Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trip Planning and Resources.


The *papers*, minus passport, that I'm bringing with me on this trip.

The year was 2006.  The trip was Peru.  My first in ages.  Although I was doing a conducted tour with G Adventures (then known as Gap Adventures), I still had to do a bit of planning.  My resource?  A Roughs Guide book on Peru.  That was it.  Next trip was Egypt and Jordan and two more guide books.  After that it was India, Nepal, and Tibet and three more guidebooks.  This trip I have no guidebook except for the two Lonely Planet books I bought back in 2008 when I first went to Turkey. 


While I still use the occasional guidebook, I realize that more and more, my planning is done using online resources.  Not a surprise.

The upside of online research is fewer guidebooks sitting on my bookshelves gathering dust.  The downside is that with so many resources at the disposal of my fingertips, I have made planning for a trip more complex and given my obsession with detail and insatiable curiosity, is taken longer and longer.  I find it inordinately easily to let hours slip through my fingers as I spend countless hours, in front of my monitor, reading through resource or another.  Believe it or not, I now allocate about 3 months to plan out the yearly trip I go on with my brother.

I usually start with the official tourism site for the country and go from there.

For flights, I'm all over the map - Travelocity, Expedia, Cheapoair, Priceline....whichever I can find the best deal.

For hotels, I look at TripAdvisor for recommendations and customer reviews but use Booking.com to make the reservation.  I also have a softspot for airbnb.com.  I've used it on quite a few trips and have never been disappointed by the outcome.

For background information on the country, Wikipedia and Wikitravel, supported by other sites, are indispensable for me.  Given my love for churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples and other holy sites, another of my favorite websites is sacred-destinations.com which covers cultural landmarks that have a religious significance.  I also generally find that there are in-country experts with very informative websites.  For example, Tom Brosnahan's Turkey Travel Planner and Mike Barrett's Greece Travel Guide which I constantly referenced when planning this trip.

For day trips and basic sightseeing, I turn to viator.com. Nothing like using the itinerary that a professional tour company has already set up as a basis for planning.  That's how our Greece road trip came to be and how our days in Cappadocia will unfold.

I also give props to National Geographic and its Ultimate City Guides which provide information on sightseeing highlights and often include off the beaten path attractions as well as mapped out walking tours.

I'm also all about festivals and events so checking up on "what's happening" during the time I'll be in a country.  Seeing what's up has ended up setting the dates for a trip.  That was the case for Sri Lanka where I planned the entire trip around the last two nights of the Esala Perahera festival and it led to our mushroom foraging trip in Latvia.  Local online newspapers can be a great resource for this.

There's always a ton of things to see and do in the major cities and so getting information on what's happening about town is key for me.  You can find sites dedicated to the major cities.  For example, The Guide Istanbul and Athens City Guide were heavily used for planning this trip.

My budget traveler heart still thumbs through the web pages on LonelyPlanet.com and scans through the comments on the Thorn Tree forum - I've gotten quite a lot of very useful tips from traveler's who have visited the country before me.

Then there's the issue of currency conversion.  My go to site is xe.com.

Given all the devices I carry with me, knowing what electrical adapters I need to bring with me is very important.  The site with the most comprehensive information is www.electricaloutlet.org/.

It's crucial to know what to pack into the suitcase especially on trips that take me to different regions like Delhi, Kathmandu and Llhasa, Tibet.  My favorite weather site is www.wunderground.com.  The site not only provides current and projected weather reports but it also has historic reports which I like given how far ahead I plan my trip.

When traveling to a country in a remote corner of the world, health considerations rank high on the list of things that every person should have at the top of their to-do list.  The Travelers' Health Section of the CDC website is a must read.

And last but not least. In fact, it is of paramount importance to me.  Safety.  This is especially important when traveling to areas where there is political unrest.  I had my eyes on Mali when I went in 2010 and in fact, cancelled plans to go to Timbuktu when there were advisories against going due to Al Qaeda presence in the region.  I usually reference three sites - the travel advisories posted on the US State Department website, the UK Governments travel advisories, and the Canadian Government's Travel site which provides a lot of useful travel information in addition to security warnings.

This is my third trip to Turkey and while I poured over a slew of new resources for ideas and suggestions, I also referenced my own 2008 blog on Turkey.  Not only was it a good resource but seeing the posts brought back a flood of warm memories.  I was lucky enough to visit Turkey twice that year and had a marvelous time on both occasions.  For Istanbul, I had the best of all resources, my friend Ayşe who helped plan out our daily itinerary as we have more to see than time so it was imperative to plan carefully!

By now, it should be apparent that twenty eight days in Greece and Turkey took a village of one a WHOLE lot of time and effort to plan out.  Hopefully, it will pay off!

Usually, I just list all the trip planning resources on the right nav bar but it's much too long so I've listed the URLs below. 

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Planning Resources

General Planning
wikipedia.org
wikitravel.org
lonelyplanet.com
nationalgeographic.com
sacred-destinations.com
xe.com(currency conversion)
electricaloutlet.org/
wunderground.com

Greece
www.visitgreece.gr/
www.greecelogue.com/
www.discovergreece.com/
www/greeklandscapes.com
www.visit-ancient-greece.com/index.html
www.gogreeceyourway.gr/ (Links to sites with active things to do)
www.mattbarrett-travel.com/
www.thisisathens.org/
www.athens24.com/index.html
www.gogreece.about.com/
www.roughguides.com/destinations/europe/greece/
www.inyourpocket.com/greece/athens
rome2rio.com (very useful for mapping out Greece island hopping routes and ferry schedules) 
www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/greece/athens/7999404/Athens-Greece-cultural-city-guide.html (note list of 5 free things to do in Athens)
www.nytimes.com/fodors/top/features/travel/destinations/europe/greece/athens/fdrs_feat_14_3.html?n=Top%2FFeatures%2FTravel%2FDestinations%2FEurope%2FGreece%2FAthens (note 3 day itinerary)

Nafplio
www.tigtn.com/ (Insider’s Guide to Nafplio)
www.visitnafplio.com/visitnafplio.com/Home.html
www.nafplion.gr/homepage_en.html
www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd_nShdQ38k (Rick Steves video)

Ancient Olympia
www.olympia-greece.org/site.html
www.odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh3530.jsp?obj_id=2358 (download to iPad and bring along to site)

Meteora
www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20110715-meteora-greeces-city-in-the-sky
www.greeklandscapes.com/greece/meteora/monasteries.html

Delphi
www.ancient.eu.com/delphi/
www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVhXtnsptL8 (BBC Documentary)

Athens
www.greece-athens.com/

Turkey
http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/europe/turkey/
www.kusadasi.biz/info/guide (check out must do page - www.kusadasi.biz/info/guide/must-do)
www.turkeyplanner.com
www.captivatingcappadocia.com/
www.theguideistanbul.com/

Accomodations: Hotels
Hotel Agamemnon (Nafplio) -www.nafplioagamemnon.gr/en.html
Pension Posidon (Olympia)- www.pensionposidon.gr
Hotel Orfeas (Delphi) - www.hotel-orfeas.gr
San Giorgio Villa (Kalambaka/Meteora) - www.sangiorgiovilla.com/
Okeania (Kamena Vourla) - info@okeania.gr
Aegeas Traditional Houses(Oia, Santorini) - www.aegeashouses.com
Acropole Sunrise (Kamari,Santorini) - www.acropolesunrise.gr/
Mirini Hotel (Samos Town,Samos) – www.mirini.com
Ephesian Guest House andHotel (Kusadasi) - ephesianhotel@outlook.com
Gedik Cave Hotel (Göreme) - www.gedikcavehotel.com

Accomodations: Booking Resources
airbnb.com
booking.com
expedia.com

Cars
economycarrentals.com
santorinicarhire.com

Flights
Aegean Airlines
Turkish Airlines
SunExpress

Ferries
Hellenic Seaways

Navigation
Greece Road Map - Garmin City Navigator® Europe NT: Italy & Greece
Athens Street Map - The Rough Guide to Athens(Rough Guide Country/Region Map
Athens Metro Map - www.ametro.gr/page/default.asp
Cappadocia Road Map (only available in German) - www.amazon.com/Cappadocia-Reise-Know-How-Verlag/dp/3831772525
Istanbul (Public Transportation)- www.iett.gov.tr/en/
Istanbul Street Map - something I picked up on my last trip in 2008.  Glad I kept it! :-)