One of the great things about the Internet is the way in which it has taken a lot of the luckydipness (yes, it’s a word) out of overseas travel.
There was a time when venturing abroad meant putting your trust in a tiny photo in a holiday brochure, one showing a magnificent apartment building fronted by a massive pool, with a delightfully blue sea lapping gently up to a golden beach just behind the complex.
When you arrived you found that the photo was indeed just that, a photo on the wall at the reception of the miserably grey compound to which you were now committed, in every sense of that word, for the next two weeks. The building was designed by architects who had honed their skills designing 1960s Eastern Bloc missile silos.The sea was two miles away by expensive-and-dangerously-driven taxi. The pool was the size of those paddly disinfected things we have on the way in to our own pools, and had something floating in it that you desperately hoped wasn’t going to feature in the restaurant later that evening.
They hadn’t mentioned that there would be bingo. All day, every day, with compulsory attendance. Or that their local wine tasted like liquidised badger. Or that they had a rainy season – not from September to October, but from October to September.
(I’m sorry, I’ve depressed even myself there. I’ve actually never had an experience like that – every holiday we’ve brought the Tinkids on has been brilliant).
Anyway, cometh the Internet, goeth the crap. Now you can look at a whole gallery of pictures of your prospective venue. And not just ones carefully selected by the owners – there are forums, Google Maps, internet guides.
And of course there are reviews. The New York hotel in which we will be staying from Thursday has 298 reviews on tripadvisor. 88 of these say the hotel is excellent, 17 say it’s terrible, the rest are somewhere in between.
Either there are two hotels in Manhattan with the same name, or the hotel is schizophrenic. The lobby, it is widely agreed, is crap (really? who cares?), but there all unanimity ends. The hotel is both excellent and terrible. The decor is both lovely and shabby. The staff are both rude and incredibly helpful. The rooms are both tiny and luxurious.
And therein lies the problem. You don’t know the people who are writing the reviews. All you know about them is that they are possessed by an urge to share their opinions with the whole world via the Internet, and I’m sure we all agree that’s a fairly disturbing character trait.
Perhaps the critical ones are grouchy gits who wouldn’t be happy if they were reclining on a sofa being fed grapes by nubile maidens. Perhaps the fawning ones won their trip in a complete-this-phrase-in-ten-words-or-less competition, live in real life in a tenement high-rise and are pathetically grateful to be in a building with lifts that actually work. All you can do is read, close your eyes, and take an educated guess.
The guy who complains in his review, for example, that “not all the channels on the TV were working” should really just save his money next year and holiday in his living room. The girl who enthuses that the sheets and pillows were “incredibly clean” possibly needs a new landlord back home. The guy who moans that there was no microwave in his room could perhaps try eating more fruit. And the girl who gives out that “the traffic was really noisy” should probably have Googled “New York” before she booked her trip.
My favourite, though, is the one that starts “the queen-sized bed was very small for a family of four”.
At least we know we aren’t going to be the weirdest people who ever stayed there.