I’m in the middle of planning my latest trip when I receive a notification from my Google Trips mobile app. It knows I’m traveling somewhere soon, so it directs me to view an overview about where I’m headed. Soon, I’m eyeballs deep in the app, checking out all of the information it offers about my destination: things to do, suggested itineraries, nearby attractions.
I’m scrolling through the list of top restaurants, deciding where to eat when a thought flashes through my mind. Does having instant access to so much information about a place diminish the experience of traveling there?
The irony of this question is that I’m writing it on a travel blog that features, among other things, insights on travel destinations. Does that mean that by writing about places I’ve traveled to, I’m facilitating the very thing I’m concerned about? Maybe.
Once you’ve booked your flight to somewhere new and exciting, it’s so tempting to dive head first into planning your itinerary. Between magazines, guidebooks, blogs, and destination websites, there’s no shortage of available material about nearly every destination on earth detailing everything there is to see and do once you arrive.
But having too much information can set unrealistic expectations about what you might hope to experience during your trip. Destination photos rarely represent anything less than the most savory side of life in a particular city or town and, in the end, the reality may not be what you’ve built up in your mind. You could end up disappointed by your trip or disillusioned by travel altogether. Perish the thought.
Being over-informed can also diminish opportunities for “happy accidents,” those surprising, unplanned-for discoveries that take you away from a regimented itinerary into moments of serendipitous delight. Personally, some of my favorite travel experiences have happened as a result of going off-script, whether it’s stumbling into an amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurant or spying a historic building you hadn’t read about before. These thrilling discoveries can often be the highlight of any trip.
Doing too much research may also mean you’re reliving someone else’s travel experiences before you’ve even lived your own. It’s like purchasing a used book with someone else’s notes in the margins–you can never be quite sure if your thoughts and impressions are original to you or if they were influenced by someone else’s perspective.
An argument for in-depth information
However, as a solo traveler, I feel that having ample information about a location I’m about to visit is vital, particularly when it comes to safety. This information informs which hotel I might choose to book, which neighborhood I’d stay in, and what sort of reception I might receive from the people who live there.
Not only that, but reading the accounts of people who’ve visited the destination before can help educate a traveler about a host of societal concerns, from cultural norms to the latest hot-button political topics. This is particularly important for a solo traveler, since –depending on your destination–many, if not most of your interpersonal interactions will be with local people.
From a practical standpoint, without access to information how else would you know how to budget, what to pack, and where to catch your bus or train unless you read about the experiences of others in a guidebook, on a website, or in an app? This basic knowledge about your destination can go a long way in determining whether you can feel like your trip was a success…or not.
Striking a balance
With these approaches in mind, am I in favor of or against the idea of doing lots of research when traveling planning? My own experiences have taught me it’s important to strike a balance in a way that works for you.
As someone who is excited by aesthetics, it’s not uncommon for me to disable the images in my browser when I’m initially conducting destination research. Sometimes, I just want to be surprised. Knowing what a place looks like before I arrive can blunt the edge of the exhilaration of seeing a locale for the first time.
On the other hand, as a solo traveler who’s concerned about safety and finances, accessing all of that relevant information is critical for the foundation of a “successful” trip. I need to do research to ensure I feel safe in an environment, and also to know where to get the best value for my money. But even more important, information can lead to inspiration. There have been so many occasions on my travels where I might have missed some of my favorite highlights if I hadn’t read about them somewhere else first.
As a traveler, I prefer to keep some of the mystery alive when planning a trip–it’s what keeps travel such a vital part of my life. But what does that mean for me as a travel blogger? Travel blogging as I see it is about navigating that middle ground between providing enough information to be practical and helpful, but not so much as to distract from facilitating personal discovery.
Here’s to finding that happy medium.