Five Recommendations When Doing Travel Research

18 Sep

There’s a lot of potential advice someone could give to someone doing travel research. “Go to place x, Don’t go to play y!” or “Place x is overrated, place y is better”. As travelers, we often think our opinions are right. We often get a confirmation bias from hearing others who had the same thoughts as we did about a certain place to visit, and this reinforces our travel preferences, even if we realize that many other people we talked to had a completely different opinion. I know I’m not the only traveler who has made this mistake. The important thing is to be aware of it and to apply this awareness to research. Here are five things I think travelers should do when doing travel research, in order to get a variety of points of view and form an educated decision on where to go.

1) Talk to lots of other travelers and the locals, but take EVERY person’s recommendations with a grain of salt

Many new travelers look up to experienced travel writers and get only advice from them, and act as if their preferences are supposed to be the same as those of the more experienced traveler. They understand the basics of travel, but assume that because one tourist says a place isn’t worth visiting, that it won’t be worth visiting for them either. I’ve also talked to a lot of people who think that if they meet one local from their destination who says a major sight is overrated, it’s completely unworthy of visiting. By making this assumption after talking to one local person, the person is falsely and offensively assuming that every local has the same preferences, and also assuming that locals should see a country through the same lens as a traveler.

For example, I knew a Russian girl in my High School who told me I shouldn’t go to Russia because of its social and economic problems, and that life in the US was better. She was probably right from her own perspective, but because she’d been raised in Russia, she didn’t see Russia through the same lens a backpacker did. For me, it didn’t make it unworthy as a destination though. St Petersburg and Moscow are two of my favorite cities in the world. If I’d only gotten advice from her though, I may have completely been turned off of visiting Russia.

The bottom line is that everyone should get travel advice from a variety of people, both locals and tourists, no matter what the first people they talk to say

2) Use a variety of online and print sources

Online sources, like in the world of writing academic essays, have advantages for travelers. The articles are more easily kept up-to-date, and there are online communities too, which can have a variety of helpful voices about each destination.

But the good old paper book is in no way outdated for a traveler. A paper book cannot run out of battery, or make you stand out as a wealthy person who can afford the latest technology. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides Books are frequently updated in each edition and a great investment for any traveler.

3) Learn the historical context of the sights you visit

The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful sight in of itself, but before it was built, locals didn’t predict it would be appreciated that way. The historical context of any major sight, from Machu Picchu to the Louvre is fascinating to read about if you have the right attitude. There are many places online where you can read about the history of tourist sights, or you can watch art history Youtube videos on Khan Academy.

Another good use of historical context is to make less immediately spectacular sights more interesting. A small old church in the middle of rural England may not be the Roman Forum, but if you read about why it’s there, the history of it, and the influences on its architecture, it can be made to be almost as interesting.

4) Keep up-to-date

Look at the US or UK state department website, especially if you are going to a poor country. Go on forums frequently. Is there a protest going on? stay away from where it is. Is there an election going on? stay away from the country if it has a history of unstable elections. While the state department travel advisory page has a political agenda, and its descriptions of frequent crime in some countries should be taken with a grain of salt, there’s no doubt that it’s an important resource for at traveler.

5) Keep in mind that even small trivial matters can be different in a foreign country

I remember one time when I got on a city bus in Kyoto, Japan, and became very confused as to why people were piling in at the back of the bus and paying at the exit on their way out. I thought it would just be a city bus that was the same as anywhere else, but I didn’t know what was going on. Being unaware of small differences like that in transportation can really make you stand out as a dumb tourist, and make you more of a target. Bottom line is : if you don’t think you need to research little things, you haven’t done enough research!

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