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Welcome to my newest series, The Wanderland Guide to Travel Planning. This is the fifth post in a six-part series! Many thanks to Capital One for sponsoring this post.

Part Five // Finding Transportation, Entertainment, Activities, Food and More

You’ve picked a destination. You’ve booked a flight to get there. You’ve sketched out a rough itinerary and settled on accomodation. What’s next?


Finding Transportation

You’ve already booked your big flight. But what if your destination is Central America, or Europe, or any other large region, and you plan to travel around within it? There are several options to get you from Point A to Point B. Unfortunately, schedules for some of these transportation modes can be unreliable, impossible to find, or difficult to book (I nearly set myself on fire after trying to book ferries for high season on the Greek islands last summer). You may have to book on arrival and keep your itinerary somewhat flexible.

The absolute best overall resource I’ve found for transportation is Rome2Rio. As they put it, “Rome2rio searches any city, town, landmark, attraction or address across the globe with thousands of multi-modal routes to easily get you from A to B.” While I’ve found it doesn’t necessarily show EVERY option, it weighs up quite a few of them.

To start, consider using rewards miles to book your transportation. For example, you can use miles from the Venture Card from Capital One on anything from flights to car rentals and even Ubers! I earn two points per dollar for every purchase, points that can be redeemed for any travel-related expense. Here are a few modes of transportation I wrack up and redeem points with:

• Planes: Occasionally I take short-haul flights within a country or region, when routes are available and affordable and traveling overland is prohibitively painful. To find schedules and book low fares, I use the same methods outlined in my post about booking flights. The key is to find low cost carriers in that region. A fairly comprehensive list can be found here, while specific routes can be found by Googling “[insert destination] to [insert destination] flight.”

• Trains: I love traveling by train, when possible! In the US, I have an Amtrak Rewards number and build points the same way I do with airlines. Seat61 is a fantastic resource for global train travel — I’ve used it extensively in Thailand, in conjunction with the national railway’s own website.

• Ferries: My penchant for islands means I often travel by sea. I’ve found that for many destinations (Greece, Thailand, and Martha’s Vineyard come to mind), multiple companies will run the same or similar routes and there is no way to compare them side by side other than to comb through each schedule and fare individually.

Martha's Vineyard Ferry

• Buses: This is my most common mode of travel internationally, though it’s my least favorite. Typically, tourist shuttles are booked through hostels or travel agencies, while local buses are booked at a central bus terminal (hopefully, you’re lucky enough to be in a city where there is one central terminal instead of several individual stations). Occasionally I book buses ahead of time — like in Peru, where luxury bus seats could be snagged for a bargain if booked early enough — but generally I just try to make sure a route exists in the planning stage and then take care of the rest later.

• Cars: Recently, I have developed a penchant for road trips — I took three this summer! I’m not loyal to any car rental company — I just look on sites like Kayak and snag the cheapest sedan. Roadtrippers is a great app for planning road trip routes and estimating fuel costs.

Do you have a credit card? Call them before paying for additional renter’s insurance! As a Capital One Venture cardholder, if I charge the entire cost of a rental to my card and decline the rental company’s own policy, I’ll be covered by Capital One for damage due to collision or theft – and no extra cost!

Do you have a credit card? Call them or check the web before paying for additional renter’s insurance to see if they offer any coverage or extra benefits – for example, as a Capital One Venture cardholder, I’m entitled to Visa Signature security and convenience benefits. So be sure to do your homework!

• Cabs: On the ground, I walk or use public transportation when possible. When not, I use Uber and Lyft as a cheap alternative to cabs — get a free ride of up to $20 here with Uber, and up to $25 with Lyft here. When I first signed up for Lyft in Nashville, a surprise sign up bonus gave me 10 rides of $20 or less. I didn’t pay for a lift all week, thanks to Lyft! And again, I often nab free rides by using my rewards miles towards Uber rides with the Venture Card.

And more props for Capital One Venture – I earn two points per dollar for every purchase, points that can be redeemed for any travel-related expense. Yup, that includes cabs and Ubers (and buses and trains and planes, too)!

• Public Transit and Walking: For short jaunts, this is my favorite option for body and budget – and the planet. I use Google Maps’ walking and public transit features to figure out the best routes. If I’m staying at a hotel or hostel in an unfamiliar city, I’ll run the route by the concierge or front desk staff on my way out to see if it gets their seal of approval.

Walking in Reykjavik

Finding Activities, Sights and Tours

If I’m on a relatively unscheduled, long-term backpacking trip like my Spring 2015 jaunt to Central America, I’ll just do some basic research in order to make sure I’ve budgeted for any expensive activities I want to splurge on, and to have a general idea of what my priorities are for the trip (for example, I knew to factor in extra time at Lake Atitlan when I finally arrived there, as I wanted to go scuba diving and needed both time to dive and time to decompress at altitude before departing.)

If I’m on a more regimented trip like my Summer 2015 trip to the American Southwest, I’ll book key activities ahead — after all, I already know where I’m staying and when, and I don’t want to waste time on the ground trying to arrange my itinerary or risk disappointment if something books up in high season.

Where to get ideas? Guidebooks can give you an idea of a destination’s overall sights and most popular activities, but you’ll have to dig a little deeper to find off-the-beaten-track ideas. I like to check through Tripadvisor‘s activities rankings, and look through Viator‘s tour offerings. Even if you’re not planning to book a Viator tour, it’s a good resource for seeing what’s available and getting a better feel for the destination. If I’m planning a trip to a US city, I sometimes sign up for Groupon and/or Living Social deals for that area. You can get some amazing experiences at a great price that way! Speaking of great prices — it’s hard to beat free. You can often find free walking tours of major cities with a simple Google search. And if I’m heading anywhere near a body of water, I head to PADI to check for local dive centers.

Finally, crowdsource! Throwing up a quick request for tips on Twitter and Facebook can give you plenty of ideas of what to do and see in any destination your friends (or friends-of-friends) might have been to.

Alcatraz Tour

Finding Entertainment

When it comes to finding shows, movies, concerts and other special events, my go-to is Time Out for comprehensive entertainment listings in several international cities. I also might check Viator‘s Shows, Concerts and Sports section to see what’s on offer. Otherwise, when I’m in the mood for something specific (a stand up comedy show, live music, going to the movies, seeing a cultural show) I simply hit the search bar to see what I can find.

Again, be aware of what that piece of plastic in your wallet can do for you before you hit the road. Last summer, Capital One offered half-priced movie tickets to cardholders across the US. This year, we can attend dining evenings, complimentary wine tasting and discounts at over sixty wineries in Sonoma County. And you can often snag special access and preferred seats to big sporting events and concerts.

St. Jude's Fundraising Concert Nashville

Finding Gyms and Workout Facilities

As a long-term traveler, staying active on the road is important to my health – and can be a lot of fun! I find it fascinating to see how people stay fit around the world. See if the city you’re headed to has a biking or running tour — running tours in particular are a fast-growing travel trend. Sign if there’s a Core Power studio in your destination, and enjoy a week of free classes (yup, a whole week free.) Use Google Maps to check for nearby yoga studios and gyms that offer day passes; many may offer first-time-free deals. If you’re traveling internationally, see what the national sport is and if you can give it a try. Sign up for Muay Thai boxing in Bangkok or take a capoeira class in Brazil. You’ll stay in shape and get a sense of the local culture.

In parts of the globe where recreational exercise is a foreign concept, I alternate between scenic runs if there are wide open spaces available and in-room hotel workouts where they are not. Stay tuned for a post on my favorite online workout resources coming soon for exactly these situations.


Finding Restaurants and Nightlife

I used to rarely if ever look into where I’d eat or drink before I arrived somewhere. Exceptions included special occasions and trips to major cities (especially in the US) where wining and dining was one of the points of my trip, as opposed to simple fuel for the road. Lately, I’ve been more focused on eating both for health and for enjoyment, and it’s become a growing focus of my travels. Several of you have asked how I find the restaurants I so often rave over in my blog posts, so here are some suggestions.

Similarly to the above, I peruse my trusty Tripadvisor listings (use the filters to narrow down location, cuisine and amenities like wifi and delivery) and guidebooks, and crowdsource by asking friends, readers, and those I’m connected to through social media about their favorites. I also have a running document in my phone of restaurants and bars I’ve seen mentioned in magazines or online articles. Thrillist is fantastic for finding bar and restaurant ideas in the US and a few lucky international cities, as is the aforementioned Time Out. Though I’ve yet to try any, these apps can help you find last minute or hard-to-get dinner reservations. Finally, Happy Cow is a great resource for vegetarians and vegans but also just for those seeking healthy salads and smoothies on their travels.

Nightlife and food tours can be a great way to explore a new destination after dark – especially if you’re solo. I try searching for “cocktail tours in [insert destination here,]” or “pub crawls in [insert destination here.]” They can be a great way to sample local food and nightlife and meet fellow travelers.

District Donuts New Orleans

Do you have any great resources for finding tours, entertainment, food or transport when you travel? Share them in the comments below!

  • Katherine @ World Abound
    January 24 2016

    Great post Alex! Very helpful tips. I use TripAdvisor when looking for food options on the road as well. I also like to research numerous local blogs beforehand if time permits as these often have the best recommendations on where to eat like a local!
    Katherine @ World Abound recently posted..THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS IN NYC: PART 3/3

    • Alex
      January 25 2016

      Indeed — I have been combing plenty of Brazil blogs for restaurant recommendations and have found some awesome ones that way!

  • Britt
    January 24 2016

    Completely agree- train travel is the best. I’ve barely flown at all the whole time I’ve been in Europe. It’s just so much easier to get the train- less hassle trying to get out to an airport, being there early enough, packing your bag in a specific way so it’s safe for airtravel. It’s so much more of a headache to fly. I don’t mind travelling by bus, especially if the bus station is more conveniently located but I do struggle with the fact that a lot of them don’t have toilets (I swear there is nothing that makes you need to go more than knowing you won’t be able to for the next two hours).

    If you are in Europe, Bla Bla Car is also amazing- it’s a ridesharing website where you can find rides with locals for certain prices. Often they work out cheaper and in some cases can be a much shorter journey- I managed to avoid an 8 hour and 40 euro bus ride from Salamanca-San Sebastian by booking a bla bla car that was only 28 euros and 4.5 hours. It’s a great way to meet locals as well (and challenge your Spanish skills hahaha).

    I love the idea of looking on Viator. Never thought about that! I’m going to try it next time. I often google search ‘what to eat in (city) blog’ or ‘what to do in (city) blog’ to find activities as well. And in Europe free walking tours are one of the first things I do when I get to a city! I always get a great overview and then can decide where to return to based on that. The guides usually have great food recommendations as well!
    Britt recently posted..10 Tips for Having the Best New Years Eve of Your Life in London

    • Alex
      January 25 2016

      Great tip on Bla Bla Car — thanks! I hadn’t heard of it. I’ve only done a few free walking tours on my travels — definitely going to look out for more.

  • Ashley
    January 24 2016

    There are so many great sites and resources here! I also love Time Out for nightlife suggestions, Viator for tour and sightseeing ideas, and Rome2rio is such a helpful site! I love Zomato for restaurant suggestions and reviews, and Instagram is handy as well! When I was trying to decide what to eat at London’s markets last year, I searched by location on Instagram, and scoured the photos from said markets to help narrow down my choices 🙂

    • Alex
      January 25 2016

      Nice! I get frustrated with Instagram sometimes because whenever I look up a destination hashtag there are like a million spam posts and duck face selfies. Get outta there!

  • Anca | Globaloud
    January 25 2016

    Very helpful and comprehensive article even for someone who travels for half of a decade. Haven’t heard about Rome2Rio site yet, and it seems like a really user-friendly and easy-to-use compared to some other similar sites. Time Out is also a newbie on my list of the sites I need to check out when traveling somewhere.
    Anca | Globaloud recently posted..Top 5 Best Travel Blogs in 2016 | Best Travel Blogs to Follow This Year

  • I’ve usually used Expedia to help me look & book activities/entertainment in the past (I’ve even used it to help me book places to stay on the road), but for my upcoming trip to England I think I may look at Viator and see what they offer as well 🙂
    Amanda | Lesson Plans & Layovers recently posted..The Royal Military Tattoo Festival in Edinburgh

    • Alex
      January 25 2016

      Interesting, I had no idea you could book activities/entertainment through Expedia. Learn something new every day!

  • Ijana
    January 25 2016

    Yes BlaBlaCar like Britt said! Once I drove Krakow-Stuttgart with this Polish guy and we had to speak German because I didn’t speak Polish and he didn’t speak English.

    To find things to do I often just wait till I settle into whatever place I’m visiting, then go find some locals and ask them directly.

    • Alex
      January 28 2016

      Nice to hear another endorsement for that — I’ll keep it in mind next time I’m in Europe. I wonder if something similar exists in other parts of the US (I guess Craigslist rideshare in the US?)

  • Kate
    January 26 2016

    Great guide – thanks for sharing!

    • Alex
      January 28 2016

      You’re so welcome, Kate! Thanks for reading!

  • Ree Bell
    January 26 2016

    I was going to mention Happy Cow, as it’s the website I personally use to find eateries – but then I’m a vegetarian (borderline vegan) and I need to now where to turn for food. Especially as I want to support the vegetarian/vegan restaurants and “vote with my money”.

    Great post! I’ surprised there’s no website to compare different boat companies against each other (especially in boat heavy areas) but perhaps it’s because it’s considered more of a local thing to do, and “they already know”?

    And I’ve never actually googled for a pub crawl before; I usually just find one “on site” if I feel like one, but it might be worth looking into in the planning process in the future.
    Ree Bell recently posted..Found In: Prague

    • Alex
      January 28 2016

      Maybe in some areas there are good ferry sites, but in a lot of the islands I frequent/have researched heavily, there surprisingly isn’t one (the Thai gulf, Martha’s Vineyard, Greece, etc.) Nice to hear another nod to Happy Cow!

      • Ree Bell
        February 1 2016

        My knowledge of ferries is pretty limited (I just research what I might need to know) but I must admit to being very surprised about the lack of Greece info, considering it has been (and still is, I think) such a popular vacation for Europeans; island hopping in Greece.

        Oh well. More pair-pulling research for the rest of us! 🙂
        Ree Bell recently posted..Found In: Prague

        • Alex
          February 6 2016

          I was too! Both Heather and I were just floored by how hard it was to pre-book our ferries independently when we have so much travel experience between us. My Greek friends have told me it’s just the way it is and they are crowded anyway so why bother changing! From what I understand a lot of British vacationers to Greece book through travel agents who arrange the ferries for them.

  • Terra
    January 27 2016

    Thank you for all these helpful tips. I always tend to check Tripsadvisor, and occasionally Time Out, but never thought to look at Viator for inspiration. Another way I like to find local activities and nightlife is to check out the local free street papers. Not every city has them, but when I see them in a cafe or a street box I always grab one.
    Terra recently posted..Harbin– Ice Festival or so Much More?

    • Alex
      February 1 2016

      Yes! Those are great. I sometimes keep them as souvenirs too, which is why I have boxes full of random papers at my mom’s house, ha.

  • Eva Casey
    January 27 2016

    That donut photo is killing me right now! Why isn’t it socially acceptable to eat donuts for dinner??

    I had no idea about those discounts for Capital One venture card holders! I totally have that card, and was not taking advantage of the half priced movies! I’m not making that mistake again and missing out on cheap wine, too! So thanks for the tip! 😀
    Eva Casey recently posted..The Definitive List of Travel Snapchat Accounts

    • Alex
      February 1 2016

      You’re so welcome, Eva! I go to the movies a ton when I’m near a theater, so anything I can do to score discounts on tickets is a win in my book!

  • Emma
    January 29 2016

    This is so helpful! Happy Cow will be a life saver for trips with my gluten-intolerant vegetarian sister, I wish I’d known about it sooner!
    I use Skyscanner for flights and Google Maps for working out the most convenient public transport options. I love Tripadvisor too although Angie’s recent experiences have made me a little more skeptical 😮

    • Alex
      February 1 2016

      Ugh, I know. It’s definitely thrown a wrench in my loyalty to my favorite planning site! I’m looking at it with some serious side-eye from here forward…

  • Anna
    January 29 2016

    I love how easy the Capital One Venture rewards are to redeem! I’m so lazy about credit card points, it’s great. I’d add to your list about booking bus travel: Wanderu. I’m pretty sure they only function within the US right now but it’s a great site for booking bus travel in the states if you’re on a budget. I believe they launched last year (they’re based here in Boston).
    Anna recently posted..A Weekend on “One Happy Island” | 48 Hours in Aruba

    • Alex
      February 1 2016

      It does sound familiar! I’ll have to check them out next time I’m stateside — especially now that my sis is living in Boston!

  • becky hutner
    January 30 2016

    Thanks for the heads up on Happy Cow, Alex! A great resource as I explore my new city of London’s healthy dining scene.
    becky hutner recently posted..Canadian in…London??

    • Alex
      February 1 2016

      I wish I could remember where I first came across it! It’s a great resource indeed for vegetarians, vegans, and general lovers of leafy greens 🙂

  • Justin
    February 4 2016

    Amazing blog! I am one travel lover and i want to explore all over the world.

    • Alex
      February 6 2016

      Wishing you happy travels as you get there 🙂 Enjoy, Justin!

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