Travel Daydreams

This is the time of year—cold, possibly snowy—when some of us stay inside more. Some of us stay in with a fire in the fireplace and a nice glass of wine, some of us stay in with Netflix on the tube or a good book in hand … and some of us stay in with our travel daydreams to keep us warm.

Whether you’re planning something fun for a week this summer or the trip of a lifetime next year (and you know who you are!), it’s good to, you know, think about it. A lot. Do a little forward planning so you can make the most out of your precious time and your hard-earned money.

I’m not talking about logistics, though. Oh sure, getting a flight, a hotel, a car—those things are important. But you can do that, right? You can call a travel agent or do it yourself. There are dozens of storefront and online companies that are eager to help. (Here are two articles—Top 15 Most Popular Travel Websites and 23 Best Travel Websites to Save You Money—with plenty of sites to explore.) I’ve been known to google things like “how to get from Livorno to Tower of Pisa”—Livorno being a popular port on some Mediterranean cruise line itineraries—and come up with fantastic blogs and other firsthand accounts that include step-by-step directions complete with street names, bus numbers, and walking time.

I love the Internet!

No, what I’m talking about is deciding what to do, what to look for, what to eat, what to buy. You may not know how to tell a tourist trap from a genuinely wonderful experience. You may not know where or how to pick and choose which experiences to pursue and which to save until next time. You may want mementos of your visit but don’t know what to buy or where. Sometimes you’re doing these things on the fly after you’ve already arrived. But you may have a friend who’s already been where you’re going, and if that’s the case … you ask.

Right?

The one place I’ve visited often enough to be of help to you is Ireland. In fact, this topic recently suggested itself because in the last couple months, several people have approached me asking for suggestions about what to see and do in Ireland on a week or ten-day vacation.

But … there are so many possibilities! The Republic of Ireland is about the same size as the state of Indiana, but the culture is ancient and deep. There is a lot to see and do, and you can’t do it all in one trip. You’ll want to narrow it down a bit. I can help with that.

So over the next few posts, I’m going to give you some suggestions about …

Getting the backstory
You’ll want some background information about the Republic of Ireland, its people, culture, and history, because a little bit of knowledge will enhance your visit exponentially. This is easier than you think, and isn’t one bit like studying for an exam. Honest.

• Narrowing it down
Different people have different interests (and thank goodness for that). It’s a simple process to craft an itinerary that’s perfectly suited to your interests if you know what’s on offer.

• Taking in the human culture
You’ve got to eat and drink every day. I’m not going to recommend restaurants so much as I’ll suggest how you can enjoy specifically Irish food and drink. You’ve got to kick up your heels a bit, too, so we’ll talk about music and special events.

• Finding the unique
You’ll want to take home a memento of your trip, won’t you? You don’t have to buy a plastic leprechaun, you know. I’ve got some suggestions for souvenirs that you’ll enjoy for years.

• Finding the magic
Some of my absolute favorite experiences were ones that just … happened. Completely unplanned. I’ll tell you about them, and give you some tips on how you can leave room for magic to happen too.

Hang on and watch this space. I’m going to tell you what I tell my friends. 🙂

Sheep, Co. Kerry. One of my favorite photos ever.

Sheep, Co. Kerry. One of my favorite photos ever.

Travel: There’s an App for That

I spend a lot of time planning my trips; I love the anticipation itch that planning scratches. Still, as you know, even a well-planned trip can go off the rails—a missed flight, for example, or an unexpected case of pneumonia.

But I spend more time at home than I do traveling. I’m not a frequent flyer. So it never crossed my mind that there are dozens of apps to make travel easier.

Some years ago I worked for Mike Hyatt, and I’ve followed his blog for some time (along with about a hundred thousand other people). No longer at the publishing company where we met, Mike is now a popular public speaker and author, and as such he does a lot of traveling. So you can imagine my delight when I found this blog post in my in-box: “Are You Using These Top 5 Travel Apps?

Here’s a sample:

1. TripIt. This is “command central” for my travel details. My assistants and I use it to maintain all my transportation and accommodation information. When they book a flight or a hotel, they forward the information to TripIt. The program parses the email and creates neat records with all the details. It tells me when flights are delayed, the travel time, my seat assignments, confirmation numbers, and whether or not the flight provides wireless Internet service. It gives me similar information about hotels.

Mike goes on to name four other travel apps he finds useful, including one called Uber, which allows you to book limousine service from your iPhone. Don’t assume it’s too expensive, he says: “I find it is often much cheaper than a rental car.” I can affirm this: Gerry and I booked limos from LaGuardia to midtown Manhattan and they were cheaper than cabs.

So read this article—you may find something very useful for your business or pleasure travel. Best of all, Mike encourages his readers to leave suggestions in the comments—and holy cow, are there some good ones:

• Gate Guru: It gives a list of all the restaurants, snack stands, and shops in the terminals of most airports.

• Seat Guru: Find low airfares, pick your ideal seat on the plane, and get real-time flight alerts with the free SeatGuru app.

• GlobeConvert: Currency and units converter.

• HotStop: Local transit directions (subway, train, bus, ferry, bike).

• Bedbug Registry: self-explanatory.

• AroundMe: Quickly identifies your position and allows you to choose the nearest bank, bar, gas station, hospital, hotel, movie theater, restaurant, supermarket, and so on.

Check it out!

Forward Planning

I like a nice itinerary. I like setting it up, plugging in the immoveable items (like, say, a wedding: that date won’t change), and then moving things around on it ’til it all works. I like a bit of detail. I like having all the important confirmation numbers and departure times in one place for easy reference. I like my lists of things I want to see and do.

An itinerary doesn’t mean I’ve planned every minute of every day; it only means I know where I’ll be sleeping on any given night. Where I’m going to have breakfast (most important meal of the day, you know!). It includes a list of things I’d like to do, but there’s always more on the list than can be done, and I know that going in. A vacation becomes what it will be as it unfolds from day to day; a little structure, though, helps me maximize my time by focusing on the things I reasearched long ago, while giving me options for a Plan B if something has changed.

I’ve been working on my itinerary for months—ever since I bought the flights last fall. Things get added, things fall off (’til next time). Hotels get researched, then decided upon and booked in spare moments. The car gets reserved. I remember I want to look for this thing or that thing. Now I have a detailed, day-by-day plan. In addition to the list of potential things to do, I also have a list of books I’m interested in buying and a list of things to get at Tesco (a large grocery store chain), because there are certain foodstuffs I want to bring home. Like Sarah’s Wonderful Honey. (No kidding—that’s the name. And it is.)

I love my lists. 🙂 Go ahead, you can tease me all you want. I can take it.

I’ve been glancing over the itinerary just now … it’s looking like this is going to be a parks and churches trip. Soon I’ll tell you all about it.

Anticipation, Antici-PAY-yay-shun

I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, planning a trip is the next best thing to taking it. You can stretch the anticipation out for weeks.

I love the excitement of making the decision to go. Yes. On that day I’ll leave. On that day I’ll head home. Now I have a framework on which to hang the magic that is a visit to a country not my own.

I love thumbing through the guidebook, looking for ideas of what to see. If it’s someplace I’ve been before* I’ve probably already been to the main sites and I’ll be looking for something different. I also use the Internet, of course, but I almost always start with the guidebook.

I love deciding on a tentative list of things to do, then locating them all on one map. When I do this, synergies become apparent: what order to do things in, say, or maybe noticing that one thing that is so far off the beaten track I need to make a decision about whether to do it at all. Time is limited, always. Locating things on one map also helps decide on where to look for a hotel or other lodging.

I love skipping around on the Internet looking at hotels. Does this one have parking? Does that one have (unexpectedly) a swimming pool? Pack a suit! I love having that confirmation number in my file.

I love that if you zoom in on Google Maps—mostly if you’re looking at a large city like Dublin—you can see all sorts of venues large and small, from museums to churches to restaurants. And I love the street view aspect too: I just got a good look at the storefront of a cheesemonger I plan to visit soon.

I love choosing to read literature by authors from the country I’ll visit.

*And there’s a special wonderfulness about returning to a place you’ve been before, right? I love reminding myself of restaurants I want to return to or ones I’ve read about or been recommended by friends or ones I saw on the last trip but couldn’t get to … I love making that list of things I want to be sure to pick up, like the Moulton Brown hair care product I love.

Oh yes, the list.

I love making the itinerary. I have the dates of departure and return. I add the other things as they crop up. We’re going to a wedding out of town; that’s on the itinerary. All the lodging reservations are listed, day by day. Those things don’t change. Everything else is fluid. There’s a list of potential things to do or see, but we’ll decide on the fly when to do what. So many things can happen … and often do. 🙂

I’ve had to squeeze out the time to do all this in odd moments, usually late at night. My days are consumed with work and other responsibilities. But the smile you see on my face is sweet anticipation.