This post isn't intended to sound whiney, although it may come across like that to readers.
Traveling longterm isn't all umbrella drinks and amazing sites. It definitely is great, but taking care to figure out a new city every few days or week is a lot of work.
Most people who travel are going for vacation. The price is variable, but usually the fact that this is the "one big trip" of the year outweighs being too financially responsible. Have one more expensive glass of wine, fly to the next location to see as much as possible, say yes to the fancier tour. Oh, and most people spend MONTHS planning for those seven to 10 days of pure bliss.
Longterm travel negates that flexibility in a lot of ways, while you gain flexibility in others. We don't have months to plan for the next city because the next city is two, three or seven days away. The longest we've consecutively stayed in one place was Budapest, for eight days total.
This means we spend quite a bit of time researching as we go and trying to stay just ahead of the plan.
The mentality currently working for us is "big first, small as it comes." For example, we have already booked a safari in Southern Africa, which isn't until July 16th, but we still don't have accommodation in Brasov, Romania in three weeks. The most important things we need to know upon arrival is where the ATM is located and how to get around cheaply.
So, how do we plan for a city? (The true point of this post.) Below is our process for planning for the next short term hop.
Once a larger scale destination is booked, we essentially set it on the back burner until one or two weeks before our actual arrival. Then, we set aside an afternoon or two to divide up the research. Brian usually handles accommodation and transportation research and I handle restaurants and activities.
We aren't carrying around guidebooks, but do download the "free" ones via Kindle Unlimited. This gives us a great starting point, but is rarely how we make final decisions.
For accommodation, we pinpoint which location we want to stay in closest to the historical sites and within walking distance of the social hub. We have made the decision to spend a bit more to be within walking distance to as many things as possible, or close to public transportation. If we stay further outside, taxis and longer rides add up to more cost, negating the cheaper accommodation. (Our most-used website is Booking.com.)
When it comes to choosing what things to see, we have to admit we have no fear of skipping something historical we just aren't interested in seeing. We love our experiences with people far more than we care about seeing the most famous artist's work from you-name-it country. We could spend ALL of our time running around checking things off a list just to say we've been there, done that. But, there's no story in that type of travel. We will see the famous sites, but usually we skip the plethora of museums in every place we go.
Nearly all of my research comes from Google searches that lead to blogs from longterm travelers and locals. This is where I get my start and I write down all the suggestions made for local favorites. With some basic searches like the following, I can get a fairly good idea of the Must Sees of the average tourist and also living like a local:
-Hidden gems of ----- Country
-Best of ----- Country
-Best restaurants of ----- Country
-Best kept secret of ----- Country
-Eat like a local in ----- Country
-Free Activities in ----- Country
My list gets insanely long with suggestions, so I follow up this research with reviews from Trip Advisor to cross reference the recommendations. Some are kept, tossed or kept with a question mark to ask locals when we arrive.
Once I have my list, I plug everything into the app called City Maps. Once I see where everything is located, I can create a calendar of convenience. For example, we are going to be in this neighborhood of the city and here are some of the restaurants we'd like to try.
This process usually takes four to six hours for a major city and yes, I understand I'm a bit of an over planner, but hitting the ground armed with tons of information and locations saves us time and hassle of just wandering around. The plan is always flexible, but it has really taken the pressure off what to do when we are hungry and have been walking all over a city or have just arrived at midnight, but know how late the metro is running.