Summer is officially on in Istanbul and I’m in high travel-planning mode, with trips planned to beach town Bodrum tonight, Kosovo (long story) next weekend, a weekend in late July to a neighboring country, and a weeklong TBD trip in August for my 30th birthday. In addition to my usual methods of obsessive research (see this Jauntsetter post I wrote last year), I’ve found a number of new resources enormously useful:
My life has literally been changed thanks to a tip in Budget Travel from travel writer, friend, and all-around charming guy Adam Graham. I often find travel tip articles to be a lot of the same-old, same-old, but there were a number of smart ideas in this article including Adam’s idea to set up a Google Custom Search to look at only your tried-and-true resources. I set one up using my favorite travel websites and blogs and now can come up with articles and information without all the faff of hotel booking engines and irrelevant blogs. Searching for info on Kosovo, I found several great articles from Boston Globe and UK Guardian in a few seconds rather than paging through dozens of Google search results. Check out my custom search here.
I’d found only limited information on Pristina online, Kosovo being a relatively undiscovered tourist destination, despite the fact it is cheap, friendly, and well-recommended by those who have been. Finding hotels in Pristina has been a difficult search, as there are no chain hotels, a dearth of hotels on the usual booking engines (even Kayak has nothing), and a total absence of online booking capabilities. One source kept popping up as I researched a few possibilities: In Your Pocket guides, a free series of city guides that can be read online, downloaded as a PDF or iBook, or purchased as a print edition. In addition to Pristina, they have dozens of other cities in Eastern and Western Europe that aren’t typically found in the usual guidebooks, and the info is all useful, succinct, and frequently updated by locals. What else can you ask for? They have more content on Facebook and Twitter too. I also found free downloadable guides from Arrival Guides, which have more destinations more generic content.
Another series of free PDF guides from Austrian Airlines to dozens of cities around the world served by the airline. 48h is a foldable weekend guide with a few suggestions for hotels, restaurants, sights, bars, shopping and basic facts. Nice format, unusual locations, free. http://www.skylines.at/index_en.php
Limited but popular locations (Capri, Istanbul, London, Paris, Rome, Venice) blog with short and sweet lists for where to stay, eat, and what to do. Nicely chosen recommendations, I saw a few places I’ve already discovered to be great in Istanbul, plus a few new places to try.
A forum for expats and “global minds,” you have to request an invite by email but I found it easy to join and full of good resources. When you sign up, your profile shows the flags of any countries you’ve lived in, so you can see that I’m an American in Turkey. While I find the Istanbul forums helpful for finding recommendations on anything from real estate agents to where to watch the World Cup, you can also view and access forums anywhere in the world, so I can ask the Rome forum for a restaurant tip or the Baku forum for hotels. There are many expat forums online that are either specific to a country (I’m a new member of Istanbul’s Sublime Portal, which is really amazing but geared towards expats in Turkey only) or global, but I found this to be fairly active and extensive.
Have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle?! So glad I bought it to have a cheap source of English content, I rather like the reading experience as well. It’s a good beach/poolside gadget since you can read it in sunlight and it is light enough to hold up when you’re lying down. I also like having travel guides on it, while the map-reading isn’t ideal and it’s harder to browse the way you can with a paper book, it’s great to be able to quickly look up a neighborhood name or fact quickly and easily (I looked up “tulip” in the Lonely Planet Turkey guide to learn how the Turks actually introduced the flower to Holland), and its lower profile than a guidebook. Since I carry it with me almost everywhere, I’ve also started adding documents to read on it rather than printing. I’ve saved magazine articles, Wikitravel.org entries, and all the above mentioned PDF guides to my Kindle for easy reference.
Now to get packing!