¨For the born traveller, travelling is a besetting vice. Like other vices, it is imperious, demanding its victim’s time, money, energy and the sacrifice of comfort.¨
Online Traveler Comments
Much of the travel advice online today comes from readers’ comments and evaluations. The largest travel website in the world is Trip Advisor which features only readers’ comments. Many of the most popular travel booking websites rely on comments to help determine which businesses to feature.
While sometimes these comments and assessments are useful, they can be destructive and one-sided. A couple of bad reviews can ruin otherwise great businesses. Also, human beings, by nature, post comments only when they are extremely pleased or critical.
Businesses also game reviews. Many companies deliberately solicit positive reviews. As a result, I am suspicious when all the reviews are positive. Nothing is ever perfect.
Moreover, companies like Uber and Airbnb, have convinced people that every score must have a five-stars or it is a bad. As a result, the ratings on these sites have become questionably reliable.
All this aside, I use reviews frequently. I particularly consult reviews after I have heard positive, word of mouth comments about an experience. The readers’ reviews help provide a balanced view.
I also use readers’ comments to help determine if a tour is overly strenuous. Most company website do not have reliable assessments if a tour is difficult or not.
That said, I deliberately do not read reader comments most of the time. I prefer not to have any preconceived notions. Often I am disappointed if I read too many positive comments beforehand.
Until recently, guidebook sales declined significantly. Many people believe that guidebooks are no longer necessary with so much free online advice.
However, guidebooks are still the most useful source of travel information and advice. I am amazed at the quality and quantity of information contained in guidebooks. When I lived in Kaliningrad, Russia, even long-term residents were amazed by the places I found in the Lonely Planet guidebook.
Often people ask me how I found so many unique tours, classes, etc. My reply all you have to do is use a good guidebook.
Guidebooks admittedly can be daunting. Lonely Planet’s country guides, for example, often contain almost 1000 pages of information, in relatively small type.
Therefore, I’ve developed the following suggestions to help you use guidebooks effectively:
General Rules for Using Guidebooks
- If you don’t know where you want to travel next, purchase used guidebooks to every place you would like to visit.
- In my opinion, the most useful parts of guidebooks discuss sightseeing tours, classes, activities, history, culture, geography, and climate. Guidebooks also have thorough bibliographies.
- The quality of guidebooks within a series can vary a lot between editions.
- Pay attention to guidebooks’ advice about local tour companies. Usually, the guidebooks list only established tour companies with an excellent reputation.
- The AAA (Automobile Association of America) has excellent free or low cost guidebooks and maps throughout the US. (You must be a member to access these guides and maps). I particularly like their hotel and sightseeing suggestions. Their overseas guides are less useful.
Getting Timely Advice from Guidebooks
- Typically, most of the information in guidebooks is at least one year old. (Even if the guidebook is new or on Kindle). In many parts of the world, one year can make a big difference. In a year, many places profiled in the guidebooks have either:
- Gone out of business;
- Become overrun with tourists; or
- Filled with many new businesses. (Particularly true in rapidly developing places like China and Southeast Asia).
- A year can also make the price information obsolete. When I went to Argentina in 2003, every guidebook said that Argentina was the most expensive Latin America country. However, with the currency crisis in 2002, Argentina was the cheapest place I visited in my life.
- If the guidebook has too much outdated advice, supplement your research. Since little useful new resources exist, I rely on books written ten to twenty five years ago for most information about learning and volunteer vacations. Then, I find up-to-date information through Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet’s Thorn-Tree, and other relevant blogs and websites.