When Traveling, Avoid The Algorithmic Trap

from kottke

In a piece called The Algorithmic Trap, David Perell writes about the difficulty of finding serendipity, diversity, and “real” experiences while traveling. In short, Google, Yelp, Instagram, and the like have made travel destinations and experiences increasingly predictable and homogeneous.

Call me old-fashioned, but the more I travel, the less I depend on algorithms. In a world obsessed with efficiency, I find myself adding friction to my travel experience. I’ve shifted away from digital recommendations, and towards human ones.

For all the buzz about landmarks and sightseeing, I find that immersive, local experiences reveal the surprising, culturally-specific ways of living and thinking that make travel educational. We over-rate the importance of visiting the best-places and under-rate the importance of connecting with the best people. If you want to learn about a culture, nothing beats personalized time with a passionate local who can share the magic of their culture with you.

There’s one problem with this strategy: this kind of travel doesn’t scale. It’s in efficiency and doesn’t conform to the 80/20 rule. It’s unpredictable and things could go wrong.

Travel — when done right — is challenging. Like all face-to-face interaction, it’s inefficient. The fact that an experience can’t be found in a guidebook is precisely what makes it so special. Sure, a little tip helps — go here, go there; eat here, eat there; stay here, stay there — but at the end of the day, the great pleasures of travel are precisely what you can’t find on Yelp.

Algorithms are great at giving you something you like, but terrible at giving you something you love. Worse, by promoting familiarity, algorithms punish culture.

While reading parts of this, I was reminded of both premium mediocre and the randomness of this approach to travel.

I took the photo above in the Beartooth Mountains on my recent roadtrip. This was one of the surprise highlights of my trip…I wouldn’t have known to take the road through those mountains had it not been recommended to me by some enthusiastic locals.

More here.

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11 Responses to When Traveling, Avoid The Algorithmic Trap

  1. Michelle Vekshteyn September 6, 2018 at 11:22 pm #

    This article tells the harsh truth of traveling that exists today. So many people depend on social media for ideas on where to travel based on the pictures that others have posted. I even find myself seeing posts and thinking to myself, “wow I want to take a picture there too”, which is the issue. Everything is predictable and starts becoming cliché, or as called in this article, an algorithm. For example, so many of my friends or celebrities that I follow took a trip to Mykonos, Greece this summer, and all I saw was the same Snapchat stories, Instagram posts, Facebook albums, etc. There was nothing unique about the pictures, they were “increasingly predictable and homogeneous”, as stated in the article. If everyone goes and posts the same pictures at the same places, it would not make it any more special if you did it yourself. I honestly felt like I was in Mykonos myself all summer. I come from a family that loves to travel and has done so, long before Instagram or other social media platforms were founded. My father, our personal travel agent, does not have a single social media account to this day and still plans the best adventurous trips. This is because he relies more on the recommendations of humans rather than digital ones. As a family we have traveled to over 70 countries, and can proudly say we have been to every continent. Of course, visiting landmarks in certain places is a must, but to really learn about the culture takes more steps. We always have a private family tour guide that is native to the country and shows us more than just the stereotypical landmarks. In Cambodia, I remember we visited a small village of people struggling to build their own shelter. They were still generous enough to show us around and try to explain their daily lives. To me, that was more of an experience rather than going to a museum and posing near a statue for an Instagram post. In fact, I am so happy that I did most of this traveling with my family before I had an iPhone. We got to meet so many locals and learn about so much more than if we just had looked on Yelp or TripAdvisor for popular places to visit. The overall message that David Perell is relaying in this article is to live more in the moment when you travel and explore for yourself, rather than having social media basically tell you where to go. He states that “Algorithms are great at giving you something you like, but terrible at giving you something you love. Worse, by promoting familiarity, algorithms punish culture.” I definitely like seeing the beautiful views and landmarks that are all over social media, but I love learning about the culture of different people directly from them… and that is the difference.

  2. Jaden Tate September 7, 2018 at 12:43 pm #

    In the blog, When Traveling, avoid the Algorithmic Trap by Jason Kottke he speaks about the wonders of traveling, specifically the ones you have to search and work for. Jason tells us about how now a day the way people visit and the way people find places to travel is through social media. In the blog, he gives us a snippet of The Algorithmic Trap by David Perrell where he states “the great pleasures of travel are precisely what you can’t find on Yelp.” From personal experience, I know that staying with the tourists is not the way to go. For example, when my family and I go to any other area outside of Vegas or the general Nevada area, we always go to locals. There is no fun in staying in the resort or in some cases the are areas known as the hotel zone, where there are only tourists and a whole strip of hotels. In getting away from areas like these, I feel as though you get the best experience possible. You are able to go to the best and authentic food places, see the incredible scenic views and go to the hotspots that only the locals know. In doing this, you are able to see a completely different side of the area you are traveling. This article is also provided with a photo taken by Jason who says that if it were not for the locals, he would have never taken the road that he was on.
    Most people have traveled in their lifetime, and when they do, they are usually using maps or their cellphones to get to where they are going or to find out the next place to land. The more experienced travelers enjoy getting to their journey more than the journey itself. They find joy in taking paths not on the map and discovering new things that not many people know about. With traveling outside of the tourist’s attraction, you are open to a broader aspect of cultures and ideas that differ from the culture you currently subside in. Take the way Chinese life differ from the American life. Most of the adults there wake up and do some sort of yoga and exercise before they head off to work while Americas wake up and drive to McDonald’s to get their sandwich and coffee. This article should be shown to most students my age since we are the generation that is addicted to their electronics, social media and the way people see oneself. In reading this, it opens my mind to how I should travel when I am older and a way to escape this natural way of traveling.

  3. John Skalski September 7, 2018 at 3:24 pm #

    Traveling can be really hard sometimes because you are going to places that you are unfamiliar with. “When traveling, avoid The Algorithmic Trap” hits a lot of the key points as to what makes traveling so difficult. A lot of people will rely more on recommendations that they see online rather than actually talking to locals and getting their opinion. Talking to locals should be the way to go because they will know a lot more then what a few good reviews on yelp could ever tell you. I remember this past summer I went to Williamsburg, Virginia with my family for Busch Gardens. We knew nothing about the area except how to get to the amusement park and that was about it. When we first arrived our hotel room was not ready so we went to a local diner to grab some food. The diner was very empty so we were able to talk to some of the people that worked there and found out a lot about fun things to do around the area and other good places to eat. A lot of the things that they told us was not on google, yelp or anything like that so it was nice to be able to have some insider information. Not only were we able to learn about things to do in the area but we were able to have a nice conversation with people we never met which is something that a review on a computer could never have given us.
    Later in the blog the author said “Algorithms are great at giving you something you like, but terrible at giving you something you love. Worse, by promoting familiarity, algorithms punish culture”. So basically by reading something online I will be able to possibly find something I may or may not like but there is very little chance that I will love it. I never would have been able to do the things that I did when I was in Virginia without talking to the locals. I enjoyed my trip a lot more because I was able to do things that I ended up loving while at the same time learning about that area’s culture. I was able to learn more about the culture from simply talking to people and not just relying on the internet to tell me what to do. That is a problem that happens in the world today, people would rather just rely on the internet to tell them what to do rather than actually having a meaningful conversation with people. I am not saying that I am not one of those people but from that trip I was able to learn to not always rely so much on the internet but instead talk to people and learn about them and the area where they live. After reading this blog and going on my vacation I defiantly plan on talking to local people a lot more to learn what I should and should not be doing in that area.

  4. Petar Micevski September 7, 2018 at 7:05 pm #

    Sometimes we get so involved in our technology that we subliminally strive to become as efficient as our computers. We tend to focus so much on efficiency that we forget to act like humans. That is why when TripAdvisor or Expedia recommend certain restaurants around your vacation spot for the week, we like to follow what other people recommend. However, when you’re visiting a certain place for its culture, the tourist spots are the only things that you want to see minimally. In experiencing a culture, you have to interact with the culture itself. One of the many ways that one can achieve this is through proper food. What proper food entails is that high-end restaurants are not the way to go. You are going to have to find a hole in a wall where nobody can understand you. While it may put you in an uncomfortable position, you must remember that you are in their house, not vice versa. During my trip to Italy, we were never embarrassed to ask where some families eat regularly. While we didn’t understand them or the waitresses when we were ordering, many hand gestures and pointing proved to be sufficient in getting proper food. When I look back, I realized that the tastiest food and most beautiful areas came from bumps throughout our trip. While some things were scheduled, it was the casual flow that helped us find Antica Osteria da Beppe, my personal favorite hole in the wall. As the only American family in the restaurant, we were quite the elephant in the room. However, through active communication and lively personality, we were able to not only become friends with a manager that didn’t speak English but also get tips and tricks for local restaurants in the next town we were driving to. The real culture is found in the people because machines cannot carry traditions or plausible conversation. When I visited the towns in Italy, the Colosseum was not my most memorable moment. My most memorable moment was around 8pm in a little town called Modena, talking to the manager while comparing and contrasting American and Italian life. The most important thing to remember when trying to reach the actual culture is to reach out of your comfort zone and see how people really live there. Sometimes, you should take the longer route because locals said that the view is stunning. Other times, you should make a stop so you can buy some fruits and vegetables from a stall on the side of the road. If you show interest in their language and culture, few people will turn you away.
    Sometimes analysis cannot tell you how to feel. The reviews and ratings on those websites have minimal guidance as to where you should actually go. A vacation isn’t supposed to be down to the point. What makes the vacation fun is the fact that you can do what you want when you want it. Without that sense of freedom, is a vacation really worth it?

  5. Amanda Nitting September 7, 2018 at 7:18 pm #

    Through the increase in popularity that social media has generated over the years, it is very easy to get engrossed in finding the perfect place to travel based on pictures and reviews. In the article, “When Traveling, avoid The Algorithmic Trap,” by Jason Kottke, that is the focus of his argument. Mr. Kottke discusses how there is more satisfaction in a vacation when you go beyond the tourist attractions and discover the culture of the area one is visiting. Most people are more concerned with capturing an aesthetic Instagram photo instead of going offline for the week to experience the people, culture, and “unpopular” places.
    Even though my experience with traveling is not extensive, I full heartedly agree with Mr. Kottke. Finding small local restaurants, markets, attractions, etc. is more enjoyable than standing in a crowded line for hours to see something that everyone else is because you get a better appreciation of the area when you go to less populated places. This appreciation comes from asking locals questions about places to visit and learning about the environment based on their personal experience rather than the internet or a guidebook. For example, my aunt has traveled all of the world and one of the most important things that she has taught me is the importance of taking an interest in getting to learn and understand the type of culture. She has learned different languages and would not only put in a lot of research to the places she was going to but connect with the residents. Sometimes when traveling, it becomes more adventurous when you go off the beaten path and discover a secluded spot. This is due to the fact that it can be distressing for the one traveling and it can make one feel as though they found their own place on their vacation. The article touches upon this idea when the writer describes the picture of the Beartooth Mountains. He states, “This was one of the surprise highlights of my trip…I wouldn’t have known to take the road through those mountains had it not been recommended to me by some enthusiastic locals” (Kottke). This is something that should be emphasized because it is crucial to understand the distinction between just having pictures of the place you traveled and being able to come back and say you have a better understanding of the world.
    Technology has made it almost impossible for anyone to just sit back and take in the fresh air. Especially with traveling, most people will just take off about a week of work to attempt at escaping the world temporarily. However, phones are always buzzing and making noises that make it difficult to ignore. With the limited amount of time that most people have, they most schedule out their time accordingly so they can visit what they want. In return, they are actually missing out on purposely going places where they do not know where they will end up. This is the fascination that I have with traveling because if I ever have to opportunity to go to different places, I will make it a priority to discover and learn about the culture and small quaint local areas.
    The point of traveling is to extend one’s knowledge by experiencing a different culture and environment. It should change the way one interprets his or her own life and give it new meaning. The algorithmic trap that people fall into can be prevented by making an effort to break away from phones and enter into the local areas where one will only find that experience in that specific location.

  6. Tyler Peteraf September 7, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

    This article has many truths to it. In today’s society, we allow technology to dictate where and how we travel. I don’t think anybody goes anywhere without checking what kind of rating it has. I can definitely relate to this as every time my family has ever gone somewhere new, we look for a hotel to stay at with a good rating and when we go out to eat we look for a restaurant with a good rating. Their are certainly multiple flaws in this way of thinking, as the article brings up. Firstly by taking this approach, we are missing out on the potential of experiencing something special. If were allowing technology to dictate every move we make, we miss out on the things that technology doesn’t account for. As the article states, “We over-rate the importance of visiting the best-places and under-rate the importance of connecting with the best people.” I believe this statement emphasized the idea that technology doesn’t give us the optimal experience when traveling. If we truly want to experience a different culture, face to face interactions with people allow for a connection to the area that technology can simply not give you.
    One thing about being so dependent on technology when traveling, that I don’t know if the article specifically brings up, is the idea that the opinions we base our travelling on simply isn’t ours. Many times we let other people’s experiences dictate how we spend our time traveling without allowing ourselves to create experiences for ourselves. This automatically makes our travelling experiences less authentic than what it should be. Travelling should be something that allows us to experience different cultures to the fullest extent, only by taking technology out the equation will we be able to do that.

  7. Michael Zera September 7, 2018 at 9:47 pm #

    This short article does an excellent job explaining the reality of traveling and the difficulty of finding lifetime experiences when traveling. I love how Kottke starts off by stating, “Call me old fashioned, but the more I travel, the less I depend on algorithms.” Many people today depend on social media, the internet, and other sources to help them find the best vacation possible. These people enjoy asking others what they recommend for there vacation, but what they should really be asking is what do they themselves want to do? Family time is the best time and the whole family should decide on what they want to do on their own vacation. Kotte writes about how he remembers the historical landmarks, but remembers his times visiting the local town people instead. I can relate to this statement as I went to Hawaii a few years ago and had some of the best memories there with my family. Yes, we saw the volcanoes, and went to multiple historic areas, but nothing beat talking to the Hawaiian locals at the beach and around the city. Talking to them was eventful, and although it may not have stood out as the best part of the vacation, looking back at it, interacting with the people of Hawaii was a life changing moment. This is the main argument of this article explaining how so many people plan out what they are going to do on their trip, but never end up doing anything life changing. Hence the title, “when traveling, avoid the algorithmic trap.” Algorithmic meaning the stereotypical events that people do on vacation instead of the events that are underrated and are unplanned. Any vacation a family goes on they are going to have a great time, but do you want the highlight of your vacation seeing a historical figure or landmark? Probably not, and I know for most people, the best family time is the time that makes everyone learn something that they will remember for the rest of their life. The best line of this article and the most important point is, “Algorithms are great at giving you something you like, but terrible at giving you something you love.” In this sentence, he talks about algorithms as social media or the internet. Yes, social media, the internet or asking people what to do during your time traveling are great ways to have a good vacation, but they are not going to give you the best time there that you possibly can. Getting out of the hotel and talking to other people about their culture and their way of living is going to make yourself from having a good vacation, from having the best vacation ever.

  8. Cassandra Sibilski September 10, 2018 at 7:59 am #

    This article about traveling talks about how traveling itself has become very talked about in reviews online and on social media. Due to this, this article discusses how people these days can get lost, trying to find the “perfect place” to travel, based on what they might see in an idealized photo or review. But really there is no perfect place, or experience that can come of travel to these so called perfect spots. They are so over traveled and talked about that traveling to them, while great, doesn’t offer the same enriched experience as immersing yourself in the culture of the place your traveling. These kinds of experiences are few and far between, and are not popularized by the media.

  9. Taylor Mennie September 14, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

    As technology advances, we as humans want to be efficient enough to experience more than the usual norm. We all want to see a landmark, someplace that is historical meaning to the country or something of that kind of magnitude.
    Also traveling through different countries foreigners want to get away from all commercial eateries. We want local and authentic cuisine. Foreigners are now stepping away from applications like Yelp, Google, and other since it has an automated, predictable, and useless feel to newcomers. Getting a recommendation from a local has more value than looking up a restaurant, hotel, or attraction on your cell phone.
    I can relate to this because since my father is an airline pilot he has taken my family and me to numerous countries and cities. He relies on local recommendations or other pilots as well. I’ve been to Paris, France and been to the hole-in-the-wall kind of places which has the best food, atmosphere, and drinks. This goes to show that people actually want a personal connection when traveling than a commercial feel. In France people were generous enough to tell my dad were the best restaurants were in the city and what kind of attractions to see. Learning from locals is actually better than seeing a beautiful sight on Instagram. I can totally agree with Jason Kottke article by just not relying on a social media platform and relying on face-to-face interaction.

  10. Shaunak Rajurkar September 14, 2018 at 11:27 pm #

    The essence of travel as we think of it today seems just “going through the motions.” We have become obsessed with the idea of systematic or “efficient” travel, where we plan for things to do and things to see, and rarely ever get caught up in the beauty of travel itself. Our access to technology has allowed us to create preconceived notions about our destinations, and we seem to go out of our way to make our experiences align with these notions. The idea that Paris must be “the city of love” forces us to over-romanticize our experiences, and it becomes easy to lose sight of what truly exists in the city. A city or country’s culture is best experienced through the locals, yet we constantly rely on the recommendations of fellow tourists to guide us on vacations.

    Perhaps our fear of the unknown pressures us to tread “closer to the wall” on our vacations. We stay in our comfort zones. This, combined with fear of a language barrier and fear of the unplanned generally equate to a very generic getaway. With social media’s prevalence, we end up with a very cliche, yet photogenic vacation. The weight that the “social media generation” places on Instagram ultimately has travelers chasing for photo opportunities instead of experiences.

    As described by the author, the best solution is to consult an enthusiastic local, but it “doesn’t scale.” In areas like New York City, where locals are outnumbered by tourists, it becomes impossible to let locals guide.

    The irony of travel is simple: places that are known for already being authentic destinations become popular tourist hotspots through word of mouth and through the internet. Tourists then flock to these destinations, thus making the locals (and officials) of the destination shift their economic focus to support tourism. When an area acknowledges tourism, it begins to lose some of its authenticity. The integrity of authentic travel is held up only by game theory, and it’s only a matter of time before all worthwhile destinations begin to lose their authenticity

  11. Kent Flores September 19, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

    In the article “When Traveling, Avoid The Algorithmic Trap” by Kottke, the author talks about traveling to the local spots instead of the typical touristic sights. The authors reasoning for traveling to the locals is that one gets to know the locals cultures better and see sights that would not be available in the touristic sights. As a traveler myself, I have been to around 13 countries in 40 plus states in the United States of America. What I have learned from my travels is that going through the old country roads or asking the natives of an area where to eat, shop, sight see, and sleep, allows me to truly understand other cultures and see sights that are beautiful, but hidden because they lack a means of profit. What I mean by this is that a certain spot might not have so much advertisement, because it is in the middle of nowhere and most likely you would not know about the place unless you are a local. These hidden sights are beyond amazing, except for the few that are actually lame, but aside from the lame spots, you question yourself why no one posts on Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, or any other website about the spot your visiting. For those that have not traveled much in their life time, I recommend that one goes out to a touristic place for vacation and ask the locals for things that they do in the area. For example, if someone asked me what there was to do in New Jersey, I would send them to scenic views, local events, lakes, and some parts of New York City that a tourist would not be able to look up on their own unless a local told them about the sight. Just like the author wrote “I wouldn’t have known to take the road through those mountains had it not been recommended to me by some enthusiastic locals” (Kottke). Kottke understands from experience that the locals have a better idea of where to go to get the most out a traveling experience. I could not emphasize how much better seeing local sights are than going to the typical high cost, over crowded and full of souvenir shop are. To those who will go out for vacation this winter break, I recommend going to bear mountain if you are near upstate New York. While there, you will be able to see a white snow covered land that looks endless in the eyes of the beholder.

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