I typically travel to the same places these days for work however; occasionally there is a new city to explore. I have an evolving system of getting a feel for a place before arriving through pre-trip research.
These days it involves a series of websites saved as favourites and a couple of other routines:
* Develop a currency conversion system - normally for a few different scales - 1, 10, 100, and 1000. You can write this on a piece of paper and keep it on you but it does not take muck to memorise Currency converter
* Reading other travels experiences from real travellers rather than picture perfect travel books. All too often, you hear the answer to "how was it" as "not what the travel brochure showed". This site often has top 10 things to do versions that give good ideas to plan days to Virtual Tourist
* Visiting a library to checkout any coffee table books or travel books
* Visiting Wikipedia provides a good synopsis of the history, climate, industries, culture and people Wikipedia
* Virtual roaming is the best way to get a feel for the environment on Google Earth. If there is topography it helps to see obvious sunrise and sunset sites Google Earth site
* Finding out what azimuth the sun will be at and what the sun set and sun rise times can be found at the following site. Azimuth, sunset, sunrise times
* Find out what the weather is likely to be like - min/max/average temp, number of wet days for the month, long term forecast, wind
* Local customs and if people allow you to photography them or not. I normally Google this to come up with an understanding over the basics in Wiki. Other traveller accounts from Virtual Tourist also help to paint a picture
* I also consider and plan my person security situation as the article Travel Security
* One practice that is worth developing is to check in with someone - either local or at home and establish some emergency numbers just in case
When I arrive, I try to get a perspective of possible location from the concierge and any locals that I know or might meet. It is often very very different and the locals often offer up many more interesting places than the concierge would think you are interested in. A city tour is often a good way to get a feel for the city however, if traffic is bad it can end up a long and frustrated exercise to see not much. I often do not have time for city tours.
I then plan travel options to get to the locations that I want to see after this research and ensure a safe and practical way to get around. Wherever possible I try and photograph places from different angles however that is often during return trips once I have looked at what I captured during an initial trip.
What routine do you have or what else do you research before travelling?
Many happy travels to you all