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