When it comes to planning a trip, I warp into type my A mode. While planning any vacation, I spend hours researching Tripadvisor, Yelp, Urbanspoon, Travel Blogs and travel guides (ie. Lonely Planet and Frommers). I make a list of must do activities, restaurants and attractions, put it all into a Google Map, colour coded of course, and then plan my itinerary based on geography.
My Favourite Research Resources:
- Trip Advisor – My favourite site to start listing attractions, finding hotels reviews and figuring out the best time to visit a city. The real photographs of hotel rooms and views are super helpful. My first step is to always read the most negative reviews first and then the most recent. This is useful before booking a trip and during the planning phase.
- Travel Wiki – I like Travel Wiki for popular cities. It’s a good starting point to get a general idea of the culture, shopping, attractions and geography. My favourite part of the site is how it outlines day trips and transportation. How to get there from the airport and transportation within the city. I use this site to research places I’d like to visit and before I get into detailed planning.
- The Library for Travel Guides – Lonely Planet is my prefered travel guide series, but I do like Frommers as well. Travel Guides are updated annually and you’d have to visit one location a few times to make purchasing a guide worthwhile. Once I’ve picked a vacation spot, I head to the library’s travel section. It’s even easier today with the Toronto library offering digital copies of most Travel Books for your computer or tablet, all free.
- Yelp and Urbanspoon – This is starting to get serious. Eating on a trip is serious business for me. There’s only so many meals you have in a city. I start with making a list of the best reviewed restaurants and grouping them into price range and cuisine. Then I start trying to eliminate anything that seems too touristy. I start to read local food blogs and narrow down my choices.
- Google – More recently, I’ve started to Google for travel blogs. My search string is usually “City I’m visiting Vacation Blog”. The results are great vacation recaps from bloggers with real experiences, pictures and advice.
The Google Map from my Weekend Trip to Boston last year
Once I have a list of colour coded locations (restuarants, things to go, and shopping) all mapped out, I start to slot them into an itinerary. This is what works for me, and why my friends love to travel with me. I try my best to be a good boy scout (always prepared) without being a schedule nazi. I like losing track of time at the farmer’s market as much as being early for dinner reservation.
Two possible trip itineraries
Tips for Planning an Itinerary that doesn’t feel Restrictive:
- Plan the fancy meals first, don’t forget to include time to get ready and travel time.
- What are your must do’s? Plan those first and space them out. Don’t try to do too much.
- Always have a back up. That super cool new burger joint you read about, closed due to a water leak, good thing you looked up 3 other restaurants in the area.
- Keep some time free. Don’t plan every single hour. What if you hear about a new bar that just opened, or want to go back to re-visit a beach. It’s nice to have a plan, but it’s also nice to have a bit of (planned) spontaneity.
- Stay flexible. It’s Day 2, 4pm and the only thing you want to do is take a nap, not walk a museum. So take the nap, you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation, and a good plan would have a back up slot, point #4, if the museum was a “must do” from point #2.
Hanging out with some fish at the Boston Aquarium. When we went to buy tickets, the box office line was ridiculously long. We joined a shorter line for pick up tickets and bought tickets online while waiting.
What is it: Mobile App
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Chekplate. All opinions expressed below are wholly mine and not indicative of the opinions or positions held by Chekplate.
Chekplate is a mobile app, currently available only for iPhones, launched in September 2013 that aims to provide users with restaurant reviews from their social network. Users can add friends, write quick reviews and search for restaurants nearby and read existing reviews.
Signing up was pretty standard. A phone number is required to deter fake users. Once I was in the app, the navigation icons were easy to follow to “Add New” review, or “Search” for restaurants. If you’re at the restaurant it takes less than 30 seconds to add a review.
What I liked:
- The app is responsive and quick to load with a clean user interface and easy to read icons, it’s not crowded
- Searching for “Nearby” restaurants provides a list of results within seconds
- There’s a section on each restaurant page for “Deals”, this has great potential
- Simple rating system out of 5 for Food, Service and Price
- As wordy as I can be, I’m a big fan of concise information. I like that the rating is broken out into three factors with a straight forward approach.
- Being able to flip back and forth between list and map view in the restaurant search results
What could use work:
- There are still bugs, right now there’s no way to delete a review so if you accidently click submit twice (which I did), both reviews show up. The developers are working on a way to prevent duplicate reviews.
- This feature is to prevent restaurants from enticing users to remove poor reviews, a great move to maintain the integrity of the app
- Better integration with Facebook and Twitter
- The framework to integrate is built into the “Settings” section of the app, but toggling the “On/Off” didn’t do anything
- More data, like any new app that relies on user input, Chekplate’s restaurant database is just starting to be built up. Right now, there’s a great baseline of restaurants but there’s a lot missing. As a user, It is easy to add a new restaurant if you’re at the location. If you’re not though, you need the exact address, which can be a bit more effort than users are willing to put in for a mobile only app.
TL;DR: With an increase in usership, Chekplate has the potential to provide users with restaurant recommendations on the fly by being a well-thought out and responsive app.
Last night I was watching Three Stars, a documentary on Netflix following restaurants around the world that have earned the coveted three Michelin star rating. While watching the show, especially seeing how the rating system was received with an icy welcome in Japan, I thought back to my own experiences so far with the Michelin star system. To date I’ve been to 3 Michelin rated restaurants and thus far have enjoyed each meal and will continue to look for restaurants that have received stars when I’m travelling. I’ve also had outstanding meals at non star restaurants and currently there are no Michelin star restaurants in Canada.
My strategy is to look for tasting menus or lunches to make the dining experience more affordable. It’s been working so far and I do love researching new restaurants.
Dovetail – 1 Star – NYC, USA
Visited: July 2011
- Sunday dinner, 3 course set menu: $58, regular dinner, 4 course set menu: $88
- I was lucky enough to be able to make a reservation for Sunday night and it worked with when I was in NYC
- Dovetail also offers a Chef Tasting menu for each night with an option for wine pairings
- Dovetail is located right by Central Park and is a perfect stop after an afternoon of wandering through nature if you’re doing the tourist thing.
- Presentation was beautiful, rich and hearty flavours
Arbutus – 1 Star – London, UK
Visited: August 2011
- Pre-theatre dinner, 2 courses £18.95, 3 courses £20.95
- Located in the theatre district, this was the perfect location to grab dinner before watching Les Miserables while in London
- The restaurant offered a relaxed and intimate feel
- A great value option for London, their sister restaurant Wild Honey is also a great choice with a 3 course lunch menu for £29 and dinner entrees ranging from £12 to £35
Le Bristol Restaurant – 3 Star – Paris, France
Visited: September 2011
- Summer lunch set €85, including drinks, tax, coffee, came to €140
- Situated in Le Bristol hotel, our lunch spanned a good 3 hours, had over 10 courses (including cheese, petite fours and amuse bouches and special bread for certain course) and is still the best meal I’ve ever had.
- The service was impeccable, honestly they put up with three excited, giggling Asian girls who wanted to take pictures of everything with a level of class and friendliness that was exceptional.
- The food was too die for. This meal made me realize I didn’t dislike cheese, a belief that I had held for all my life, and opened up my palate to appreciate a whole new set of flavours.
- The technique of each dish was also mind boggling. One of the entries was squid, cut to mimic grains of rice and cooked like a risotto. That dish still haunts me today.
- It was an experience that made me fall even more in love with food and is one of the reasons why this blog exists.
- After a lot of Googling, I’m not sure if the lunch menu at Le Bristol is still available or not, which would be sad. I had an amazing experience and would have highly recommended the meal to anyone looking for a “affordable” Michelin Star experience in Paris
Without fail, every year February is a hard month to get through. It’s the shortest month but somehow feels the longest. I must have been a tortoise or bear in a previous life because all I want to do is hibernate. My entire being slows down and motivation is at an all time low.
It’s understandable, it’s the end of a long winter, it’s downtime after the holidays and it’s still cold and dreary. It’s hard to wake up in the mornings and it’s annoying to still have to wear two pairs of pants! I’m also not a winter sport person. So instead, I catch up on anime, video games, TV shows and root into my couch for far too long. Spring cleaning is around the corner, but until then the vacuum can stay int he closet for one more day.
I have hope though. It’s not dark when I leave work anymore, my cat’s starting to shed his winter coat and the calender tells me it’s almost March.
In the meantime, I’ll get through this by drinking a little more coffee, eating a little more chocolate and exercising a little more for endorphins. Next year though, I’m booking a vacation somewhere warm.