Should You Utilize Traveler Reviews When Planning A Trip? Here's What Rick Steves Does

Most people would agree that just because you read something online, it does not mean it's completely accurate. While this often applies to news stories or celebrity gossip, it can also apply to review sites. Customer reviews are sometimes helpful, but they can also be unreliable or biased. Reviews usually come from people who are only recounting their own (and often short) experiences in any given place. This is just one reason why global travel expert Rick Steves believes that you should think twice before trusting travel review sites. So how does Steves find a balance between the opinions of online reviewers and his own judgement?

Steves' solution is to utilize guidebooks. The only caveat is that you will need books that are up to date. Additionally, this is not to say that you should never consult a site like Yelp or Tripadvisor. "I see review sites as a useful complement to a thoughtfully updated guidebook," Steves explains on his website. Other places to look when planning your next trip include local websites and good old-fashioned maps.

Guidebooks are tried and true resources

Aside from the narrowness of online reviewers sharing just their own specific experiences, popular attractions or lodging options tend to stay at the top of search results. This pushes hidden gems further down the webpage. Additionally, some reviews may be misleading or untrustworthy, with 5.2% of Tripadvisor reviews and 10.7% of Google reviews estimated to be fake.

Given these drawbacks, Rick Steves states that the content of review sites is "uncurated information." In contrast, "A guidebook is the work of a trained researcher who, year after year, visits many alternatives to assess their relative value," he explains. In other words, guidebook researchers visit enough hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions to be able to compare one to the other. This makes for a more holistic and thorough examination of a destination.

Another issue with review websites is the sheer number of options they show. Rick Steves explains that for major tourist destinations, sites like Tripadvisor list endless activities from city food tours to adrenaline-inducing outdoor adventures. While it's nice to have options, it can be overwhelming. "You can sort through all of those options and decide what you want to do with your time," says Steves. "But also keep in mind that guidebook writers have already done that for you."

Check out websites made by locals and tourism companies

Websites focusing on specific locations often recommend not just the best restaurants or the best tours, but can also give tips that only a local would know. For example, you can look for blogs with curated neighborhood walks and full trip itineraries based on the writer's years of actually living in the place you want to visit. Official tourism boards can have informative websites, too. Such organizations obviously want to advertise to potential tourists, and they can offer maps, downloadable brochures, and general information about how to get around and where to go. Even if you are traveling to a country where the locals speak a different language than you, local websites can still be helpful thanks to handy translation buttons built into the site.

Speaking of maps, it may sound archaic to some, but Rick Steves still suggests using broad overview maps (especially for multi-city trips) and zoomed-in city-specific maps. which often come with guidebooks. There are amazing features on Google Maps, but according to Steves, "[T]here's nothing quite like laying out a large map on the table to get a sense of relative locations and distances."