At a concierge recommended festival in Montreal. How do you make great discoveries without falling into the traps?

There’s nothing more exciting than arriving at a new destination. Whether you’re a planner or a spontaneous traveler, chances are you want a combination of a great deal and a great find. I love discovering the proverbial hidden gem, like the romantic Italian restaurant tucked away on a tiny alley, the spectacular pizza from a place that likely didn’t pass the first three health inspector visits, or the chic French bistro where the staff tries so hard to be snobby but in reality they remember you on every visit. I always know what I want – the problem is how to find it (and not break the bank!)

Hotel concierges can be a lifesaver. But take their advice with a grain of salt. No one else can compete with their knowledge of everything new and hip, as well as old and sophisticated. But the concierge desk can be a bit of a catch 22: they might steer you towards specific restaurants, clubs, and galleries that offer them financial kickbacks. Work hard to develop a good relationship with the concierge at your favourite hotel. Tip them well when you have a great night, and give honest feedback when things don’t meet your expectations.

If you’re looking for something more budget friendly, ask the valet parking guys, the bus boys, the airport bus drivers, and the housekeepers for a recommendation. Be specific. No one will give their best tips if you just ask them for a “good bar”. Instead ask about their favourite deli for good rye bread, a cheap Chinese takeaway with killer eggrolls, which pizza shop does the best Hawaiian pie, or a good park to let the kids run free. Chances are they can’t resist bragging about their favourite haunts. Tip generously – these are the kind of precious tips that make or break a trip.

A twitter tip connected me with Simply Cupcakes in Traverse City, Michigan - and they were celebrating their 3rd anniversary by giving away mini cakes!
A twitter tip connected me with Simply Cupcakes in Traverse City, Michigan – and they were celebrating their 3rd anniversary by giving away mini cakes!

Don’t be afraid to crowd source your travel plans. Blogs and social media can offer a wealth of information on budget friendly culinary delights, as well as museums and attractions that receive little coverage. Read a few of the blogger’s articles to get a sense of their taste. Chances are if you can relate to their travel style and you like their writing style, you’ll be able to pick up a few great tips.

Finally – to use review sites or not to review sites? That is the big budget travel question! On the plus side, review sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp can be very helpful in answering specific questions. Did a majority of people like the vegetarian menu? Which café has the best gluten free selections? Is the art gallery easily accessible for wheelchairs? On the negative side is the fact that many reviews contain rants that are overly enthusiastic or angry and can be short on valuable information. I tend to use review sites as a second opinion but not my primary source of information.