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The Limitations of TripAdvisor and Guidebooks

You are planning a trip to a new destination. The flight is booked. Now you are really getting excited. Because it is so new to you that you know nothing about it other than that you can’t wait to go there and experience all that it has to offer.

So that gets you thinking. You better organize everything in advance so that you can make the best of your time there, right? That’s the automatic instinct, to get organized. So as the excitement of the trip builds, you start researching. You run to a bookstore and pick up a guidebook; you Google reviews of the hotels and restaurants; you scour TripAdvisor to see what other travellers have said. Then you start planning everything from where you’ll eat to what you’ll visit during the day and where you’ll sleep, all based on what other travellers have said.

And then, before you know it, your trip is all planned. You have a full schedule to follow. Because you’ve pieced together all that you are going to do based on what others have told you to do via aggregated average ratings on generic travel websites.

But wait a second. Do you want your trip to be just average or generic? Wasn’t the purpose of that “research” to help you enjoy your destination to the fullest?

Yet, now you’ll be arriving to your destination full of expectations. And you’ll be basing everything you do on what you’ve been told to do by the masses. Your trip now fits nicely into a rather generic box.

What about your unique, personal experience of the place? What about living and experiencing a place in the moment? What happened to experiencing YOUR trip?

It’s all lost to the likes of TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet.

You’re about to go on a trip built by others, essentially for others. How can it possibly be a trip for you when you’re the last person to weigh in with an opinion?

And, as if that isn’t sad enough, when one simply follows TripAdvisor and guidebooks — comparing places on a broader, international review spectrum with average, international standards — the importance of local customs and character gets neglected.

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If you want to fully experience a place, shouldn’t the local culture be the primary focus? Isn’t that where you’ll discover local charm and character to its fullest? These hotels and restaurants may not be complete with all the luxurious, modern bells and whistles that you can find at the Hilton but they will best represent the local style. (Let’s face it, locals in Paris do not all have views off of their balconies of the Eiffel Tower nor does everyone in Santorini, Greece have a pool and a bedroom view of the caldera).

So while you could certainly travel based on what an average group of travellers has ranked as the so-called “best,” why would you want to restrict your experience by placing it within such a limiting box? And how many of those review writers arrived to the place with any true awareness of what is reasonable to expect in that destination anyway? What is reasonable to expect in Slovenia and Croatia, for instance, is far different than what can be expected in Guatemala or Nicaragua.

Instead of searching for other people’s reviews online and in guidebooks, why not spend that time researching local customs and culture? That seems like far better use of one’s time in preparing to make the most of your experience.

It’s your trip, after all. Embrace it. If you are going to surrender to anything, surrender to being in the moment. Make every single moment of it your own.

Encountering Ancient Cultures on Trips

Interacting with locals is essential to truly experiencing any destination.  And most people realize that, I think.  Especially those within the adventure travel sphere.

However, beyond simply interacting, it is also just as important to respect local traditions and knowledge. That, too, may seem common sense. Yet, it can be rather surprising how many people still take this point for granted when travelling. But when we truly keep our minds and eyes open, we see evidence of thriving ancient traditions all around us. So many cultures in this world have extraordinarily beautifully ancient cultures and traditions. Generally, the less exposure to European colonization a culture has — such as, say, Nepal or Laos — the more prevalent these ancient customs.

For many of us, experiencing these vibrant cultures is what drives us to travel, to see the world… And the deeper off the beaten track we go, the more authentic our experiences. 

So, how can we make the most of these cultural interactions?

In many of these cultures, we will also have the privilege of meeting wise elders. These elders have varying names from one culture to another. In Cambodia or Vietnam, we may encounter them as Monks. In India, we may encounter them as Hindu Priests. Or, in Ecuador or Peru, we may encounter them as Shaman. No matter what their official names, these wise men or women are the purveyors of ancient traditions and wisdom and, generally, in their day to day lives, they embody a set of principles and practices based on this wisdom. As a result, they are very highly respected within their communities. So, it is important that we also remember to bestow the same level of respect upon them as would locals.

Nepal_blogThe more respect we show to these elders, the greater a connection we can develop with them as well. I’ve seen the most serious looking elders absolutely light up and smile ear to ear upon my simply expressing appreciation for their culture. After all, we must remember that for these elders, little is more important to them than having their ancient wisdom and traditions respected, by anyone and everyone, as part of their community’s historic and cultural legacy. So, showing our appreciation of the value of such traditions, even as a foreigner, really deepens our connection with them.

Finally, when we have the good fortune of witnessing a sacred traditional ceremony, or when we are lucky to be invited to participate in one, it is best to jump in and embrace it — all while realizing that in these places, it is hardly a “tourist spectacle”

When to Book Travel In Advance

Peru-Machu-PicchuEveryone love a deal, especially when it comes to travel. One of the most commonly used methods of getting discounts is waiting for last minute deals. Unfortunately, waiting too long is often a risky move, especially in the following situations.

If your vacation dates are set in stone, waiting for last minute deals may not result in anything during your window of availability.

In some situations, only a limited number of travellers are permitted to enter certain sites or partake in special experiences. The Inca Trail only allows 500 people to start the hike per day, with around 300 of those permits going to guides and porters.

By waiting for last minute deals in destinations that require a plane ride and not having already booked your ticket, you may find flights sold out, or at least, more expensive the closer to departure you get.

When planning to do a lot of activities on a trip, especially ones that may prove to be challenging, booking last minute doesn’t allow proper training, and may result in a poorer experience than if you had trained before the trip.

For anyone still looking to get a deal on travel, keeping an eye out for early bird discounts may prove to be the wiser choice.

What is Experiential Travel

Morocco-ScarvesIt seems that these days you can’t read an article about travel trends without coming across the terms authentic and local experiential or immersion travel. Everything about travel right now is about experiences, which is baffling. What’s baffling is that it comes as news that travel is about experiences.

The idea behind experiential travel is that travellers are not just tourists, but instead immerse themselves into the culture, history and lives of the people in any particular destination. They can do this by staying in locally owned and operated accommodations, eating at restaurants frequented by the locals, having local guides, attending a regional festival and more.

Because there is so much attention on local immersion travel, just about every company around is trying to figure out how they can take a slice out of the pie. This is great news for travellers, as long as the company isn’t all talk and no action. Having provided local travel experiences since we started 20 years ago, we have been told time and again how much our guests love real, non-fabricated experiences over made-for-tourist ones.

Vietnam-Homestay-Meal2The question now becomes what is authentic and real? For example, do luxury accommodations or gourmet meals mean something is not genuine? Do you have to rough it or eat simple meals for an experience to be authentic? So far, this seems to be a matter of personal opinion, which makes it very important to confirm that any company you are considering has the same definition of authentic as you do.

Sound off below with what you believe is authentic, experiential travel.

A Revealing Photo Tour of Panama

There has been a lot of attention on Panama this year with the 100th Anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. While most travellers to Panama don’t venture very far from Panama City and the Canal, there is so much more to the country than the engineering marvel.

The following is a brief photo tour of Panama capturing some of the different elements that you can find around the country.

Panama Canal

Panama-Canal

Wildlife

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Food

Panama-Food

Historical Forts

Panama-Fort

Locals

Panama-Locals

Beaches

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