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 They’re five years out of date, have more ads than information, are impossible to navigate, or all of the above.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…