Search for anything travel-related online and you’re bound to come up with a number of lists for results. The top 10 things to do in Bangkok, 10 things not to do in Cape Town, or 14 places to go this summer. While there’s nothing wrong with list format (I’ve written my fair share), it’s the generic overarching variety that can be difficult to glean information from.
You can, however, leverage all of those lists into useful information so that every top 10, worst 7, and best 8 page you come across isn’t wasted digital time.
Use More Lists
You might be thinking that more lists isn’t what you need when you’re already overwhelmed with them. Yet cross-referencing several along the same topic lines can help you gather more information than just skimming to the bottom of one. You can, for example, anchor a few travel plans around items that keep coming up on several “things to do in Denmark” or top 10 things to do-type articles.
In fact it’s repeat items on a number of lists that can help you at least garner the popular results for a specific search you were looking for.
Go To The Source, Contact The Author
It’s not always possible, but the person who wrote the list can be a good way to get behind the numbered headers. You can do so directly when it comes to most travel blogs but even on larger sites (e.g. CNN Travel) many authors are fairly accessible.
Of course, you don’t even need to send an email to anyone. Writers on larger sites claiming expertise on specific destinations tend to write more material than one list about them. Simply Google the destination followed by the specific author; for example, “Jake Sisko New Orleans”, and you might have more meat to add to that skinny list.
Comments sections too, if available, can sometimes have good information to add to an online travel list as well. This tends to work in reverse site-size though, with (relatively) smaller blogs having more useful comments than those of larger websites which can get bogged down with trolls or other irrelevant banter.
Appreciate The Impact Of Short Lists
Lengthy lists often try to encompass everything under the sun. Lists are brief by nature but don’t have to be nothing but all of the numbered places possible to see in Tokyo. A collection of shorter lists can help do the narrowing down for you – rather than a few long lists which leave you more overloaded than when you first started searching. Travel lists that are 50 items long are tough to grapple with – and though sometimes fun to read, usually cumbersome to extract good information from.
Most travel lists, unless they’re counting quantifiable data, are subjective. The key to making the most out of a generic travel list is to turn that subjectivity into your own personal concrete plans or database about a given place or culture.
Avoid the 4 kinds of travel lists that won’t help you very much and mold the generic ones into shape pointy-edged precision tools, working your way from there. You might find plenty of the same 10 things to do in Vancouver but only the hiking appeals to you. Focus on that aspect when you continue your travel search and you’ll find that generic travel list might just be the perfect breadcrumb…leading you to find travel-related information you didn’t even know you were looking for.
[photos by: macwagen (crumpled list), SPazzo (typing), (Tivoli Copenhaen: foXnoMad Photo) TOMOYOSHI (Tokyo at night) dirkstoop (bird following breadcrumbs)]
I rarely find those lists helpful at all. Often it seems like they just couldn’t think of anything to write.
Don’t discount that they’re often popular and read – providing fuel to the list fire 🙂
I agree with the first commenter; I usually find these lists not helpful at all. Most of the time, it’s because they’re geared toward the naive first-time traveler. So when I see one of those lists, I go like “Really”? I get the feeling that I already know what they write, and that the lists they make are so superficial and only geared for Americans and those who have the inherent fear of traveling. I can see how other people might have a use for those lists, but I can’t see how I would benefit from it.
I can see using them as anchors to work plans around and sometimes you might find a gem in them as well. They’re not ideal but if you get caught reading one might as well make it count if possible 🙂
You hit the nail on the head: these types of lists are subjective and not necessarily helpful to you. I like the idea of cross-references lists as well as digging deeper.
The only lists I’ve ever found really useful were the 10best.com lists, which I think are only for North America for now. Still, they proved really helpful on my west coast trip because they were voted on by the site’s community.
Ever try 10best, Anil?
I haven’t but will head over to the site now to check it out 🙂 Thanks for the link!
I think list posts can be useful when you trust the author, so your tip about looking for other items they’ve written is good. Another thing I’d recommend is narrowing down lists. Look for restaurant lists. Bar lists. Sights lists.
But, yes, I’d agree that the bulk of them are lazy blogging / journalism, largely sourced from other list posts on Google.
Good point – personal lists (in the sense you’re familiar with the author) can be insightful even if they’re not terribly in-depth. Lists get better the more specific they are 🙂
Agreed. Travel lists are usually subjective and most are not useful to me. Kind of like exploring Europe with a guidebook. Also agreed that it depends on the source. If it is an author that I follow and appreciate, the list may be informative. I am probably guilty to most, creating a weekly “8 Great…” list.
Not guilty if you’re lists are informative! I hate to use an ‘it depends’ but that’s really the case – especially if the lists are about very unusual places to specific to a given topic.
I have come across some awfully generic copy-paste lists and some other ingenious and useful lists. As you said, the lists are good starting points. Heck, few months ago I virtually read all lists out there- “10 things to do in Toronto” because I was curious what they were asking people to do! 🙂
I’ve done that too with cities I know very well; I’m not sure about you but I’ve always felt like they missed some major things to do.
I have written many of those lists because assigned by editors, but I confess I’m not really a fan. Besides, they are a little boring even to write them 😛
Although I know they are extremely popular..
They’re easily digestible and help people indulge in places they might want to go; keeping them popular. Do you find they get easier to write the more you do – is there a formula you follow for your editors or does it depend on the list?
perhaps the name of this post should be “3 best ways to make the best out of generic travel lists”! ha!!
I think the list making is reaching a saturation point…surely there are so many lists we can take seriously!
I thought about doing this as a list just for the irony of it!
Good to know about 10best.com lists – they may come in handy on our travels around the US. I like that they’ve been voted on by the community, rather than just being one person’s opinion.
A Tripadvisor for lists….sort of 🙂
Even though I love lists in my personal life (mainly becuase I love to cross things off), I’m not a fan of them in my travel life! However – I do like the idea of contacting the author for more useful info!
A good list helps you stay organized – wish I could be a bit better with them. It always seems like I have one or two items that I can never seem to get crossed off.
I always wondered where the tendency for “Top 10” comes from? Sure, it’s easy to deal with multiples of 5 when it comes to money, time, etc, but why do 90% of lists have to be top 10? Why not top 8? top 12?
There’s got to be a study out there about it I’m sure! 10 does seem to be the most popular certainly 🙂
I love travel lists. In fact, my entire blog is filled with them.
Nothing wrong with that 🙂 What information do you use to come up with your lists, are they based on personal experience/opinion, research, etc?
It depends of what kind of travel list. But most of the time it is a combination of personal experience and research.
I see everyone, except for Robin, is against lists and I don’t know why. As a travel blogger you should make sure you appeal to a wider audience also and lists, being very light reading, do exactly that, attract casual travelers also. And while loyal readers give a blog value, I think casual readers are also extremely important. (again, I’m speaking from a blogger’s point of view, who also thinks about his wallet)
I’m not against lists or the format at all. Like I mentioned above I’ve done my fair share. Some are just much more difficult to squeeze information out of than others; I prefer specifics.
Yes, it’s true, there is a lot of crap (mine probably aren’t that good also), but still, when properly researched, they’re a great resource and I don’t understand the general “hate” among the people who commented on this article 🙂