“How do you find these places?”
“How did you discover that?”
“Where do you hear about this stuff?”
These are all questions that people ask when we travel. I have been fortunate to find some pretty awesome spots during our adventures. It is a testament to the research I do prior to our departure and to my desire to show my kids the world. But keep in mind, when we road trip it is often a trip not a vacation. There is not a lot of sitting and lounging by the pool with a cocktail and a good book. I save those epically relaxing moments for Hawaii. The point of a road trip in my opinion is to discover. Discover new places, the beauty nature has to offer, local cultures, and roadside relics. Research is a bit of a necessity to get the most out of your trip when adventuring.
The easiest and cheapest research tool in the internet. TripAdvisor.com is by far my favorite. I also use RoadTrippers.com, Pinterest, and just an old fashioned Google search. TripAdvisor is an asset when searching for a place to stay. You have the option to search hotels, motels, inns, private rentals, campgrounds, and pretty much any other alternative lodging you can think of. I always read the reviews to make sure our lodging fits my requirements. I do take them with a grain of salt as some people can have extremely high expectations or will find fault in pretty much anything. But if there is a consistent complaint that keeps popping up I assume it is pretty valid. TripAdvisor also has restaurants, things to do, and forums that you can search by location. On our way to Glacier National Park we found the best Philly Cheesesteak we have ever had via TripAdvisor (side note, that Philly cheesesteak was from a food truck in Coeur d’Alene, ID of all places!)
RoadTrippers.com is a decent search tool. I have not been in love with their site as much as I used to be, but it is still a free resource that I have at the tips of my fingers. You have the ability to map your route and choose the amenities you want to pop up along your way. This includes lodging, eats, gas stations, photo ops, nature opportunities (ie. hiking, water sports, etc.), and roadside attractions. This is convenient for those moments when you need to get the kids out of the car before World War III erupts. I think my frustration with their site, and especially their app, is that is not as user friendly as it has the potential to be.
With Pinterest I will create a board specifically for my trip and search their site for locations along our route. If I find something by doing a Google search I will pin it to my board. In addition to searching locations, Pinterest has a plethora of handy tips for roadtripping and traveling. Need games to keep the kids entertained? Got it. Want some suggestions for healthy travel snacks? They have it. Packing tips? They have several. Both of these beauties below were found via Pinterest:
The second greatest asset you can have in your research arsenal is a small travel library. I have personally found books to be a must when travelling as I am one of those people who likes to have a physical book in my hand to refer to. This is not a must for everyone so truly it depends on you and your research style to determine if books are a needed tool for your travels. My favorite publishers are Frommer’s, Lonely Planet and Moon. Each publisher has many authors, all of whom specialize in the area they write about. Therefore some publishers’ books will be great while others will be so-so. I always do an Amazon search and go over book reviews to make sure I am getting a valuable research tool. My main objective is to find a book or books that will walk me through a destination, whether it is a city, state, or national park. I like the book to break the location up into regions and give unbiased reviews on places to eat, sleep, activities and attractions.
Locals. They know all the good spots. Be friendly, strike up a conversation, and ask them. You would be surprised at the details they will offer. When people love and take pride in where they live they are often happy to share local gems with you. We have found restaurants this way (a big thank you to the gentleman who told us where to find the best bison burger we ever tasted while in West Yellowstone), scenic spots that have taken our breath away, and discovered interesting bits of history and information. While standing in line in at a deli in Washington DC I struck up a conversation with a secret service agent. His sandwich suggestion was out of this world (FYI it was A Wreck at the PotBelly Sandwich Shop)! Also during our trip to DC we scored a unique once-in-a-lifetime tour of the White House with a secret service agent. How? By talking with an agent. Turned out we were all from the same area and had lots to talk about. He found us during his lunch break and took us behind the scenes to the kitchen, flower shop, and behind the ropes of the dining room. That rug we are standing on? Oh yeah, the First Lady Michelle Obama picked that out. Those black scorch marks around the door we are standing in front of? Relics from the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the White House. He arranged for another agent to give us a personal tour throughout the rest of the house that is open to visitors. That tour was a wealth of information and the experience is one that I will value and treasure for the rest of my life. Now I am not saying you are guaranteed a private tour if you visit the White House and start chatting up an agent. But you may just end up learning some interesting stuff or at the very least a great place to eat. The benefits of a little conversation and kindness are amazing.
The time you invest in research is ultimately up to you. For me it is half the fun and I truly find joy in it the whole process. Just a little research has the potential to add so many memories to your travels. That one trail you hike can lead you to unimagined beauty, that one restaurant you discover can give you a meal that you will never forget, and that one quirky destination will always give you that story of, “Remember the time we…” Never before have we had so many amazing resources at our fingertips. Get the most out of it and take your trip from good to great.