How to Read Customer Reviews When Booking Travel Plans

If you travel often—or if you like to be adventurous and try new places near your home—you probably rely heavily on online customer reviews to separate the good from the bad when planning trips, booking accommodations, deciding where to eat, and choosing which landmarks you absolutely must visit. The Internet has made customer reviews more accessible than ever, but it has also created a lot of information to sift through. Here are a few easy tips for getting the most out of customer reviews when planning your next trip.

Read the bad reviews first.

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, “All good reviews are alike; each bad review is bad in its own way.” When I look at reviews, I’m less interested in reading about how awesome a place is and more interested in reading about why I maybe shouldn’t pick a particular activity. Typically, if I’m researching a specific restaurant or point of interest, it is because I have heard good things about it, so I use customer reviews as a way to get a different perspective and see if there is anything else I should know. (Note: I do pay close attention to good reviews when picking a restaurant so I know what to order! When looking for good local restaurants, the “explore” tab and customer reviews on the Google Maps application almost never steer me in the wrong direction.)

Manage your expectations.

Although I do value bad reviews, I often find they reflect poor expectations from the customer. If a reviewer is complaining that a $50-per-night motel only offers free muffins in the morning, I’m inclined to think the motel is still a good value! Perhaps that reviewing customer should have splurged for a room at a different hotel wanting a complimentary hot meal. Likewise, I once read a bad review for a restaurant in Mississippi from a customer who was looking for “real Memphis barbecue” and was disappointed. Although I understand Mississippi is very close to Memphis, perhaps that person should have driven north a few miles if “real Memphis barbecue” was what he wanted.

Source: Sezgin Yilmaz

Keep timing in mind.

It is also important to look at the date of the review when weeding out the good from the bad. Maybe there was a lot of noise or poor customer service a few years ago, but perhaps the noisy construction is finished or management has hired a new crop of fantastic employees since. If a complaint in an older review may be a deal breaker for you, check more recent reviews to see if the problem persists. Also, see if you can figure out when the person actually visited and not when they wrote the review. TripAdvisor includes the month of the visit in all reviews and only allows users to review establishments visited within the past year.

Trust your gut.

Online reviews can be a wonderful resource to help you plan your next outing, but if you are excited about a particular place and find a few reviews that dampen your enthusiasm, it is ultimately up to you to decide how much stock you want to place in said reviews. If you are afraid you might regret not trying the place anyway, just go for it! If anything, maybe the bad reviews will lower your expectations a bit so you will walk away feeling even happier and more fulfilled than if you had gone into the experience expecting to be blown away. Remember, everyone has different preferences and pet peeves when traveling, so find reviews with an attitude that seems to match yours and ultimately plan the trip you want to take!

What are some of your go-to review sites? Do you have any tips for navigating them? Share in the comments below!