The internet has put a near-infinite amount of information at our fingertips, which should have made travel planning easier. But instead, I actually find it extremely difficult to use the Internet for travel planning. Sure if I know exactly where I’m going and what I’ll be doing — say, for a business trip — the web is great.
But right now I’m sitting here planning a trip to Paris and the Internet is not nearly as helpful as it ought to be. Because I’ve been to Paris a few times before, I want to find hidden gems (such as they may be in well-traveled Paris). I want to find things that appeal to my particular interests. And I want to find things that I don’t necessarily already know about.
It’s the combination of specific interests but open ended plans that makes basic Internet searches pretty much useless.
I think the problem is that there’s actually a deceptively steep learning curve when it comes to finding niche information on the internet. The information is out there, in other words, but figuring out how to sort through it takes more time than most people are able to put in.
I still have a lot to learn about harnessing all of this information, but I’ve put in some time and learned a few lessons along the way:
1. Find media with an editorial voice that fits your travel philosophy.
Every publication caters to a slightly different audience: National Geographic is different from Conde Nast Traveler is different from the New York Times travel section. In general, I read everything I can, but when I’m looking for specific tips I might actually use, I have to narrow the search.
In my case, I probably fall somewhere in the middle of a spectrum that has BuzzFeed (where I work) on one end and Vice on the other. More than anything else, I really understand the attitude of these two publications, so when I find an article I know how much I trust it and how likely it is to have useful information. And as a result, I found a couple of good articles that have a handful of useful suggestions.
2. Find forums that are specific, searchable, and where like-minded travelers come to share tips.
Online forums can be a mixed bag. I recently checked Trip Advisor’s forums on France, for example, and found “224,689 topics” with few options to sort or refine the search. How is anyone supposed find anything in that mess?
That’s a particularly egregious example, but a lot of forums have the same problem: too much information, and too many people sharing tips that don’t fit whatever travel sensibility you’ve chosen. It’s chaos that really only helps the most novice of travelers.
Conversely, I find the Rick Steves travel forums to be fairly useful; they have decent search options and, more importantly, Steves has a clear “back door” philosophy that trickles down into the conversation. I also check the travel conservation on Reddit when planning trips.
Those forums may not work for you, but there’s probably a place out there that will. The point is that searching for smaller, niche forums will probably be more fruitful than settling for big, generalist websites.
3. Ask respected travelers — including professionals — for advice online.
Facebook is a great place to ask for travel advice, and I routinely toss questions out to the crowd. On the other hand, it can be less than productive: if you ask for Paris tips you’re sure to get someone telling you to check out the Eiffel Tower. Which is to say, if you ask a general audience, you get very general “suggestions.”
A better solution is to reach out directly to people you know. For example, two of my friends are currently spending a year circumnavigating the world. They are, effectively, professional travelers, and when I plan a trip to some of the places they’ve visited I will certainly message them directly for advice.
I find that most people are happy to give out tips and are often flattered to be asked in the first place. Direct messages are you friend.
Another option is to reach out publicly to people with specific questions. Twitter is great for this kind of thing; I interact with people all the time on Twitter (usually from my personal account but sometimes from @TrippingWorld) and it’s usually a rewarding and productive experience.
— Jim Dalrymple II