A tip for planning a trip: don’t listen to travel planning tips

Good planningI don’t think I’ve ever met a person who doesn’t enjoy sharing their travel tips. Tell someone who spends the same week every year in the same hotel in the same English seaside town that you’re heading that way and they’ll happily spend all day telling you where you should go for a good cup of tea, which path you should take for your morning stroll and whether the local museum of collectable matchboxes is best visited in the morning or after 4pm when the crowds start to thin. Mention Thailand or New York to others and you’ll have enough ideas to last you a lifetime of visits. But just how much information from others do we need before setting off on a trip?

Information overload

In the pre-internet age searching for information on a destination we were about to visit was relatively uncomplicated. We could buy a guide book and perhaps get advice from friends who happened to have been to that part of the world. Beyond that we were left to create our own adventures that would then be shared over dinner or a pint to whoever would listen.

A good plan

Now we are spoiled for choice with people willing to help us plan our travels. If we post our travel plans on Facebook or Twitter people invariably soon chip in with their experiences and suggestions. We can read any number of blogs, watch video clips and search dozens of travel articles that provide us with an incredible amount of information about our destination.

How much does this seemingly unlimited bank of knowledge help us? Can too much information actually detract from our travel experience?

Which tips are useful?

There is no doubt that some advice is very handy. Knowing for example that a particular town has limited accommodation that all gets booked up weeks in advance is useful to know (especially a few weeks in advance of your arrival). Likewise that a ferry that is advertised as running daily is frequently cancelled due to bad weather; good to know if you’re planning your flight home on the following day.

But these are the type of hard facts that have always been found in the guidebooks (the good ones at least). What about those tips about that amazing bar that you simply must visit, or the people who tell us about the gallery of one-armed impressionist painters that is a 30 minute bus ride from the centre of town and that should be our no.1 priority? Clearly if we’re not big into art or indeed into visiting bars then such advice is going to be ignored. One person’s highlight is another person’s waste of time and money.

Making room for surprises

I’m not suggesting that we should completely ignore the mountain of advice that is available to us. A little bit of knowledge can help us get around more easily and can save us time and money. Sometimes another person’s tastes happen to be a close match to our own and a recommendation instantly appeals. But as our ability increases to meticulously plan every detail of a trip, perhaps we should take a step back and consider just how much room we are leaving for spontaneity and serendipity. After all if we think back on our own travel highlights, for most of us these will be made up of those encounters and discoveries that nobody told us about and that we had never expected before we set off.

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Freelance travel writer

4 Responses to “A tip for planning a trip: don’t listen to travel planning tips”

  1. An awful lot depends on who the person is and how well they know you. For example, I would never follow up any of my mother’s travel tips because she likes completely different things (and always orders the same thing in a restaurant, whilst saying how good it is even if it’s incredibly mediocre).

    Someone more discerning, then maybe I’ll follow up on it…

    A lot of people mistake somewhere good with somewhere they’ve been.

    August 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm
  2. I have been known to over “investigate” travel destinations to the point of getting contradicting information about the same topic or site! I have been finding lately though that I have not had the time to research places so have largely gone ahead travelling around working it out for ourselves.

    The only problem with this is that you can miss out some golden opportunities that someone may have posted in some minor little forum or blog. It is a tough call but I do prefer visiting destinations that have been less travelled in the past and therefore less people hopefully know about it.

    Trying to filter out the information is the key.

    August 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm
  3. Some tips can be useful, others less so. For example, TripAdvisor is one of the largest source of travel advice on the internet, but they have been slammed with allegations of hotel owners trying to game the system by posting fake reviews or bribing guests to post good reviews. I guess the question is how to filter out useful vs. rubbish advice.

    August 23, 2011 at 1:47 am
  4. I find tips are always useful to gain a general feel of a place or area but when I’m travelling personally I prefer to find out for myself as one persons bad experience can be another ones joy.

    August 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm