Preparing for an International Trip: Tools & Tips from a DIY Traveler

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I'm a travel junkie and love researching new destinations. Nothing makes me happier than pulling up a fresh map of a place I've never been, and digging into the area, culture and possibilities. We're talking hours and hours of prep, before I even step foot in an airport.  

Everybody travels differently — and has their own methods for getting around — but I tend to do things on my own, without tours. Which means I need information at my disposal wherever I am. I always bring my iPhone and use it in airplane mode for the duration - making heavy use of apps that are available offline.

Here's how I get ready to go somewhere new:

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1. Read a Book: Before heading to Morocco last winter, I read Michael Palin's Sahara, based on his travel series for the BBC. I also recommend The Caliph's House, a very funny account of a family's attempts to renovate a home in Casablanca. 

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2. Find Travel Blogs: I rarely buy guidebooks these days. There is such a wealth of information online about sample itineraries, must-see sights, and great hotels. The benefit of this approach is that it's usually more suited to my particular taste versus a generic guide. My favorites are often expat blogs. You get the best of both worlds: a certain familiarity with a place, but still the desire to get out and see the sights. Before Morocco, I read a lot of Maryam's design-centric blog, My Marrakesh.

3. Make Notes: While reading said blogs, I make tons of notes and clip heavily via Evernote. One note for each region or city, and then general transportation notes, etc... If you mark entries as favorites before you go, you're able to access information on your phone once you're offline.

4. Research Interests: On top of the basics, I also research any design-related destinations (museums, historic buildings, flea markets), and potential items I'd like to buy as souvenirs. If it's a large buy, like That Time I Bought A Kilim in Istanbul's Grand Market, I look at prices and potential stores in advance. My purchases as a result are (usually) less regrettable, and prices aren't wildly out of line.


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5. Personalize Maps: I'm a relaxed traveler for the most part, and usually let weather or whims take me once I arrive, but I like to know the lay of the land and plot destinations using Google My Places. Historically, I've accessed them offline via an app called Cartographer. I couldn't stand the interface (think Pirates of the Caribbean theme-y nonsense) but it did the trick well enough. I just learned that the app is now retired, so I join the rest of the chorus of folks waiting for Google to add offline My Places functionality to iOS.

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6. Cache Maps: Getting around a country is made infinitely easier with cached maps. Gizmodo shares a "secret" way to save Google Maps for use once you are offline.

What are your pre-international travel routines? Please share yours in the comments.

And happy travels!

(Images: Dabney Frake; Tahir Shah; Casasugar; A Tasty Pixel; Gizmodo)

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Main, Style, Tech, Software & Apps, Travel

When Dabney's not writing around here, she's digging through other people's attics for fun and interesting stuff, or running around with her bloodhound Friday. Originally from the East Coast, she's still shocked to find herself living in Missouri.

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