Travel - Planning: Eat Go Do Buy

8:55 AM AirplaneFoodCritic 0 Comments

A vacation is like a favorite meal. It has main ingredients that are always there and then seasonings that vary trip by trip to make each vacation different from the last. The main ingredients of a European vacation are a little different from the main ingredients for a tropical vacation but I always have the same general interests: Eating, Doing stuff and Shopping. This is where I focus when planning a trip once I have my dates and flights determined.

A Hawaiian vacation's main ingredients are: Beach, Island Food, Sunset Drinks, Tropical Activities. This is where I start doing research. First I look at where I am staying. If I know the island well, I already know where I am staying. If it is a new island to me then I first go to a hotel chain that I trust. One that I know is in my price range and offers the amenities that I like. I MUST have an oceanfront room. I do not need poolside service and fancy spas. I then look at where the most activities, restaurants, beaches, etc. are and choose a hotel from my favorite chain in the middle of that area. Easy. Once I have done that I get to focus on the really fun stuff.
Our oceanfront view in Kauai, 2009

Research: I start with going to the library. Yes, I go to the library. You can also go to a bookstore but I like to check out a few books on the area I am going to and take them home to take notes. Get as many different books as you can on the subject. In my case right now, Maui. I go there often enough that I actually purchased a book on the island but checking one out from the library is a great idea because you can save your money, do the research and even take the book with you on your trip before you have to return it. I purchased the Maui Revealed book. This book is part of an infamous book series by the same authors who live in Kauai and write candidly about each island's beaches, activities, companies, restaurants and more. They are wildly popular among visitors to the Islands and for very good reason. They give you an insider's guide to secret places and very honest (of course, it is their opinion, but usually reasonable) reviews. The books are wildly UNpopular with the locals on the Islands because places that were, at one time, only their secret places are now flooded with tourists (book in hand) wandering all about. I could go on and on about how great these books are. If you are planning on visiting Hawaii, you must secure yourself a copy of these books.
Maui Revealed, one of four essential Hawaii travel books

If you are planning on visiting a place other than Hawaii, there are lots of guide books out there that do editions about all sorts of different countries. I say choose several of these and peruse them all. Take notes as you go through. You will find that certain authors may have more similar tastes to yours so use those more heavily in your research. Using several different books will give you several different perspectives giving you a more rounded idea of what you want to do, see, eat in your destination. It will help you personalize your vacation.

Beaches. When planning my trip to Maui this year, I began with beaches. I read book after book and website after website about Maui beaches. There are things I know I like and things I know I do not. I do not scuba dive, surf or windsurf so I can rule out some beaches that are supposed to be only good for those things. I do like playing in waves, snorkeling and laying out so I wrote down the beaches that are good for those things and their locations. I also noted any beaches that are a "must see" even if you just go to take a picture and leave. For example, there is a wildly popular windsurfing beach in Maui that every guide book says is spectacular for a nice view. I have that down on my list because there must be something to it. I note next to each beach what it is best for: Snorkeling, playing in waves, romantic sunsets...whatever.
Secluded beach in Kauai.

Restaurants. This one is the most and least fun to research. The most fun because I get to look at menus and pictures of their views and decor. The least fun because before a tropical vacation I am usually on a pretty restricted diet to fit into my bikini so it is a bit of torture to see all that wonderful food on my lunch break at work while munching on a lettuce leaf. Looking for restaurants is usually easy. Just Google the area you are going and type in "restaurants". You will end up with a list of places. Go through each one and narrow them down. If you want specific things like Sushi or Breakfast just type in "Best breakfast Maui" or where ever you are looking for. Places like Yelp and Citysearch will come up and you can read people's ratings of specific categories. Once you have a list of places you are interested in you can break the list into subcategories like by price, location, dinner or lunch. I like to mix a few expensive places into more moderate priced places so I do not end up with gout from overindulgence or broke before the trip is over.
Restaurant with a very tropical feel at Mama's Fish House in Maui.

Sunset drinks. This research is similar to the restaurant one but a little more elusive. Guide books don't always have a section on places to have a cocktail before dinner. I usually find places that I know have a fantastic view and a drink menu. That is a good key that it will be worth putting on your list of nice places. You can also search online for places that have special house drinks, a happy hour or is a local favorite. I put these places on my list and note their specials, happy hour or other special things like live music times and schedules.
Drinks lined up in Maui.

Shopping. Researching shopping is not just looking up where the malls are. What I research when I am looking where to go shopping is what to shop for. What is that area famous for? Is it wooden shoes, fine china, blown glass, painted coconuts....? Find where the shops that sell those things are and plan to go there. And don't forget to find where all the souvenir shops are. You usually do not have to do much research to find the "junk" shops. They are front and center in the middle of where the most tourist action is. I love souvenir shops. I shop them all until I see what items are in every one. That is how I know what is most popular to buy. That is what I buy for myself, friends and coworkers. If you buy the things you saw the most, you will be reminded of the trip more once you get home, right?
Lahaina, in Maui, has fantastic shopping.

Activities. This is a broad area to cover. You can look up in your guide books if there are any festivals, celebrations or scheduled events. See if anything occurs on the dates you will be in the area. You can look up hikes, museums....all sorts of stuff. For my trip this Spring, I looked up agricultural tours, hikes, special boat rides, para-sailing, helicopter rides, the Road to Hana, and historical landmarks like ancient villages and grave sites.
Hiking the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.

This should help you plan out your vacation. Me? I have my schedule down to the hour of what we are doing. We will, of course, stray from this schedule and I left plenty of room to do anything else we want, but the planning of the trip has been a ton of fun. Now I am off to plan our route to Hana.

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