The sheer volume of information about travel destinations available online has exploded over the last decade. No longer must people talk to friends, visit a library or watch a movie to learn about a place they’d like to visit. From their computer or portable device they can access a lifetime of travel books, blogs, opinions, photos and know almost everything about a location before leaving home. This can help enrich knowledge of a destination prior to setting off and possibly add more meaning when there, but many argue it dilutes the travel experience and sets false expectations.
“I think technology these days, specifically information technology, is making travel less of an exploratory experience and more of a follow-the-numbers trip,” says photographer Lester Ledesma. “Just read a Wikitravel entry and you’re bound to get very precise instructions on just about everything from locating a bus station to haggling for souvenirs.” “The experience might turn into just a follow-the-numbers trip. It’s hard to discover anything if you’re always following what is recommended. Personally I think it makes traveling kind of boring, like eating McDonalds in Bangkok or Tokyo.”
Ken Fish, founder of Absolute Travel, thinks Americans in particular over-research and sometimes set false expectations, “Americans seem to think they have to control everything and there’s a right and wrong for everything.” “They come to us for our expertise, but they don’t necessarily trust our expertise and they ask “why am I not doing this?” or “why am I not at that hotel?”. You have to advise people why they’re doing things and more importantly why they’re not doing things. They have to understand that travel is experiential and that takes time.”
Being connected at all times and having to have a sense of control can also create some interesting and potentially awkward situations Fish explains. “I know people like to stay connected but everything has its place. You lose so much when you’re face is in your phone and you miss it all. Sometimes clients have a problem, they don’t talk to the guide, they email their assistant in New York, who calls us, and we call the guide where they are. Sometimes a day unfolds, maybe it has a rough start, the guide was 10 minutes late, but at the end of the day there is balance, you have a great day and you have to realize you can’t control everything.”
Publisher Mason Florence echoes Fish’s sentiments and feels people often miss out on one of travel’s greatest pleasures, “Nowadays it’s just crazy, there’s way too much information out there, people stress themselves out over it and sadly, it’s not allowing them to follow their nose and leave things a bit open-ended. It’s one of the great pleasures of travel, getting lost.”
Blogger, Greg Jorgensen on the other hand loves the abundance of travel information available online and says it only adds to his travel experiences. “If I ever go to the Grand Canyon, my first thought will probably be, “Yep that looks the same as all the pictures I’ve seen.” Just because you know what something will look like doesn’t mean it won’t impress. I’ve seen the Taj Mahal a billion times in films and pictures, but when I was standing in front of it, it still took my breath away, and is literally the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Similarly, because I’ve read so much about the Mona Lisa, when I finally saw it at the Louvre I never said “I thought it would be bigger,” because I’d already read about the morons who say that and think it’s any less historic. I knew what to expect and was still impressed. Even more, I may have learned facts that I never would have learned just by looking at it.”
Surprise is a key element of gaining as much as possible from travel says hotelier Alexis Suremain, regardless of how much you read or where you get it from. “There’s no difference between online sources and a traditional guidebook, but when you read too much about a destination, you don’t need to go there. You’re just going to double-check what you’ve read. The impact of what you’re discovering is much more powerful when you discover it as an unexpected element. When you don’t expect things it makes the experience so much more powerful.”