information about restaurants and hotels in small Highland towns through Google searching because the towns were so rural that many of the business websites were inadequate or non-existent. By scanning through TripAdvisor’s and hotels.com’s user-submitted photos, as well as mining through reviews by like-minded travelers, we were able to consistently stay in hotels and eat at restaurants during our trip that were perfect for our taste.

Lastly, I must mention that we also used the TripAdvisor app in real-time when we arrived in Edinburgh to help determine the best option free walking tour option after feeling overwhelmed by choice. Since our priority was to use a tour to get our bearings and get a deep dive on the city’s history, the stellar reviews of the Little Fish walking tour helped us find a terrific guide.

4) Instagram:

As many fans of Means To Travel know, my husband and I are really into Instagram (@meanstotravel and @mr.meanstotravel). We specifically loved using it for our Scotland trip planning because the interface makes it simple to find the most photographic locations as well as popular meal choices.

img_5207For example, before booking a table at restaurants that were well-reviewed on TripAdvisor, we’d do a quick Instagram search to learn the most popular menu items, make sure the recent food photos looked fresh and delicious, and lastly try to determine the typical clientele. Huge bonus points if the restaurant had its own Instagram account!

Instagram was also amazingly helpful at advising our packing decisions. During the last few days before we left, I did an Instagram search of many of the towns and restaurants that we were planning to visit in order to understand dress codes and weather needs. Needless to say, I spotted a lot of wind and raincoats, so I thankfully packed a lot of necessary sweaters, hats, and waterproofs!

Overall, I’d advise that it is important to diversify your research tools when planning a trip to make sure you have the best mix of information available. For my husband and me, it was helpful to combine our research resources across word of mouth, print, digital, and mobile platforms in order to get the latest and greatest details and tips.

Lucky for us modern travelers, we live in an era of crowd-sourced traveling, which puts SO MUCH power in our hands. Creating a meaningful and memorable trip has never been easier!

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I’m A Little Different, And So Is My Travel Style

Growing up, I always felt that I was different from the other kids in school – but I couldn’t quite figure out how. In elementary and middle school I analyzed the differences in my body compared to the other girls to try to explain it. While I (of course) found some differences, they never panned out to be what I was searching to explain. By high school I still hadn’t cracked the secret, and I started to try various fashion styles and music to see if the ambiguous feeling had to do with my personal tastes. But no luck there either. When I would change my looks, the way I dressed, or the types of music I listened to in order to try to find the elusive “real me,” none of the changes ever felt right.

It’s taken twenty years since I first started exploring other “Eliz” options, and I feel I finally understand what the difference is: what makes me happy.

Miami Beach, May 2013

Miami Beach, May 2013

Here’s a good example. I’m only five years out of college and Ibiza is nowhere near the top of my travel list. If Eliz were a brand, Ibiza would be considered “off brand.” I don’t go clubbing. I don’t research trendy restaurants. You are far more likely to find me on a winery tour than a pub crawl.

I work at a media agency, where I often joke that I’m a Gen X’er in a Millennial body. While that’s not necessarily true outside of my taste in television (which may actually be closer to Baby Boomer status), I’ll admit that I have very mature travel tendencies. I always opt for the nicest hotel we can afford. When my boyfriend and I went to Vancouver in 2013, we were twenty-five year old tourists who stayed at the Four Seasons because we found a good deal. More often than not we are the youngest people in our hotels/B&B’s by ten to twenty years because our top priority is a very clean, comfortable pillow.

Further, I must admit I haven’t stayed in a hostel in eighteen months. Some Millennial readers and travelers may frown on that decision, citing the importance of the camaraderie and affordability that hostels provide. By all means, you do you! While I like meeting new people, I like nice mattresses more. Nice mattresses make me a very happy tourist.

Side Note: I have not written off hostels all together. I will most likely stay in one again.

With that said, I wanted to make sure to disclose all of these preferences and priorities to you, dear reader, because I am a travel blogger who writes about budgeting for travel. Meaningful travel may mean different things to different people, but the end goal is always the same:  a truly enjoyable vacation.

I hope you budget for travel that you know will make you happy. The good news is that you know yourself best! You probably already have an idea about what kind of travel would bring you the most joy at your personal budget level. My only advice is that you should always trust your gut. I’m not here to try to tell you what to do, I’m here to help and inspire you to do it.  🙂

Like I said, I’m a little different…and I finally know why. I’ve come to terms with my tendencies to travel above my age bracket. I’ve accepted and embraced this (as well as other older-skewing interests) about myself…and I hope you will, too!

A List of Technology I Bring When I Travel

Even if you plan to go off the grid, you should probably bring your cell phone and charger on your next vacation. Doing so will make navigating to your grid-less existence easier.

Not everyone has Sam's wilderness navigation skills (image source: amazon.com)

Not everyone has Sam’s wilderness navigation skills (image source: amazon.com)

Today’s society is rife with electronics. Free wifi – at one point limited to just hotels and internet cafes – is slowly proliferating stores, museums, bars, restaurants, grassy fields, and anywhere else a tourist may frequent. It’s a pandemic of sorts!

While technology was invented to be helpful, it often can be bulky. Cords on cords on cords may take up valuable room in your suitcase or carry-on. However, at this point we’ve become so reliant that it’s hard to live without! In my opinion, my techie gadgets provide enough utility to make lugging them around worth the weight (or wait…if you’re talking about the time spent untangling cords. Hah.).

So, without further ado, here is my list of gadget must-haves that I plan to take on my next vacation:

  1. Smartphone (for me, iphone5) and charger

    There are so many apps out there now that make traveling easier. A few that I always have on my phone are Spotify Premium, airline apps (Delta, American, etc.) and Google maps. I also recently downloaded Gate Guru after reading about it from Travel & Leisure, and I can’t wait to review it next time I’m at a new airport.

    Using Gate Guru on iphones (image source: http://www.gateguru.com/images/4.0/3_airportcard.png)

    Using Gate Guru on iphones (image source: http://www.gateguru.com/images/4.0/3_airportcard.png)

  2. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and charger

    I love my Surface Pro 3. I left my Surface Pro 1 in a rental car last fall and ended up buying a new one because I loved it so much. The tablet functions exactly like a laptop but is compact for traveling. Plus, I can download informational PDFs, hotel confirmations, transit system maps, bus schedules, and more before I leave for my trip and have them all handy throughout my excursion. Further, I recently downloaded the apps for Kindle (books), Nook (books), and Next Issue (magazines) on my Surface in order to store numerous reading material options for my next trip. It’s a much lighter weight alternative to bring a bunch of books and paperwork!

    Guys. It's a tablet and a laptop. What more could you want!? (image source: http://www.techhapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/sur3.jpg)

    Guys. It’s a tablet and a laptop. What more could you want!? (image source: http://www.techhapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/sur3.jpg)

  3. International power adapters

    I just learned that Italy power adapters are actually slightly different than those of the rest of continental Europe. They have three prongs instead of two. For that reason I ordered a pack of three on Amazon to make sure I can always charge my equipment during my next vacation. Bringing power adaptors is so important so you can make sure all of your gadgets will charge.

    These chargers came in a small box for easy packing (image source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007YL6HY6?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=detailpage)

    These chargers came in a small box for easy packing (image source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007YL6HY6?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=detailpage)

  4. Portable charger for electronics

    I think the most famous (and probably most expensive) brand of portable chargers is the Mophie. I haven’t broken down and bought one yet, but instead I have a couple of smaller off-brand portable chargers that carry far fewer charges yet are still easy to throw in a purse (latest Jackery purchase can be found here). At this point I find it ESSENTIAL to carry around at least one portable charger in my day bag if I’m out and about…my iphone5 no longer holds a charge for a full day!

    We just bought this Jockery charger off of Amazon to bring on our trip (image source: amazon.com)

    We just bought this Jockery charger off of Amazon to bring on our trip (image source: amazon.com)

  5. Sony 16 megapixel digital camera, plus (2) charged batteries and (2) SIM cards

    My boyfriend and I bought a compact 16 megapixel Sony camera in 2012 and have loved it ever since. Due to the fact that we’ve had it for a few years now, the one that we bought is pretty discounted and you can get higher megapixel models now for the price we paid. However, ours is still working great. The camera itself is less heavy than a DSLR, making it easier to tote around all day – plus the picture quality is fantastic! Can’t ask for better.

  6. Suitcase with a built-in overweight indicator

    We just bought two new Delsey Helium Hyperlight 25” Spinner suitcases for our Italy trip that I’m really excited to try. As experienced travelers will admit, one of the most annoying things about traveling for long periods of time is learning that your suitcase is over the 50-lb limit when you check in. For this new suitcase line, if you pick up the luggage by the separate indicator handle, an small light will turn red if you’re bag is overweight. Pretty ingenious! Can’t wait to try the new suitcases out next month and report back. 🙂

Technology has always been defined as something that makes life easier. It fills a need. In order to travel meaningfully you do not need to buy all of the latest gadgets, but technology may help you get the most out of your trip. For example, by doing research and sending emails on your connected devices while in transit or relaxing in your hotel room in the evenings, you may be able to spend more time sightseeing during the day. Additionally, if you bring the right tools to take good pictures, you’ll be able to reminisce about your experiences for years to come.

With that said, I must divulge that I love paperback guidebooks. I don’t think I will ever stop buying them, and I have quite a collection! Although I may always bring guidebooks on my trips, it makes sense to save room and weight in my pack in other ways by converting all other forms of entertainment to digital.

Guidebooks come with me everywhere

Guidebooks come with me everywhere

Now that I’ve divulged my list of tech, I have a question for YOU, dear reader….

What do you think of selfie sticks?