While spontaneity is a romantic concept when traveling abroad, it’s not always feasible (or safe) to book your plane ticket and arrive blindfolded and uninformed. Since I often travel to countries I know little about ahead of time, I try to ease the culture shock as much as possible beforehand. To do so, I read up on the important info that will allow me to seamlessly fit into a new place without the glaring sign of ‘TOURIST’ above my head as I hide behind my over-sized map and fanny pack.
Although piling up on various guidebooks and scrolling through vague Pinterest searches are viable options, it’s hard to weed out the gems from the dirt. Here are my top free online travel resources that will let you do the messy work efficiently and successfully.
Rick Steves is my main man, I’ve been using his guides for years and always trust his expertise. I’ve only just started using his online resources and have found them accessible and comprehensive. He touches upon everything from common language phrases, appropriate clothing and the restaurants that should not be missed.
Armed with a highlighter and pencil, I dedicate a serious amount of time reading through his various guides, both hard copy and online, before a trip to make sure I’m well informed. If you decide to invest in his paperback guides, know they can be lengthy (they include lots of details!), so filter through the subtitles to the sections that apply to your specific trip. This is also the only guidebook I typically bring with me when traveling. It’s a great reference both for language barriers and last minute itinerary ideas.
Lonely Planet is an especially great resource if you have a trip in the works. They are constantly updating their sources and have some of the most current and accurate information available. You can look up the weather at various destinations, find the most useful apps for your trip, and even discover activities for different ages and interests.
While the site can be overwhelming if you don’t have a target in mind, their information can give you insights on topics that other guides often overlook, such as tips on traveling insurance and open forums for discussion.
This should be your first stop when planning your trip. yTravelBlog is a site run by two adventure lovers who understand the realities of making travel fit into the ‘real world’. Not only do they offer destination suggestions, but they make valuable suggestions on how to budget your expenses efficiently.
Through a quick filtered search, you can find a guide particular to your exploration needs. They even break it down into “12 Steps To Travel” for newbies just getting their feet wet. Whether you’ve flown around the world or you’re dusting off your passport for the first time, this site is extremely user friendly and is sure to give you the motivation to book those tickets.
This website is made up of various travelers contributing and sharing their expertise on a multitude of locations and expeditions. From backpacking across East Asia to discovering unique hostels in London, this site has it all. Given the variety of writers, you can get the inside scoop from a traveler just like you rather than a worldly expert who can be hard to relate to.
I’ll admit it, Pinterest probably stays in business from the amount of hours I spend on this site. However, it can be hard to navigate the valid travel advice from the inaccurate and useless resources. To make your search effective, be as descriptive as you can in the search box and look for resources that include open comments and reader feedback so you can determine which sites people found most useful. Or, my personal favorite, just scroll through the breathtaking images of yet-to-be-booked trips.
Insider Tip: Don’t forget, if you’re an AAA member you can often stop by their store and get free brochures and travel guides for free!
How much do you like to prepare ahead of time before a trip? Do you have a detailed itinerary or do you like to have an open schedule?
While I like to be well-informed before any trip, I prefer a loose agenda that includes my ‘must-sees’ but leaves my schedule open enough for spontaneous activities. Usually this means I plan for one general activity each day and then leave the night time for anything that comes up with new friends and suggestions I’ve heard throughout the day.
Stay up to date on Juliette’s adventures by following her on Instagram @julietteelise & twitter @JulietteElise_ !