I’ve used my passport 11 times in the past 10 years, which is not too shabby, I think. While I would love for this number to be double, triple, even quadruple, I am incredibly grateful for each of the travel experiences I have had (see my cool TripAdvisor Travel Map below). Traveling is my favorite hobby and certainly a priority in my life. I’m so lucky Tim shares my passion for discovery, as seeing the world with him makes it all the more meaningful (ew … here ends the excessive sentimentality).
One of my favorite parts of traveling, once the destination has been agreed upon, is planning the trip. The bookshelf in our guest bedroom is lined with travel guides from our previous adventures. I love to scan the titles, each one carrying its own set of postcard memories.
I am a big fan of the travel book, and I like to buy at least one for every trip we take. But lately, as in so many other instances, the book has taken a backseat to the travel information available on the web. The limitations of a travel guide — the fact that it’s outdated basically as soon as it is printed, the obvious space limitations that come with publishing a book people are meant to carry with them while traveling — have made online resources all the more valuable.
The most obvious, and useful, advancement to online travel planning has been the rise of social networking tools like TripAdvisor. Online travel planning used to mean searching individual hotel web sites or booking through Travelocity or Expedia. Not that those things aren’t still really helpful. But nowadays, thanks to the Facebook-Yelp-YouTube mentality, everyone is a critic and plenty of places exist where these critics can be heard.
I used to be wary of comments from “the general population”. How are they to be trusted, when I don’t know a thing about them? How can I measure my expectations against those of a stranger? But as our socially networked society has matured, so has the functionality of travel web sites. Sure, you can find plenty of inane comments on the discussion boards. And, yes, there are bound to be outlier comments of the positive and negative variety for just about every city, hotel and restaurant you wish to visit. But the beauty of TripAdvisor is that the wisdom of the masses really can be trusted. I don’t really why it works so well, but I continue to be amazed by the amount of success we’ve had following advice we got on TripAdvisor.
We are going to France in the spring, and I couldn’t be more excited. I haven’t been to Europe since 2003 and we’ve never been to France, so this trip is long overdue. But I’m also a little intimidated by what France holds in store for us. First of all, everyone in Paris is infinitely more stylish than I am. This is the first trip I’ve taken in a while where I’ve had to pack more than flip-flops and a swimsuit, and I’m terrified of being identified as an unfashionable American. But even more nerve-wracking is the food. I am so excited about the fromage and the vin and the pâtisseries. But my vegetarian sensibilities are terrified of the coq au vin, the foie gras and the cassoulet. I want to get the full French experience, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere. So I’m a wee bit skittish about poring over a menu in an unfamiliar language and inadvertently ordering beef tongue, or something.
Here’s where the web has really come through during this travel planning. There are, like, a million travel blogs about Paris. And a lot of them are really good! I came across many of them when booking our vacation rentals (one of which we found through TripAdvisor), as quite a few of the sites are tied in with Paris travel business owners, like HiP Paris blog. On this adorable site I’ve found tips for shopping, sightseeing and, most importantly, vegetarian dining in Paris (who knew there was such a thing?).
When I visit another country, I like to blend in as much as possible. I know people won’t think I’m French (although I’m sampling red lipsticks to help my case), but I don’t want to be identified as a tourist from across the Metro station. Reading tips on what to see, taste and do from expats living in Paris, like at I Heart Paris and the delightfully named Lost in Cheeseland, makes me feel like I’m an insider, like Tim and I will leisurely move from one hip and trendy cafe to the next, without a care in the world. And thanks to 52 Martinis, we also have an inside scoop on where best to imbibe once the sun goes down. The best part is that all of these cool blogs have links to a seemingly endless list of other really cool blogs. We are going to be the most knowledgeable Paris first-timers in history. I am so excited, even more so when I watched this video posted on Lost in Cheeseland. According to the post, it is a time-lapse video made entirely from photographs by a student at the American University of Paris. So technically stunning — I can’t wait to see it all in person.
My first European holiday was to Italy in 2000. From the time we arrived in Italy until we touched back down in San Francisco, we did without mobile phones, Internet or GPS. How quaint. Our only guide to getting around was Rick Steves’ Italy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Rick Steves. But trying to find some hidden tapas (cicchetti) bar he recommended on those crazy Venetian streets was an exercise in absurdity that Tim, to this day, will not let me live down.
Nearly 11 years later, we’ll be arriving in Paris with two iPhones and our beloved iPad. Thanks Apple. Rick Steves is coming with us, too, both in book and web form. We are staying in apartments with wi-fi access so we will be able to surf the World Wide Web to our hearts’ content to help us avoid eating at the Applebee’s of Paris and showing up at the Louvre the day it’s closed. We will rely on the wisdom of our friends in the blogosphere, choosing sites mostly by the fonts, banners and images adorning them … you know, the really important things. But in Paris, as in America, if you’re going to rely on the Internet “Gen Pop” for advice, you want to make sure they seem as though they would run in the same circles as you do. Fortunately for us, there appears to be an ample array of blogs to suit our tastes. I will report back upon our return on just how well these bloggers know what we like.