Monday, June 23, 2014

5 Internet Resources for Planning a Field Trip

5 favorite internet resources for planning a field trip

One of the best things about the internet is there are so many resources for planning field trips.  Starting with the website of your destination, you can find answers to almost any question you have about a place you'd like to visit.  From attractions to nearby snack shops, you can find whatever you need to have a great trip.

One of the worst things about the internet is there are tons of resources for planning field trips.  It can get overwhelming, because you can easily find yourself distracted by all links.  Sometimes this is good - I discovered that not far from our route between Antietam and Gettysburg is the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and we're now planning a short detour there to study her more in depth.  (Luke researched Mother Seton earlier this spring as part of his writing series.)  However, you can wind up getting bogged down in sites, especially if you read travel reviews and get engrossed in those. 

These are the top 5 types of sites I visit when planning an excursion.

1.  The destination's website.

Often, you can just type "name of your" into your browser and you'll be led to the destination's home page.  If it's a long name that I think might be shortened, or may not be a dot-com, I'll type it into a search engine.  For example,  The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia's website is - FI for Franklin Institute, and dot-edu because it's an educational institution.

If you type a destination name/site guess and it's not correct, then try a search - it might actually be part of another site -- for example, Independence Mall National Historic Park's homepage is not "" but rather is a sub-page of the National Parks Service website.

Important things to check: admissions, open hours, what to do/how long to expect a visit to last, and suggested age ranges.  Many places will also give you suggestions of things in the area, in case you're looking to make a longer trip. 

2. Google Maps or Mapquest

Check a map to confirm your scheduleYes, I have a GPS in my car, and apps for each of the two map sites on my phone.  They're great for once we hit the road.  However, before I even say, "Get a sandwich and into the car!" I need to know how far from home we're venturing.  (You know, so I can answer, "Is it a one-sandwich or two-sandwich-and-dessert ride away?") Once I know my destination, I need to find out if it's a reasonable distance.  On our wish list of places to go was the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, but we realized that it was just too far to do as a day trip (3+ hours one way), and staying overnight near the head of the trail and working our way home just wasn't possible for us this summer.  Going back to Step 1, I then searched the keywords "Underground Railroad Delaware" to see if there were any specific sites that might be a little closer.  I found out there is a limited engagement  Underground Railroad exhibit at the First State Heritage Park in Dover, DE.  A check of the map shows Dover is less than 90 minutes from here, and doable as a day trip.

3.  Regional Visitors' Center Sites

These are a treasure trove of information.  Some are web-based and will give you online details and reviews; others will send you free travel information.  For our upcoming Antietam-Gettysburg trip, I went to and was able to order a stack of pamphlets and maps about the area.  Sure, I could use Google Maps to find out how to get there, but the site doesn't tell me the routes the Union and Confederate armies took, and a big map for everyone to study at the same time is much more fun than crowding around the computer screen trying to see around each others' heads.  While I like the ability to have information at my fingertips through the internet, having the glossy brochures and maps to pore over and plan our own battle strategy is great for my pint-sized planners.

Because these sites highlight areas beyond a single site (like your destination's web page), they are great for planning trips to an "area."  We know our time is limited when we go to Antietam - our plans are to travel to Sharpsburg on Monday, spend a full day each in Harper's Ferry and Antietam and then travel to the Gettysburg area on Thursday, so I wasn't as interested in what other things there are to do.  (I also am the only licensed driver with five kids in tow, so wineries in the Sharpsburg area aren't an option on this tour.  If it was just hubby and I going to view the battlefield, we'd find that useful information.) However, they can also tell you what events are going on, so you can plan to go and experience them -- or reschedule and avoid the crowds.

Make sure to dig around a little and see if there are any deals for admission.  Sometimes a venue will offer discounted tickets through the visitors' center sites to draw more people. 


This site is one-stop-shop for destination reviews, accommodations, transportation, etc.  It's a huge site, so getting lost is possible, but I like that you can check out so many aspects at once, and from real life people.

I admit, I like to check to see what others think so I know if it's worth going or not, but try look at them neutrally - it might not have been someone else's cup of tea, or they had unrealistic expectations.  Look at reviews and try to glean out facts -- "my kid was bored" isn't as helpful as "There was a lot of breakable objects on the tour, and it was tough to listen to the guide and hold onto my two-year-old at the same time."

5.  iTunes App Store  (Android if you have one of those phones/tablets)

Ok, may this one isn't *officially* a website. But it's still a good resource.
Travel Apps can give you information on everything from toilets to trivia
First, there are basic travel apps, like USA Rest Stops (there is ALWAYS someone saying "I need to stop!!") and Gas Buddy to find the cheapest (and most convenient) gas on the road.  The "Around Me" App is a practical app - it will locate the closest <gas station, ATM, restaurants> to where you are.

Check to see if there is an App for your destination.  Some places may have official apps, while others have third-party created ones.  Though not "official" NPS apps, we've downloaded two from for Antietam and Gettysburg (there are others.)   Even if there isn't an "official" app, it's possible that there is an App that someone has developed for the area.

GPS My City is a good app for many cities, including Philadelphia.  I'm planning on using this one when I take Jude to the newly refurbished Franklin Court this fall - we can create our own walking tour that includes Franklin Court, Franklin Square, and a new pier that extends along the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.  (Can you guess his favorite Founding Father?)  The History Channel has an app called "History Here" that uses GPS to locate you and then gives you information about the history surrounding you.  You'd be surprised what you're in the middle of!  

How do you plan for a field trip?

Ben and Me

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1 comment:

  1. Great tips! I've found myself at a loss trying to find interesting places to visit while traveling sometimes and it's hard to know where to look. I have found the reviews on Trip Adviser helpful to read what "real people" think about the site and whether it's worth a visit.


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