How do you research travel?
August 19, 2019 2:33 PM   Subscribe

What are your go-to guides for tourist info? How do you educate yourself on what you want to do at night in a new continent? (assuming you aren't visiting to meet a local friend.)
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I join the TripAdvisor forum for that specific location, a few months ahead and keep an eye on the conversations. This is great because you can ask recommendations from others. The forums might be active or dead, based on the location.
posted by WizKid at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use Rough Guides for fast and accurate advice. Usually their guides are on the button.

TripAdvisor is okay for accommodation and attractions recommendations but can be wildly inaccurate for eating and drinking out recommendations. Because, in most places, the locals themselves do NOT "advise" on TripAdvisor reviews - only the tourists do. Therefore, you will end up in a tourist trap bar or restaurant wondering where all the locals are...

Local threads on Reddit can give you a great overview on a destination e.g.
posted by jacobean at 3:59 PM on August 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

For food recommendations I go to Chowhound and search for recent threads about that location. Chowhound is generally a bit biased towards more expensive places but it usually won't steer you to the outright tourist traps (that is to say, there may or may not be lots of other tourists there, since other tourists have access to the internet too, but at least the food will be good).

I try to find blogs by locals in the area reviewing restaurants etc. Google translate can be really useful here.

I use TripAdvisor as above for attractions, but also usually reference a print guidebook. I produce a Google map that I'll download for offline access with the attractions marked. Then I search for restaurant options in the areas around the attractions I want to visit - Google maps is good for preliminary research but then I rely on the sources above. I mark these on the map too to give me flexible options.

Since I have a toddler I lately also rely on the Facebook group Club Bebe Voyage. I search prior conversations and also may post questions as needed.
posted by peacheater at 4:31 PM on August 19, 2019

Wikitravel is a wonderful resource.
posted by cleverevans at 4:35 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Whenever possible, I read what the guide says about my own city. If I don't agree, I take whatever else they say with a grain of salt.
posted by paperback version at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I like wiki voyage and wiki travel for overviews about travel destinations.
posted by starlybri at 6:02 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I’m no expert but I usually start with Wikitravel, especially if it’s a place I haven’t narrowed down at all like a big city or country. I feel like wikitravel is helpful for some nuance that I might not get in other sources (like shops close every afternoon).

For more specifics, I like TripAdvisor though I try to read reviews instead of just relying on ratings. I’ve found that some people will give a great attraction 1 star because it was closed when they went to visit, or will rate a hotel poorly because the mimosas had too much orange juice or what have you.
posted by kat518 at 6:51 PM on August 19, 2019

I watch any relevant Rick Steves videos and check out the forums on his website.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:12 PM on August 19, 2019

Please use Wikivoyage instead of Wikitravel! Wikivoyage is part of the Wikimedia Foundation along with Wikipedia, Wiktionary, etc. Wikitravel was bought by Internet Brands, who introduced ads, and when the community first created Wikivoyage in response to IB's mismanagement of Wikitravel, IB sued two contributors.
posted by reductiondesign at 7:20 PM on August 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

Using social media such as Instagram or Fb has helped me find smaller independent events. Usually I search by location, then find an interesting event, then find the people who follow that event, then finding out if they follow venues.. By leapfrogging and searching that way you can find art / music communities that are posting public events.
posted by many more sunsets at 12:03 AM on August 20, 2019

Outside the US, TripAdvisor restaurant stuff will be very... American. I go for local food bloggers/reviewers writing for a local or long term expat audience. "Best breakfast in X" lists are gold. Google reviews can be a good guide too, especially seeing people's reasons for downgrading the rating.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:09 AM on August 20, 2019

For background, to give me ideas of specific experiences to look up online for updated details, I like the Lonely Planet guides in print. I'm aware of their quality issues, and I don't care for their website. I would never rely only on the guidebook without also checking online or getting additional info onsite.

When I have time before a trip to peruse the whole book, and put stars by what I might be interested in doing, then do internet research to correct outdated details, I end up with an itinerary that feels very personalized, as well as enough background that it's easier to come up with backup plans.

When it unexpectedly rained on a trip to a small island, which meant we received a raincheck for our planned outdoor activity, my tripmate was starting to Google "what to do on Island when it rains"...along with every other tourist there. I had already read the guidebook section on what to do if it rains, and immediately said "We're closer to the movie theater than the museum. Let's go to the movies! We'll need a cab." It's a small thing, just a little time saved, but I've met up with tourists in my own city (not covered by any guidebooks) and I've seen how much time they are spending with phones out trying to decide what to do next, hashing out if they think the 2nd-best BBQ place is really worth the drive time and wait time, when they just googled "barbecue near me" and saw that there's a BBQ place around the corner with only one Yelp review, but a really positive review, but it could be fake.... With a guidebook, I get a more comprehensive idea of the range of what's available (beyond the 10 best), and it's more organized based on areas of the city (which at least helps me understand the geography of the city better, so that instead of best breakfasts in Paris, I'm googling best breakfasts in Montmartre), and I'm more able to do the bulk of the decision-making before the trip.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:45 AM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Guidebooks are for me now more useful as background information than for specific recommendations; for instance, in Spain, the large meal is in the midday, so paella restaurants catering to locals only serve it then; or, because colonialism there are a lot of good Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam.

For actually finding a restaurant, I concur with the above that Trip Advisor is the worst. Looking at my local list, here are far too many generic chain restaurants and places that have been going downhill for years. Recent sources I've used for recommendations: Websites focused on food culture in a city (eg Eater PDX), alt-weekly paper best of lists, tourism industry professionals (eg after a walking tour, asking for a specific recommendation).

The other thing that I do is just look. The online review sites have been gamed and touristified so much they're often not that reliable anymore, and what often works well is to just find an area that has a fair number of restaurants, then walk around and look at them. Good signs include busy places, lots of locals and few people who seem like they're from a cruise ship, good looking food, good vibe and appealing menu.

I find that Google Maps is a helpful add-on for research before a trip in that they have a feature where you can "save" a place, which syncs across all of your devices forever (or until Google gets bored and changes it -- previously they had a nice feature where you could search"restaurant" and it would put a dot on every restaurant which made it easy to figure out where the food districts are; that's gone, sigh). So when I'm thinking about going somewhere, I start putting stars on the map for places that might be good to eat at in areas I'm likely to be, and then when I get there it's on my phone and tablet.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:01 AM on August 20, 2019

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