For a adventure-loving travel writer like me, authoring a guidebook is a dream job. But long before I write the first chapter, I’ve put in weeks of research on the road, honing my highway skills, revisiting my favorite places, and exploring new ones.

Guidebook research, like most travel, depends on striking a balance between planning and discovery, impromptu adventures and some serious logistics. Here’s what I’ve learned about getting it right:

Make Your Own Map

My first step while planning a trip is to create a custom map on Google Maps, then start filling in the places that pique my interest. I drop pins for everything that intrigues me and organize them by category—restaurants with great reviews, odd-looking roadside attractions, or promising hiking trails.

Grouping destinations by geography means I can follow the roads that intrigue me and visit new towns on a whim. When I’m looking for a place to eat or explore, I call up the map and see what’s close.

google map with pins and business locations

Create a custom travel map with Google Maps.

Always Eat at the Bar

While guidebooks and research are great starting points, there’s no substitute for chatting up the locals. When I’m headed out to eat on a research trip, I skip the two-top tables and grab a seat at the bar, where I can meet regulars and ask for advice—if all else fails, bartenders usually know the most happening places in town.

Pack a Road Trip Emergency Kit.

Whatever you need on the road, chances are you can buy it once you’re there. But in a few cases, by the time you want it, you won’t want to put on pants and leave the hotel room or tent—mine include ear plugs, a sleep shade, and a basic first aid kit (with a couple of whiskey nips stuffed in for good measure).

Stick to Some Routines

Even on a wild, open-ended itinerary, it’s worth finding some order in the chaos. Skipping exercise, nourishing food, and sleep while traveling leave me feeling less than adventure-ready, so I’ve learned to plan for self-care. If you do daily yoga at home, bring a mat and make a point of visiting some local studios. And while I’m always ready for serious investigations of fried clams and diner fare, I alternate those feasts with trips to the salad bar (or risk losing steam halfway through the trip).

bicycle leaning against a pole

Bring an alternative mode of transport to see a different perspective when traveling. Photo © Hiroyuki Takeda, licensed CC BY-ND.

Bring an Alternate Means of Transport

Cars are great for covering distance, but you miss a lot at highway speeds. Pack a bicycle or running shoes, and you’ll get an entirely different perspective on the place you’re visiting, while reducing the environmental impact of your time on the road.