Updated: Jun 14, 2020
When I am planning to travel, I typically immerse myself in a location. I want to know about the people, food, the wine, cultural heritage as well as more practical questions like:
What will the weather be like?
What kind of clothes should I pack?
Will I be able to communicate in English?
What is the best way to get around? How much will things cost?
What should I know about this location as a woman of color?
Traveling to a foreign country can be exciting – and at the same time a little nerve wracking. You are going somewhere completely new with no idea what to expect when you get there. I always say, “knowing leads to confidence” and the best way to confidently travel and demystify a new location is...Research.
I must admit, that the idea of research makes me all warm and fuzzy since I absolutely LOVE research and travel research allows me to answer many questions and visualize myself in a new place. I stretch out my destination research over several weeks and sometimes even months. Learning all that I can about a new locale allows me to feel more prepared and to confidently set off for a new place with an itinerary that includes both “must see” tourist spots as well as cultural and historical sites that I discover through my research. I am always amazed by how much time and money I end up saving by conducting thorough research.
Research is the key to getting the best out of travel
So much information is out there and if you know where to look, you can spend weeks researching a travel destination or quickly learn about a location a few days before you leave. Here are some of the ways I typically research a travel destination to find out everything I need to know before packing my bags.
Read Travel Blogs Travel blogs are a great way to start your research. A quick Google search can lead you to bloggers who have been to your desired destination. Once you find a good blog and or blogger with first-hand knowledge of your next travel spot, it never hurts to comment or send an email to ask specific questions. The Culture Trip is my "go to" blog for insider information on global destinations. Look for a blogger who shares your travel style and interests. I often get notes from friends, colleagues and even strangers inquiring about my travels. I started Pack Light Global to specifically meet the needs of women of color who are over 40. There are blogs that cater to solo travelers, group travel, food and wine enthusiasts etc.
Understand the History
Black travel writer and activist Bani Amor, says "Do some research on the historical relationship between your place of origin and your place of visitation" In her article Check Yourself Before You Wreck Someplace else: A Decolonial Travel Checklist. Amor reminds us that as tourist we are often unaware or oblivious of the real impact of tourism on local, vulnerable communities. My travel research always includes understanding "not cool" tourism sites for example, I will NEVER engage in township tours in South Africa, or many other so-called authentic cultural tourism experiences. Through indepth research into South African culture, economy and tourism, I now understand what these popular tourist sites mean to the local, indigenous people.
Watch Travel Videos and Films
Not everything about a destination can be expressed via the written word. The wealth of travel content on Youtube includes travel and tourism board videos, documentaries, travel vlogs and many other videos that will help you see for yourself what a travel destination has to offer. You will be able to see what the landscape looks like, listen to the accents of the people and imagine yourself in the place. I also love to watch movies set in a destination.
Ask Expats Who Live There
The expats who now live or have lived in the destination you are traveling to can be a great source of information, because they know what it’s like to visit that country for the first time. They have lived there for a while so they are very knowledgeable about local life. An expat can share many money saving tips and introduce authentic local experiences that can totally elevate your trip. As a woman of color, reaching out to Black Expat Women, will give you valuable insight into what to expect from another sista's perspective. BlackExpat.com, Black Women in Europe and The Expat Woman are all great sources for the expat perspective..
Post a Question in a Travel Forum or Facebook Group
Check out travel forums such as Trip Advisor, /r/travel on Reddit , AARP Travel, Rick Steves to ask questions and find out more about your destination. There are also Facebook travel communities with globetrotting members who can give first-hand insight and answers to your travel questions. My favorites are Black Travel Movement, Black Girl Travel and African American Travel . These online communities are up-to-date and used by a lot of passionate travellers with plenty of experience to share with you. Make sure you search posts thoroughly to see if your question has been asked and answered before you start a new thread.
I prefer travel forums over review sites (Yelp, Trip Advisor) since it's difficult to know if the reviews are authentic and you can rarely ask specific questions of the traveler posting the review.
Books, Guides and Magazines
We can’t forget about the classic guide book and other books that help us explore an unfamiliar destination. Thumb through a copy of Frommers, Lonely Planet or Rough Guides and you will learn a lot about your destination. I personally rarely use guide books. I find that I can easily find better information with a quick Google search. Also, the historical and cultural content in a guidebook can be overly generalized and and sometimes outdated compared to what is found online. Even though I dont always use guidebooks when I travel, I am often drawn to a location, based on the detail found in fiction books and articles in travel magazines. I am currently
Whether you are visiting Paris, South Africa, Tanzania or London – there are many great ways to discover what is amazing about your travel destination before you go. With so many methods to choose from, you’ll be sure to find the info you need to... Travel Fearless
If you have any other ways that you have used to learn more about a destination before traveling, please share them with us in the comments!