Notes from Home: Travel Planning 101 – Part 2
Researching travel ideas on the internet is a bit like an old-fashioned treasure hunt. You have a clear idea of what you’re looking for when you begin, but one site leads to another, and instead of learning about coffee shops in Buenos Aires, you soon find yourself getting lost in turf labyrinths in England!
I’ve recently run across some interesting, fun and helpful sites that I’ve wanted to share for planning future travels. A companion piece to my earlier Travel Planning 101 post of tips and resources, Travel Planning 101 – Part 2 is solely internet-based and a little “off the beaten path” from more widely-known travel sites.
Here are my Magnificent Seven Travel Planning Web Sites:
Not sure if the country where you’ll be renting a car drives on the right or left? Wondering about voltage and outlet plug needs for your next trip? Conrad H. McGregor has put together an extensive web site that lists countries’ plugs, socket and voltage requirements as well as which side of the road to drive on. He also includes internet domain listings for each country and alphabets around the world. It’s an easy site to navigate, with countries listed alphabetically, and a handy resource when planning travels outside your home country.
This site is invaluable for anyone traveling by cruise ship. It features information on 1,200 ports of call and an interactive cruise map. Click on the country you’ll be visiting – it’s alphabetical on the home page – and then on the city’s port where your ship will be docked. The port’s page will give you a printable map, details on its location, distance to town and a link to the port’s cruise calendar. The cruise calendar link takes you to a site called cruisetimetables.com, which lists dates by month and year when ships will be in port. Click on your date, and you will see your ship as well as all ships that will be visiting on that date. It’s especially helpful for planning excursions and will give you an idea of crowds at the port on the day you arrive.
If you’re trying to determine when to visit a city, this site’s Averages section is full of terrific information. Colorful, easy-to read charts provide month-by-month high and low temperatures, rainfall, hours of sunshine and for coastal cities, even sea temperatures. I found the easiest way to directly reach the page you want is to type holiday-weather.com, add a forward slash, then the city name, another forward slash, then the word averages. If your city has two names, use an underscore between them: holiday-weather.com/buenos_aires/averages/. Weather, of course, is far from predictable, but this will provide a good indicator of what you can expect for long-range travel planning.
One of our family’s favorite hotel experiences was an overnight stay at a Scottish castle. From the winding staircases and narrow doorframes that led to our rooms to the candlelight dinner and fabulous fireplace in the Great Hall, our stay at Borthwick Castle was magical and memorable and a wonderful option for experiencing Scotland.
Castle hotels can be found throughout Europe, and this site by travel writer Pamela Barrus features an extensive listing. Organized by country and specific regions and towns within that country, each link includes photos, descriptions of the property, location and booking information. As an added touch, Barrus adds a personal note called “Pamela’s Perspective,” which gives readers her take on what not to miss or how to make the best of your time there.
Full disclosure: I have never actually spent the night in a lighthouse, but I oh-so want to! I love the idea of experiencing accommodations that are unique to an area, and I also love veering off the beaten path and trying something different.
This web site of the United States Lighthouse Society is a veritable everything-you-always-wanted-to-know about lighthouses. The key information for travelers is the link on the home page called Lighthouse Lodging, which lists lighthouse accommodations in the United States and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Lighthouse stays vary from basic rooms to bed and breakfast lodgings that include gourmet dinners to longer-term vacation rentals of the keeper’s cottage. The number of rooms in a lighthouse is extremely limited, and they book up many months in advance.
London-based landscape architect and garden historian Tom Turner launched this site in the early days of the internet and today has amassed more than 10,000 pages of information and 10,000 images of all things garden. His Garden Finder section is terrific for travelers, listing public and private gardens all over the world that are open to visitors. A quick click on the country you will be visiting takes you to garden listings for that country. Each garden is linked to its own page that includes photos, maps, reviews, hours and even nearby hotels. The web site also features a section on Garden Tours in about 40 countries.
When I learned that Argentina’s beloved writer Jorge Luis Borges had been honored with a memorial maze, I was intrigued. Although too far from Buenos Aires to include in our upcoming travels there, it made me wonder about other mazes that are great destinations but off the general radar of tourist spots. The only place that came to mind was the famous maze at England’s Hampton Court Palace, but after a little searching, I stumbled upon the holy grail of information on mazes and labyrinths.
Founders Jeff Saward and Kimberly Lowelle Saward state on the site, “We like to think our knowledge of the field is without equal,” and it would be difficult to disagree. Their site is incredibly complex, but the section called Maze & Labyrinth Locations is chock-full of information for travelers. In addition to listing mazes and labyrinths around the world that are open to visitors, the Sawards lead tours to specific sites, including their Signature English Turf Labyrinth Tour.
My biggest takeaway from a quick perusal of their site was learning that the words maze and labyrinth are not interchangeable. The design of a maze must have choices in its pathway; a labyrinth design must have only one path. And like a properly designed maze, the Sawards’ site links to other web sites, including one that focuses on English turf mazes and features quotes from Shakespeare as well as this thought from 17th century English poet Ben Johnson:
“Then as all actions of mankind
Are but a labyrinth or maze.”