Do you agree that planning to travel is almost as fun as traveling? So many places, so little time! When we aren’t actually driving down the road, or poking into museums and gardens, we are often exploring options for our next road trip. In this post, I am going to list our favorite go-to websites and travel planning tools to gather travel ideas. We will also explore a couple of tools I use to gather those ideas into a moderately organized list.
The Internet is an amazing help on this. There are way too many possible ways to explore our travel options. So we are going to offer just our favorites.
Before You Plan – Get Curious
Even before we start our travel planning, we are continuously researching. Do you love the Travel Channel? How often does a neighbor at a campground give you an amazing idea? Did you hear about a great place in a movie or in a book? While visiting a historical town, do you learn about another spot just down the road?
Travel starts with curiosity. Without that, we might as well stay home. So we stay curious. And take notes! See below for ideas on note-taking.
Follow some great bloggers
Who are your favorite bloggers, (besides the Intentional Travelers, of course.) I have several that I keep up with. As a blogger travels, they share their discoveries with readers. Check out this article for a list of my current favorite bloggers.
Use Feedly to Keep up with your Favorite Bloggers
So what is Feedly? Feedly is a great travel planning tool for keeping track of your favorite bloggers. If you would rather not have a blogger’s email get lost in your spam box, you might want to keep them listed in an app. Then, when you are in the mood to read posts, you just check in with all of your favorite bloggers and browse their latest posts.
You will need to browse to the blogger’s front page on the internet, copy the URL in the top of your browser, and add it to the Feedly list. Cool!
Study the History of the Area in 10 Minutes or Less
Once we start to focus on travel planning for a town or a region, its time to get serious. We love to know more about the area’s history. Were there people here before the Europeans? Where were the emigrants from? Norwegians? Portuguese? Have they maintained some traditions from those cultures? Were there Civil War battles nearby? Or perhaps War of Independence sites?
We also explore how the area currently thrives or perhaps does not thrive. Is it a mining town? Are they known for fine wine?
So we start with the online “Visit” page. Usually, if you Google on the words “Visit Tyler Texas” you will see the local town’s official page very near the top. Find out what they have to say for themselves.
You might also check out Wikipedia. What? You never imagined Wikipedia as a travel planning tool? In about 5 minutes you will have a rough outline of the region, it’s history, industry and what might be interesting to explore. The quickest way to get a sense of the history of a town is to read Wikipedia for the town.
Local history can also be identified by looking at travel websites. The famous houses, museums, etc will tell the story.
Find the Old Town
Of course, what traveler doesn’t love Old Towns and Historical Districts? If you are looking for traditional foods, a local history museum, or a city park with statues and memorials, you will find them in the Old Town. Of course, a little shopping is always on the list.
Believe it or not, my first stop is Pinterest. It isn’t generally considered a travel planning tool, but it is a favorite place for crafters and foodies. Lately, though, Pinterest has become a magical resource to search out travel bloggers that have posted about the area you are researching. Think “search engine with pictures”. I love browsing through the “pins” to see what people are talking about in the region I am considering.
Don’t forget to save the pins that are interesting to your own travel board. See our ideas below on keeping notes!
Check out the Travel Websites
There are four websites that are my standard stops for travel ideas.
The first two favorite sites are Trip Advisor and Yelp. These are actually very similar. They make their money by selling hotel and airline reservations and with advertisements from the various tours and packages in the town. Even so, they have a great selection of the more commercial parts of traveling in a particular area.
The next two places to check are Road Trip America and Road Trippers. These have a slightly different take on the same idea. If I am driving from Tyler to Fayetteville, what could I stop and see in between? They show a map with icons for various attractions, parks and travel services.
Road Trip America is one of the first attempts at this and it has been around for a very long time. All of the locations are curated by a group of dedicated travel writers. You can build a map and store it. After you have donated your email address, you can add your own pins to the map. There is also a wonderful forum on this site where people take about the various trips they are have taken. The forum was a bit hard to locate but worth it.
Road Trippers has a more elegant user experience. You can also find things to do along the path on this site. There is no forum here. I actually tend to use both sites for ideas, because they come up with slightly different suggestions.
Short Hikes and Magnificent Views
Not all of our travel is about historical old towns. We love the grand scenery and local trails. If you travel to enjoy God’s great creation, it is time to be a bit intentional about where you go and where you stay.
Of course, we start with the National Parks. The NPS website has an essential travel planning tool called Find A Park.
For each park, you will also find a “Plan your Visit” section which is essential to read. Study the info about trails, food service, interpretive centers, and even whether your pups are welcome.
Rails To Trails are Great Easy Hikes
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we love the Rails to Trails locations scattered across the country. This organization has converted old train tracks into trails. Of course, this means that those trails are flat, which makes hiking a breeze.
If you are a bit more adventurous you can visit the National Forest service websites in the area you are researching. They identify trailheads and elevation information about the hiking trails in their particular forest. You can also purchase paper maps to take with you.
Old School – Use a Paper Atlas
In most areas, you can buy what is called a “recreational atlas”. These flat-map books are incredibly detailed maps for trailheads, boat launches, and publicly accessible lands. As kayakers, we are often looking for launch points that are not immediately obvious. These maps are spectacular.
We generally find them at outdoorsman stores such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. You can also get them from Amazon, of course. The maps are not cheap, but if you are going to stay in an area for a while, they are priceless.
Garmin DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Paper Maps- Idaho, AA-008798-000
And Finally, the Visitor Centers
Now once you actually get there, don’t forget to stop into the visitor center and see if you missed anything. For all that great planning, stay flexible enough to change your path if something better pops up!
So How About Some Tools to Stay Organized?
If my husband had his way, we would keep every brochure from every visitor’s center across the country. But my home is only 42′ x 8, so that’s probably not a good plan.
Besides, most information is digital these days, so where do I keep my clips and notes?
Pinterest as a Tack Board
My first stop for notes is Pinterest. This app mimics the old-fashioned bulletin board where you pinned articles from a newspaper.
If you go to Pinterest.com you can install the extension into Chrome or Firefox. That way, for any website you visit, you will see a little red PIN button. Clicking that button allows you to save it to your Pinterest boards. Before you start, make at least one board on Pinterest to collect your notes. I make a separate board for each state and some other random stuff, like recipes and cute quotes.
If you are curious about how to organize it, take a look at my Pinterest Board. Feel free to save any pins from my boards that you find useful. My Pinterest Board is at https://www.pinterest.com/pamelajohnson16/.
Evernote for Every Note
The other app I cannot live without is Evernote. This is my favorite travel planning tool because it keeps me from losing stuff. The free version lives on a tablet or phone. It is based on a folder system where you have notes that fit into notebooks and notebooks fit into groups. So I have a travel group, with notebooks for pretty much each state, and one for my current trip plan. Then I can plug in detail for each stop. The trick is to number the notes if you want to show trip stops in order.
If you pay a small annual charge, you can install Evernote on your phone and your tablet and use it on the computer. Evernote then synchronizes between the devices.
I have used Evernote for years to stay organized in my records. Everything from recipes to a list of books I want to read gets dropped into Evernote.
Conclusion – A Little Homework Makes for a Great Trip
We love the research phase of our trip planning. Even for full-time travelers, there is only so much time. But a little sifting ahead of time ensures an optimal trip.
Keep it between the lines!