There’s a Lot of Crap Out There in Travel Website Land

The more time I spend surfing for solid and current travel info on the web, the more I’m convinced the vast majority of it is close to useless. I’m in the midst of editing the third edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, have been working on a bunch of service articles for mags and newspapers, and am working on travel arrangements for an assignment in Peru this December.

The result of all this is that I’ve been spending far more time than I would like hunched over my computer, hitting the back button on my browser. If you are patient and know where to start, you can eventually find reviews of the top hotels in Peru and what it’s going to cost you to hike the Inca Trail. You can visit LonelyPlanet.com or BootsnAll to get current info on the message boards. For every good resource like those, however, there must be at least a thousand that are pure junk. They’re five years out of date, have more ads than information, are impossible to navigate, or all of the above. Multiply this times 10 or 20 destinations and it’s a nightmare.

Last week I finally gave up and went to the library for a day. It was far faster to look up everything I needed in guidebooks and then just go online to fact-check the prices as a last step. I have to give a shout-out to one site that has been a lifesaver on that count: Seat61 for info and links on train tickets. It’s a goldmine.

There are a lot of reasons for this frustration. Google favors sites that are updated often over ones that are static, so an inane blog with useless info will frequently show up higher than a really good resource site that’s only updated as prices or opening hours change. The ease with which someone can throw up a site and fill most of it with ads doesn’t help either. Apparently some people are willing to go through all that for 50 cents a day in earnings (often scraping their content from other legitimate sites in the process rather than writing anything). And as I’ve said many times before, the author of a guidebook spends four months to a year on the job and there are fact-checkers vetting everything after that. Someone can put up a website over a weekend and be done.

I’m not sure what the answer to this is except maybe to use StumbleUpon to vote up sites that are worthwhile and to be sure to never link to the really useless ones in your own blog if you have one. Support the advertisers by clicking through with sites that do a good job; don’t feed their habit on the others. Leave sites that annoy you with pop-up ads, pop-under ads, and things that crawl across your screen. Their priority is obviously not you, the reader.

Last, is it just me or have the airfare search sites gotten worse, not better? First, all of them seem to have holes, notably budget airlines won’t feed in their info. But worse, unless I’m missing it, there doesn’t seem to be a site that will tell you, for example, where to get the cheapest flight from the U.S. to Lima. If you want to spend an hour punching in each city and seeing what comes back you can do that. But if you are willing to fly from a whole range of cities because the total price would be less or because you’ve got a free flight to get you to a gateway, there doesn’t seem to be any search engine smart enough to give you the answer on which originating city is the cheapest. If you know of a site that can do this, leave it in the comments!

On this count too, I punted. I’m driving to Atlanta because I cashed in frequent flyer miles instead. Sigh…

Comments
  1. Mike

    I think the answer is in regional hubs – like travelfish.org for SEA or poorbuthappy.com for Colombia. I find most of these through LP’s Thorntree Forum, which I like only because there’s so much activity that the good links are likely to rise to the surface.

    Doing a Google search for info on a destination is just asking for trouble (unfortunately LP TT has an awful search engine, so that’s no help).

    It’s interesting that the online travel industry has yet to be tamed by a Facebook or Flickr or Amazon kind of company. In many ways it would help (seems that searching for a hotel in Peru shouldn’t be that hard — many many people have done it before you), but it might send hoards to the same places and become a website that devours a new innocent destination each month.

  2. tim

    Thanks for the feedback Mike. I too like the ones you mentioned and if you can find a good regional hub like that it’s a godsend. Like Brazilmax, TurkeyTravelPlanner, IndiaMike.com, and the AndeanTravelWeb one linked in the post.

    Lots of people have tried to be that overarching travel site for the world (I get a press release about a new social media site for travel every week), but it’s probably too big a beast for anyone to tame. In some ways, that’s a good thing. Other times, a good filter would save a lot of time.

  3. Carl Parkes

    I’ve had the same problem looking for decent and dependable websites with information on travel to SE Asia. Most are completely useless, and worse, provide devious and blantently biased opinions on hotels, restaurants, and airlines in the region. That’s why carefully written printed guidebooks will survive for the near future. Travelfish is an exception, but you won’t find many websites as dedicated as TF.

  4. jamie

    Even good websites face the SEO catch-22. If you don’t have buckets and buckets of linked keyword-rich content, you are invisible to the search engines.

    Established sites can focus more on good writing and useful content. For new sites, that won’t quite cut it.

    I’ll stumble this post. It’s a start. ;)

  5. Mark Evans

    If you’re willing to take another stab at a Web site, check out planeteye.com, a new travel planning service.

    We aggregate a wide variety of content as well as 50 in-house writers. That said, we focus on the top-rated places as opposed to providing everything but the kitchen sink.

    I’d appreciate any feedback you may have.

    Mark

  6. Trish McKinney

    This website is Peru specific, but I had great success with all the companies that I used from this source. There arent a lot of options but its a great place to start.
    http://www.andeantravelweb.com/

  7. Matty J

    Hey Tim,

    I feel your pain with all these sub-par travel sites and that’s exactly why we started baraaza.com. Baraaza was built by regular people serious about travel for people who love to explore the world. We see a real need for travelers to quickly and easily research and obtain relevant destination information without all the commercialism you see out there. Baraaza has a web 2.0 component so details such as age range, gender, travel styles and travel budgets are available from the posters. One of the cool things about baraaza is you can research a destinations such a Lima, see which members have already been there, and contact people with similar travel styles and ask them specific questions about the destination. There’s a bunch more besides that, and we’re really trying to build a solid community of good people who are willing to share their worldly knowledge so all of us can benefit when we seek destination information. We’re currently in Private Beta as we build our community, our content and fix our bugs. I welcome you and all of your subscribers to join and take a look. All feedback good or bad is welcome.

    All the best,

    Matt J
    Founder
    http://www.baraaza.com

  8. tim

    Matty–that seems like a whole lot of work just to find out the price of a visa or whether a museum is open on Sunday. If I want to ask fellow travelers a question, there are already a hundred other places to do that, with the critical mass ones having been around for a decade. And they don’t ask you to register to get past the home page.

  9. Matty J

    Hey Tim, thanks for the feedback. Yes, the reason the homepage is locked down is because we’re in Private Beta until we work through all the bugs and build our content base. I understand it’s not for everybody, and like you say there are a lot of other sites out there doing something similar -just none of them are doing it well (hence the title of your post). We want to change that and offer one of the better places to get solid information about unique and cool destinations around the world. We have about 500 members who have been really good about telling us what they want in a travel site and we have just been accommodating them.
    All the best,
    Matt

  10. Theresa S.

    You lamented the lack of good airfare search sites. I book travel for my company and use ITA software all the time. Website is: http://matrix.itasoftware.com/cvg/dispatch/

    You can search 100+ miles from the airport(s) you designate, have it search exact day, the day before, or the day after.
    The results are listed by non-stop, 1 stop, and 2 stops. It warns you if the flight is overnight flight or there are long layovers.
    Another great feature is the graphic display. You can visualize how long the layover is and all the flights that leave in the same hour.
    The discount airlines are generally not listed, but I have them bookmarked to check also.
    One needs to register once to use the site. They have never charged a fee, nor have they spammed me. Give it a try.
    Theresa

  11. DeliciousBaby

    One of the things that really struck me when I first started blogging was how quickly I was able to figure out which were the high quality mom-blog sites (literally within a matter of hours), and how long it’s taken me to do the same thing with travel blogs (months)

    Part of the reason it was so easy with the mom blogs is that there is such a strong sense of community with people linking to each other, responding to each other’s posts, and participating in fundraisers or other organized efforts together.

    My sense is that if we can begin to start building a stronger community of travel bloggers, the better sites will start to rise to the top just as they have in the mom blog community.

  12. tim

    Theresa–you’re right that the ITA site is a useful tool, but it still is hobbled by that “search within 100 miles” part. That assumes I’ve driving to the gateway, when I could be flying on a free Southwest ticket. Or maybe I’m willing to drive more than that because I’ve got friends in other places.

    Ms. Yummy Baby–“travel” is a much more fragmented idea than “mommy” (or daddy for that matter–though you don’t seem to see many daddy blogs). While there are a million places to go and a million ways to get there when you leave home for a break, let’s hope there aren’t a million different ways to be a parent and raise a kid. Otherwise I’ve missed most of them in my own efforts. So while I know at least 30 other travel bloggers and lazily follow 20 or so more, I’m still only scratching the surface. Those of us who get a lot of traffic are networking, but we know we’ll never be more than a bite-sized slice of the total travel pie. The travel blogs that get the most traffic are owned by big corporations and have a dozen or two rotating contributors, but even those aren’t anywhere close to being dominant. We just all hope the cream rises to the top over time…

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