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close up detail of rome's trevi fountain sculpturesYou’re in Rome for the first time. You’ve got your euro penny in hand to throw into Trevi Fountain. You’ve been thinking about what wish you’re going to make since you first stepped off the plane at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. But when you get there the fountain is dry, enclosed in scaffolding with only a small metal bridge for limited access. Signs in several languages warn against throwing coins. Your wish dies on the tip of your tongue. You’ve come all the way to Rome, and one of the main sites you wanted to see is closed.

Many travelers have faced a similar situation on their journeys. (Trevi Fountain will remain closed to the public through fall 2015, for example.) Logically we understand it. Buildings, attractions and works of art that have been around for hundreds of years or more must be maintained so they’re around for hundreds more. There are no promises they’ll be open or on display for you on the day you visit.

11 Best Italy Experiences

But when it’s something you had your heart set on seeing, logic goes out the window. Disappointment and anger mingle, and your satisfaction with your vacation dims just a bit — or a lot, depending on just how important seeing that attraction was to you.

The best way to avoid this situation is to research your trip ahead of time and temper your expectations. It’s not just renovations that can upend your plans; traveling during a national holiday you didn’t know about could leave you standing outside the locked doors of that museum you were hoping to visit.

If you have always wanted to see the Mona Lisa and are thinking about a trip to Paris, check to make sure that the Louvre will be open at the time you’re planning on visiting. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, as well as annually on May 1, July 14 and December 25. When preplanning your visit, make sure to slot in the Louvre on any day but one of these.

12 Best France Experiences

Attraction hours are easy to find, but how do you find out about other events that might prevent you from seeing the attractions you want? Your best bet is to contact the tourist board of the destination you’re visiting. Country tourist boards are okay, but if there’s one for the city you’ll be in that’s better. Give someone at the tourist board a call. Ask if there are any renovations going on at the attractions you want to visit. Ask if they are aware of any protests planned. (In April 2015 the Eiffel Tower was closed down for part of day during massive anti-government protests.)

There is no way to guarantee you’ll never be on the outside looking in at an attraction you wanted to visit. If you can (and we recognize it’s really difficult), try not to get your heart set on anything. Every destination has multiple attractions, and missing out on one does not have to ruin your trip.

Have you ever visited a city with your heart set on seeing something specific only to find it closed when you got there?

— written by Dori Saltzman

A canyon at Australia's UluruOf the five destinations on my ultimate travel bucket list, I have managed to tick off one so far: Australia. And it was everything I could have hoped for — which was fortunate because, as with many bucket list trips, it was expensive and required a serious time commitment.

But was it really fortunate?

No, it wasn’t.

You see, just stepping foot on Australian soil isn’t what made going there such an amazing bucket list trip for me. It was that I did it the “right” way. The right way for me, that is.

Australia is a huge country with lots to offer visitors. There are the vibrant cities in which you’ll find art museums, fine dining and lots of shopping; unrivaled natural attractions from the barren but beautiful Outback to the Great Barrier Reef teeming with life; a colorful criminal past and a rich Aboriginal culture. And then there are the Aussies themselves, laidback folks with a great sense of humor and a love for beer and barbecue.

But which part of this vast Down Under do you take in? Do you try to see it all, spending just a little time in any one place? Do you narrow it down and pick out just a few highlights, ignoring all else? How do you make such a once-in-a-lifetime trip as special as it can be, so that it truly is a bucket list experience?

Ask
In order to make any trip all you want it to be, you must first ask yourself, “Why am I going here?”

There is no wrong or right answer, but be honest with yourself, as the answer to this question is the start of planning your perfect trip. Is it simply important to you to tick off a new destination? Or are you intrigued because you’ve read some of the best new chefs are coming out of Melbourne? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to hold a koala and feed a kangaroo?

11 Best Australia Experiences

Research
Once you’ve decided why you’re going, you can research the various ways to visit. If what’s important is simply being in the place and seeing its most iconic sites, a guided tour might be your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re most fascinated by a specific aspect of the place — the Aboriginal culture of Australia, let’s say — then finding day tours or attractions that focus on that one interest should be your priority.

In my dreams of Australia, I was always fascinated by the wildlife, the Outback, the Aussies and the Aboriginal culture. So everywhere I went I made sure to seek out these things. In Sydney, I visited a zoo that allowed me to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos. Near Cairns, I chose to skip the Great Barrier Reef and instead stay on a cattle station for three days to get to know the owner and see what life was like in the Outback. On my visit to Uluru, I only booked Aborigine-led tours so I could experience the country’s interior from their perspective.

All these experiences resonated with me because they were the things I already knew were important to me. I didn’t need to see the Sydney Opera House; I don’t particularly like opera and touring a theater would not be enjoyable for me. I didn’t need to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge; if I were going to exercise my body that way, it would be on a hike in the Blue Mountains. And to this day I don’t really feel I missed out by not snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, I’m glad I skipped the seasickness and panic I always experience when snorkeling from a boat.

But other visitors to Australia might have left unsatisfied without some or all of those experiences.

Bucket list trips are dream trips, literally. We dream about the destinations years before ever visiting. We visualize what it will be like. But it’s only by being aware of those dreams and our expectations and then finding experiences that match them that we can actually make our dream bucket list trips come true.

How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality


— written by Dori Saltzman

plane taking off clock tickingThe perfect time to arrive at the airport, according to one mathematician, may be an unsettling one. Despite most airlines advising you to arrive at least three hours prior to international departure, Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison vies that the best time to arrive for your flight is as late as possible, and considers every hour spent waiting to board a plane as a “negative unit.”

According to the article in Huffington Post, Ellenberg considers optimizing your life by cutting it close to boarding time. “If we routinely arrive at airports three hours ahead of time, we’ll accrue hundreds of those lost hours over the course of our lives, and that’s not an efficient use of our time on earth.”

Ellenberg’s strategy puts forth only a one to two percent chance of missing your flight, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospect, quoted as saying, “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re not doing it right.”

10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

Although Ellenberg’s theory seems to be about saving precious time, it gives me an anxiety attack just to imagine running late for a flight. I think the notion of saving time is a noble one, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of times in travel that we spend waiting — security checkpoints, hotel check-ins, you name it — but it’s worth it to ensure we have the best trip possible.

I don’t see how my life would be benefitted if I missed my flight — or needed an inhaler to catch one. Do you subscribe to Ellenberg’s time-saving maneuver? Tell us about your arrival-time preferences in the comments below.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

tour guideThere’s no better way to get to know a new place than by meeting up with a local friend or family member who can show you all the secret hot spots that first-time visitors usually miss. Alas, even the most well-connected travelers can’t possibly have friends everywhere — and that’s where a site like Tripbod.com can help.

The site, founded in 2007 and recently acquired by IndependentTraveler.com’s parent company, TripAdvisor, bills itself as “your friend at the other end.” It helps travelers connect with local experts called Tripbods who can provide trip planning advice, put together a personalized itinerary, or offer unique experiences such as a photo safari in London or lunch in a Moroccan souk.

In some respects the site is like a modern version of a travel agent. One typical listing from a Tripbod in Guayaquil, Ecuador, offers “Skype conversation, emails, advice in how to make the most out of your time, best restaurants, budget hotels, and local operators so that you can develop your own detailed itinerary” for 23 GBP (about $38 USD). For travelers who enjoy planning their own trips, it’s an ideal way to get information and guidance without having to be led around by an actual guide at all times.

Tourist No More: Three Secrets for Traveling Like a Local

If you do want a guide, the site offers that too. There’s an enticing array of experiences and tours ranging from meeting indigenous populations in the highlands of Mexico to cycling through rice fields in Yangshuo, China.

Of course, there are a few caveats. Some of the experiences are on the pricey side — such as a homemade Icelandic dinner outside of Reykjavik featuring lamb, potatoes, salad and dessert for 75 GBP per person (more than $125 USD). I also encountered a few search glitches. When I looked for tours in Wellington, New Zealand, the site turned up results almost everywhere but (New Delhi, San Salvador, Glasgow, Muscat …). And while the site offers a space for past travelers to review each experience, none of the ones I clicked on had received any reviews yet, making it tricky to decide whom to trust.

Still, as a traveler who’s eager to meet locals and find experiences beyond the usual sights, I know I’ll be checking out the site before my next trip.

20 Ways to Blend in with the Locals

Would you give Tripbod a try?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel front deskI usually love planning trips — second only to taking them! — but a few years ago, as I tried to hammer out a driving itinerary around the South Island of New Zealand, I found myself feeling unexpectedly stressed out. The problem: figuring out how long to spend in each place.

Would one night in Queenstown be enough, or should I tack on another? After driving three or four hours between stops, should we linger a little longer in each place before tackling the next chunk of our itinerary? Would we have enough time to detour through the Catlins in the far south?

Photos: 13 Best New Zealand Experiences

Around in circles I went, even though a few friends who’d been to New Zealand advised me not to worry about nailing down an itinerary. “You don’t need to book hotels in advance,” one said. “There are plenty of motels. Just do what you want during the day and find a place to stay wherever you happen to be.”

Her advice made perfect sense — but I didn’t take it. Here are three reasons why:

1. I’m a hopeless planner. While the idea of landing in a new place with no itinerary or bookings sounds like heaven to some travelers, it’s terrifying to me. I don’t have to plan out my day hour by hour, but the basics — activities I’m interested in, where I’ll lay my head — are a must.

2. Booking early gives me time to compare prices and read reviews. I’ve been burned in the past by last-second hotel choices that cost more than I wanted to pay or didn’t live up to my normal standards of service and cleanliness.

3. When I arrive in a new place, I want to spend my time exploring and doing things — not driving around searching for hotels that don’t look too sketchy.

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

In the end, I compromised. I booked all my hotels before my trip, but made sure I would be able to cancel them without penalty if our itinerary changed. Fortunately, all my exhaustive research paid off. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

How do you feel about booking hotels in advance? Vote in our poll or leave a comment below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

new york times travel showLooking for inspiration for your next trip (or simply an escape from all this winter cold)? If you’re in the New York metro area, don’t miss the New York Times Travel Show this weekend. Held at the Jacob K. Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, the show features exhibition booths, giveaways, book signings and a full line-up of travel seminars.

Besides walking the exhibition floor, you can see IndependentTraveler.com contributor Chris Gray Faust give a talk on Sunday at 3 p.m. on how to “Chronicle Your Adventures Like the Professionals Do: Impress Your Friends and Family.”

If you’re interested in cruising, don’t miss Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic (our sister site), at the Ask the Expert Q and A, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday. Carolyn is also speaking Sunday at 2 p.m. on “The Best Cruise at the Best Price: Everything You Need to Know.”

Other speakers include travel experts Arthur and Pauline Frommer, “10,000 Places to See Before You Die” author Patricia Schultz, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg and Conde Nast Traveler columnist Wendy Perrin.

9 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Travel Show

The show is open to the public Saturday, March 1, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, March 2, from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $17 for adults, with children 18 and under admitted free. More information is at NYTTravelShow.com.

*Not in the New York area? See our list of 2014 travel shows around the U.S. and Canada.

— written by Chris Gray Faust

couple trip planning map laptopEditor’s Note: Yahoo! has decided to deactivate its Trip Planner service “to focus on better overall experience.” You can read more here.

On a recent work trip to Amsterdam, my first visit to this iconic city, I decided to treat myself to a little vacation time. My goal was to explore as much as I could within the four free days I had allotted myself, but, as is the case in most big cities, there were so many things I wanted to see and do: the Anne Frank House, the Keukenhof’s flowers, the Poezenboot, a canal boat tour, museums galore and, of course, the infamous Red Light District.

I figured my best bet would be to organize attractions of interest geographically to avoid wasting time racing back and forth across the city. The problem, though, was that I had no idea how to get started.
A quick Google search yielded a glorious link to Yahoo! Travel’s Trip Planner, which is still one of the most helpful travel tools I’ve ever used. Sure, it’s a fairly simple program, but that’s the beauty of it.

Sign up for an account (or use an existing one), create a name for your trip and search for things to do in your destination, either by checking them off of a prepopulated list of the most popular or by searching for things you already know you can’t miss. After adding them to your trip file, you can then click to see them arranged on a map of your destination, making it easy to group attractions by neighborhood. You can also share your trip with your travel companions … or with anyone who’s not going and wants to live vicariously through your itinerary.

Plus, as is always important when you’re trying to save precious time, you can click through to each attraction’s website to find hours of operation and purchase tickets in advance.

How to Create the Perfect Itinerary

If you’re already privy to the wonders of Trip Planner, you’re ahead of the curve. If you haven’t checked it out yet, what are you waiting for? Even if you don’t have your next vacation planned just yet, you can still create mockups for trips to every place on your bucket list so you’re ready when it comes time to book.

Which itinerary planning tools have you found most useful?

5 Trip Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

spinning globeImagine this: you’ve planned a fun (or, depending on your circumstances, maybe not so fun) trip, and you’re at the airport, packed and ready to go. Then the vacation fairy comes along and offers to voluntarily throw a wrench in your itinerary. Would you take her up on it?

The idea comes from Heineken’s new ad campaign. It doesn’t involve a fairy, but, rather, four guys who are randomly plunked down in remote locations, and their adventures documented. As part of the promotion, reports AdWeek, Heineken’s marketing agency set up a game of “Departure Roulette” at New York’s JFK airport last week, asking travelers to forgo their scheduled plans on a whim by pushing a big red button to determine a new, more exotic destination (with hotels and spending money provided by Heineken).

I have to admit that I’m a planner, and one of my worst fears is being stuck someplace foreign without knowing precisely when I’ll arrive home (or, in this case, at my original destination). I don’t like disruptions to my itineraries, and, since not all destinations appeal to me, I’m not sure I’d take the risk (lest I end up like one fellow, whose planned trip to Vienna to visit his grandparents rerouted him to Cyprus instead).

Planning vs. Spontaneity: Which Do You Prefer?

Regardless of whether or not you like Heineken, it’s a crazy — but fun — idea. And it brings us to the question of the day: Would you switch (or have you already switched) your plans at the last minute in hopes of more exciting travel? What would be your ideal far-flung destination? Share your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

frommers guidebooksEditor’s Note: Since the publication of this post, Arthur Frommer has purchased his company back from Google, ensuring that Frommer’s guidebooks will continue to be printed. Learn more in 56 Years Later: Europe on 5 Dollars a Day.

I wasn’t yet alive, let alone traveling, when Arthur Frommer wrote his very first travel guide, “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day,” back in 1957. But after years of toting more recent Frommer’s publications around the globe, I found myself mourning just a little bit when I read that the company has ceased publication of print guidebooks.

The death knell was sounded last week by Skift.com, who reported that many of the authors contracted for 29 upcoming Frommer’s titles were told by editors that the books they were working on would not be published. Extensive destination information is still available online at Frommers.com, and a limited number of “Day by Day” guides can be purchased as e-editions on Inkling.com. Frommer’s was bought by Google in August 2012.

The 5 Worst Trip Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

On this very blog, we once asked, “Are guidebooks dying out?” I wrote then that I still used guidebooks — along with online resources — to plan every trip, and dozens of readers commented in agreement. Three years later, my position hasn’t changed: “The combination of maps, recommended itineraries, comprehensive reviews and historical context is something I haven’t found in any other single source, so I’ll continue to use guidebooks as long as they continue to be printed.”

Fortunately for those of us who wouldn’t plan a trip without them, other guidebook series such as Fodor’s, Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Guides can still be found on the shelves. But for how much longer?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

passports map sunglasses keys travelEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

In the run-up to my last vacation, I spent hours hunched over my laptop, a dozen windows pulled up on the screen and a couple of guidebooks open at my side. I was slaving over my trip itinerary, a Word document peppered with hotel names, important Web sites, parenthetical notes to myself (“Must check in by 8 p.m.!!”) and booking confirmation numbers marked in bold.

The document, dubbed “FINAL ITINERARY.doc,” was a step up from leaving my booking information scattered among 15 different messages in my e-mail inbox — but it was still a rather inelegant way to organize all the bits and pieces of my trip schedule. In How to Create the Perfect Itinerary, Caroline Costello and Ed Hewitt offer another strategy:

“Get crafty on the computer by using software to make your own itinerary. Owners of Microsoft Office can download free itinerary templates at Office.Microsoft.com, which are basically blank schedules with spots for you to record your travel information. Outer Level offers Knapsack, an itinerary program for Macs. The program’s features, from interactive maps to printed itineraries that appear professionally designed, make trip planning more fun than an in-flight movie.”

I decided to give it a whirl. I chose a template from the Microsoft site called “Family Travel Itinerary,” which offered a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet into which I could enter items like lodging details (arrival date, destination, number of nights, name of hotel, reservation number and notes), transportation schedules and even a packing list. It included a few additional fields I wouldn’t have thought to put on my own itinerary, such as emergency contacts and the blood type of each traveler. And it was aesthetically pleasing too, with color-coded charts and an orderly layout.

How do you keep your travel itinerary organized?

— written by Sarah Schlichter