The Trip Advisor Curse

Picture 8our soon-to-be local grocery in Atrani

Since I started planning vacations for Scott and I in 2008 (as opposed to road tripping with my girlfriends and sleeping in cars), I’ve learned what a blessing AND a curse Trip Advisor and the interwebs at large can be.

Sure, on one hand traveler reviews and photos can be the lifesaver that prevents you from making a big mistake when a hotel or restaurant doesn’t live up to its glossy website. But on the other hand, it can lead to obsessive worrying, deluded expectations, and a completely underwhelming reveal. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of adventure when it’s so easy to double and triple check all variables in advance.

In the past I’ve created spreadsheets to compare Mexican resorts, and agonized over the presence of ants at a Costa Rican beach hotel.

I’ve always been a picky traveler (thanks Mom) when I’m the one doing the planning (showing up and going along for the ride is awesome in whole other ways), and the internet has enabled me. Bad internet.

Particularly dangerous is my addiction to the traveler photos of hotels. It’s pleasing to accurately anticipate the conditions you can expect to find yourselves in, but it takes away my favorite part of a vacation—the big reveal—when the hotel looks just like the 100+ photos you’ve been looking at.

But it’s like vacation crack.

Or maybe vacation marijuana—a gateway drug. Because now when the photos available aren’t up to my standards (people never take enough pics of the bathroom), I search Flickr and Picasa.

And then there’s Google Maps. Living in Italy in 2003 without Google maps was annoying. They had some half-assed substitute that was more like MapQuest.  All I wanted was drag and drop  maps—it hadn’t occurred to me that a country as half-assed as Italy would ever have something like street view. (Did street view even exist for me to wonder about in 2003?)

But now? Does it ever! Besides being able to map our walks from the train station to the hotel in Florence and Rome, I can even map the road past our little apartment in Atrani (the smallest village in Italy), and follow it to the nearest supermarket, whose name and location I ascertained from a traveler review. Would the caretaker have told us all this when we arrived? Probably. But I can sleep better at night now knowing all the unfamiliar will look familiar.

Is this wrong? Quite possibly. It’s the exact opposite of how Scott likes to experience a trip. Which can be frustrating at times when he doesn’t want to share in the joy of finding yet another person’s blog who stayed where we’re staying and talked about it. But I get his reasoning.

Is he worried right now about our seating assignment not being pre-booked and the possibility of us being split up on our honeymoon? Or what train to book to Salerno? Or the overcrowding on SITA buses?

Not so much.

Is he expecting to get a deluxe room for our first night in Florence, with a huge marble soaking tub and a private balcony overlooking the courtyard where Michelangelo learned to sculpt?


Will he look out over the tiny village of Atrani towards the Mediterranean from our cliff-face vacation rental and think, this looks just like all the pictures?

Probably not.

Who wins in these situations? The anticipatory overprepareds or the blissfully ignorant adventurers?