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.


Seeing and Hearing Is Believing

I haven’t had cable, or even regular TV, in several years, so I haven’t been able to binge on travel shows from PBS and the Travel Channel like I used to. Being able to see and hear real people traveling through the actual places that I was planning to go someday made me feel one step closer to it myself. To ease my travel-video deprivation, my illustrious colleague recently pointed me toward a source I hadn’t realized existed: my beloved Lonely Planet has a YouTube channel. The videos cover a variety of topics–everything from festivals to food to wildlife to practical tips–and are shot in locations around the world. One of the best features is being able to hear the hosts’/travel writers’ perspectives on the places they are and the act of traveling and travel writing itself.

This is my favorite thus far, because I’m dying to go to Morocco and because the video format is especially useful for depicting music and dance, things that don’t come across as vividly just through text.

Also, please enjoy these elephants: