When it comes to FOMO-chasing trip planning, one of the key parts is figuring out where to stay. Depending on the town you’re looking at, there may be a huge variety of neighborhoods to choose from. This is where the answers to your questions from this post about travel preferences come in handy once more.
If you have lots of tourist sites on your agenda, that’s an easy one: you’ll probably want to stay as close as you can to these, budget allowing. I’m about the opposite of that — no shade! I’m just not a fan of crowds — so I usually have to do some creative research. Here are some of the ways that I’ve narrowed down places to stay.
- Googling “Hipster [city name]” (Shut up, I hate myself)
- Looking for online neighborhood guides. Airbnb has a handy one, as does Fodor’s and TripAdvisor, though the guides aren’t on a central page, so you’ll have to hunt. Here are Paris ones from Fodor’s and TripAdvisor as a start.
- Reading through the New York Times’ 36 Hours In… series. I love these, though to be fair, they’re basically a combination of my Googling “Hipster [city name]” (see above!) and “Completely blowing my budget in [city name].”
- Picking a neighborhood based on its proximity to:
- A restaurant, coffee shop, or yoga studio I want to check out.
- Food markets, flea markets, or farmers’ markets. (The best one so far as been Torvehallerne in Copenhagen. Oh man, I’m drooling just thinking about it!)
- Holiday markets, I can’t forget those! ChristmasMarkets.com is a great resource if you’re like me and are positively obsessed with mulled wine once there’s the slightest chill in the air.
- Weird tourist attractions. I looooooove bizarre museums, creepy graveyards, strange statues (the Mary Tyler Moore statue in Minneapolis, anyone?): stuff that’s just generally off the beaten path. I’ll punch stuff into Google like “Weird things to do in [city name]” and inevitably find sites like Atlas Obscura, Roadside America, Cool Stuff in Paris, and so. Perfect Internet black hole material!
- Crowdsourcing on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll see if anyone else I know has been there and has recommendations on where to stay.
- Going analog. While my research is normally digital, I still love to go to the bookstore and browse the travel aisle. You’ll of course find the Lonely Planet and Time Out guidebooks, but Karen Brown’s Exceptional Places to Stay books are also hugely helpful.
- Checking out a map, plain and simple. I want to see the geography and get an idea of what’s nearby, how walkable it is (or how close public transport is), and if I’m around any neat spots that my research hasn’t turned up.
So those are the basics I follow for picking a neighborhood. I know, I know, it may sound pretty crazy to put so much effort into a trip you may not ever take (and don’t get me wrong, it totally is). But I’ve always found that the more detailed I get, the more excited I get, and the easier it is for me to forget about the FOMO in the first place!
Today I thought I’d write about a very real trip I’m taking this summer, to Iceland. YOU GUYS I’M SO EXCITED I CAN’T EVEN STAND IT. Let me see if I can get through this without breaking into hysterics (but already this doesn’t bode well).
So I guess I’ve traveled by myself a few times, but usually it’s been to a spot I’ve already visited, or it’s been for business, or there’s some other technicality I’ve made up. This trip, though, is officially a solo endeavor. I’m both delighted and terrified, and to deal with that I’ve been planning my itinerary since November.
To kick things off, I’ll cover the prep work I’ve done to sort out my trip. The first thing is to figure out what kind of traveler you are. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you a true tourist or do you want to try to blend in? Do you have a checklist of things to do? Do you want to live like the locals do and find hidden gems? Are you somewhere in between? If you’re mostly interested in sightseeing, you may love guided tours where everything is already planned and you really just have to show up. Or the thought of a tour bus may cause you to break out in hives!
- Do the inhabitants speak your language? If you’re going somewhere where your language is not commonly spoken, this could be a challenge! It’s never a reason to skip the trip — I mean, I got myself around Japan at age 15 speaking almost no Japanese — but you also need to be ok with making a fool of yourself. (In my case I inadvertently stole from a food stall, thinking the food set out was a sample ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
- Do you want to be in a city or do you want to get off the beaten path? If you’re a city dweller at heart, this means you may be able to skip renting a car and instead use public transport. (Bonus: this also opens up budget for other areas!)
- Will you stay in one spot or travel around? A sightseeing vacation may involve a rental car and multiple places to stay. In a place like Iceland, roads can be inaccessible depending on the season — you’ll definitely you’ll want to know this in advance.
- Are you a planner or would you rather go with the flow? If you like a schedule, you should figure out your can’t-miss sites. Also, consider what you’ll do if that site is really, really hard to get to, and decide in advance how much BS you’re willing to put up with. Travel inevitably throws curveballs at you, so if that statement already stresses you out, you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.
- What do you normally spend money on: food, clothes, experiences? Focus on these same things when you travel. If everyone tells you to check out some life-changing restaurant, but you really couldn’t care less about food, skip it! And don’t believe anyone who says it’s sacrilege to go to Paris and skip the Louvre. The Art Police will not in fact take you away, I promise.
When I answer these questions, it looks like this:
- Tourist/blender-inner: I like to play at being a local as much as I can. Tour groups actually drive me bananas, so I’m figuring out my Iceland trip by myself (as much as possible, anyway).
- Language: I’m in luck that a lot of Icelanders speak English, but I’ve made an effort to learn some key phrases in Icelandic. (Auður, who runs ihearteykjavik.net, has a great podcast series where she teaches some common – and less common – phrases.) I may end up sounding like an idiot, but in general locals are a lot more receptive when you at least try to speak their language.
- City mouse/country mouse: I’m pretty happy in the city or the country, so… next question.
- Stay in one spot or travel: I’m keeping Reykjavik as my home base. I’d love at some point to do the Ring Road tour, but that’s a ~10-day trip and I only have a week. Also, most of the things I want to do offer free pickup and dropoff, so I’ll still end up seeing different parts of the island!
- Planner/go with the flow: I go either way. There are a few things I’m dying to do, but since I also like to blend in, I’ve left a few days open so I can just explore.
- What do I spend my money on?: I normally spend on food and experiences, so I’ve already reserved two dinners and signed up for two adventure trips (horseback riding and scuba diving).
What have I missed? What are the first things you consider when you’re planning a vacation?
In my next few posts, we’ll look at restaurants, lodging, sightseeing, the eternal question of whether or not the Blue Lagoon is a big tourist trap (opinions, please! I’m still not sure), and so on. Happy trails!