The ultimate luxury travel adventure means thorough research and because of my FOMO, I’m always keen to have the very best and most unique experiences possible while travelling. For this post on luxury travel tips, I wanted to share my research process and some of my favourite resources for finding the very best things to do and places to stay.
Though your destination may be somewhere you’ve been obsessing over for a long time, you may not know exactly where you want to visit in that country and what order to do it in. The majority of my research is done online but my first port of call is often to buy the Lonely Planet Guide – plus I like the way the Lonely Planets look on my shelf. Every travel lover is loyal to a particular guide but I love Lonely Planet for the way they’re set out, the type of information included and the useful maps at the end.
Each Lonely Planet contains a rough itinerary of places to visit when you’re visiting a certain country for a particular length of time. For example, my guide to Japan advises 1 week in Japan should be spent in Tokyo and the surrounding area, whereas ten-days can include Kanazawa and Kyoto while with two weeks you can fit in more day trips and maybe a stay in Osaka or Miyajima. Another thing I love about Lonely Planet is that it includes a section that allows you to tailor your trip to your interests, obviously I base my trips around foodie destinations that allow me to see different aspects of the country and culture but there is also scope to base it around shopping, family travel, beaches or festivals. Lonely Planet is also a great resource for all the general bits and pieces you need to know such as key phrases, transport options, currency and medical care.
Another great way of planning itineraries is checking out luxury travel agents’ websites. Their preset itineraries are really helpful in trying to decide exactly where to visit, in what order and how to get from place to place. Many luxury travel agents also tailor their itineraries very specifically to their clients potential interests and focus on key aspects of that country. Using the Japan example again, I found itineraries based entirely around seeing the cherry blossoms, gardens or eating sushi. It’s also a great way of putting together your dream honeymoon as the travel agents’ itineraries may specify romantic destinations and hotels.
Finally, Pinterest is a great way to come up with itineraries as you can easily search websites and blogs for top things to do and short itineraries. Check out how my Japan board is currently shaping up.
If you’re looking for the top luxury hotels, it’s best to look online. The Lonely Planet won’t necessarily list the very exclusive places, and even if it does there’s no customer rating for each hotel. I love The Kiwi Collection website which gives a great comprehensive list of all the top hotels in the city along with an average rating – check out their wow picks to see the absolutely exceptional ones. For a boutique hotel, Mr & Mrs Smith is my favourite website – having worked there years ago, I know the high standards that each hotel needs to uphold in order to be in the Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel collection. The website includes honest feedback from hotel guests as well as reviews from a secret hotel inspector so you’ll truly know what you’re in for! I think the important thing when choosing a luxury hotel is seeing pictures of the beautiful property – and that’s perhaps the best thing about Mr & Mrs Smith; each hotel entry contains a gallery of photos allowing a sneak peek around the hotel!
Other great ways of finding your hotel choice is by checking well known travel sites, for example The Conde Nast Traveller Gold List is an invaluable resource for a luxury traveller. I also like to look at the top hotels as chosen by Travel & Leisure and Forbes.
Obviously all these sites offer as glossy vision of the hotels, and the hotel website will have beautifully professional photos with perfect lighting and models enjoying champagne on the terrace – but how can you tell what these hotels are really like?
Well first of all there’s TripAdvisor. I know you either love it or hate it but the reviews on there are completely honest and independent, make sure to get a balanced picture of the hotel by reading ‘Excellent’ reviews as well as ‘Terrible’ alongside those in middle. The problem with TripAdvisor is everyone has different standards and criteria – where one person may love a hotel because it’s buzzy and clubby, another may hate it because it’s loud. Someone with high standards for food may hate the breakfast whereas someone else may not even notice. Just read lots of reviews so that you get a full picture, you can also see where the reviewers have stayed before so you can make sure you have similar tastes and through the magic of Facebook you can even see if someone you know has stayed there.
It’s also very important to check the Traveller’s Photos on TripAdvisor as this really will give you a true picture of the hotel without all the gloss. In fact, Mr S checks the TripAdvisor traveller photos before he even checks the hotel website! Honestly though, I find the traveller photos a little frustrating as most are grainy photos taken on a phone of someone’s half eaten breakfast or a slept in bed!
So what’s the best way of getting a true review? A blogger, of course! Before booking a hotel I will google the hell out of it to find blogger reviews, a good blogger will have decent clear photos but without the professional gloss of the hotel website. Make sure the review is a trusted blogger who is honest and knows the hotel industry, of course an inexperienced person is going to think a luxury hotel is amazing but a seasoned luxury travel blogger will have plenty to compare it to and will be able to give a balanced opinion. Be mindful that some bloggers have affiliations with hotel brands, but a good professional and honest blogger will always disclose these links. Also most bloggers are happy to be contacted directly if you want to know more, if you’re ever considering a hotel that you’ve seen on SilverSpoon please email or DM me if you want further specific information.
Once again you can turn to your Lonely Planet guide for a fully comprehensive selection of what there is to do in a particular city or area and what excursions you can go on. However, the problem with such a comprehensive selection is that it can be very overwhelming, for a city like Tokyo for example it’s hard to know where to start! Fortunately, Lonely Planet will tell you the top things to do if you only have twenty-four hours in a city but the problem with this is that it might just be the cliché sites that everyone visits. In this case my advice would also be to have another guide for back up, I love the Luxe City Guides which you can download as app on your phone. The Luxe Guide suggests around thirty activities in and around Tokyo as opposed to the bazillion that The Lonely Planet suggests. The activities can also be filtered by interest into categories such as markets, museums and religious sites making it super easy to pick your area of interest.
What if you want to go off the beaten track and see locals favourite hot spots? Personally I love to start a trip with a private tour, especially in a big city as this helps your orientate yourself around the city. My favourite website for easily booking a tour is Viator, which offers tours of the main sights of Tokyo as well as more unique experiences such as sushi making, a shopping tour with a Geisha or an arts tour. Viator offers tours for every budget and lots of different areas of interest, it really is an indispensable site for easily booking a tour.
Another great way to make sure you’re seeing the best of everything is by contacting the hotel concierge in advance. With lots of contacts throughout the city, the concierge will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for and find local experts to guide you.
Again I often turn to blogs when it comes to activities, as a blogger will provide clear photos and an honest opinion of the experience. If it’s something that you’ve had high hopes for and looked forward to with eager anticipation, the bloggers’ experience will let you know whether it had been a let down or not. Don’t forget to check out the website of the tourist board for the destination which will also provide comprehensive information on the sights of interest, shopping and other activities.
If you’re a foodie like me you’re probably looking for lots of different restaurants, from high-end dining to local food and unique experiences. For high-end dining, I always check The World’s Fifty Best Restaurants so that I know I’m trying the very best in the city. For example Test Kitchen, Restaurant Andre and The French Laundry all appear on this list and I had incredible experiences at every single one. As well as high-end fine dining, I also want to try out the more trendy places such as Tao in New York or L’Avenue in Paris. I really think there’s no better way of finding the latest hot spot than by asking people and if you don’t know someone that’s been check Twitter or ask the hotel concierge. For very exclusive places, don’t forget to book well in advance or ask you concierge to make the booking for you.
Of course it’s not that difficult to research which restaurant has three-Michelin stars, or where’s hot right now just with a few simple Google searches, a consultation of the Lonely Planet or looking in your Luxe Guide. But how do you go off the beaten track and find out where the locals go? The concierge will always have some great suggestions, and I’ve had plenty of good experiences with their recommendations, but sometimes you can’t be sure if they’re getting a commission from the places that they recommend.
My best advice is discovering local bloggers, once again you can usually find these via a Google search or Twitter, I’ve found local and ex-pat bloggers to be amazing sources of information when researching the best local restaurants, for example Lady Iron Chef’s website for Singapore and Bali and A Girl in Florence for my upcoming trip there. For Japan I’ve made a great connection with Nano, an expat blogger originally from Georgia (the country not the state) now living in Tokyo, I loved reading Nano’s restaurant reviews already and she been kind enough put together a fantastic list of her favourite places for our visit, we’re also meeting up for dinner one night. That’s one of my favourite things about blogging, you make new friends all over the world!
I hoped you enjoyed my luxury travel tips; in my next post I’ll provide a full bibliography of my travel resources and favourite websites.
How do you research your trips? What are your favourite travel guides.
NB Please note that this blog post was written completely independently and I have no current affiliations with any of the websites, blogs or guides mentions.
PIN FOR LATER: