Travel Planning 2.0

Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting my tech skills to work planning our trips during the summer holidays. You see, I have this obsession with finding the perfect beach. You know the one: powdery white sand, crystal clear blue water, swaying palm trees, no one else around; and, of course, the perfect hotel to match: small, boutique-style, spa treatments galore, tasty food, and no hideous strip of chain hotel monstrosities looming above.

crystal clear waterAmazingly, I found this perfect place in Malaysia (Redang Island) on our first vacation when we moved there in 2005. Unfortunately, it’s a little too inconvenient to get there from Bangkok and part of the “perfect beach” experience is only having to undergo one flight (maximum) to get there. Plus, I figured Thailand, the land of beautiful beaches, must have something even better!

Normally, I would ask around at school for tips from my colleagues that have been living in Thailand for many years, but all I got was the same old, same old: Koh Samui, Phuket, Koh Samet, Koh Chang. Not that those places aren’t beautiful, but I really wanted something different, something only the local resident would know, yet of course, would meet my needs as an emerging “fancy pants” (as my husband would say).

Now, I realize I shouldn’t really spill the beans here on how I’m doing my super tech savvy undercover exploration of stunning Thai islands, but I figured, despite this being slightly off-topic for this blog, you guys are the only ones who would really understand how cool this little web 2.0 planning experience really was.

So, here’s what I did:

1. I knew I wanted to stay in Thailand, but I wanted to make sure it was one of those perfect beaches (not like some of the other places we have stayed, where the websites looks stunning, but when you get there it’s really nothing special). So, I figured the best place to start was a search of “real people’s” photos: Flickr.

2. I remembered that a friend of mine had recommended a specific beach in Phuket, but I couldn’t remember which one, so I searched on Flickr for “white sand beach Phuket.” A beach that looked suitable was the very last picture of the first page of search results.

3. Once I clicked on that image, the picture description told me that it was taken on “Koh Racha Yai island [which] is located 30 minutes south by boat from Phuket, Thailand.” Aha! This was the kind of place I was looking for, close but not too close, easy to get to, but still isolated.

4. With my new found destination in mind, I headed to my old and trusty friend, TripAdvisor to see what hotels were listed on this island.

5. The top rated hotel looked pretty spectacular, so I checked out their website, and then of course wentKoh Racha back to Flickr for more realistic photos and found this picture with this description: “Racha Resort is a luxurious 5-star resort built in 2004 after Tsunami.” Plus, there was even a comment from another Flickr user enthusing about this island and hotel with even more pictures posted! Yes, this was exactly what I was looking for!

6. Just to get all the facts, I opened up Google Earth, and checked out the beach from above (well, I guess from space, technically) and all the embedded images around the island, thanks to Panoramio.

7. Seeing as all the evidence points to an especially stunning, and quite private, beach on a lovely tropical island, I booked our flight and hotel right away.

Now all that’s left is to actually take the trip!

How do you use your techie skills to plan the perfect holiday?

Made in Japan

Alex and I have always wanted to go to Japan and we finally managed to organize a trip there for our Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday a few weeks ago. We’re pretty well-traveled, so normally I wouldn’t think one of our vacations is worth a blog post, but this trip had something special: my PLN.

Twitter Meet-up

One of the reasons we decided to go to Japan this year was because I actually had quite a few friends living around the country. Not friends from college or high school, or former colleagues, in fact, I had never met most of them face-to-face. But we share ideas, collaborate on projects, and chat almost every day, thanks to Twitter, Skype, G-talk, and my RSS reader. Because of these virtual friendships, we were able to take a very unique tour of Japan, stopping in at three schools, staying with friends, and really experiencing a taste of life in Japan.

Of course, through all of this, I got to know my virtual friends so much better. It still amazes me how deeply we can connect online, and just how real my virtual friendships are. Meeting Leanne, Rhonda, Christine, and Genki for the first time wasn’t really like the first time – I knew them already from our many conversations!

Tweet-up DinnerThis isn’t the first time I’ve met members of my PLN face to face, but it is the first time it hasn’t been at a conference or professional event (or on my own “turf” in Bangkok). I love that we originally connected based on our professional interests, but that we can build on that foundation to create a true friendship that extends beyond work.

Thank you so much, friends, for making our trip to Japan so absolutely fantastic! We never could have done it without you!

The best thing about holidays is spending time with friends, and thanks to my PLN, it seems like I have friends almost everywhere!

How have you connected, in person, with your PLN?