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The Problem With Travel Guides

The air was thick with smog from the line  of motor coaches parked around the bend.  

I wanted to really rip through the passage, but with tourists spilling over in to the street, there’s no way I could pull that off.  

I couldn’t help but think how this ultimate driving road had been ruined.

The Hai Van Pass is a legendary road among car lovers and cyclists a like.

It contains a series of hair pin turns that work their way up the mountainside.

The drive opens up to a passage that gives you a view of the surrounding coastline.  

Then it unloads another series of sharp bends as you make your descent down the other side.  

Every corner of the road is another breath taking view.  

Unfortunately this passage, once referred to as a religious experience for motor heads, has been devastated by tourism.   

Snack stalls and souvenir stands litter the crown of the passage.  

The road itself is always congested with motor coaches all day long.  

The breath of sweet air as the ocean breeze mixes with the jungle air tainted by diesel fumes.  

It’s still worth a visit, but the Hai Van Pass was in no way the experience I dreamed of. 

Travel Guides Ruin Places 

The problem with travel guides is they take a place like the Hai Van Pass of Vietnam and they put it on a pedestal.  

They announce it’s existence to the world.  

But when the world comes to see it, it’s immediately changed.  

It’s not the place it once was.  

If you haven’t picked up on the irony, let me break it down.   

What often makes a place special is the experience is offers to it’s visitors. 

Travel Guides help people find those places.   

When they do that, these guides drive a lot of traffic to those places.

The crowds then disrupt these places through commercialization, pollution, and other means.

The experience is tainted.

To keep a Travel Guide’s reputation up, new locations must be continuously added.

The tourism business then flows towards these new places.

More locations are thus turned into overcrowded destinations.

Business is business.

I don’t see a reason to fight it.

Travel Guides will always exist as long as there are people interested in finding the “highlights” of an area.

But for those looking to see a region in it’s purest form, I offer a solution.

Don’t use travel guides.

“But how will I know where to go?” 

“Won’t I miss seeing the sites?” 

A region is more than a few destinations. 

A region is it’s people. It’s their customs and cultural values. 

A region is their sounds and smells and tastes. 

In summary, it’s about your experience in that area. 

So the best way to experience a destination is to avoid the areas where that experience is tainted. 

TOP 10 PLACES YOU MUST VISIT IN … NOPE CAN’T DO IT

Travel Guide Sites suck. 

I can’t read another sub par travel guide.  

They’re rotting my brain.  

I’m not saying all travel guides suck.  

There are some I find interesting and valuable.  

I’ve mentioned in the past how much I like Passport Heavy’s guides.  

There are some great guides on sites’s like Trip Canvas

I’m talking about the guides that crowd my RSS, News, and YouTube feeds.   

Creating travel guides has become easier than ever.  

 

Flights are cheaper.   

Media distribution is easier. 

There’s more vloggers, bloggers, and journalists getting into the game than ever before. 

Unfortunately, finding a quality travel guide is harder than ever. 

How is this possible? 

There’s more content than ever, but is that content worth reading? 

Why is this content so bad? 

What’s going on?

In the past weeks you’ve likely clicked on a TOP 10 PLACES YOU MUST VISIT IN {random destination} article.   

Every time I see one of these articles for a place I’ve already been to, I’m disappointed. 

Every time I can name a dozen locations worth visiting more than the places on that list. 

Someone who really knows the area, someone who lives in the area, could name a dozen locations worth visiting more than even what I come up with. 

At best, the people coming up with these guides spent a few weeks to a month in the region they’re talking about. 

They found most of the places they visited in some other sub par travel guide. 

They take out a few places, add in a couple new ones and add their own spin on it all.

The places they choose to add or exclude are based on a single experience they had in that destination.

There are so many external factors here.

  • Was it rainy the one day they went there?
  • Did a nearby tourist having a bad day ruin the experience?
  • Did a random local feel generous and offer them something extra?
  • Were they there during low season when crowds are not existent?
  • Did they rush through the sites to get to their next location on time?
  • There are too many factors that make or break a single visit.
  • How can someone who has spent so little time in an area be an authority on it?

The most experienced traveler will tell you their opinion of a destination is largely based on how the stars happened to align during their visit.

Even worse, some travel guide creators never even visit the places they are talking about.

Instead they just recycle some other guide they found on another site.

They feed you the same underwhelming ideas the other article stole from someone else.

Travel Gets better when you throw out the guide and go off the reservation

Travel has it’s own risks and dangers, but if you can learn how to navigate around those dangers and identify the opportunities for adventure, you’ll open yourself up to authentic experiences.

Here’s what a trip without a travel guide looks like.

I might hang out with local bartender for a day and swap stories.

Usually I’ll find out about some great swimming spot to check out and a cool restaurant to grab a bite at along the way.

Maybe I find out about a party happening nearby from a sign posted near the restaurant.

At the party I might make a few friends who invite me to go boating with them the next day.

While on the boat, someone invites me to join them to have dinner with a local family they met earlier in the week.

I might come across a cool looking temple on the way to dinner and make plans to visit it the next morning.

Did I miss the largest cenote in the region?

Probably, but it gets crowded, and the swimming hole I found was empty save for a few locals and the water was clearer.

Did I pass up on the tour through the traditional market?

You bet ya, but the local family let my friend and I cook dinner with them and I got to hand out in a local house.

I don’t seek out destinations.

I seek out experiences.

As the original author of TravelFinn, I promise to focus on relaying those experiences to you.

I promise to focus on showing you how to find those experiences for yourself.

Travel has it’s own risks and dangers, but if you can learn how to navigate around those dangers and identify the opportunities for adventure, you’ll open yourself up to authentic experiences.

I’m not saying I won’t ever post content that looks like a travel guide.

But I promise when I do it, it will be with a very unique perspective, or based on a deep level of experience in the area.

JF

Globetrotter

Written by James Finn

Welcome to Travel Finn.  I built this site with the focus of bringing the best travel content to the masses.

 

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