When taking a trip through a new country, it’s great to learn things as you go along and see the sites. But it’s also helpful to have a little basic knowledge beforehand. So here are some ideas for filling up your Travel Toolbox.
I like to know a little bit about the regions history because it explains how things came to be. That knowledge sheds a little extra light on the places I visit and may change the way I look at things or add more meaning to them.
Some ways that I gain pre-trip knowledge are:
- Watching historical shows on Smithsonian or History Channel
- Reading a book about the regions history
- Catching a travelogue on an area we plan to visit
- Grabbing some maps, tour books and translation guides
My AAA Membership gives me free access to guides like this one on Europe. It provides a broad picture of what to expect in an area. It explains the currency, culture and offers lists of hotels, restaurants, and local attractions. There are usually both regional and detailed city maps as well.
I also like guides like this one, Frommer’s Italy, but they can be a bit pricey. This one listed at $22.95. It was a good investment as I spent a lot of my bus travel looking over the area we were heading to. Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet and Rick Steve’s all put out guide books. They are basically very similar. Like the AAA guides, they lists hotels, restaurants and sites, but with more depth and description. But for the difference in price, the AAA guides are fine.
One of my favorite places to grab travel guides and translation books is the Used Book Store. Not only does it Upcycle the book, I am able to buy for a fraction of the price. The translation guides never really go out of date, but you have to look at the dates on the tour books. You will want to try to get one 3 years to current if possible. Older ones are fine, but you have to keep in mind that some things may have changed. Hotels and restaurants may have gone out of business, changed ownership and some listed tours may no longer be available. Pricing will most likely have changed too. But the general information and maps will still be helpful.
City maps are great for day explorations. We chose to visit a museum rather than shopping with our tour group in Florence. Our map was a great tool for finding our way through city and back to our hotel.
We navigated walking all day in Rome with another couple and a city map. That was fun! We found The Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and The Pantheon mostly by using our map and asking a few clarifying directions from locals.
Some of my favorite Travelogue shows are by Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain. Rick Steves provides helpful travel tips and insights on a specific area while pointing out the key landmarks and making nerdy Dad jokes. Definitely geared toward the Tourist. Anthony Bourdain provides a more raw yet sophisticated style with a look at the same area but from the view of the people who live there.
I find both interesting and informative but love Bourdain’s execution of the material. Anthony uses a documentary style narritive with a real grittiness and an unapologetic sort of arrogance that is still somehow appealing to the viewer. He is quirky, edgy, and not afraid to cross the line…whatever the line is. He provides a lesson on how the culture and it’s people have evolved or sometimes devolved over the course of time.
This article was written prior to the death of Anthony Bourdain. I am so very sad to lose one of my favorite Icons. I will watch and rewatch his shows, Read and reread his books, and he will live on in my heart.
To find these shows, I go through on-demand listings to find relevant episodes of his shows or go to you-tube for tons of Rick Steves videos and other travel shows.
Steves’ website also lists a wide range of videos on topics like Travel Safety, Packing and Planning. You can book travel, buy tour books and view products for sale on his site as well. Both provide great content, it just depends on which format you prefer.
I also just discovered this Rick Steves Audio Europe App. It is an app that offers a library of Rick Steves’ audio playsists and self-guided tours that you can download and listen to as you tour a destination.
One of our go-to tv channels is the Smithsonian channel. Mark discovered it and we like to watch a little on Sundays if we are hanging around the house. They run all kinds of program content including historical timeline shows.
These shows are reenactments of history that illustrate how those events changed the country from where it began to where it is now. The ability to connect those historical dots makes for a great knowledge base for traveling in Europe and understanding the sites you come across. The bad thing is that you are only able to see what they are showing currently and can’t select a specific area.
Grabbing a book from the Library about a country or reigning family is another great way to learn. I have the Hoopla app on my Kindle and can download books from the library to my tablet. This works through your existing library card and is actually pretty slick. I download a book then read on my lunch breaks. I recently read about the Habsburg’s from Austria. It’s interesting to see how connected all the rulers of Europe became through their marriage arrangements.
I even learn a little watching shows like “The Crown,” “Versailles,” “The Medici’s” and other period television shows. You just have to sift through for what’s fact and what has been embellished.
So if you are planning a big vacation, try to find time to familiarize yourself with the area and it’s history. You will be surprised how much more you take away when you start with a little base knowledge!