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Three golden tips for travelling in an information age

Before we embarked on our epic six-month trip of Latin America last autumn, we made a radical and potentially disastrous decision, one we hadn’t made on previous journeys. We left our guidebook at home. Admittedly to cover the whole continent,it was the size of a large brick and we were only carrying a small rucksack each but that wasn’t the whole reason why we chose to travel Lonely Planet or Rough Guide-light. It was an experiment to try out whether new and local ways of gathering travel information would work just as well. So after 24 weeks’ guidebook-free, here are our top three tips for gathering information on the road:

1) Blogs

There are many reasons why travel blogs can be way better than official printed guidebooks. They are free and that’s always a great reason for starters. Also, there are so many blogs that you can match your needs with the experience of a similar traveller. Maybe they travelled as a retired person, with a pet or were similarly obsessed with the farming practices of the Incan civilisation. Blogs can be instantly updated and commented on. Often bloggers will answer your questions, or if they can’t someone else will. Although bloggers can be rather subjective, we found a huge amount of both specific and general information from fellow travellers and residents that formed the bulk of our research on the road.

2) Local hosts

New websites such as AirB&B and Coachsurfing have enabled local people to open their home to visitors and with that to pass on their local knowledge. Never before has there been a formal way of gaining access to information about changing money, the safe parts of town or where to buy the freshest veg. It’s all part of an increasingly personal travel experience that allows you to pass through in your own style.

3) Local contacts

We arrived in South America having stripped bare our network of friends and families for Latin American contacts. Even the faintest hint of a connection was duly noted down and usually linked to on Facebook or email. Most people are happy to play host to a friend of a friend and are proud to show you their city.

And did we live to regret our decision to ditch the guide? Travelling without print turned out to be a game of two halves. Most of the time, it was liberating not having to carry a heavy tome around that marks you out as a tourist and dictates your every move. Our online research was specific to our circumstances, likes and dislikes. We felt regularly connected to a community of bloggers and travellers like ourselves. But when you’re in a beach in Ecuador in the rainy season fighting with wifi that has gone down along with the electricity: frankly not so easy. Next time we will keep our online roots but remember the backup.

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