Online Travel Research: What’s Good, What’s Bad, and What to Avoid
When Smiling Albino first came to Southeast Asia, the Internet was in its infancy. There were rudimentary blogs and pages with photo albums, but nothing even remotely resembling the selection today’s travelers have. In 2016, we are spoiled for choice. Indeed, there is actually so much information out there that it’s become difficult to tell the good from the bad. And when planning all or part of your trip, you definitely want to avoid the bad.
One thing to keep in mind when doing research is that almost every traveler has a travel blog, which means there’s a lot of content out there. A LOT. With nothing but a smartphone, it’s possible to build a professional looking website, post high-res photos, write at length about whatever the author wants, and post it all over social media. It’s an amazing feat of technology, but it’s also a double-edged sword – how do you know what you’re reading isn’t trumped-up marketing language designed to boost a page’s Google ranking?
The first thing we need to know is that sponsored content is all the rage these days. Also called native advertising or branded content or custom content, it’s basically an ad designed to not look like an ad. “These are the best five beaches in Thailand” might sound like a great article to take travel advice from, but when you realize the story was paid for by hotels that sit on said beaches… it’s a bit hard to take at face value.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, this type of thing is so rampant that sites that don’t do this go out of their way to say so. For instance, the footer of respected Southeast Asian travel guide Travelfish says it “operates on a strict “no freebie” basis, so what you read on Travelfish.org is our own unvarnished opinion on all things Southeast Asian. There’s no outside influence you need to worry about.” Pretty straight forward.
When searching for hotels, flights, cars, or other travel-related items of the same ilk, try your luck with a metasearch engine. Very basically, these websites look at all the other websites relevant for your search. For instance, type your hotel/flight/car/trip details into kayak.com or wego.com and it will search hundreds of websites all around the Internet and return information specific for your search. There are many more out there.
This one seems obvious in hindsight, but might not be upon first glance – if you’re looking at a story online, when was it written? Magazines and newspapers get crumpled, torn and worn, but a ten-year old web page can look as good now as it did when it was first written. Relying on info that’s 2 or 3 years old might be okay, but when you’re basing your trip on info that’s 6 or 8 years out of date, you’ll probably run into some hiccups.
And last but not least, a few tips and tidbits:
- When traveling by air, check out http://www.oag.com/ This site has live flight status to check if your flight is on time, as well as a wealth of info on how airlines and airports rank.
- Want to know what you’ll be eating on your trip to Asia? Visit http://www.airlinemeals.net/ and choose your airline and route. You’ll see your future cuisine in all its, er… glory.
- One tip we tell all our friends and guests is to take pictures of every document you’ll be bringing on your trip – passport, airline tickets, driver’s license, credit cards (front and back), etc. Then, email them to yourself. If something gets lost or stolen, you have backups of everything you need stored safely online.
But of course the best advice we can give you is to let us do the heavy lifting. We’ve spent years dealing with travel issues, online and on the ground, and know how to get the best bang for your buck. Simply put – it’s what we do.