Planning a trip that's great fun and a great deal isn't as easy as the guidebooks and travel services Web sites would have you believe. After all, not everyone gets the best prices, packages and destinations, right? It pays to know how to wade through the glut of guidebooks and online opportunities to put together the best vacation--for you.
Choose a guidebook or Web site that shares your travel philosophy, style and budget to help you plan your getaway. LonelyPlanet.com, Frommers.com, Let's Go Travel Guides (letsgo.com) and Rick Steves' Europe (ricksteves.com) are all good places to look. Start by looking up your home city or another place you know well, and compare the kind of restaurants, hotels and hot spots it suggests with those you frequent.
Think out of the box--and into the ship, the train, even the bus. A cruise is a great way to cover a lot of ground and get the flavor of an area if you're visiting it for the first time (see 413 Plan a Cruise). If you want to see the countryside, a train can get you there at a leisurely pace in a seat with a view (see 415 Plan a Train Trip in the United States). And if you're going to a busy city where driving is a nightmare (think Rome, Lisbon, New York City), sign up for a single-day overview tour (see 459 Plan the Perfect Day Abroad).
Research your destination online to determine the best way to get there. If you're flying to Los Angeles, for example, and then want to visit Las Vegas, it helps to know in advance that it can be cheaper and easier to rent a car than to fly.
Look up area events, celebrations and holidays that occur during your stay. Download maps from city, state and national chambers of commerce (chamber-of-commerce.com or 2chambers.com). If you're planning to spend a quiet vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico, for example, you'll be glad to know that November 2 is el Di'a de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the biggest celebration of the year. Beer fans heading to Germany might want to shoot for an end of September visit to Munich to join millions of fellow revelers at Oktoberfest. And if you don't want to attend the event, find out lodging availability as well as how to avoid traffic and crowds.
Book your lodging (see 411 Make Hotel Reservations).
Check the U.S. Department of State travel site for the latest warnings (travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html) and travel advisories as well as passport requirements (state.gov/travel). Review 439 Plan a Trip to a Politically Unstable Region.
Find out if you need any shots prior to travel to certain countries, and be aware of any health warnings that may adversely affect your ability to travel to the destination. See 441 Get Immunizations for Traveling.