I like to know as much as possible about places before I visit or move to them, and as I’ve been doing a lot of travel over the last few years I’ve worked some basic online research methods. Of course books are great and I love a good travel guide – Rough Guides are my favorite, generally – but most of the time I don’t have easy access to English language books. Hence, most of my research is done online.
When I’m looking for work to support my travel habit, I generally look for English teaching jobs or nanny jobs for families that want their child to begin learning a foreign language early. The main sites I start looking on are TEFL.com, Dave’s ESL Cafe, and Craigslist. These are all very generalist sites, and competition for jobs in Western countries is quite fierce, while in developing countries less so. I generally keep Google Maps open while I’m searching, as many jobs are in places I’ve never heard of. I’ll also search on “Forums” or “Expat” plus the name of the country or city I’m interested in; those are often the best places to find local nanny agencies who are recruiting, as well as non-EFL jobs.
Next I’ll look up Wikipedia and Wikitravel for a general overview of the place and some history. While I’ll travel just about anywhere, I’ll only live places with lively coffeeshops (bane of my existence right now; the only modern cafe in Samsun just went out of business and I don’t think I’ll see a mocha until my contract expires), legal alcohol, an arts scene, and high speed internet. Between the wiki sites and Virtual Tourist, I can usually get an idea if those are possible. I’ve also had a lot of fun over the years with people from the Couch Surfing club, so I try to see if there’s an active group with regular meetings.
Then I’ll try and evaluate the photographic potential of a place. My favorite travel photography site is TrekEarth, which has gorgeous photos arranged by geographic location. Google maps also lets you turn on geotagged photos, which can give a nice idea of local attractions; simply doing an image search on Google for the place name can be a good start as well. I’ll also take a look at stock agencies like Travel-Photos.com to see how other stock shooters have interpreted the place, and look for what sort of images seem to be missing.
Finally, I’ll take a look at local talent on Model Mayhem. Local models willing to do a location shoot can give life and fire to a site, and incidentally also know where to go get a good pint once the shoot is over. I’ve made long term friends with a lot of the models I’ve worked with on trade shoots (meaning they give me a model release to sell the images, and I give them good pictures for their portfolio). If I can’t get any local models, I’ll usually either make my husband pose or see if I can find some other locals – Couchsurfing members are sometimes willing.
Anyway, that’s my research process and I hope others find it useful! Please do post any suggestions for other sites you’ve found useful, or other research ideas, in the comments section.