Can Wiki Travel?
April 9, 2007 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Can Wiki Travel? Ever try using Wiki Travel as your sole source of travel information? One man gives up his Lonely Planet and Fodor's and goes pure Wiki for a trip to Thailand -- and says it was a disaster. Anybody else have Wiki Travel horror stories?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese (38 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There was one online bright spot for the author:
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:04 PM on April 9, 2007

This feels like yet another "big publication shoots down volunteer web effort" story. Wikipedia has been getting them since they started, but it looks like wikitravel is getting big enough to garner them as well. Wikitravel is only a few years old and with the intent to cover the entire world, of course the listings will be sparse. I'd say give it five years on the web and some major positive press mentions before it hits critical mass and most all vacation spots get well-covered.

It still feels too new of a service to rely on solely for information and to mock it for not being perfect seems weird and lame to me.
posted by mathowie at 3:20 PM on April 9, 2007

I concur that Wiki Travel is simply abominable. On a whim from the article I decided to check out the Thailand section, just to see if it had improved at all since I last looked. Here's the write-up on Eastern Thailand.

There are so many stubs it could double for the Cambodian section on landmines.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:24 PM on April 9, 2007

Before my trip to Thailand a few weeks ago, I went to wikitravel and found it sorely lacking what I'm used to with LP guides. I did like some of what I found on

I was equally displeased with the wikitravel entry for Moscow I read before a trip there in February.

In both cases I was happy I had my Lonely Planet guides on me.

Like Wikipedia, I love the concept but it needs some work and more fanatical contributors.
posted by birdherder at 3:37 PM on April 9, 2007

I'm a big fan of wikis, but wikitravel doesn't seem to have reached a point where it's useful.

I posted an article there a year ago. They chopped it into little pieces until it was useless. It was basically edited to death. I got the impression this happened to many new entries.
posted by bhnyc at 3:41 PM on April 9, 2007

Wikitravel just doesn't have critical mass. I go to Lonely Planet's website, and there's a ton of stuff on there if I want real people's views.

I notice the excellent "In Your Pocket" guides are launching "In My Pocket" which is a web-based portal where people can build an IYP guide for their own city.
posted by athenian at 3:46 PM on April 9, 2007

Next time, go with Get all the conflicting opinions and flamewars you want with your travel information!
posted by yohko at 3:51 PM on April 9, 2007

One man gives up his Lonely Planet and Fodor's and goes pure Wiki for a trip to Thailand -- and says it was a disaster.

The fact that he blames his trip being a disaster on his guide book speaks volumes for his lack o indepedence and resourcefulness.

"Since my teenage years, Lonely Planet has been my traveling security blanket." <- see what I mean?

I used wikitravel exclusively in prague and budapest and found what I needed: writeups on city areas, names and numbers of hotels, links to hotel websites.
Anybody who needs more handholding should probably just get a package tour.
posted by signal at 4:07 PM on April 9, 2007

As a guidebook author, I know the days of print guides are numbered. We're in the lag time between technologies - internet yes, good cheap rugged ebook reader no. (Good information is another story, perhaps where authors will always be involved, Jeebus willing.)

It's been amazing to watch the change in traveling, especially backpacking, in the ten years I've been writing guides to places like Ecuador. For the first edition I was thrilled to find two internet cafes in the whole country. Now they are literally on every block in some cities.

It's really changed the feeling of being gone, away from home, cut off from the familiar. You used to save up ($ and info) for your once-a-week call or fax home. Now that you can check email for ten cents once an hour, it's kind of...different. Not better or worse, just changed. Now you kids get off of my lawn!

Travelfish worked great for us in SE Asia last year.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:34 PM on April 9, 2007

Let people keep their Lonely Planet dummies (or pacifiers if you like). Makes it easier to spot tedious wankers on yer hols...
posted by i_cola at 4:34 PM on April 9, 2007

Travel guides written by the random traveler have been a disaster throughout all of my travel experience, and a wiki travel website combines all of the pitfalls of such books with the ability to have good ideas obliterated by the general moron instead of the professional dweeb.

Why people are so completely in love with wikis, even when they demonstrably don't work, is beyond me. It's like, gee, people see them as a moral outpost in their lonely humanity instead of a friggin' tool. Grow up, get over it, move on.

Hey, you want a good travel experience? If you don't know the area and don't have a friend to guide you, bring 2-3 guides, one written by the student class, one written by the average Joe type, and one written for the "good things in life" crowd. Read the various sections on an area, combine the knowledge.

Typically you'll do the following: use the student guide for a good time, use the average Joe for basic shopping and where to stay, and use the high life book for where to eat well and good museums and such.

Oh, and if you are attached to the internet for your travel plans in the developing world, you're an idiot.
posted by Muddler at 5:16 PM on April 9, 2007

Don't forget the Let’s Go Travel Guides -- compiled annually by Harvard undergrads.
posted by ericb at 5:30 PM on April 9, 2007

Neither of those descriptions, to my mind, did enough to exclude the possibility that my destination would also be "a favorite of naked German package tourists."

Naked germans? Sounds like a bonus, in my view.
posted by delmoi at 5:57 PM on April 9, 2007

delmoi writes "Naked germans? Sounds like a bonus, in my view."

Naked Danes, naked Brazilians, naked Thais, great! But please, no naked Germans. I've lost all respect for delmoi.
posted by orthogonality at 6:01 PM on April 9, 2007

I wish Let's Go would bring back their yellow covers and "thumbs up" logo.

I love reading different travel guides. I often carry multiple books (oh my back) when I travel and I've even tried writing my own online guides. I tend to like it when a guide has a bit of personality and humour (idiosyncratic as the posted article mentions) - something that will tell you about a good bargain but will warn you about the funky smells that come with that bargain. It's probably just me but it seems to be harder to find this personality these days - all the guides seem pretty polished (although the Rick Steves guides sometimes get it, I suppose).

Anyway, I thought the article did a good job of talking about that. Every time I look at Wikitravel for the areas I know, I'm always surprised that there is not more idiosyncrasies. They list the sights but don't tell you what sights are crap and which are not.
posted by Staggering Jack at 6:18 PM on April 9, 2007

Travel guides are the McDonald's of 'independent' travelers, everything familiar, predigested and bland.
posted by signal at 6:22 PM on April 9, 2007

Travel snobs are just as bad as hipsters. And often the same people.

I mean, how cool can any of it be if someone wrote a book 10 years ago about Thailand being boring and full of backpackers, AND then it was made into a movie with Leonardo Dicaprio.
posted by smackfu at 6:32 PM on April 9, 2007

smackfu: you're saying the entire world is somehow not "cool" (wtf that means) because of 1 novel and 1 movie?
posted by signal at 6:55 PM on April 9, 2007

Travel guides are the McDonald's of 'independent' travelers, everything familiar, predigested and bland.

Are you saying that from experience or perception? I've tried all kinds of ways to travel, and having a book point out a spot I otherwise would never have known about is NOT bland. Pick and choose is the way to go. Travel guides are great for maps and pointers to the markets, things like that. They are also good for telling you where you'll get robbed - and they are often very correct, I can tell you.

I've known and tried the "just walk about" method. It's a good way to be robbed, get sick, be lost, be bored, and waste time in piss smelling back streets.

If you want bland and boring, go to a resort. Otherwise, use the book for a general guide and hit the streets. Just as good, have a friend in country.
posted by Muddler at 7:01 PM on April 9, 2007

Are you saying that from experience or perception?

Experience, having done both.
The best way to see a place, IME, is to hit the street, talk with the natives, ask other travellers (especially the ones without guidebooks, of course).
posted by signal at 7:04 PM on April 9, 2007

smackfu: you're saying the entire world is somehow not "cool" (wtf that means) because of 1 novel and 1 movie?

Not at all. More like a backpaper eschewing travel guides and trying to get off the beaten path where no one has gone before is as cliche as it gets. That it was an old stereotype 10 years ago.
posted by smackfu at 7:57 PM on April 9, 2007

Why do I need a travel-specific wiki when I can just go to the Wikipedia article for my destination and start surfing the external links?

Because those links will likely not contain the scope of information you will probably find in Lonely Planet or Let's Go. You're often talking about really obscure places, and like the article mentions, finding advice on a good place to stay is crucial, perhaps more so than any other advice. LP and LG are usually pretty good at listing a lot of these places.

And I agree with others who've said that wikitravel just has to hit a critical mass to start working. This will happen eventually, but what seems to be the problem and what was the whole point of the article is that wikitravel heavily edits the entries. A double-edged sword, that is. In an attempt to be "balanced", they apparently remove strong opinions, which is what you often need. This works well for wikipedia, but not so much when you're miles from a major city and need at the very least to judge from yourself from a thread of opinions on Praddaporn's Coconut Shack in Chaing Mai.

They'll simply need to lay off the editing and allow a more free-form standard.
posted by zardoz at 7:57 PM on April 9, 2007

I've got to throw in a penny for travel books here.

In India, at least, everyone loves to complain about the Lonely Planet for all the obvious reasons I agree with. The cultural information is absolutely atrocious, for one thing. And it has such a lock on the market that people who don't even know exactly what the Lonely Planet is will talk reverentially about it. (See Pankaj Mishra, here.

But, it's a roughly one-pound brick, inside which you will find the most reasonable logistics of getting too and staying in every single town with a moderately large population in the entire country. You can't really argue with that if you just want to get the hell out of a place. I speak Hindi fluently, and I still carry one around, because it has the information I want.

Beyond that, yes, travel for yourself, find your own spots, etc.. But going without all of that information, especially if you're unfamiliar with a really gigantic country like India, is kinda shooting yourself in the foot, I think. I would imagine this applies to anywhere with confusing travel options, etc.

Also worth mentioning: if you're a traveller and you get kind of lonely, you may want to find a place where everyone is sitting around getting stoned and watching Star Movies all day. At least for a break once in a while.

But, maybe for a smaller, more comprehensively tourist-orientated place like Thailand, this isn't necessary. I've never been there, and I still could find my way to most of the really famous spots, I suspect. And for European cities, for instance, I found my Moscow LP kinda crap. But then, I had an apartment already, and I didn't need a 120-page guide to the Metro.

P.S. IndiaMike is great.
posted by goodglovin77 at 8:02 PM on April 9, 2007

On Preview: I don't think the editing is as big a problem as the whole, it leaves out the information that's a pain in the ass to collect. Again: getting accurate bus schedules, finding out exactly if that road in the mountains is open year-round or just almost open if you can hike, etc.., is thankless work, for which you're probably going to need to finance an expert of some sort.
posted by goodglovin77 at 8:03 PM on April 9, 2007

More like a backpaper eschewing travel guides and trying to get off the beaten path where no one has gone before is as cliche as it gets. That it was an old stereotype 10 years ago.

So people should use guidebooks so as to not seem 'stereotyped" and 'cliched as it gets'?
Some people don't travel in order to seem 'cool', just for the actual experience, you know.
posted by signal at 8:12 PM on April 9, 2007

I was actually posting today about creating Mefi city guides. Basically pages on the site, edited by a user tied to the location, which uses ask.mefi posts to help point people to interesting things to see, do and eat in their city.

Now, I'll just spend that energy getting pissed off about something or other.
posted by drezdn at 8:17 PM on April 9, 2007

I think this Salon article by Rolf Potts (from 1999!) describes the absurdity of blindly trying to "wander off the tourist trail in search of authenticity" very well.
posted by banishedimmortal at 8:26 PM on April 9, 2007

Travel guides are the McDonald's of 'independent' travelers, everything familiar, predigested and bland.

I'm always puzzled by this attitude. I've found that having access to information is a good thing and that having a base level of knowledge does not preclude a person from learning or discovering new things on their own.
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:03 PM on April 9, 2007

Why do I need a travel-specific wiki when I can just go to the Wikipedia article for my destination and start surfing the external links?

First, because Wikipedia is getting better at keeping travel-related information out of geography articles. Second, because Wikipedia is getting better at keeping external links sections trimmed. It's not a travel guide, and is trying very hard not to be one. (That said, almost any landmark in Paris has about twenty photographs ...)
posted by dhartung at 9:06 PM on April 9, 2007

Google and a spirit of adventure are all you need.
posted by cmacleod at 9:20 PM on April 9, 2007

I find travel guides invaluable when I'm travelling in a country or city I don't know. I don't use them as gospel, just as a way to get up to speed in advance.

I don't use them only where I speak the language and know the city already, which is pretty much Paris, Brussels, Warsaw and Krakow and that's it.

But I also like wandering around aimlessly. Can't we all just get along?
posted by athenian at 11:42 PM on April 9, 2007

Travel guides are great if you turn up in a tiny town in the middle of a high altitude desert in South America at 3am and need to find somewhere to stay.

And what staggeringjack said. The more sources of info the better!
posted by algreer at 1:00 AM on April 10, 2007

It's hard to beat a good LP or Rough Guide while traveling. Wiki travel is a good idea - but you really need a critical mass to make it work. Even then, if I can't print it out, bind it, and throw it in my pack, it wouldn't do much good while traveling....
posted by willthethrill at 8:09 AM on April 10, 2007

Even then, if I can't print it out, bind it, and throw it in my pack, it wouldn't do much good while traveling....
This is exactly why I have started buying LP books for the places I visit. Shanghai and Hong Kong so far, and they've been indispensible if for nothing else than the maps. I've even added to them when i've found things I want to go back to, or if i've found things that are out-of-date.

I've also found the LP "Pocket [insert language]" books to be incredibly useful. The Mandarin one lives in my pocket when i'm in China, the German one when I was in Dusseldorf a few years ago. Incredibly handy, and highly recommended.
posted by Snowflake at 8:48 AM on April 10, 2007

I used wikitravel exclusively in prague and budapest and found what I needed

Woo-hoo, signal! Glad to hear that. Back when WikiTravel was a weeeee baby, I donated text I'd written for a travel book that never came to fruition (hilarious: get hired to travel around Europe, and paid to do so, then the people paying you never find a publisher -- had this been 2007 and not 1999, it'd been for sale on Lulu by now).

I wrote pretty much everything in the original Prague, Budapest, Munich, Vienna, Bratislava and Berlin entries. My text has since been formatted and chopped to hell, but it pleases me to know my writing's successor versions were useful.
posted by at 8:59 AM on April 10, 2007

Funny, I was just wondering a few weeks ago how feasible it would be to use Flickr maps as a quasi-travel guide. Not so much for the "how to get there" or "how do I contact them in advance" type questions, but I think there's potentially some value for "what should I see/do there" sorts of questions. Especially for finding obscure, interesting little things that are rarely mentioned in the conventional travel guides.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:40 PM on April 10, 2007

First, shout-outs to and others who've contributed to Wikitravel. You're missed!

Second: I'm pretty excited that this is the kind of criticism we're getting for Wikitravel. Certain guides aren't yet ready to use as your sole source of information...? Some better-written guides exist...? AWESOME! It's great that people take Wikitravel seriously enough that these are the critiques they have.

I was a little bummed about Tim's article, mostly because his problems were mainly based on oversights on his part. For example, for large cities like Bangkok, we give an overview of the city on the main Bangkok page, and then put detailed descriptions of listings (hotels, restaurants, bars, things to do) in break-out pages for each neighborhood. Tim only read our main Bangkok page, so he mistakenly thought we didn't have any listings for Bangkok at all.

He also (sadly) confused our "Be Fair" editorial policy with Wikipedia's "Neutral Point of View". That's unfortunate, since our policy explicitly encourages lively, descriptive writing -- something Tim thought we opposed.

Another downside was that he wasn't aware that all Wikitravel articles are marked with an "article status" to say how far along we think they. Most Wikitravel articles are still a "work-in-progress" and only adventurous travellers who want to contribute to the guides should depend on them as a sole source of information.

The main thing I thought when reading Tim's article was, "Man, I wished he'd talked to our community before he started his trip!" But that's a bad assumption: we've been geared so much for contributors and editors for so long, we really haven't optimized our interface for people reading and travelling.

The Wikitravel community has taken the Slate article to heart, and we've started a process of improving our help files and interface for people using the guides for travelling:

I think the doom-and-gloom is a little unwarranted, though: after all, Wikitravel was just nominated for a Webby Award in the Travel category:
posted by evanprodromou at 4:24 PM on April 10, 2007

I can't see how something useful like askme or are really all that different. Basically, it's not the concept, its the execution that fell this guy. At any rate, the web is great for travelling. If anything too great since you can feel bad if a trip is not perfect for you not planning well enough in advance.
posted by skepticallypleased at 4:38 PM on April 10, 2007

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