Earlier this year when we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do for our 20th anniversary, we considered taking a cruise. We thought it might be perfect: Alpay likes adventure; I like playing house. By taking a cruise, we could comfortably explore several different cities without all the bothersome packing and unpacking and repacking that is part and parcel of traveling by land. And as unconventional as it sounds, I desperately wanted to do something that could include Alpay's mother, who I've already established as best mommy-in-law in the world.
Because I'm not interested in where we go as much as where we stay, I established certain ground rules, including a minimum-sized stateroom of 300 square feet with a private balcony on a cruise line that is known for its formality. The upshot is that the stateroom size, combined with the balcony and factoring in a room for my mother-in-law would put us approximately 200% over budget for a 7-day cruise.
After further researching our options, we decided to go to Turkey instead, for a trip nearly 3 times as long that will cost less than half as much, including accommodations for Alpay's mom on the last leg of the journey.
Deciding what your vacation options are and researching potential destinations is part of the fun of vacation planning. The following may prove helpful:
Talk To Friends Who Travel
This is my favorite research technique. It's sort of like a blind date: your friends know you; you like your friends; your friends like a place. The ensuing recommendation is thus pre-screened and is more or less helpful depending on how much you trust your friend's taste.
For Locals-Only Insider Knowledge, Look at Small, Local Magazines or the Travel Section of Websites/Newspapers Near Your Destination
Some favorites include:
- Los Angeles magazine I love the actual, hard-copy magazine, but who can resist the free internet site with their "LA to Z Guides" with articles like "75 Best Restaurants" and "The 64 Greatest Things About LA"?
- Chicago magazine is another great regional magazine that has an awesome website. With sections devoted to "Dining," "Going Out," Shopping," and "Best of Chicago," it's jam-packed with ideas for Chicagoans and tourists alike.
- The Seattle Times' Travel Section is perhaps the best travel section in any local paper--at least any that I've seen. There are always lots of interesting, local getaways with plenty of details and pictures.
Take Advantage Of Online Resources
- Tripadvisor I've found this site to be phenomenally helpful. It has a special "Plan the perfect trip on any budget" feature as well as terrific "Destination Guides." There's an interactive "Trip Ideas"/"Travel Inspiration" feature whereby you indicate what you like (adventure, beaches and sun, casinos, history and culture, etc.) and where you want to go (divided roughly by continent) and press a button to see the Advisor's suggestions. I especially like the traveler reviews, which seem more robust on this site than on some of the other sites. One of the hotels we ended up choosing, for instance, had 36 reviews, which provided multi-faceted impressions I found to be very helpful in making our decision.
- Yelp.com can also provide incredibly helpful consumer reviews of hotels, restaurants, spas, and resorts located in American cities.
Many of the most popular travel guides offer extensive resources online, including:
- Frommer's Their website includes "Trip Ideas" and "Tips & Tools" in addition to the more-familiar "Destinations" and "Hotels". The "Trip Ideas" includes the "Smart Deal of the Week" (Current example; "Hawaii from $499 for 3 Nights and Airfare") and "Cruise Deals for the Week." The also have a terrific "lifestyle" section devoted to such niche travelers as Family, Disabled, Gay & Lesbian, Honeymoon, Single, Senior, Student, and Women.
- Fodor's Fodors has the classic "Destinations," "Hotels," "Restaurants," and "Cruises" categories, along with their own "Travel Deals" and "Travel News" with features like "The 7 Best Family Beaches in the East" and "Beat the Euro in Italy: Stick to the Small Cities".
- Lonely PlantThe Lonely Planet has a fantastic site that includes "Introductions" or an overview of the given destination, "Getting There and Around," "Practical Information," and "History" sections, in addition to suggestions for "Entertainment," "Shopping," "Hotels and Hostels," "Restaurants," and "Sights," for which you can see members' ratings and reviews. Their feature articles often include videos, and great Q&A sidebars on subjects like "What was the best thing you ate?" and "What would you recommend a first-time visitor do?"
- Alastair Sawday's Special Places to Stay Because accommodations are so important to me, Alastair Sawday's Special Places to Stay is my favorite guide, hands-down. You won't find any mega-hotels or water parks here, but small, lovely, charming cottages, B&Bs, cabins, and boutique hotels, many of which are surprisingly reasonable in price. Every entry includes an interactive map, which is convenient (no toggling to Map Quest or Google Earth). The website also includes the wonderful "Inspire Me" section, with such themed collections as "Adventure Sports," "Cookery Classes," "Creative Classes," "Fishing," "Garden Lovers," "Mind/Body/Spirit," "Spa," "Weddings," "Wine," and more. Two of the four places we'll be staying I found through Sawday's, including the amazing Les Maisons de Cappadoce, a property reviewed in House Beautiful and Gourmet magazines that rents for less than half what a night on the cruise ship would have been.