With all of the tools at our fingertips nowadays, travel planning is simultaneously easy and overwhelming. There are review sites, price comparison sites, itinerary sites, and so many travel blogs if you put them end to end they'd stretch to the moon and back, and they'd have tips on what you must see, eat, and do every step of the way. 

Those resources make travel planning seem easy; it seems like you can find out everything there is to do, anywhere.

But it's also overwhelming because...it seems like you can find out everything there is to do, anywhere.

As a travel writer, you'd think I'd be an expert at travel planning. I do this for a living, after all. The truth is, I still struggle and suffer from FOMO like nobody's business. While I certainly have my tricks to make the planning process smoother, I've got a secret weapon in my arsenal: the local visitors bureau.

Whenever I'm planning a trip, one of the first things I do is reach out to these founts of regional knowledge. In the "biz" we know them as CVBs - Convention and Visitors Bureaus - and DMOs - Destination Management Organizations. These are the Mother Lode of local info.

It's hard to say what I love best about Visitors Bureaus:

  • They know their markets.
  • They bring money into their communities.
  • They're passionate.
  • They're free.

I'm not the only one who's a fan. Emily Hines, of Em's On The Road, said: 

"I use CVB/DMO websites and social media often to help me plan out trips. A couple of years ago I visited Lexington, Kentucky for the first time and mined their website for restaurant and brewery info. To my surprise, I saw my blogger friend Kristin Luna had written a beer-filled article which helped me decide where I wanted to take my girlfriends on our trip. Last year I traveled to Milwaukee for the Women in Travel Summit and had a blast. Most of our time was planned but anytime I shared photos or videos around town the Visit MKE staff interacted with me which was fun. One night I was on the hunt for late night food and they helped me find this little gem:"

Comet Cafe in Milwaukee, photo by Em's on the Road


Cindy Ladage has a specific niche with her blog, Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl"The Morgan County CVB shared information about Hunter’s Honey Farm in rural Martinsville, Indiana," she said. "This beautiful scenery was off the beaten path and the honey farm provides tours and detailed information about honey bees and how honey is created."

"Just a note that I loved agritourism led me to this great find."

"Local CVB’s know how to lead you to the spots you are looking for," Cindy advised. "Let them know what type of places you are seeking and they will help you find!"

Hunter's Honey Farm - Cindy Ladage, Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl

 

Laura Huffman said "Renee Graham, Tourism Director at Callaway County (Missouri) Tourism was my roadmap to Fulton and surrounding areas when I toured her destination for Population 91. Her advice kept me java fueled, and well fed as I explored Callaway County 'off trail.'"

Quilt Block at Pulaski County Tourism Bureau - Laura Huffman, Population 91

 

This is great, you say, but these people also write about travel. How does a regular tourist take advantage of these resources?

Find Them Online

As I recommend in "How to be a Local Tourist," when you're planning your visit, search for the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) website. Usually, if you search "Visit {insert destination here}" you can find their online presence.

These websites are chock-full of info, providing recommended restaurants, attractions, events, and places to stay.

Leanna Martin, the Director of Digital Media at Visit Shipshewana -LaGrange County CVB, says "I love making the connections for visitors online. It can be stressful trying to plan and understand an area that you’re unfamiliar with. I’m able to provide digitally, maps, directions, event information and other helpful tools that essentially make the trip planning a breeze."

These websites and social media accounts aren't static. The people, like Leanna, who are responsible for this digital information pay attention to what tourists are looking for when they visit their destinations. In addition to blogging, Emily Hines is also the Digital Content Coordinator for Visit Bloomington. "I love helping first-time Bloomington visitors find what they're looking for," she said. "My most asked question on social is best photo spots in town. So much so that I decided to write a blog post for just that.

Get the Inside Scoop

One of the first places I visit when I arrive at a destination is the physical brick-and-mortar Visitors Center. There are always racks with cards extolling the various activities in the area. Kylie Neuhaus of Between England and Iowa loves to browse the attraction brochures.

"It's a little like a real life Pinterest board of ideas that you can physically touch!" she said.

If you want, you can just pick up a stack of those slick cards and be on your merry way. But then you'd be missing out on one of the best reasons to visit: the people who work there. They are passionate about their home, and they're just waiting for someone like you to walk in their doors so they can point you to some of their favorite spots. During our visit to Old Town Albuquerque, we met a World War II vet who not only told us where we should have lunch, he also shared some personal stories of his time as a soldier.

Church Street Cafe in Old Town Albuquerque

Sir Tom in Old Town Albuquerque gave us three choices for lunch: Church St. Cafe, Church St. Cafe, and Church St. Cafe

JoDee Hooley, Director of Leisure Group Experiences at Visit Shipshewana -LaGrange County CVB thinks "it’s amazing to meet people from all over the world. I love sharing our community with them. Being a native, I especially enjoy the local history and utilize this when creating itineraries.

Her colleague Beth Thornburg, who's the Executive Director, echoes that sentiment. "I love chatting with Visitors! It’s always fun to learn where our visitors are from and what they are interested in doing while they are here. In our Visitors Center we try to make each Visitor feel welcome and engage in friendly conversation."

Visit Shipshewana -LaGrange County CVB Visitors Center

Shipshewana & LaGrange County Visitors Bureau

 

Karen Hood of the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau claimed that the Ozarks are "jam-packed with friendly, helpful people." This is something my husband and I learned firsthand when we made it our first overnight stop on our "Two Lane Gems" road trip, a 31-day cross-country adventure.

As Karen said about their Visitors Center at Saint Robert,  "These folks will kindly answer all your Missouri travel questions, let you use the wi-fi, give you a map, and a complimentary coffee. They even keep biscuits for your four-legged canine companions on hand. Make them your first stop when you travel to Fort Leonard Wood or road trip on Route 66."

Pulaski County Tourism Bureau

 

Don't Be Shy

The most important thing to remember when using this travel planning secret weapon is to ask away, because they love what they do.

"We are in the business of fun, and our goal is to help every visitor create lasting memories and leave with a positive impression of our area," said Emily Bertram, Social Media and Marketing Specialist, St. Cloud Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"We strive to create relationships with our visitors that last well beyond their stay," she said, "and we love helping travelers customize their trips here so that they can fully appreciate all that our area has to offer."

St. Cloud Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

 

Meridith Jumisko is the Public Relations Manager at Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau"At the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, we take great joy in recommending our attractions, local shops and restaurants, and hotels to those visiting our Wisconsin harbor town.

"By using a CVB to research your vacation, you’re going to a one-stop place with friendly, knowledgeable staff who will help you find current and up-to-date information on a great number of things to see and do and eat – and who can guide you on how to shop and dine local. We offer you a variety of ways to get that info: online via our website, email, and social media channels; by telephone; and through face-to-face conversations at our Visitor Information Centers." 

First Fridays at Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

First Fridays at the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

 

Kylie's worked with Meridith and knows this first-hand: "The staff members {at Visitors Centers} are often very passionate about their destination. My favourite CVBs are ones that have adapted to trends! A couple of examples that come to mind are: Janesville, Wisconsin - who provided me with a copy of their visitor guide on a USB flash drive (easy to travel with!) and Kenosha, Wisconsin - who have designed 10,000 step self guided walking tours of their destination, have Instagram frame props for capturing memories and a separate guide aimed at inspiring people who are travelling on a budget!"

Kenosha Instagram Frame - Kylie Neuhaus

 

As Cindy learned, Tosha Daugherty, Executive Director of Visit Morgan County  "loves sharing personalized recommendations for visitors based on their own interests, as well surprising them from time to time - revealing fun stories about hidden gems that they might not have otherwise known about, such as the historic Link Observatory in Martinsville.

"Link Observatory was built in the 1930's by an amateur astronomer, so it's a great place to see the stars, but the builder's wife was an important scientist in her own right. A botanist who studied daffodils, Helen Link's many varieties of the cheery flowers still bloom today on the grounds of the observatory, and they're open to visitors every weekend in April."

Link Observatory in Martinsville

I enjoy helping others realize all of the great things to do in our area that they didn’t come across in their own research, especially when it ends with them saying, “We’re going to have to come back!”

Jordan Mazzoni, Director of Communications & Public Relations, Visit Shipshewana -LaGrange County CVB

 

Holly Lofton is the Director of the Lindsborg Convention & Visitors Bureau, and she's very passionate about the services these bureaus provide. "The Lindsborg {Kansas} CVB loves what we do because we enjoy making a stop in Lindsborg, for an afternoon or for multiple days, the best it can possibly be," she said. "We are trained to know regional history, event information, and interesting stops that many websites do not list.

Holly has even more reasons Visitors Bureaus are so valuable:

  • "We also are experts in providing services to meet the needs of those with additional travel needs.
  • "CVB staff know what stops offer handicap accessibility and businesses that provide great additional programming or services for those with disabilities.
  • "CVBs are able to customize a trip itinerary to your interests and needs!"

Finally, she said "We specialize in customer service and you will find that your best trips will start with utilizing the best information you can find!"

Lindsborg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Amy Howell is the Director of Communications and Media Relations at the Indiana Office of Tourism Development. Besides being super awesome and super fun (we might have shared a beer or two during my visit to Hendricks County), she's also super passionate about what she does.

"I love the people I meet in my job. I love working with CVBs/DMOs. They are the epitome of “Hoosier Hospitality”. They make my job easier when telling travel writers/bloggers about Indiana’s unique geography, eclectic foods, natural attractions and history, which are just some things that make Indiana so memorable to visit.


If you're planning a trip, or even if you're simply looking for things to do closer to home, reach out to the local Visitors Bureau. This is my #1 travel planning secret weapon, that shouldn't be a secret at all.

What's the frog all about? This gent was resting in front of the Mississippi Crafts Center, a place I discovered on a trip coordinated by Visit Ridgeland.

Travel Planning Secret Weapon - The Visitors Bureau. These free resources make travel planning a breeze, since they're the experts on local destinations