Making time for online travel research before you leave on an overseas trip may seem like a no-brainer.
But as anyone who's browsed the web knows, it’s easy to rabbit-trail off your main search idea and quickly lose focus from the onslaught of too much infor-mation.
With thousands of travel pages, booking sites, and companies promoting tours on the web, you can quickly become overwhelmed before you find the material you need to plan your overseas trip.
To be successful at online travel research, you first need to have some general knowledge of your destination, before you begin to look online.
The easy way to do this is to find the best travel guides you can and use them to gather information on destinations you're thinking of. This should help you begin to solidify your ideas for where you want to travel.
Focus on not just the country or countries, but specific cities, towns, regions, and local areas.
It's important to read as much as you can about a potential destination to know if it offers the kind of travel experience you're looking for.
A good travel guidebook will help you narrow your options and focus on choosing the right place to travel.
Once you have a good idea where you're going, you're better able to focus your online research on areas you've chosen as most important to creating your travel plan.
Government-sponsored websites, better known as tourist boards or tourist infor-mation offices, usually provide the best country specific information for would-be visitors, along with links to good outbound sites they feel are valuable.
As you begin your online travel research, look for planning sites that narrow their information and provide specific knowledge about the countries and regions you want to visit.
For instance, if you're traveling to Italy, focus your search on the top websites you can find about Italy only, rather than sites that include multiple countries or all of Europe. This may take some searching, but weeding out 'general sites' early on can keep you from rabbit-trailing through reams of information with dubious value.
Use this selective process also for sites with information on in-country regions, towns, and cities you're considering as add-on destinations.
For instance [still focusing on Italy] look for travel websites with specific info on principal cities, ie., Rome, Venice, Genoa, or Verona, and regional areas like Tuscany, Umbria, Veneto, or Puglia.
Too often, travel sites take a broad or generalist approach to material they publish, hoping to capture a larger online audience. They opt to cover all of Europe, all of Asia, all of the U.S. Or all of them combined!
In other words, they try to cover the world.
But planning travel is all about details.
By using planning sites that narrowly focus on the areas you hope to visit, you'll find more detailed information, definitive ideas and suggestions, and often, current material for local events.
Official tourist information sites are almost always the best place to start your online travel research. They consistently provide the most focused, current, and factual information in a seemingly endless supply of travel material on the web.
Review these sites first, followed by any outbound links to related area sites.
Limit your online travel research to sites that demonstrate an exper-tise and depth of knowledge for your areas of interest.
These are recognizable by their comprehensive local detail and specific information on the areas they cover.
The key to a useful travel planning site is to find not only wiki-type facts, but also comments or recom-mendations on specific hotels, places to eat, points of interest, local trans-portation, sights and attracttions, local shopping, or places and things not to miss.
You may be planning a trip overseas, but once you arrive at your destina-tion, all travel is local.
When doing online travel research, look for definitive information on places to see, specific things to do, suggestions for where to eat, and recommended accommodations.
Look for an 'honest opinion' in the details you read. If everything seems too positive or perfect, the information you're reading is nothing short of marketing.
Look for negative insights as well, like places to skip, areas to avoid, hotels or restaurants that won’t live up to expectations. These candid opinions are often written by travelers who've been to the area and experienced it first hand.
As you skim through multiple websites, save promising ones to a dedicated 'Favorites' file for easy access. You'll make more progress in your online research, if you first collect a number of websites, then review them later for useful information.
As you find one-of-a-kind materials, like tables, schedules, maps, or bits of info you think will be useful while on the road, print them for a 'take along' file, especially if a site has limited useful material. This will prevent you from having to retrace your steps to find the information again.
By printing unique material as you go, you create a portable file for use when not online. Once you have an abundance of printed information, lay it out so you can visually remove duplicate info, keeping the most useful for planning your itinerary or your take along file.
As you continue with your online research, look for destination material for where you are at the moment in creating your travel plan.
For example, if you're in the beginning phase of the planning process, gather material only for the beginning of your trip, ie., flights or transportation, accom-modations, and general destination material.
As you continue to come across sites you like, save them to your 'Favorites' file for later use, as you move further through the planning process.
For each layer of planning, drill further into your saved websites for information on activities, sights, attractions, local events, and special places to eat.
By gathering information for your trip in 'layers', you speed up the process of finding the best ideas to include in each 'layer' of travel, rather than collecting 'piles' of disjointed material you need to review again before you can use it.
The more you online travel research you do, the more your destination knowledge will increase. Much of what you find initially will start to become familiar and no longer be necessary, as you come to the end of your planning.
There's so much travel material on the web, it's easy to get bogged down in the sheer volume of it. A better plan is to gather what you need for each planning stage, reducing the chance of becoming overwhelmed.
When you finish your online research, review and organize the printed materials for the things to add to your must-do travel list.
With all your options laid out before you, you'll finally begin to 'see' your trip take shape.
If you want to know what's happening locally at or near your destination before you go, your online travel research should include international news sources.
Worldnews.com can give you access to news and local events from around the globe.
You can drill down to cities, towns, and local areas for current events and to see what's occurring at the local level.
You can also determine if there's any local turmoil or unrest, political issues, or other hazards that could impact your safety when traveling.
Another source for 'local' input is OnlineNewspapers.com, a directory of thousands of global news sources, listed by country and region.
Global news sites, like BBC.com, Reuters.com [international version], and CNN.com [travel section] can keep you abreast of worldly affairs. You can hone in on exactly what's going on at your intended destination.
Unlike information from a strictly tourist point of view, local news from these sources will give you current, day-to-day information, just as available to local inhabitants.
Doing travel research online will help you find unique things to do, un-touristy places to visit, and off-the-beaten-path experiences, no matter where you plan to travel
And it can raise your travel experience from ho-hum, to truly spectacular.
For more tips on unique travel resources and travel research, see this article:
Great Travel Resources are easy to find - and often, they're free! Try these familiar, but seldom-used sources to make Europe travel planning easy and fun.