Before you take off on your vacation, it can be extremely helpful to take a trip on the information superhighway. That’s because the Internet can provide a wealth of information on travel destinations, with much of it coming from travelers just like you.
For example, user-review sites – such as TripAdvisor and Yelp! – have become an enormously useful tool for evaluating hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and the like. In the years that these entities have been in business, the aggregate of the data they’ve collected has worked to provide an increasingly accurate portrayal of overall quality. An establishment with only a few reviews is likely to be new, and those first few reviews could paint an unreliable picture. Regardless, when browsing user reviews, you should still follow a few practices:
- Read between the lines. When you see a review that grabs your attention, ask yourself if this is someone whose tastes mimic your own. Beyond the actual rating, see what the user actually wrote. Does he/she focus on matters that are important to you? Click on the user’s name and skim through other reviews he or she has written. Are they all viciously negative? Or giddily positive? Is his entire review of a Korean restaurant based upon how wonderful their kimchi is… and you hate kimchi? If you have reason to question the reviewer’s objectivity, keep looking until you find more useful information.
- Always see how recent the post was. Establishments are quick to change, move or close.
- Always look at photos posted by users; you may find them more telling than words could ever hope to be.
You can also utilize user-powered sites to get answers to some of your travel questions. Forums like those on TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, Frommer’s and LonelyPlanet all handle destination advice well. But bear in mind that different sites attract different kinds of traveler; Fodor’s tends to have an older, more affluent user base, while the typical LonelyPlanet fan is younger and more likely to place a higher priority on savings. You can find forums specific to cruising (CruiseCritic), air travel (FlyerTalk), restaurants (Chowhound, Roadfood) and more.
Given the option, most travelers would get a “local” to show them around, so they can get a feel for the city the way that a resident would approach it. Fact is, you can do just that, before you even set off on your trip. There are thousands of virtual tour guides out there – but you likely know them better as “bloggers.” Virtually every city has bloggers who are obsessed with what’s new and great in their backyard, particularly in regard to restaurants. You can use Google Blog Search to find bloggers in whatever city you’re visiting. They’re a phenomenal resource, but don’t just read what they’re writing: Contact them for personal recommendations. Most bloggers publish their email address or another means of contacting them. The more specific your request – and the more you flatter them for their insight and wit – the more likely you’ll be to pique their interest and get a response. (Note: If you’re going to butter up a blogger, be sure you know what you’re talking about. Read more than just one or two of their posts before making contact.)
Finally, social media can be an exceptionally effective way to get information. Putting a message out on Facebook or Twitter, for example – such as “Can anybody recommend a good breakfast place in Kelowna?” – is bound to pick up some traction among those in the know. Because even if you don’t know anyone who lives in, or has been to, the city in question, the connectivity of the Internet means that one of your friends probably does. Facebook, especially, allows you to take a cursory look through your friends’ friends, so it becomes easier to find someone who’s geographically relevant. You can also do a search using the name of your destination and you’ll find groups dedicated to discussing the local goings-on. Or tweet out something with the appropriate hashtag (#) and you’re likely to get some useful responses, 140 characters at a time.
And don’t forget: If you’re looking to travel to any of our 40+ terrific destinations, you can always use technology to get more information – simply by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.