Gone are the days of toting four guidebooks, weighing down your backpack, making yourself loathe those in-between hostel days, those days that make your back ache and muscles strain under an all too heavy load.

I Hate My Life Right Now. This Bag is so Heavy!

Now with iTunes, you simply click “purchase” to download a city guide, map, or book directly to your iPad or iPhone.  With hostels, just ask for a map.  With the internet, just use TripAdvisor or Yelp.

Yelp and TripAdvisor both use reviews, written by patrons, incorporating rating systems, between one and five stars, letting potential new clients determine whether “to go or not to go.”  TripAdvisor allows travelers to write reviews and is especially useful for finding hotels, tours, and attractions.  Yelp, more extensively used in North America, is essentially the same concept, and is particularly helpful in discovering the best restaurants, coffeehouses, and beauty salons, among other businesses.

I’ve relied on Yelp to find where to get my eyebrows threaded, what to order at a restaurant, and where to find a cappuccino identical to those I drink in Italy.  At the store where my family sells the best tortillas in the world, many people have wandered through the doors because the store is the only place in all of Bakersfield to find Vegan food (and like yelp says, the wraps are amazing).

Emily and I relied extensively on TripAdvisor during our Escapades in Europe.  When in Croatia, it advised us to make, what was an unscheduled stop in Zadar, to take a look at The Sea Organ, saying it was “a NOT to miss experience.”  True that.  The Sea Organ turned out to be our absolute favorite, so much so, that we skipped Split and added another day to enjoy Zadar’s other beautiful points.

Em & I enjoying Zadar and Sunset By The Sea

In our current world of real-time, when book information is out of date before it is even written, and news is old prior to being pressed to ink and paper, Yelp and TripAdvisor have power, but how accurate is the information gleaned from these websites and others like them?  Can the information be trusted?

I recently read an article discussing the lows of TripAdvisor and how the ratings can be skewed because companies may hire fake reviewers or write reviews that trash the competition.  Generally, the Yelp guidance I’ve received is spot on, but just this past Monday, my experience was far below the stated 4.5 star ratings listed for a particular coffee shop.  I couldn’t suppress my laughter, when the Belgian Waffle placed in front of me was actually three Eggo Waffles drizzled with chocolate syrup and dusted with powdered sugar.  Really?!  So, who on Yelp was smoking crack when they said this place had amazing food?!  Yes, the service was friendly, the soy cappuccino good enough, but I didn’t pay $5.50 for someone to pop Leggo My Eggo in the nearest toaster…

Oh wait…I did. Wah Wah. Sucka.  Just another testimony to “be careful who you trust.”

If you do use Yelp or TripAdvisor, I’m not suggesting that you stop, I’m only suggesting that you use it as part of a slew of travel tools, which also should include recommendation from friends and other travel websites.

Here is  my advice on how to make the most out of Yelp and TripAdvisor and use it to its full capacity.

  1. Use TripAdvisor and Yelp as part of your research tools:  Use other websites to help in your travel planning and talk with friends.  Sites like Lonely Planet, BootsnAll, or CouchSurfing are good places to start.
  2. Don’t view Yelp or TripAdvisor as God:  We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.  Whenever it comes to reviews, people cannot be objective.  Take reviews with a grain of salt.
  3. Actually read the reviews, not just go by the star rating:  I have a bad habit of just looking at how many stars something has, anything from a book to a restaurant.  Often in Yelp, if you search Vegan, it will pull up Steakhouses because people have written “no vegan options available.”  If you don’t read the review and just look at the stars, you might visit the restaurant thinking you found vegan paradise.  This has happened to me.  Learn from my mistakes.
  4. Laugh when it’s wrong:  I refused to eat my Belgian Waffle, and I will never go back to that place, but think how funny it is to order what you think is gourmet and it’s an Eggo.  Laughing makes life so much better.
  5. Celebrate when it’s right:  The sites get it right most of the time  I have found so many new favorite spots and it’s fun to try new places.
  6. Write your own reviews:  Let people know what your own experiences have been so that people won’t find themselves wasting time visiting terrible businesses.  Share helpful information with others about the places you most enjoy.

From my experience, here are a few places, businesses, or attractions with reviews that you can trust on Yelp and TripAdvisor.


The Veggie Grill

Two Guns Espresso

Abalone Cove Shoreline Park

It's Possible for Great Discoveries using Yelp or TripAdvisor


Liquid Adventures, Seward, Alaska.

Red Salt Restaurant, Poipu, Kauai

Itaca Hostel, Barcelona, Spain

  • Sean

    Nice one Kara. I’d agree with your sentiment on using yelp and tripadvisor. Lots of reviews – but each one is not GOD. Using lots of sources helps a person/traveler make an informed decision. But sometime, just going and not looking at reviews can be fun as well! Cheers to you!

    July 23rd, 2013 8:37

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