"Oooh, look, an exotic native woman!" "Buzz off."
August 2, 2009 10:55 AM   Subscribe

What are some good travel guide websites that aren't so Western-centric and don't treat other countries like exotic sights to gawk at?

I just rediscovered Matador after randomly signing up for it years ago, and while it looks really promising, it does have a really strong colonial "we are American tourists off to see the exotic isles and be really awesome Americans saving the world" vibe around it. It's something I've noticed with travel companies in Australia too - I was at STA Travel's promo for gap years and to me it felt like the rest of the world was there for their entertainment, or that they were humble foreigners trying to civilize the savages with their volunteer jobs, or something.

Being Malaysian, and being used to being made exotic, that sort of vibe never really sat right with me. I've been travelling since I was a baby, I _love_ to travel, and I love volunteering wherever I can (I was on a world tour that was part performance part community work - best time ever). But I don't click with the party-hard, white-kid-saving-the-world-by-teaching-English, befriend-other-backpackers type lifestyle that groups like Matador and STA Travel tend to espouse.

Are there any other good websites and resources for travel that have a different view on things? I'm after more how-to sort of stuff, like the best organisations doing X or the most interesting things about Y in Z country, or how to pack for a trip (as opposed to personal stories of travel). I'm 23, so something geared for youth is great, but again I'm not much of a club-hopper type. Anything that can take account of currencies that don't really translate well overseas (Europe for Really Cheap!) would be great.

posted by divabat to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Rick Steves is an American travel-show host on public TV and an author who blogs. His ethics are more about experiencing European cultures as they are rather than from the comfort of the tour bus or the hotel balcony, and though he runs quite a marketing machine, his advice is good. His whole philosophy is "Europe Through The Back Door" - meeting locals, getting off the beaten track, separating yourself from the hordes (though his own hordes - benevolent, mostly - have shown up where he's sent them; this article about the Cinque Terre in Italy explains more).

I'd also look for blogs about the Balkans and eastern Europe generally, which are cheaper and less "touched" by mass tourism overall. You can't fly Ryanair to Montenegro, and weekends in Novi Sad or Sibiu or Plovdiv aren't totally on the menu for stag parties yet. But they're waiting for the patient, motivated traveler.
posted by mdonley at 11:14 AM on August 2, 2009

I've found a lot of good information at Wikitravel. Using my city as a barometer, I found that a lot of the recommendations are for places I actually go to and which you'd be unlikely to read about in a tour book.

It's been similarly helpful for cities I didn't already know (at least in the U.S. and Europe), although you do have to be somewhat wary of people promoting their own restaurants/hotels/whatever.

OTOH, it's not totally comprehensive — for example, there's no mention of the great Bosnian cafes in south St. Louis — so I tend to use it as an adjunct to some other guidebook.
posted by tomwheeler at 11:17 AM on August 2, 2009

I like worldhum, although with any site with a large group of writers you'll get the good with the bad. you may like the writing of rolf potts and pico iyer, who both write without the kneejerk negative reactions to globalization that you see elsewhere. instead of trying to find one site with lots of resources, i'd recommend picking a place and then collecting info from a variety of places. the best travel writing can be found in newspapers, magazines, and books, not guidebooks or group blogs.
posted by acidic at 11:25 AM on August 2, 2009

I really like the site Boots N All. It's run by a bunch of Westerners (I think) but they have offices all over the world (South Africa, Bali). Most of the content is user generated, and many of those users are not from the Western countries. Their boards are a good place to start - the vibe and level of discourse reminds me of AskMe. They also host travel blogs and lots and lots of first-hand travel accounts from diverse travelers. And no, I'm not a shill, I just really like their approach.

Also, I've found Rough Guides (which has most of its dead-tree content online) to be pretty un-exploitative. They tend to address many of the realities underneath the typical romanticized crap.
posted by lunasol at 5:50 PM on August 2, 2009

For India, India Mike isn't bad. Like any site about India, it has its share of white hippies seeking enlightenment, but the community is also home to a lot of locals, NRIs and relatively clued-up travellers. I used it a few years ago and found, at least back then, that it was refreshingly low on both exotification and spoilt-westerner whinging.
posted by embrangled at 5:51 PM on August 2, 2009

i always think staying with people who live in a particular place is the best way of experiencing other countries and cultures. Although i haven`t done it myself, http://www.couchsurfing.org/ looks like an excellent way to stay with locals and potentially get entertained and see life as the locals experience it. And also it has the benefit of being a lot cheaper than most other types of accomodation.
posted by mairuzu at 2:51 AM on August 3, 2009

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