The perils of online travel advice

I’ve read a few posts from other bloggers recently sharing about how awful a place was or how it was such a huge disappointment. Do travel disappointments happen? Oh yes! But often I’d say the responsibility for the disappointment is more about the traveler than the location. There is a bunch of online travel advice out there for a reason, and those of us behind giving it need to be more responsible, too, in my most humble opinion.

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Lack of Research

If you’re the type of person who visits a place with expectations, then you should be doing some advance research. One of the posts I recently read was about the Malaysian island of Langkawi. As we lived there for a month, I was curious to read what she didn’t like about it. While I can’t disagree with most of her statements, what really stood out was her expectations.

She came to the island with visions of finding beaches like she had found in Thailand. Well, you really won’t find those conditions in Langkawi. She complained about the lack of nightlife; however, if you read any posts about the island you already know that the island isn’t known for its clubbing prospects. She complained about the lack of public transportation outside the tourist zone. Umm, yeah, that issue is raised in almost every article, too.

“I had to wait for over 2 hours to get a ticket to the Eiffel Tower.” Yeah, because you went during the height of the busy season and didn’t bother to read the advice from almost everyone who has been there which is to get your tickets online.

But if you visit one of the most recognized landmarks on the entire planet during high season you really shouldn’t be surprised you had to wait in a line.

Someone else wrote about their huge disappointment with the food in the Philippines. Again, Filipino cuisine isn’t exactly known for its gastronomic experience. One does not visit the Philippines for its food.

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When we were newbies at this whole long-term travel thing, we visited Caye Caulker, Belize because some of my friends absolutely loved it there. I figured I like them, they like Caye Caulker, therefore I’ll love Caye Caulker, right?


I quickly learned that I needed to do two things: (1) only give actual consideration to travel advice from people with a similar travel style as my own, and (2) to basically have zero expectations when I travel somewhere.

Were my friends liars? Absolutely not! As much as I love them, we have different travel styles. They adored the place because it matched their style. I abhorred the place because it didn’t match mine.

Would I tell people never to go there? Absolutely not! However, I will share that for me it wasn’t a good place (*cough* Bali *cough*), and I’ll list the reasons as to why so that they can evaluate that.

I do the same thing when I give a glowing recommendation about a place. “Here’s why I think you should go there. . . “ If they don’t like similar things, then they know to discount my advice and to try to find someone who more closely matches their travel style.

It doesn’t mean my recommendation sucks. It just means it doesn’t fit their style. No harm, no foul.

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I have gone to places having very high expectations and was thoroughly disappointed. Conversely, I’ve gone somewhere with very low expectations and ended up falling in love. We went to Prague with plans to only stay 1 week (too touristic, too expensive), and we ended up staying for 2 months. We only left because we had a housesitting gig elsewhere and were running out of Schengen time. It ended up being nearly tied for my most favorite city in the world, and it’s a VERY narrow margin.

What I’ve learned is that despite all the recommendations, warnings, and advice I find online and in person, I need to go to a place with almost zero expectations. When I go somewhere being completely open to the experience, come what may, I discover I have a much richer experience. And when some place doesn’t really jive with me, I know it’s because it simply didn’t work for me. It doesn’t mean someone else won’t absolutely love it.

And as a blogger, I have to keep this in mind. I never tell someone “Don’t go there.” Instead, I share my experience with all appropriate disclaimers—“We were only there for 3 days,” “Our neighborhood was absolutely depressing which could’ve affected our experience. (Hello, Lisbon!)”

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“It’s too touristy”

Ok, many places really are quite touristy. However, I have yet to visit a place where it wasn’t easy to escape the tourist zone within usually a 5-minute walk. Paris is indeed touristy, but I’ve been to plenty parts of it that were dominated by locals. I’ve eaten in many places there where we were the only non-locals.

Also, sometimes there’s a good reason a place is touristy. If you don’t like being surrounded by tourists, travel in the off season. You’ll have far fewer of them to deal with. I’ve been to Paris in spring and winter. This year we’re going in the summer. I’m mentally preparing myself that my experience will most likely be quite different this time. Then again, I’ve already been to the heavy tourist spots so hopefully will be escape most of the throngs. But I’m prepared for that to not be the case.

I couldn’t stand the tourist throng in one particular area of Bali, but I already knew it was going to likely be packed with them. I knew the touts would be aggressive. I expected crowded beaches (although, thankfully, didn’t experience that). So, those items weren’t part of my “no thanks” position on returning there.

When you choose to go to a popular place, you really can’t complain that you’re being accompanied by hundreds or thousands of other people who had the same idea.

paris, eiffel tower, our adoption story

Blogs that are all sunshine and rainbows

It’s hard to be truly objective when you are being wined and dined. On the odd occasion I am visiting a place and receiving a comp (i.e., not having to pay in exchange for writing about or mentioning a place), I am continuously asking myself “What would I think if I had paid for this myself?” to help me keep perspective. For instance, when I recommended a hotel in Bangkok I stayed at while on a press trip, I did so only because I looked up the “rack rate” and felt that I would be willing to pay that to stay there again.

I have seen people who only write positive things, and they instantly lose credibility for me. Life is not perfect. Nothing is perfect. I make sure to include places that I adore and places I frankly despised, or was less than enamored with, because I believe it’s important to be transparent and honest.

This is also why you will find my disclaimer about not paying for something out of my own pocket at the top of one of my posts rather than hidden away at the very bottom.

I also don’t accept every offer that comes my way. I have turned down far more opportunities than I have accepted because my big question is “Will it provide value to my readers?” As well, it has to satisfy my ethical standards. In addition, I don’t typically pursue things that I wouldn’t be able to afford on my own because my message is that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. If I accept tons of stuff that would classify as high-end luxury travel, then how does that follow my mission?

Sure, I’d love to stay in a suite in a 5-star resort, but how does that prove travel doesn’t have to be expensive?

Occasionally, I will cover something that is a more high-end experience as a splurge, but they aren’t common for me because a splurge isn’t something that is “every day” either.

I also won’t accept offers for things I’m not really interested in. I’ve turned down a couple of proposals during our upcoming visit in Paris simply because I didn’t think it was all that interesting and wouldn’t be something I would want to write about.

I don’t blog “just for the freebies.”

At the same time, I think it’s easy to get jaded as a long-term traveler. We’ve been on the road for 4 years, so it’s getting harder and harder to impress me. Sure, that’s a nice beach, but so was [list 5 other countries]. I’m aware of that, though, and I try to remember that when I have less-than-stellar things to say about a place.

The perspective of someone who has been traveling full time for years is going to be different than the person who is on a 2-week holiday and/or hasn’t left their home country in a few years (if ever). I get that.

So when I have something that isn’t glowing to say, I make sure to try to account for grumpy long-term traveler syndrome. If I think it’s a possibility, I’ll mention it.

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In my opinion, only writing sunshine-and-rainbow experiences is a disservice to my readers. People don’t come to the blog just because they want to see photos of my cute child.

Travel advice shouldn’t be given as if you’re some sort of god of travel either, and it also shouldn’t be given solely on the basis of VIP treatment.

What are your thoughts?

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  1. I’m quite new to this travel blogging gig and I would like to thank writers like you for “keeping it real” as I feel honesty and integrity plays a big part of who you are especially in this field. Cheers!

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    • Absolutely! Integrity is HUGE in my opinion, and I always aim to maintain a high level of it. 😉

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  2. Interesting thoughts you raise in your post. I definitely agree with you that you should read up on a place before you go, not only because you know what to expect, but it will also make your stay richer, if you have a good background of the history, culture etc. On the other hand I find it very difficult not to go with certain expectations, especially when I have read a lot about a destination. There are reasons why I chose this one over another one. For the combed trips I think it is really really difficult to write unbiased. I find myself very willing to like things on paid trips and I know that maybe I get special attention by the staff.

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    • I try to read as little as possible about a place I’m going to, but then again I also keep my expectations VERY low. I’ve found that works best for me as it helps me be more open to experiences. When I’ve researched too much or have high expectations, I find myself constantly comparing things to what I read instead of just being present to the moment. I’m also not a big planner, so that helps.

      For comped stuff, one definitely has to remain focused on not getting lost in the VIP treatment so they can be more objective.

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  3. Bang on advice!
    I try not to have high expectations of a place. Luckily I have many many well travelled friends who all know me and my preferred style – so when I ask them if I’d like it, they’ll be honest with me.
    I tend to avoid popular spots anyway (recent exception was Granada, Spain, which I loved).
    For me it’s all about the food… and that’s probably the things I do the most research on before jetting off. One exception was an Indian restaurant that I was very much looking forward to visiting. It was dire – yet to hear the Tripadvisor curry lovers talk, you’d think it was the best outside of India x

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    • I’m always amazed when I find so many glowing recommendations for a restaurant yet find their food abysmal. I have to wonder if the people were drunk when they went there.

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  4. You’re right on the mark. How we end up feeling about an attraction, a restaurant, a city, a country, etc. is so subjective. One person’s hell is another person’s nirvana.

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    • And there is so much that can affect it, too. When we first went to Bangkok, I really didn’t like it that much. Part of it was a string of bad experiences with the taxi drivers. When we came back, we had a much better experience, and I found that I ended up enjoying Bangkok. So much can color a visit either way.

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  5. Thank you Talon you have made me feel a lot better about our last few posts. We try and be honest but sometimes I thomk people want it to be all sunshine and roses.
    I do agree withnthe expectation thing too, i try not to do too micj research as want to experience things for myself but maybe that is to my detriment

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    • Personally, I don’t feel it’s much of a detriment. I hardly do any research at all, and I find it helps me have a better experience. Then again, I also don’t get bent out of shape when a popular place feels touristy. 😉

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  6. Thank you Talon you have made me feel a lot better about our last few posts. We try and be honest but sometimes I thomk people want it to be all sunshine and roses.
    I do agree withnthe expectation thing too, i try not to do too micj research as want to experience things for myself but maybe that is to my detriment

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  7. Thank you SO much for this post! This is a big reason why I don’t follow many of the top travel blogs, because I know that many of their posts are written through rose-colored glasses. A big part of the reviews I write are whether something is a good value. If I got a hotel room at an awesome deal then my expectations aren’t as high than if I had to pay premium price for it. I think that’s just human nature though 🙂

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    • It sure is. It’s much easier to adore something when you didn’t have to pay directly for it. So I keep that in the forefront when I’m evaluating something. After the absolutely amazing brunch we had, the first thing I did was find out what it costs. It was pricey, but in all honesty it’s something I would definitely save up for so I could enjoy it again. It was just too darn good. But I’ve definitely been to things that I enjoyed but wouldn’t have felt so rosy about if I had paid the full price for admission, so I write accordingly.

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