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A Travel Resource Primer

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Finding good, reliable sources of information about one’s destination is a matter of choosing wisely because there is so much out there from which to choose. The Internet actually can make it more difficult simply because it offers so much. My epiphany about the power of the net occurred in 1996 when I was planning for us to visit the Golden Triangle in Thailand at the end of a Sydney-to-Bangkok cruise. In those days we still had to send faxes to travel providers and ask them to air mail brochures. I had successfully found an e-mail address for one such agency in Bangkok and asked them, through this newest electronic marvel, to post a brochure to me. They replied by giving me a url to a video featuring an elephant ride. Sold!

If you don’t know where to start, my suggestion is that you begin with at least one of the three books which I use (Fodor, Michelin Green Guides, and Steves). If I were to choose only one, it would be Fodor. But,two are really more desirable, and all three are best. I used to say things like “In my opinion... (my opinions are seldom humble so I never bothered with that)” until someone told me that everything I said that wasn’t pure fact was obviously my opinion. As a result, it was redundant for me to identify it as such. The reason for getting all three is that if you are going to spend untold amounts of money and time on your trip, you should make sure you’re doing so wisely. With them you can then create a base travel plan to make sure you will be able to see all the things which are important to you. One might promote a sight heavily, the other not mention it at all. The third might help by offering some balance. The above three guides have been meeting our needs quite well over the years but that isn’t to say others might not work for you.

A word about Steves: we buy him for his trip timing, his local maps, his local itineraries, and his recommendations for local tour guides. We have used several of his local personal guide recommendations and never been disappointed. We do NOT use him for food or lodging suggestions. Rick operates at the low end of the budget scale for both. We’re too old for that and need our comfort. And, we do not share bathrooms! Steves does have a unique offering at this point: his current Ireland book is available at Kindle and I was able to download it onto my iPad and then carry it with us and follow it, mile (actually, km) post by mile post, as we drove the Dingle Loop among other uses. We are hopeful that Fodor’s guides will soon become available to us in e-book form both to reduce on our packing requirements as well as allow us to carry them with us on our iPad.

Steves also mentions an invaluable offering from an organization called HeritageIsland about which I have posted recently on this board but leave in here in case you missed it. Their website is www.heritageisland.com and they have a Visitor Attractions Guide. For €7 they mailed me their booklet which contains discounts for 95 places (well, not for everyone, a number were actually free). What is important about this guide is that it contains some places not mentioned at all in Michelin, Fodor, or Steves and about which we might not have ever learned otherwise.

A cautionary note: do not try to save money by using out-of-date guidebooks. Any book you buy is already out-of-date even if you get the first one off the press. That is because the elapsed time between the actual writing of the material and the actual publishing of it is great. Buying current books (and maps, especially maps) will help to assure greater accuracy of your source materials.

With regard to the HeritageIsland offering, that one is a no-brainer because of its low cost and broad offerings. Others, such as membership in the National Trust or three-day city pass offers, etc, merit close examination before buying them automatically in the belief that all sorts of money will be saved. Having determined, as explained elsewhere in this report, just how long we are going to be in a given city (or country) and where we plan to go in that locale, a comparison of the attractions we actually intend to visit versus those which are on offer, might very well yield the conclusion that paying for admissions a la carte makes more sense. After all, to use a food analogy, five-course prix fixe meals only make sense if one is hungry and there is something on the prix fixe menu which one wants to eat.

Guidebooks are obvious sources. The Fodor boards, as well as Frommer and TripAdvisor, are also obvious but each has to be taken with caution. On this board I have seen well-meaning, good-intentioned people offer the advice that a person who has never driven a stick shift car in his or her life should just go out for a few days at home with a friend and practice, it’s easy. This, in many cases, borders on sheer nonsense. What if that same person has also never driven in a foreign country? What, taking it to its logical conclusion, if that person has also never driven on the left side of the road? On single-track roads? In heavy city traffic? On multiple roundabouts in succession? On roads like the Ring of Kerry with very wide buses on very narrow roads? On streets with steep hills and traffic lights? Using a clutch for the first time in addition to the other challenges of driving overseas might just prove to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It is far better to spend the exorbitant amount of extra money on a car with automatic drive than take a chance on ruining far more than a simple vacation.

A cautionary note with regard to any community board: just because someone whom you might believe, on the basis of multiple authoritative-sounding postings, to be an expert says something does not make it so. Do your own independent verification. A case in point: one person who posts regularly at Fodor once made the definitive statement that a particular manufacturer did not offer facility tours. I did my own verification and arranged for my wife and me to do something this “expert” said was not possible. Anyone can be make a mistake which is why I try to avoid making absolute statements about something unless I actually know them to be true. Personal opinions are fine as long as they are proffered as such as opposed to being stated as fact.

In addition to community boards, your television set probably has a treasure trove of information. Shop for program offerings which tie in with your destination. I found on our Public Broadcasting System (PBS) a marvelous show which airs for a half-hour each week called “Out of Ireland.” For the six months prior to our departure I was able to watch key news items and cultural offerings put together by the Irish Tourist Board for US consumption. This allowed me to get a basic understanding of their politics, the hot current cultural, sports, and societal issues as well as a better appreciation for the wide variety of accents and brogues to be found throughout Ireland, north and south. Another offering was done by a woman named Cloddagh McKenna featuring Irish markets and restaurants over something like an eight-week series.

Don’t overlook the individual tourism websites both for the countries you’re visiting and for the specific cities, counties, or geographic areas and shop what they have to offer. By doing so I got, among other things, an excellent map and guide for the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland which we used to great benefit.

Special interests can be easily accommodated by judicious Google searches. My wife loves gardens so a simple search on “gardens in ireland” yielded tremendously fruitful results. My search for “toy trains in ireland” and “plane museums in ireland” also yielded good results. Put in your own favorite search argument and reap the rewards.

Finally, Google Earth is an invaluable asset. It alerted me to the fact that an active train track runs directly behind the hotel we chose in Belfast. In this case, that proved to not be a problem but it was good to have the information. Through very detailed examination of places on Google Earth I was able to gain, in advance, a very thorough understanding of the geography and terrain which we would be traveling across for four weeks.

Suggestions for additional resources which work for you are invited to be added to this thread.

Friends familiar with my propensity for planning have commented for years about it. One used to say that had I been in charge of D-Day in WWII the troops would have been home for Christmas that same year. I disagree. They would have been home for Thanksgiving. On the other hand, I am constantly surprised by how often people get on airplanes to foreign countries without so much as a map or guidebook let alone a hotel reservation. You will often find those same people standing in line at the end of the travel day at a tourist information desk seeking a place to sleep, any place at any price. No, thanks. My way suits us just fine. I’m hopeful that this has been useful to some of you at least

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