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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.


A great related travel quote, and on of our favourites:
“People don’t take trips. . .trips take people.” ~ John Steinbeck