Many of my friends have asked me how I plan itineraries for trips I take, and have wanted my recommendations about the best travel guides and websites out there.
For deciding where to go:
- Talk to your friends! People you like have probably traveled to places you’d like. Start there
- Lonely Planet’s “The World” Guide- This full-color, photo-laden tome offers a “top experiences” list for every country in the world. That’s right, all of ‘em.
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die- This monster of a guide has in-depth information on a thousand top experiences in the world, grouped by region and then by country. It’s a good resource for getting some initial ideas.
For planning an itinerary:
- Maps are a great resource- especially if you’d like to visit multiple countries, maps can help you simply identify what places are near each other, whether they are accessible easily overland, or whether it would be a longer journey. For example, if you visited Vienna, Austria, you might not know that the capital of Slovakia- Bratislava- is just a quick train ride away and can make an excellent day trip.
- Frommer’s- Their website has excellent guides by country, with most featuring recommended itineraries for various amounts of time.
- Intrepid Travel- This is a travel tour company, but even if you don’t want to book with a large tour group, you can still use their website as an excellent resource for planning your itinerary. All of their trips have extensive trip notes available online for free which detail transport from one place to the next and recommended activities for each spot as well as some cultural and historical information. Even better, you can search on their website by country, website, duration, region and other options, helping you narrow down how you will want to spend your time. Note- other tour outfitters, like Gecko’s Adventures and Top Deck, also post their itineraries online. They are not as detailed and informative, however. That said, if you want to actually book a tour, the general itineraries are near identical to what Intrepid Travel offers, and almost always significantly cheaper.
For self-guided walking tours:
- Rick Steves- If you are traveling to Europe, you must take Rick Steves with you. He has a free audio app available where you can download audio guided tours for most major European cities on to your device to listen to as you walk around the city. He’ll give you all the historical and cultural information you need! His guidebooks are also great, and have even more self-guided walking tour itineraries jam-packed with great information. If you are short on space or money, though, you can skip the travel guidebook and stick with the free audio app.
- Lonely Planet- If you are going anywhere that’s not Europe, I recommend buying the Lonely Planet guidebook (or renting from your local library). Lonely Planet guidebooks, in my opinion, are the best organized guides out there, and most of the ones I have seen also include some self-guided walking tours for different neighborhoods and cities.
- City Walk app- City Walk has self-guided walking tours available to download via an app for each location. They have some limited content for free (which I honestly only ever used as a last resort if Rick Steves or Lonely Planet weren’t available), and more content for purchase. I recommend this if you have nothing else to go on.
- If all else fails, just Google “self-guided walking tour of <city name here>” — you’ll find something! For example, we found a great self-guided temple tour of Chiang Mai online and used it to guide our walk around the city one day. As an aside, many cities around the world, and most in Europe and South America, offer free walking tours or tours for tips. Look it up online, or ask reception at your accommodation. Most hotels should know, and any hostel definitely will know, if there is one offered in that city!
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