I love planning trips, it’s one of my favorite things to do ever since my husband and I, along with 3 other couples planned a trip to Europe in 2011. Our goal was to research all that each city had to offer (we visited 5 different cities in 12 days) and come up with a game plan of possible options of what to do each day. Now, this doesn’t mean that we haaaad to do each activity every day, but we at least wanted to have options. It drives me crazy to have arrived in a beautiful place, twiddling my thumbs and asking, “What should we do today?” and then ending up not doing much because we weren’t prepared. Fail; unless you are one of those who actually like to relax on vacation (this post probably isn’t for you). For me, vacation is all about exploring new places – which is probably why I feel like I need a vacation after vacation.
Since our European adventure, my husband (and now along with our toddler) and I have planned and been on many different types of trips; most of them being road trips. We usually take a road trip to Wisconsin at least once a year, sometimes twice and many other trips thrown in somewhere in between. We just recently returned from a 7 day road trip in and around the Carolinas and I keep getting asked, “How did you hear about all of those places you visited?” So I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks for planning a successful, busy and adventurous vacation.
1. Map it out.
- Look at your route and pick out any big cities you might want to explore along the way. Any destination around an hour away from our “home base” is within reach for us. Our most recent road trip had two different destinations, 1) Charlotte, NC – which had plenty near by and 2) Salem, SC which was more remote and needed a little bit more researching for things to do nearby. Be sure to also look at stopping points along the way (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) that might be of interest or have some local flair that you can experience on your way to and from your destinations – college towns are great for these types of places.
2. Talk to you friends and use social media to gather suggestions.
- When I was mentioning to my friend that I was headed to a small town in western South Carolina, she said, “Is that near Greenville?” Not knowing, I pulled up the map and saw that it was only an hour away. Her husband and sister graduated from Furman and she has visited Greenville many times and gave me a few ideas and then put me in touch with her sister who gave me even more suggestions. She also has in-laws who live in Highlands, NC (one of our other day trips we had planned) and gave me some great suggestions while we were there as well. So talk it up!
- Asking for ideas on Facebook is a great idea also. I love reading the suggestions from people that have been to that city/place and hearing what was fun for them and then seeing if we can fit it all in our schedule.
3. Look for road signs along the way.
- Many small(er) but fantastic businesses go undiscovered and aren’t as reviewed as others on the internet, thus making them hard to find, so keep your eyes open for road signs; especially near small towns. We found a great u-pick location by simply researching the name after seeing a few road signs on our way to and from other destinations nearby while on our most recent trip. Once I googled the name, I found an their amazing website and we had a great time the next day picking a ton of blueberries and blackberries down a long middle of nowhere dirt road!
4. Use travel friendly apps while on the go.
- My two favorite apps to use while traveling are Yelp and Trip Advisor. I download them on my phone prior to leaving so I can access them quickly while on the go. We use Yelp when looking for local/unique eateries (we are not franchise restaurant people) and Trip Advisor for points of interest/things to do – although restaurant searches can also be done through TA. I love that you can customize your search, see pictures and read reviews from recent customers. We have found some hidden gems this way for sure!
5. If all else fails – Google it!!!
- I love to type in different phrases while I’m in a new city and see what I can find out about even more local flair. Most times I land on different moms blogs from our visiting city and I love to read what real moms have to say regarding things to do with kids in their hometown. I have found some great places doing this and am so thankful for this blog and all of the others like it!
- Some of my most common search phrases (obviously you can substitute whatever city you are in for the different cities I am using) – “Things to do with kids in Greenville”, “Kid friendly restaurants in Atlanta”, “Festivals in Charlotte”, “Splash Pads near Nashville”.
After searching “Kid-friendly restaurants in Atlanta” as we were stuck in traffic on I-85 on our way home the other day, we came across a whole list of places deemed “kid-friendly” on or near the city. I quickly looked at the map to see what was the closest to us and found this gem (below) that ended up being about 10 minutes away from us – and only 5 minutes off the interstate. The result? A really fun, hole in the wall restaurant that our son loved. We sat at the huge window and watched about 15 planes land and take off right in front of us while we ate our lunch. Score!