Who should you trust when you’re planning a trip? There are hundreds of websites and books that claim to be the authority on where to eat, sleep, and be entertained. But should you trust your hard-earned money to these opinions? Here’re a few things to keep an eye out for and some tips to interpreting what they’re trying to say.
Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!
If you haven’t figured this out yet, here it is again: not everything on the Internet is trustworthy. Especially when it comes to sites that run off user-created content. What does that mean? Almost every online review site is based on user-created content—anonymous, or at least disconnected, user-created content.
- Nearly a quarter of online reviews are never published. They don’t pass the platform’s algorithm that filters out fake reviews. But not all of these are necessarily fake, or they’re at least not 100% dishonest.
- A quick look at a few freelancing sites and you’ll quickly find a few gigs looking for reviewers. Making a few quick bucks by writing a review is an easy way to pay some bills.
- A lot of companies are willing to give free things for good reviews. While technically not a fake review, it’s not an honest one.
- Some places will have employees make reviews. Sure, they may be real, but how honest are you going to be if your job is on the line?
- One online review site even changed its slogan to remove the word trust, opting to instead point out that reviews were from the community.
That’s not to say all online reviews are fake, but it benefits the review site if they have more reviews. The easier it is to submit a review, the more reviews they’ll get. The probability that those reviews are fake or dishonest goes up from there.
So what can you do?
Buy a book.
You’ve probably heard of Michelin tires. You might have heard of the Michelin Guide. You might not know that they’re the same company. The guide was started to encourage people to drive more, thus requiring them to buy more tires.
Michelin continues to publish the guide, although now it’s more of a standard than something to get people to drive more often. Restaurants and hotels that are featured in the Michelin guides are often sought after by travelers.
So what makes the Michelin Guide more trustworthy than online reviews? Partly because of the historical provenance of the guide. It has been an established authority for over 100 years. Reviews are written by anonymous diners who have spent years preparing for their role.
AAA also publishes lists and reviews of restaurants, hotels, and other travel destinations. Usually a little more average than Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels, the AAA guides are great for finding spots only locals might know about.
Travel guides are also a great way to help plan trips. Full of everything there is to do at your intended destination, they help you avoid the places that have become popular because of social media. A latte at a cat café might make for a great picture, but is it really all you want to do on your hard-earned vacation?
There are dozens of trusted travel guides published every year. For the $20 you’ll spend on one, you’re sure to get an insider’s knowledge of what is worth seeing instead of someone’s angry review based on their biased opinion.
Online reviews aren’t inherently bad. But they are simply a collection of opinions that are coming from all over with no accountability beyond an attempt to weed out some of the fake reviews.