I get asked ALL the time how I find such great restaurants or fun things to do. I’ve shared some of my secrets before, but one of the key ones is that I take the time to check out a few travel review sites. In this post, I’ll narrow it down to which ones I think are the BEST travel review sites, and how you can get the most out of them.
Things to do with TripAdvisor
The site I ALWAYS start with is TripAdvisor. Although I do most of my TripAdvisor research on my computer, when I’m on the road, I’ll use the TripAdvisor app to help me with directions, ideas, etc. I open it up, type in the city where I’m interested in going and start digging. I’ll check out top attractions first which will give me a list of the top things to do in the area. Then I can click on the individual attractions that look interesting to me. It’s also easy to narrow down your search by selecting categories such as “Nature & Parks”, “Museums”, etc. We like a wide variety of activities, so I rarely go into specific categories, but if you were researching a very large city or for a specific type of event it would be very useful.
Once I find things I’m interested in, I will tag them (click on the little heart on the picture), create a trip with the name of that city and add them to that group. Then, later when I’m ready to visit, I can just pull up that trip (click on trips on the top menu bar on your computer or the bottom menu bar on the app) and see exactly what I tagged. I’ll also use the map view to see if there is anything nearby that I’d like to check out. If so, I tag it and add it to that trip.
I find that there aren’t as many reviews on TripAdvisor for smaller locations, so when that’s the case, I make sure to read the reviews that are posted to see exactly what they say. I’ll also check the date of the last review to ensure that it’s fairly recent.
The only downside of TripAdvisor is that it can become quite a rabbit hole if you love research as much as I do. So I try to limit myself to checking out one city or area at a time. Otherwise, before I know it, it’s the end of the day and I’m now researching a trip I’ve thought about taking someday, but not the one I started planning!
Finding Food with Yelp
Once I’ve nailed down the types of things we are going to do with TripAdvisor, I head over to my all-time favorite app, Yelp. I can’t tell you how many amazing restaurants we’ve found through the years thanks to Yelp. Although I do a quick check on Yelp for things to do in the area we are visiting, I mostly concentrate on restaurants.
Since we love trying new foods and going out to eat when we are off on a vacation or even just a day trip, Yelp is my best friend. I open up the app, type in “restaurants” and then below that the name of the city to see what pops up. Sometimes I’ll do a pre-visit check for fun and to narrow down a list of possibilities, but more often I use Yelp on the fly.
If it’s a small town we are visiting, I use the map view to see what’s located closet to the town. This view is also extremely helpful when we are on a road trip and looking for a place to eat along the way.
We try to stick to restaurants that have 4.5 to 5 stars with a decent number of reviews. If none of those are available, we’ll move to a 4-star choice. It’s so important when using Yelp to look at how many reviews a place has as well as the content of some of the best and some of the worst reviews. If a place is 4.5 stars with several hundred reviews, I’ll feel more confident of it than if it’s 5 stars with 3 reviews. Sometimes you’ll find that the bad reviews are related to something you don’t care about (a particular ambiance, type of cuisine, location, etc.) or the reviewer is pickier than you might be. When you look at the reviews, you can also see how many reviews the reviewer has done as well as if they are “rated” by Yelp. This can help you determine the legitimacy of the review.
Personally I love an in-depth review and if it contains pictures, even better! In addition to looking up reviews, I always leave a review for our favorite places – it’s helped me share great restaurants and find them again if we return to an area a few years later.
It’s also smart to take a moment and open up the restaurant’s website to peek at the menu. This way you won’t end up with sticker shock and/or a menu no one is interested in trying.
Play Around a Bit on Pinterest
Finally, if you have extra time, head over to Pinterest and type in the city name of the place you are planning on visiting. If someone has done a blog post on the area, you can get some really interesting information about where you are headed, potential ideas for unique things to do, and often an “insiders” viewpoint.
Pinterest is especially useful if you are heading to a frequently visited vacation spot. For instance, there are literally thousands of pins that link to blog posts on Disney, but for smaller areas, you’ll probably only find a few relevant pins.
If you decide to use Pinterest to search, I’d suggest setting a timer – otherwise, you’ll definitely end up spending more time that you want to reading blog posts – and probably get off on some weird tangent that has nothing to do with travel. Just speaking from experience here …
Have any other travel review sites you swear by? I’d love to hear about them, so please share in the comments.
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