How to Know If the Travel Info You Find is Legit
A couple of years ago, I rs in San Francisco and was invited by the folks at Google Travel to visit their campus, where we spent a lot of time geeking out over travel booking data and metrics. One of the stats that stood out for me was that most consumers spend over 40 hours researching their trip and look at over 20 sites!y
When I started planning my first trip around the world in 2005, there weren’t all the online resources we have now. I remember there was blog on backpacking Europe (basically what some girl did on her study abroad), a couple of forums, and a few others here and there.
Today, we have the Google Trips app; 100,000+ blogs; countless forums, communities, and sharing-economy websites; and everything in between. You can find information for anywhere you want to go. No destination is too obscure.
But, in that sea of endless information, how do you know what is accurate and trustworthy?
Like you, I spend a lot of time researching destinations before I go: blog posts, books, trip reports, hostel reviews, etc., etc. I love digging deep into the places I’m traveling to. It makes the trip seem real and like I’m discovering some secret.
But since I’ve been looking up information online and working in the travel industry for years, I can spot the BS really easily.
And today I want to help you do the same. Here is how to tell if the information you’ve found is valid — or should be treated skeptically:
(Note: I’m going to break down my thoughts in extreme detail, but it actually doesn’t take that long to process all this. I’ll give you some perspective at the end. It’s not as long as you think!)
Factors to consider when reading about destinations
Sponsored content: When I first come across an article, I scroll to the bottom to see if the content is “sponsored.” Sponsored content is (a) when a blogger is given a trip or product in exchange for a review or mention (and payment) on that blogger’s website, and (b) content that is basically advertising or marketing material (think some “awesome” contest they are telling you about). While organized press trips have been happening in the travel business for decades (and I’ve done them), sponsored content is something different. Since there is an exchange of money, I feel like it’s marketing (for reasons that tie together below). I will still read the article – and it still might be useful – but I definitely want to know if someone was paid to go to that destination or promote that content. After all, there is a natural human inclination to sugarcoat the negatives if we’ve been paid to write about a place or product.
When I see “Thanks for the free trip, (insert tourism board name). All opinions are my own.” without explanation, I’m wary. What was free? What was paid for? Did they receive money? I want to know more. I tend to take the suggestions with a grain of salt unless I see clearly what was sponsored, in a statement like “Visit Islay provided the car and accommodation and also connected me to distilleries so I could get the behind-the-scenes tours for this article. Meals, flights, and transportation to and from the island — as well as all that whisky I bought — were at my own expense.” So I want the article to be clear on what was and wasn’t paid for – because that will directly impact some of the other important things to keep an eye.
Replicable experiences: If the writer is writing about an experience that I can’t do or a situation I can’t replicate, the advice isn’t useful to me as a reader – and I immediately move on. It’s great that someone got to do something cool like eat at a 3-star Michelin restaurant or cook dinner with Bourdain — but how does that really help me experience the place? Those kinds of articles make for fun stories but nothing more. When I’m researching a destination, I don’t want a fun story, I want a helpful story.
Detailed content: How detailed is the article? The more facts, figures, and other details they include, the more I know they know their stuff. For me, advice that is detailed, practical, and replicable is the best kind of advice. I look for blogs and content that give me insight into a destination or product like I would expect from a guidebook or magazine. All these signals tell me “This website has quality and trustworthy content and I should use it to plan my trip.”
This is why whether or not the content is sponsored / branded / whatever term people use is so important to me because the more the writer is paying their own way and doing what I would do, it’s more likely to include the nitty gritty facts and figures that will be useful to me as I plan my trip.
Bigger picture: Moreover, I look at that content within the bigger picture of their website. If I come across an article and I like what I’m reading, sponsored or not, I click around the website a bit more. If this blogger tends to do the kind of activities I like to do, I think to myself, “OK, we have a similar travel style. This person’s advice is going to benefit me.”
If I look around a website and see they mostly pay their own way, have detailed content, and are in the trenches like the rest of us, I’m OK with the small amount of sponsored content I see because in my mind, it will be more fair and balanced than someone who does mostly paid trips.