Use Lockdown as Time to Plan for Better Vacations
A guide to TV shows, movies, books, Instagram for better travel
Remember that trip you took to Paris? You’d promised it to yourself for a decade, but when it finally came around, after a last-minute scramble to clear your inbox before you boarded the plane, you were exhausted when you arrived. Worse, you hadn’t found time to research how best to spend your time beyond the ordinary tourist traps and photo opportunities.
A survey of nearly 8,000 people carried out last year found more than 40% of millennial travelers described researching a vacation as one of their biggest stressors. (More than 30%, overwhelmed by the research, actually booked the wrong vacation or dates in the process.) Oh, and remember to actually take your vacations.
Approached in the right way, time spent preparing for a vacation can actually jumpstart your excitement months in advance — as well as make for a better, more meaningful trip. Now’s a perfect time to plan your post-pandemic vacation, be it to Prague or Puebla.
Take inspiration from TV and the movies
Once you have your destination in mind, look for TV travel shows that have dedicated an episode or more to exploring the city or region. Planning a trip to the Japanese city of Osaka? If you’re passionate about food, you might start with Anthony Bourdain’s series “No Reservations” or the recent Netflix show “Street Food”; both feature Osaka’s snacks and delicacies. Other series worth exploring might include “James May: Our Man in Japan” or the locally produced “Journeys in Japan.” Spread your net wide: Even the right episode of “House Hunters International” could be a fertile source of inspiration.
Look to fiction, too. You now have the perfect excuse to binge-watch a new series or some foreign cinema. For a trip to Paris, try the 1980s director Eric Rohmer or the Netflix series “Call My Agent.” Mexico City might lead you to Netflix’s “The House of Flowers,” while “Midnight Diner” may whet your appetite for Tokyo.
Build anticipation from books
Look to the umpteen lists online, many of which are hosted on Wikipedia, to find novels set in your chosen destination. It’ll give you a sense of the place that you won’t get from guidebooks and help illuminate the city once you’re there in person.
The Jazz Age sparkle of the French Riviera, for example, comes to life in novels by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while you can transport yourself to Brooklyn, New York, via the hard-boiled detective novel “Motherless Brooklyn,” the coming of age novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” or Ben Lerner’s autofiction “10:04.”
Look beyond Lonely Planet
While the Internet has more information than you could read in a lifetime, sometimes a smaller, more-curated travel guide can point out hidden gems.
The Knopf Mapguides are particularly great — well-sized and thoughtfully put together, with fold-out maps that reveal hidden opportunities to any city walker. Other top contenders include city guides from Wallpaper, Louis Vuitton or Monocle.
Map out your dreams
A map of the city you’re headed to can help you conceptualize where things are, how the place fits together, and the best way to organize your time. Physical maps are a nice way to do this on the fly — as you read and watch, slap Post-it notes on the cool stuff or highlight must-do shopping streets or key spots.
You can do something similar via Google’s MyMaps system, which helps to build custom, easily saved maps that you can color code for easier reference.
Turn to social media
Many cities, countries or regions will have designated Instagram accounts with amazing shots from professional photographers and hobbyists alike. You can also follow key hashtags — #VisitAustria, #VisitMelbourne, #VisitParis — to see a real-time feed of where to go and what to look out for.
If you’re hoping to get to know locals in your destination, consider joining MeetUp groups that specifically cater to travelers or people new to a given town or who share your interests. The expat site InterNations may also help connect you to English speakers who can share some insight or even show you around. Ask around, too. You never know which friend or neighbor might have a sister or cousin living in your chosen destination.
The app EatWith is a fantastic way to connect with fellow foodies, friendly locals and other curious travelers over dinner parties, cooking classes and food tours.
Start your search for great lodging
The very best places on VRBO or Airbnb are often booked up months (or even years) in advance. Start looking now for a great apartment or house, or consider building your trip around a more unusual place to stay, like a refurbished church or a tree house.
The world is uncertain, and it’s hard to know when we’ll travel again. But scoping out your preferred spot means you’ll be ready to book when the world starts to open up again, giving you an ideal landing spot for the trip of a lifetime.