By Greg Markley
Trip Advisor is an online travel guide that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. It is one of many travel tip sites on the web. But it’s very popular, with revenues of $1.6 billion, total assets of $2 billion and 3,400 employees, as of 2018. For solid information about every venue big (Paris, France) or small (Paris, Texas), Trip Advisor is a helpful resource.
All that information can seem as tough to navigate as the English Channel with weights on your feet. The eccentric scientist Dr. Emmitt Brown said to Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” For most of us, though, guidance or at least tips can aid in the use of Trip Advisor and as we plan for our next trip.
For example, you can read in many descriptions that one of the Top Attractions is a lake.
Every city is prideful of their lake or lakes. But do you really want to see every lake? Lake Michigan or Lake Ontario are big enough to spend time at, but some small lake? Spend your short holiday elsewhere. Neighborhood lakes are inviting for newcomers, but for travelers on a schedule, less so. The same goes for canyons—you can’t visit all 146 in the United States.
Another statement like: “Oh, my, they have a Target in this city, and even a Dillards.”
Where do these individuals live? Targets and Dillards can be found plenty of places. Why pick up something there to carry or ship when you can just drive 5-10 miles from home and get it when you return? A vacation means we “vacate” our routines in the hopes of novelty.
I don’t like it when people say they hate Atlanta (a terrific city of great cultural, educational and sporting opportunities) because of the traffic. I lived in Atlanta for five years; it is my favorite American city to have lived in. My first three years there, I saw only a bit of a.m. traffic—because I left for Army physical training at 5 a.m. from College Park. But even on the weekends, I went downtown after the busy time or on the very good public transit.
After reading Trip Advisor, when you decide to go to a popular travel city, ask or research what the traffic rhythm of the city is. That’s very important in a place that suddenly grew by 50 to 60% over 10 years or so — Austin, Texas. When I used to come home from teaching in Columbus, the Monday to Thursday traffic after 8 p.m. was usually very slow. That was partly because of Fort Benning soldiers having to get up early most weekdays; and also because many were already home in Lee County, Alabama.
Another consideration readers of Trip Advisor and other travel publications forget is “Timing, Timing, Timing.” I learned when I lived in Germany in the mid-1990s in a city that had 60 museums, that timing was everything if you wanted to enjoy world-class museums. When a museum or other attraction opens say at 10 a.m., buses appear from everywhere, like a swarm of bees. Even with an early admit ticket, you will still have to negotiate some groups of tourists.
Another trick I apply a lot as someone over 60 is to go to highlighted places in the early a.m. (I mean between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m.). For example, when in St. Louis, MO, walk downtown at the times I said, but check the crime situation. Take photos of the Gateway Arch at sunrise.
Why wait for afternoon to get close to the Seattle Space Needle? Take a few pictures there outside at 6 a.m. or so, and add three or four hours to your sightseeing times that you saved early today.
It is a truism with me as well as many others travelers, that we over-plan. We are excited about the vacation so much we think we should hit every nook and cranny of our host city. For example, there are natural history museums in every state, with another one or two at major universities in each state, and in a number of private collections. Let zoologists and science students be enthralled by visiting two natural history museums; you can live with one.
One more thing: it is embarrassing to see a traveler asking dumb questions of tour guides, such as: “Was this city involved in the Civil War?” on a tour of Richmond, Virginia. By reading about the place you are visiting, you understand a guide’s spiel, and you can know when they are just reading from Wikipedia. So why pay for that? FYI: Spring Break at Auburn University will be March 7 to 14 and at Southern Union it is March 9 to 14. I hope you all have good adventures or at least get a break from studying. Expect more on traveling from me before you head out.
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has masters degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.