4 Types Of Travel Lists That Won’t Help You Very Much

April 13, 2010 by  
Advice

Lists are a good way to absorb information quickly online but tend to be more useful the more specific the topic is. Often though, they can be too subjective to provide too much useful information. I’ve written a number of lists myself but some make better headlines than they do articles. It is even difficult to generalize about lists so I don’t want to knock what I haven’t read but there are some things you just can’t quantify easily.

1. The Friendliest Places

There is no friendliest place really since friendliness is culturally relative. How we perceive friendliness is based on our own cultural background – take for example smiling. The smiles in Thailand can mean so many things whereas in the Middle East a straight face is the default. Often foreigners visiting the US comment on how nice people are since they typically ask, “how are you?”

smiling kid

2. The Best Places In The World To Visit

These types of lists tend to work well when you know the author or are familiar with their work. It’s also interesting to read the best places in a very specific town or city since they usually cover the highlights many travelers are looking for. Simply reading that a place is the best without something added (like the best surfing, best trekking) doesn’t help you much as a traveler.

thumbs up

3. The Worst Places To Visit In The World

Any given trip is a series of moments in a given time at a given place. While it’s OK to hate some places, chances are if you were to visit somewhere more than once you wouldn’t hate it each time.

stop sign

4. The Most Dangerous Places To Visit

Again, you can say the most dangerous parts of a city based on crime rate, or include war zones – but national borders (or otherwise) don’t magically segregate violence which is one reason travel warnings shouldn’t stop you from visiting most places. It’s also why you’ve got to decipher State Department travel warnings.

snow white witch

Look For Logic and Specifics

Lists appeal to us for many reasons but they don’t do you much good unless they’re based on or contain specifics, logic, or quantifiable information. Ask yourself, what criteria was used to create the list? Also, remember that information changes slowly over time so be sure to update your reality and the mesofacts you come across in all of the lists you read. Even more subjective lists like those described above can be useful, particularly on travel blogs, where they tend to generate good discussions with good information about the topic at hand.

Lists can be useful of course – there are bests and worsts, top 10s, and “mosts” we all get out of the places we visit – but much like the lists themselves, they’re hard to see without getting sight of the bigger picture.

[photos by: Mr Huevo (smiling child), JPhillipson (thumbs up), Elephant wearing striped pants (stop sign), Express Monorail (witch)]

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  1. Earl says:

    Hey Anil – I’m ok with reading lists as long as they avoid trying to please a wide audience. I would much prefer to hear about the author’s specific experiences and why they feel the way they do, as opposed to some general paragraph telling me that Panama is a fun destination, even if I don’t agree with the author’s perspective. That is far more appealing to me.

    And thanks for the link, much appreciated!

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    • Anil P. says:

      You’re welcome Earl :)

      I like the format for a number of topics, it’s a good way to digest information quickly. A bit specific and with some of the author’s voice makes for a good article like you say. Lists need useful information and good writing too :)

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  2. T-roy says:

    Hands down one of the best list I have read in a while man! All the time I see these list of Top 10 “whatever” places and to me they are simply only written for a Google search and twitter re-twitt. They have merit sometimes but overall the lack any real info when it comes to countries only. Like you said if it was more specific to cities “Top 10 things to see in London” it would be more useful. Thanks for writing it man!

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  3. Mark H says:

    I love the idea of a list of lists that people don’t find helpful. I partially agree – clearly a list is in the mind of the author but many human’s naturally follow lists and mark things off lists. For example, I have found on entering overwhelming museums like the British Museum or several of the major European art galleries (Uffizi, Prado, Louvre, Vatican) that a brochure on the “highlights” gives the visitor a sporting chance of seeing some of the major offerings and not drown in the enormity of the displays. Good article.

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  4. Priyank says:

    Haha, that is smart, Anil! I like this list you posted here. :)

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  5. Gourmantic says:

    I find most lists to be a lazy blogger’s way to put up a post. They might be easy to digest when we seem to have a low attention span, but they don’t reflect quality writing most of the time. Sadly, they seem to attract traffic and google hits but offer little substance.

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  6. Sherry Ott says:

    Great – I just posted a best/worst list on my site…ha!

    Super analysis of the ever-popular lists – it really does come down to knowing your author and understanding that it’s just an opinion.
    Anil – you’re certainly on my best travel blogger list! :)

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  7. Nellie says:

    Your article made me laugh a little, haha thanks for including my post in your list. Great one Anil!

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  8. Suzy says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Honestly, all of those “Most wonderful places” etc. lists just run together in my mind. They don’t stand out to me, and therefore don’t make an impact. I think if you can come at a travel list with a unique angle and are always upfront with the reader that these are you tips or favorites and throw in your personal experiences, there is more of an impact. However, those “friendliest places” list are just something someone wants stumbled.

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    • Anil P. says:

      I think we all like to rank and rate stuff and Stumble loves those articles – which is fine, there’s a place for that too. Lists like those are good for clicks but like you say, just wash over the reader almost instantly.

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  9. Akila says:

    Great post, Anil. I get a little tired of the “list” posts because they are all subjective. I met people who didn’t find the Taj Mahal all that impressive while I continue to be amazed by it. Amy makes a great point about “friendly” places — I am yet to find a place where people aren’t friendly once you get beneath their shell — the issue is trying to figure out how to make the connection with them.

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    • Anil P. says:

      Thanks Akila. Yes, I think most people are good in general and friendly – it’s how they display those attributes and how we interpret them that vary quite a bit. Figuring it out is part of the fun of traveling :)

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  10. I agree. I haven’t written a list yet, perhaps when I make one, I should title it “Top # Places …. that I’ve visited” or something like that.

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  11. I agree with Stephanie these four lists are extremely subjective and sometimes are incredibly unimaginative. Much better to go and find out for yourself, at least then you will have no preconceptions.

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    • Anil P. says:

      I think we/people have a need to break things down – to simplify them as much as we can. Sometimes though it ends up being watered down to the point that all of the good information is washed away. These subjective lists reflect that.

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  12. Stephanie says:

    I’m glad you wrote this. I have a problem with “Best Places to Visit” and also “Places to See Before you Die.” So much of it is up to your own personal taste and priorities. People should be figuring that out for themselves not following some arbitrary list.

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  13. Cate says:

    Good post Anil. Deciding where to go should be more about using common sense and not leaving it up to some stupid set of lists that a stranger made up over breakfast. Usually they’re wanting to grab attention and traffic and that’s about it.

    When I see a list heading I skip the post or article and opt for guidebooks, news relating to current situations and expat blogs.These give you insights which generic lists won’t.

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    • Anil P. says:

      Some of the lists are very bland – they probably could be creatively done and still be useful. I don’t mind the list format but I think often the interesting part stops at the headline. I guess as long as people (and search engines) continue to be drawn to them, they’ll stick around.

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  14. Peter J says:

    Nice post bro. I agree that those four lists wouldn’t help much. I’m a fan of lists though due to their quick and easy reading style.

    I’d love to see a future post discussing a few lists that you think help a lot.

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  15. anjuli says:

    on a totally different note- I’m trying to find any blog entries you made on Rome- I looked in the archives but couldn’t find a category under countries or cities- browsed through other parts of the blog and didn’t come across what I was looking for- could you point me in the right direction– I’m sure the signs are RIGHT in front of me- :)- but I could use a bit of pointing.

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    • Anil P. says:

      I haven’t posted on Rome specifically but let me know what kind of information you’re looking for and I’ll see if I can help or find someone who can :)

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  16. Very good points! I agree with all other comment that most lists are subjective and very personal especially when it comes to travel. What’s with Friendliest places? It’s the people and how you interact with them that make it friendly or not to you. If you are grumpy, then you will find any place is the least friendly to you. :)

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  17. Runaway Juno says:

    Totally agreed! Nice article
    those lists can give us a little bit of informations but it really don’t “help”. Because, we have different perspective, don’t we?
    Like everybody says, there’s no right or wrong way to travel.
    Thanks for nice article.

    Juno.

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    • Anil P. says:

      Subjectivity has its place and it’s good to hear the writer’s voice – too bad many of those lists lack a good character behind them.

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  18. anjuli says:

    Such a superb post- I’m always amazed at the very true saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”- there are places I will never visit again because I’ve tried a few times and didn’t like them- but then I meet a myriad of other people who LOVE them to bits and go every chance they get. On the other hand there are places I adore and others despise those places. So such lists are useless because they only point out certain people’s opinions.

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  19. Great points. What people really need is a “Top 10 Places that I’d Love to Visit.” Guess what: the only person that can write that list is you.

    It’s not about how friendly or how dangerous a place is. It’s also about the more important question: does the destination offer the experiences you’re looking for?

    Once you’ve answered that, then look at the details of safety and budget. Not saying they aren’t important, but isn’t the whole idea to go somewhere and have some fun?

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    • Anil P. says:

      I agree – traveling is in a way a sort of selfish act. We all do it for ourselves and to get something out of it in a manner of speaking. The best very subjective lists are the ones we create for ourselves.

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