“Publishers are notoriously slothful about numbers unless they’re attached to dollar signs – unlike journalists, quarterbacks, and felony criminal defendants who tend to be keenly aware of numbers at all times.”
Travel Information: Twenty Years Ago Versus Today
In the last twenty years, the nature of travel advice has changed dramatically. Previously most travel advice came from books backed by careful editing and research. Today, many, if not most, travelers review online comments, podcasts, social media, Youtube, and travel websites to plan their trips.
Twenty years ago, social media was in its infancy, and travel blogs were much less common than today. Many of the ¨go-to¨ websites that I regularly consult today, like Nomadic Matt and Johnny Jet, did not exist. In addition, podcasts and YouTube provide some excellent travel information that wasn’t widely available.
Until recently, I bemoaned this transition because I can’t find many of the resources I used in the past anymore. Twenty years ago, many books contained thorough lists and evaluations of travel experiences like volunteer tourism, learning vacations, and even staying in monasteries and ashrams. In addition, Lonely Planet is no longer as independent, up-to-date, or relevant as it used to be. Moreover, there used to be guidebooks for many types of travelers (culture vultures, photo enthusiasts, adventurers, and travelers from varying economic backgrounds) which no longer exist.
Now that these guides are gone, I hope my website can help fill that void.
Travel Information Today
As I read more blogs and went to travel blogger conferences, I questioned whether the transition was good or bad. I am still not sure.
I am only sure that there is a lot more travel information out there than in the past. The quality of this information is more inconsistent than in the past because it is not written or edited by professionals. However, when the information is well-done, it is exceptional and low cost. When it is bad, it is a waste of time.
The following is a list of the pros and cons of the current state of travel information:
- Blogs exist that cover hundreds of different communities of travelers, everything from the disabled to travelers with pets to foodies.
- Many of the blogs are developed by hobbyists who just went to start a conversation with other enthusiasts in their community.
- You can find more up-to-date information and opinions on blogs than books, especially if you carefully check to the post’s dates.
- The blog comments often add useful perspectives to the posts. Now that bloggers can edit their comments, the days of blog slugfests are numbered.
- You can ask specific questions and get useful responses, especially on social media.
- Podcasts allow presenters enough time to explore travel issues in-depth. They also allow the listener the opportunity to hear the same issues explored from different perspectives. They also usually do not have sponsors who can influence their opinions.
- Youtube videos allow you to feel the ambiance of a place in a powerful way if they are well done. There are also some YouTubers who are very good at concisely and meaningfully present their perspectives on a travel-related topic.
- There are several places you can find recommendations for the best blogs so you don’t have to waste your time searching through bad blogs including Nomadic Matt, Sabbatical Guide,, Claim Compass, and Expert Vagabond.
- Some of the best guidebooks like Rick Steves still exist and are still worthwhile sources of information
Blogs, YouTube videos, and are often:
- Forums to promote other companies’ product (this is how many bloggers pay for their travel. I paid for all my travels out of my own pocket and indtend to continue to do so in the future). Many of these companies (like travel insurance companies and airline and hotel search engines) can subtly influence the bloggers’ advice.
- Too short and superficial. Some blogs post awe-inspiring photos accompanied by skimpy information. I even went to a travel bloggers conference where a couple of women seemed to think that posting pictures of themselves scantily clad on beautiful beaches around the world constituted travel advice.
- Written by people without a lot of experience traveling.
- Poorly edited and filled with ads.
- Repetitive. You will see the same post in many different places.
Often when I taught my Big Blue Marble travel seminars in the 2000s, students used to ask me how I found so many unique tours, classes, etc. My reply was all you have to do is use a good guidebook. Unfortunately, while guidebooks are often the best information source, particularly for off-the-beaten-path destinations, they aren’t as unbiased and comprehensive as before. Yet, I still think they should be part of a Fifty Plus Nomad’s information arsenal.
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.
- 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.
Online Traveler Comments
Much of the travel advice online today comes from readers’ comments and evaluations. Many of the most popular travel booking websites rely on comments to help determine which businesses to feature. The largest travel website in the world is Trip Advisor, which features only readers’ comments.
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-star or 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 websites 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.
What Do You Think?
I would love to hear readers’ comments on this topic as long as they are pertinent and respectful. The internet is so big that it may be that I am missing something.
Some Additional Travel Information Related Posts
- Travel Information: Is it Better or Worse Than in the Past?When I developed my Big Blue Marble travel seminars in the 2000s, I was astonished by the quality of travel information available. Nowadays, sadly these resources are not available. I have developed this website in part to fill this void. Thankfully, podcasts, high quality blogs, and Youtube keep getting better and better. It is just harder to find them than it used to be.
- 24 Top Food Tips for TravelersDiscover tons of tips for finding authentic food while traveling. Learn about some of my favorite dishes and drinks.
- Rick Steves Is AwesomeRick Steves has perhaps helped make European travel a reality for more Americans than probably anyone else. I admire and refer to him frequently. However, his audience is very specific. Many Fifty-Plus Nomads do not share the same attributes as Rick Steves’ audience.
- Top Twelve Travel Advice Websites, Podcasts, and GuidebooksHere is a list of Paul Heller’s top twelve travel-related websites, podcasts, and guidebooks.
- My Favorite 50+ Top Travel MemoirsThis is a list of Paul Heller’s, the Founder of Fifty-Plus Nomad, top 50 travel memoirs.