You learn a lot about yourself when you travel, and one thing we are definitely picking up on is that we don’t really like the traveling part of traveling. But perhaps I ought to phrase that better.
We have enjoyed everywhere we’ve gone, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But after a two months of semi-running around, we were definitely ready to settle for a little bit. It isn’t just the travel itself, though the whole plane train and automobile thing can indeed make for some very long days. Increasingly though it is the massive amounts of brain power you have to utilize to make all of the traveling decisions that I get weary of.
Gone are the days when it was just me and my Lonely Planet guidebook. I’d board a bus to somewhere, pull out the guide en route and choose a place to stay out of the five or six places listed. Usually the choices were all acceptable, so I’d just pick the cheapest one. The only problem I ever really faced was if the one I picked was full when I arrived on the doorstep. In that rare and unfortunate situation I’d get myself to the #2 choice. Or I’d follow a tout to someplace nearby, where I might pay an extra buck a night (to cover the tout’s commission) but it would still be acceptable. In a year of traveling I saw amazing places and mediocre places, but I never really had a problem.
Then came the internet. And everything changed.
It used to be that my research on where to stay consisted only of the amount of time it took me to read a few paragraphs in the guide book. In 2001 the internet was available, but I used it mostly just to send emails to my mom. Even on our trip to Central America in 2010 we barely used the internet for anything but emails, blog posts and weather updates.
But these days travel is as much a victim of information overload as everything else. I’m no longer content to trust the opinion of a nameless guidebook reviewer. Now once I pick a destination (which is a process all in itself), I go to a variety of websites to research hotels and guesthouses. I usually check a couple of different sites, since prices and inventory can vary across them, and of course I want the best deal I can find. Hotels.com has a rewards program, and Agoda is good for deals here in Asia. I’ve also looked at Expedia and booking.com to name a few. Each of these sites, even after using their various filters to search by price and amenities and location turn up dozens of choices, and not always the same ones. A property might be available on Agoda but sold out on Expedia, so I have to cross-reference all of the variances. Then I have to search each of the available properties on Tripadvisor for current reviews to see if I can figure out which ones would be the best option. Because instead of getting my information from a trusted guide book, now I want real-time social approval. How does the wifi work in the rooms? How long is the walk to the beach? Did they start renovations last week? I want to know all of these things!
Before long I’m dealing with a browser stuffed with dozens of open tabs to every choice matched with its reviews, trying to decide which complaints are legit and which ones are just the rantings of someone who can’t seem to comprehend why a family-run motel in a Thailand beach town isn’t going to be able to provide the exact same experience as a Hyatt in Orlando. I know, I know, this sounds like a fun evening, doesn’t it?
I’m finding myself spending hours and hours figuring out each and every move. On one level, I do enjoy this. It is empowering to have so much information at your fingertips, and research can be fun. Figuring out the deals and knowing that you have made the best possible choice can make the experience richer and more satisfying. And we have indeed had some really great experiences at places we’ve stayed, there hasn’t been a lemon yet.
But when you are spending half a day (or more) on research to find a hotel that you are only going to be at for a couple of days, keeping up with it can also be exhausting, and gets in the way of other things I want to be doing. The truth is, I know that if I just showed up at any of the properties that came up in my price range, I bet things would be just fine. But when research is so easy, it is hard to stop and accept fine when you know better is within reach.
I admit it, I have a problem. But rather than deal with this new problem, we punted and headed back to Thailand for a month-long sit down. Yay, Thailand!
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only American using Thailand as an escape for my problems. ::grin::
I am gonna have to figure this out at some point though. It is just too much. But I’m not sure how to do it yet. Tripadvisor is turning into my most used tool, but even it can be confusing with how it classifies the smaller guest houses and requires multiple searches through each category which is annoying.
If you have any advice on how you pick hotels, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Really, I need your help!!