Posted by: sforshner | May 1, 2008

virtual travel guides

What is funny about what I am about to write, is that the inspiration of this post came from an article I read in a real life magazine, one made of paper that I could hold. I flipped pages with my hands to get to the end of the story.

Wayne Curtis wrote in the May issue of the Atlantic about an experience he had in Seattle.

To travel these days is to plunge into an information cloud that, like a real cloud, can look more substantial than it really is. Booking travel online was among the first popular applications of the Web, to the great annoyance of travel agents. Now, with Web 2.0 and the ubiquity of user-generated information, someone setting off on a trip can dredge up all manner of suggestions and insider tips online, to the great annoyance of professional travel writers. Travel bees everywhere, it seems, are gathering nectar and bringing it back to the hive.

So he did an experiment on his trip – he relied solely on user-generated information, online. Leaving the guidebooks at home and ignoring the racks of tourist brochures in hotel lobbies, he used advice only from sources like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Chowhound, Wikitravel, and other online travel communities.

I thought it was an interesting endeavor, especially since user generated information is overtaking most realms. And a great point was brought up – the biggest downside of Travel 2.0 is the surfeit of information—how do you sort through all this detail and random advice.

There does seem to be a lot. But I guess at the end of the day, there is a lot to sort through anyway when you’re traveling. As packaged up and organized as a guidebook is, I tend to feel compelled to visit places recommended by a published book even though they can end up being lame. Who knows…



  1. Thank you for this post.

  2. The question is if we need travel guides in 2008, when we have fellow travelers on-line that are more up to date than a book who was edited 2 years ago. In the case of backpacker places, not once I have found myself following the recommendation of “Lonely Planet” just to find out that the place has lost its reputation longtime ago. With TripAdvisor, WAYN and , one can find very easily up to date recommendations, travel mates and all the travel info one’s need to get oriented while traveling .

    Travel guides need to adjust to the new era, minimize their books size and be more up to date if they want to survive the travel 2.0 era.

  3. That’s a good point, they will definitely need to adjust, especially considering the fact that this travel 2.0 era includes the ability to access almost any information at drop of a hat from a mobile phone.

  4. Confession: When researching for articles or guidebooks I’m working on, I often start with all of those sites you mentioned for recommendations of places worth checking out. That, and by hitting up locals on CouchSurfing for advice. Because honestly? The majority of travel writers are writing about places they’re passing through, not always places they live in, so it’s really hard to find the best of a city/state/country in a mere few days (or in some cases hours). I find that a local perspective is often the greatest research tool out there.

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