Perhaps the biggest challenge in planning a trip is finding the stuff you might actually want to do. How to find things to do on vacation can be time consuming and some website reviews can be misleading. Looking at what others have done can be both entertaining and inspirational. However, that was their trip built around the things they liked. What about you? How do you figure out your adventure?
Assuming you know where you are going and what you do and do not like to do, combing through all the possibilities takes time and effort. You can wing it, sure, but it is always nice to know somethings you might like to try before you go, if nothing else it to helps you figure out what to pack. After all, there is no need to pack your snorkeling gear if the beach is polluted.
Old Fashioned Books
When planning my trips, I like to use professionally produced tour books. I’m a little old school in that I like to feel the pages turn and take notes in the margins, but if you like it all digital many of these books are searchable on-line once you buy them. I personally like to use the Lonely Planet books if they have one for where I am going. There is no real reason for this other than I like the writing style and vibe. Most of the published tour books cover the same stuff so pick one you like and go for it. Unfortunately, Lonely Planet does not cover everywhere, in which case I try to find other publishers with a similar vibe. Moon does a good job as does “Off the Beaten Path” and I have a bunch of both in my travel library.
Theme Specific Travel Guides
When the girls were small, I relied heavily on the “Fun with the Family” series, as well as the “Best Hikes with Children” books. These books are a great way to find things to do on vacation with your kids and are kid specific covering a range of ages and activities.
If we are going to be traveling a route with a fair amount of history, I try to grab a “Roadside History” for that state. The series gives you fun things to look for or talk about while driving along and are available for several U.S. states. In addition, if I am going to a place with some great geological features, like in the southwest, I will try to find a book from the “Roadside Geology” collection. Some places have cool landscapes and I find it fun to know how they were made. All of these guides are available through Amazon.com.
Another way I find things to do on vacation is to use the local tourist website for where I am going to add to my travel research. These sites generally have a wealth of information on what is available to see and do and are written with little personal opinion. They also have the most up to date information and always link to an available website for more. I particularly like the calendar of events section on these sites because it is a great way to plan a trip around festivals, concerts, or other events.
I also like the AAA tour books. Primarily because they are free if you are a member and they give a good overview of the most popular attractions for where you are going. AAA tour books are searchable online by activity type and location. Alas, though, as with all things available through search, sometimes it is hard to figure out the right words to look for so having an actual book and paging through it might give you some surprise ideas.
I will look at on-line travel sites, like Trip Adviser just to see what is trending as the more popular activities. I’m not going to lie, in the past I have found some neat stuff to do and have gotten some valuable insight, especially when it comes to tour operators. For me though, the reviews are hard to gauge in terms of what type of people wrote the review. Is the reviewer young, healthy, in-shape? An adrenaline junky? Overly picky about his experiences? Not knowing makes it hard to assess if this is something I too will enjoy.
The Weird and the Wacky
Finally, I look at sites that are dedicated to the weird or unusual, such as RoadSideAmerica.com. This site is a collection of every weird thing you can see and do across this great nation. It gives you a perfect way to interject the truly irrelevant into your trip and many opportunities for tall tales when you get home. These are places where it is ok to be goofy, act like a kid again, and just enjoy the marvelous creativity of our fellow men and women.
Through this site, I found Nebraska’s Carhenge, which is exactly like Stonehenge but with American cars. I also found the World’s Largest Potato Chip in Blackfoot, Idaho; the World’s Largest “Booming” Prairie Chicken in Rothsay, Minnesota; the not to be missed Corn Palace in Mitchel, South Dakota; and so much more. Who knew this was all out there, just waiting for the gawking?
I know these tips on how to find things to do on vacation sounds like a ton of research and yes, it is. I don’t do all of this for every trip. When I do a business trip, I find a museum and a couple of other things that might be fun to do in my down time. If I am visiting friends or family, I may look for something new that we have not done before, just to get out of the damn house. However, when I am planning a real vacation, I do the research because I never want to miss a great opportunity to have some unique fun.