A Tool for the Weary Travel Planner


Every trip requires making choices. Where should we go? When should we go, and for how long? On which airline should we fly? At which hotel should we stay? At which restaurant should we eat?

It’s easy to become paralyzed by the volume of choices. (Do check out this TED video from psychologist Barry Schwartz about this very interesting topic.) We’re travel weary before we even begin our travels.

Not for me, though. Not when it comes to traveling, at least. I get an obsessive rush of pleasure in researching every, single option, weighing the pros and cons of each, and ultimately making a confident and informed decision to achieve the optimal vacation experience.

But I have finally met my match. A destination so big and vast that it gives Texas small-dog syndrome.

I’m planning a trip to Alaska.

And I’ll just say it—I’m overwhelmed.

There are a zillion things to do in Alaska. And a zillion places to do each one. Innumerable options for boating, national park visiting, flightseeing, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, dog-sledding, gold-panning, native cultural experiences, rafting, ice climbing, hiking. A bajillion glacial treks on a half a bajillion glaciers, a cajillion kayaking options to two cajillion shoreline destinations. (If you’re keeping track, that all adds up to a zillion.)

So today I attempted to zero in on one simple thing: choosing a kayak trip. Even that turned out to be overwhelming.

Should we paddle somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula? Or perhaps on Prince William Sound? Each of these areas has dozens of kayaking destinations. Dozens of outfitters offer half-day trips, full-day trips, and multi-day trips. They have combo trips like water taxi + kayak or helicopter + kayak. Different trips have different scenery: alpine glaciers, tidewater glaciers, calving glaciers, icebergs, or “bergy bits.” Wildlife viewing options like whales, otters, goats, or bears. Oh my.

The sheer volume of choices makes comparisons extremely difficult. Without grounds for comparison, how do we make the best choice?

Travelers, I don’t have an answer. But I have found something that helps a lot. YouTube. The new tool for the would-be traveler.

Surely someone has video of kayaking the Columbia Glacier, and Bear Glacier, and Aialik Bay. Surely I can watch these videos and get a taste of what the experience will be like.

Better than someone else’s opinion, better than a still photo or a blog post or a tourism website, a YouTube video creates an instant reaction—“I would like this,” “This looks boring,” “That’s not what I expected,” “That is going to be worth every penny.”

With the help of moving pictures, preferences are beginning to take shape. Paddling through “bergy bits” versus icebergs now makes sense. I still haven’t come to a decision yet but I at least feel like I can make one, and I’ll be using a lot more YouTube for future travels.