Flying to Spain for my birthday was a magnificent plan. Then COVID-19 hit worldwide with a vengeance. All vacations, tours, and world-renown sites canceled as countries began to close their borders, and you know the rest. Now Spain is back on my bucket list. However, with the research and planning already completed, this trip will be a breeze to rebook. Keep your travel dreams alive by planning trips now. Here are some traveler tips and tricks.
- The Easy Way by booking through tour companies, cruises and all-inclusive resorts essentially guaranteeing an incredible trip. The planning is done by others and you simply show up for a wonderful time. This straightforward method is absolutely a sound choice.
- The DIY Travel Plan by taking control and venturing out to plan your own trip. You’ll soon realize you’ve become so immersed in planning and researching that your discoveries build anticipation prior to traveling, making your journey begin before you even depart on your trip.
The #1 traveler tips for both types of trips are the same. Book your accommodations and arrange transportation to your lodging. This sounds simple enough, however, left undone can mean flying into an airport late at night and never locating your hotel until the next day. Smooth travels flow from some groundwork ahead of time.
Read on for all the Do-It-Yourself traveler tips and tricks.
Tip #1- Transportation From Big to Small
The golden rule is to plan your transportation to where you’re spending the night.
- Flights – Start with your flights, followed by transport to your accommodations, and then other modes of transportation (which can be on the fly if you’re looking for a little more adventure). Notable sites for flight comparisons include Google Flights, Momondo and Sky Scanner. After you pick your flights, search the actual airline website to confirm details and solidify your reservations.
- Autos – For vehicle rentals, check out Hertz and Avis and compare to companies like Europcar, Hotwire and Costco Travel.
- Trains – Seat61.com covers trains from around the world along with terrific train traveler tips.
Tip #2 – Find Unique Sights and Experiences
A seasoned traveler knows that it’s the unique discoveries which make memorable experiences. Start out by learning about the best places to visit in an area. Then, dive in and discover the unusual and interesting sights and experiences.
- Popular Tourist Attractions – Search for “top sights in Spain” and “top experiences in Spain”, or substitute “top” with “unique”, or “unforgettable”. When you consistently notice a famous site coming up in your searches, like the Alhambra, an ancient Arabic fortress in Granada, take note. Avoid automated lists generated by Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, Yelp, Zomato, and Google. However, the Google Banner bar provides a nice snapshot of possible tourist attractions. Editorial pieces written by real people (similar to The Culture Trip) consistently prove to be reliable sources.
- Historical and Famous – Search for “most important historical sites in Spain” and you’ll discover places like Cordoba’s stunning Mezquita from the Moorish glory days. If you know the names of any famous people that spent time in the country, run a quick search on “famous people who live or visit Spain”. Hunting for “UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain” brings up fascinating sites such as works created by the brilliant architect, Antoni Gaudi.
- Movies On Location – Search for “blockbuster movie locations in Spain” to find popular movie set locations or “famous movies filmed in Spain” if you want to open up the search to more region-specific or cult-classic movies.
- Factory Tours – Think about a country’s well-known export, for instance, watchmaking from Switzerland, leather from Italy, or Guinness from Ireland. Run a search similar to “chocolate factory tours in Spain”. The search will yield factories like the Mayan Monkey Mijas where you’ll taste over 50 different varieties of chocolate, yet this shop holds the title of the smallest chocolate factory in the world.
- Busabout – These buses offer an alternative way to travel where you have the freedom with the flexibility to explore beautiful places on your own terms. Their service offerings include the famous Hop-on Hop-off bus travel passes. Single and multi-day passes are available.
- Private Tours – Introductions to the rich culture, history and cuisine happen through Take Walks which runs day tours, walking tours, and cooking classes. If you prefer to embark on a larger, multi-week tour (for example, a Greek island boat trip), contact Intrepid Travel. They arrange inexpensive small group tours along with more expensive tour options and are a favorite among people who travel regularly.
Tip #3 – Locate a Few Exceptional Places to Grab Something to Eat or Drink
Great restaurants abound throughout Spain; however, mediocre ones exist too. You’ll thank yourself when you’re hungry and you have a few solid options to choose from.
- Coffee and Bakeries – Finding noteworthy eats and drinks requires narrowing your search to a particular city or region. Search for “best coffee in Barcelona, Spain” or substitute “café” or “bakery”. For those coffee aficionados, adjust your coffee search to “best roasteries in Barcelona, Spain.” The point is, find places that specialize or are unique. For instance, the family behind Cafés El Magnífico has been roasting coffee in the El Born neighborhood of Barcelona since 1919. Now, 100 years later they are quite opposite from being an ancient relic.
- Restaurants – Search for “best restaurants in San Sebastian, Spain” or, if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, search “top cheap eats”. If you’re a foodie and going all out, The Elite Traveler is a valuable site. The Culture Trip tends to be more midrange. Once you find a place you’re interested in, use the search feature in Google Maps and scan the reviews, and more importantly, the pictures. Look specifically at the cuisine’s presentation; pictures literally tell you everything you need to know about the quality of the restaurant.
Tip #4 – Book Accommodations Near Activities and Dining
Once you finalize your itinerary, book your accommodations for each night in reputable neighborhoods convenient to attractions and dining. After an eventful day, walking out your door to a restaurant or café will make your night. Which makes this one of the most important traveler tips.
- Hotel Brands – Hotel brands comparable to the Hilton and Marriott Bonvoy are predictable and wonderful.
- Off the Beaten Path – Consider spicing things up by searching on Booking.com and thehotelguru.com. You may happen upon a boutique hotel, a place to stay in the middle of an olive grove or vineyard, or a divine restaurant with rooms upstairs in the quaintest part of town. After a week on the road, you might even book an apartment (booking.com, VRBO, Airbnb) which includes a washing machine as an amenity to freshen up your clothes. The options are endless.
Tip #5 – Equip Your Digital Tool Belt with a Few Mobile Applications
With the right apps, you can navigate offline, translate menus, ride-hailing, and stay connected with family and friends.
- Google My Map – Located within Drive as part of your Gmail account, this app is a fantastic way to organize your travels and save hours of research in an easily accessible location on your phone. Google My Maps also allows you to download your trip as a KML/KMZ file, which can be imported into other applications such as Maps.me creating a fully offline-capable, open-source alternative to Google Maps when you explore in areas without internet service.
- Google Maps – You can display your newly created “Google My Map” over the top of Google Maps by clicking on the menu, opening “Your Places” and selecting the Google My Map under the “Maps” tab.
- Maps.me – This app is similar to Google Maps; however, it allows you to download entire countries for offline navigation when you don’t have access to WIFI or cellular data. Using this app, you can navigate Barcelona on foot, motorcycle through remote places in Scotland and tour all over Switzerland with a car. Google Maps has some offline functionality, but can be a bit more complex if you plan to move from city to city or through the open country. Consequently, I always keep Maps.me handy.
- Google Translate – Prior to departure, download all languages you’ll encounter during your travels. You’ll be the envy of other tourists when you use your camera to translate restaurant menus, signs, and to communicate in countries with people speaking languages you don’t know. Once in Luxembourg, I whipped out my phone to read the menu while standing in a line. Before long, a number of patrons around me asked to borrow my phone so they would know what they were ordering too.
- Uber / Lyft – To verify you’re not being taken advantage of when ordering a taxi, go the ride-hailing route instead. Negotiating rates with a traditional taxi driver can be difficult, to put it mildly. Some smaller towns may not have this option, plus, you need access to WIFI or cellular data during the pick-up.
- Google Voice – From simple navigation to voicemail transcription, Google Voice syncs across your devices. You receive one number for all your phones, cheap international calls, and voicemail for free! I also use Google Voice to send me an email with a transcription anytime I miss a call, even if the caller does not leave a message. This is invaluable when jumping between WIFI hotspots or going in and out of cell reception.
Now you have it…all my traveler tips for planning remarkable trips both locally and abroad. Own the process and you’ll enjoy traveling more than you can imagine as discoveries in your research become reality. The post-COVID-19 world anticipates opening up to travelers again and this time you’ll be ready to embark on your bucket-list of adventures.
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