Monday, December 1, 2008

Travel - planning in advance or winging it?

SandWagon has written an excellent article extolling the virtues of travelling without a safety net. The argument being that guide books, travel writing & (to a lesser extent) online user generated content all have their place - but that recommendation of other travellers on the road is far better.

This was at the heart of some research (albeit rudimentary) we did earlier this year when we were thinking of setting up Tourdust.  The aim behind Tourdust is to give travellers access to inspiring content about small, independent and authentic travel experiences.  The kind of local tours and great accommodation finds that you only usually hear about when you are out on the road.  We were worried that we would have trouble changing their habits to research and book these kind of things in advance.  We actually found that around 70% of travellers do research 'local activities' in advance and most research is recommendation from friends and family or the operators own websites!

Our conclusion is that even the hardiest of travellers tend to plan a trip around a couple of key cornerstones to their trip.  That could be an out of this world eco-treehouse overlooking pristine forest, a twoday desert camping experience or simply a shark diving day-trip.  They would then plan a rough itinerary around those cornerstones, and fill in the gaps with more run of the mill stuff (either winging it or booking in advance).  And it is these cornerstone experiences which are at the heart of what Tourdust is about.

So, I guess if you are going to plan (and get excited) about what you are going to do when you get there, then things like guide books, blogs, and other user generated content are all great tools. It's just that, like anything, you need to take what is being written with a pinch of salt and try to judge it from the context of the author.  It's kind of the same as word-of-mouth recommendations.  When a gnarly hostel owner told us that Guatemala could get a bit dodgy we listened because he'd grown up bumming around Afghanistan in the 60s staying with local families on a permanent opium high.  If it was a bright eyed graduate on their first ever trip we'd take the warning with a pinch of salt.  Even the Lonely Planet is guilty of this: popular destinations for US travellers tend to be written by US writers and tend to be have a lot longer Warnings and Dangers sections than other LPs.  The Mexico LP is a good case in point - if you took it at face value you'd be more nervous about going to Mexico than The Democratic Republic of Congo (a pretty scary place, or so I have inferred from the excellent Blood River by Tim Butcher!)

Lonely Monks by Matt Murf.

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