I firmly believe that the more research that goes into a trip the more enjoyable it will be. The research does not have to be historical, it can be cultural – art, poems, novels, culinary – what foods do the native people eat and why, economical – Russia, China and Japan offer up fascinating differences to our capitalistic society. The point is the more you can understand about the country you are about to visit the more you will be able to comprehend.
Do not be concerned about not speaking a foreign language. While no doubt it would make the trip easier and more enjoyable, you can take this weakness and turn into a challenge. My recommendation is leverage the youngest member of your party. Foreigners love kids and are extremely helpful to a young child asking assistance.
Bring structure to your desire to travel. 1) Research 2) Plan 3) Enjoy 4) Document
Traveling opens your eyes to all kinds of new sights, sounds, smells, customs, and people. Before you start it is helpful to get some perspective. Consider using the following:
A Globe – the earth is round. You can tell something about the weather and hours of daylight you will experience if you consult a Globe. Consider the longitude and latitude of the place you will be traveling and compare it to where you live. How many hours ahead or behind will you be? Colder or warmer? More light or less? If you are going to England you might consider taking the time to visit Greenwich (down the Thames from London) and stand at Longitude 0-0-0 and learn why all world time zones are based on this spot.
GPS device – It will tell you where you are, how fast you are traveling, how long it will take to get to the next stop, your altitude, Longitude and latitude. Great fun.
Time Line – The Wall Chart of World History. From Creation to modern day. Unfolds to 22 ft long. It puts time into perspective, world events and famous people become relevant to one another. One is published by Barnes and Nobles and sells for under $30.
Family Tree – Putting together a family tree makes modern history come alive for all family members. Tracing relatives back through WWII, WWI, Civil War, American Revolution, back to your native soil makes visiting these places so much more real. Another option is to see if you, your parents or grandparents traveled to some of the places you will be traveling too. If they have talk to them, look at their pictures. Try and stay at the same hotel or eat at the same restaurant. Remember many of the pubs and Inns have been their for hundreds of years.
Research means many things to many people. I like to start with two guide books. Guide books come in all sizes and shapes but they really do present different material. Start with a general tourist book (Fodor’s, Frommer’s, The Unofficial Guide series) for a quick written overview of the place you are interested in and then buy a more detailed (lots of pictures, diagrams, maps)(Insight, Knopf Guides).
Once you are considering a specific place assign the family to begin looking for newspaper articles (Wall Street Journal, New York Times Sunday edition is particularly good), Magazines (National Geographic obviously, but also look in Conde Nast, National Geographic Traveler and other travel magazines), and TV shows on The Travel Channel, Discovery, PBS and others. This task is especially good for the male of the household if he is known for reading multiple newspapers and channel surfing. Some incredibly fruitful resources are the Sunday travel section of your home newspaper, New York Times Sunday Travel, and the Book reviews in the Wall Street Journal on Fridays, and The Sunday Book Review magazine in the New York Times.
If you are not into reading then consider going to Google travel videos and peruse the various list of video’s available on your subject and order the one’s you want to watch. YouTube is a great resource for travel videos.
Once you decide where to go you get to figure out how to get there, where to stay, how to get around, where to eat, what to see and do, and how long. All very complicated questions particularly if there are several in your party, different ages, different sexes, which usually leads to different interests. Suffice to say not everyone will be happy all the time. The object is balance. Start with two rules – get sleep and eat at regular intervals. Being rested and fed makes everyone a more enjoyable traveler. It is to easy to push on and not miss the next thing … relax, take a break, eat a light meal, drink water and discuss what you just saw or what you are about to see.