Research Before You Set Off

You might have booked your trip, but the research does not stop there. There are plenty of web sites out there that can help with pre-holiday planning to ensure that you get the most out of your holiday. This article looks at those sites that give you the advice and information you need before setting off.

Before commencing your trip, you should consider researching the following:

1. Destination guides - Things to see and do on your trip.

2. Passport and immigration requirements

3. Travel advice

4. Weather

5. Local laws and customs

6. National holidays

7. Driving

8. Health situation

9. Travel insurance

10. Travel money

1. Destination guides - Things to see and do on your trip

It's always worth doing some online investigating before you set off on your trip. It will save you time when you are on holiday and you can see the recommendations of other travellers, rather than relying on tourist information staff and holiday reps. With a quick bit of research you should be able to get an idea of:

  • Places to go and see in the area
  • The best bars and restaurants
  • How to get around
  • Street maps
  • Ways to experience local life

I’d recommend the following web sites for starting your research of travel destinations. They have good descriptions of destinations listing things to see and do, hotels, bar, restaurant reviews etc.

Tripadvisor I find Tripadvisor one of the most useful sites for destination research. Its coverage is growing rapidly and is starting to outstrip the more traditional travel guidebooks.  You are dependent on trusting reviews submitted via the web site, so do take some descriptions with a pinch of salt.
Frommers Established producer of guidebooks. Their online guide is very in depth on things to see and do.
Fodors Established producer of guidebooks. Their online guide is very in depth on things to see and do.
Lonely Planet Established producer of guidebooks. While it does cover many destinations, I found the information for some European cities not as good as I would expect for such an established guide.
BugEurope A backpacker’s specialist guide. While it does cover many destinations, I found the information for some European cities. Maybe as time goes on the guide will become more established. Being a backpacker’s guide the accommodation is hostels rather than hotel based.

2. Passport and visa requirements


It might seem obvious, but you should check in advance that your passport will be valid for the duration of your trip. It will be too late if you realise your passport has expired on the way to the airport. Bear in mind that some countries require that you have 6 months left to run on your passport before they will grant you entry.

There are fast track routes for renewing, but even these can take a few days and cost significantly more. If you do discover your passport has expired or is due to expire then take a look at the Passport renewal page of the Direct Gov website.


Many countries have additional entry requirements such obtaining a visa before hand or as you enter. Where visas must be obtained in advance, this can require completing application forms well before you set off.

The Foreign Office website advises on such requirements for different countries and how visas can be obtained. If in any doubt, check the appropriate countries embassy or consulate web sites. Alternatively the Foreign office have a helpline on 0845 850 2829.

3. Travel advice

For holiday destinations that you are not familiar with it’s always worth checking the official travel advice. This will make you aware of any security issues that could impact upon your trip. Travel warnings on such sites could for instance affect your travel insurance.

Foreign Office A very detailed site for UK nationals. The site covers areas such as significant risks, safety and security, local travel, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health information.

US Department of state For another viewpoint check this site.

4. Weather

What could be more important to a UK resident than the weather? Fortunately the web has many sites where you can check out what the historical weather was like or the forecast if your journey is imminent.

weather2travel Particularly good for looking at historical information. Uses an easy to use graphical layout to show factors such as typical temperatures, rainfall, sunshine, likelihood of rain, etc.

Weather I always find this site very good for weather forecasts, but there are plenty of alternatives that you may prefer.

5. Local laws and customs

It’s well worth being aware of any unusual laws or customs before you arrive at your destination. For instance in some countries it is illegal not to carry some form of photo ID.
The Foreign Office website advises on such local laws and customs for different countries.

6. National holidays

It’s always worth being aware of any national holidays that fall during your trip. If the country opening laws are strict and everything shuts, then you need to plan around it. A handy website for determining national holiday dates is Wikipedia.

7. Driving

When driving in Europe the requirements for drivers vary from country to country. For instance carrying replacement bulbs is compulsory in some countries and not in others. Requirements can be unexpected, for instance it is reportedly illegal to drive a dirty car in Russia.

There are a number of websites where you can check out up to date driving requirements:

The AA Has a whole host of info from driving requirements by country, fuel prices, road tolls.

Which Basic information for some European countries.
RAC Lists rules and regulations as well as links to maps.

8. Health situation

Before setting research the health requirements for your destination. Allow sufficient time as some vaccinations need to be obtained XXXX days in advance.

You need to ensure you are up to date with all vaccinations required (recommended) for the country you are visiting. Vaccinations can be obtained from GP’s surgeries (normally for a fee) or from travel clinics offering such services.

Epidemics Epidemics such a bird flu and swine flu can bring their own requirements. It's worth checking to see if there are any such requirements.

Malaria Malaria is prevalent in many countries. For information about malaria see the NHS website or the aptly named Malaria Hotspots which has loads of useful information.

Health care Access to appropriate health care in your destination is a must if medical problems or accidents happen. It is always worth having insurance that gives suitable medical cover for your trip. In Europe the EHIC card will give access at the same rates received by the locals.

9. Travel insurance

You need to make sure the travel insurance you get suits the needs of your trip. See my separate article on travel insurance.

10. Travel money

You need to identify how you will meet the cash needs of your trip. See my separate article on travel money.

Helping you on your journey.

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