You can go ahead and insert the meme right here of how I am complaining about the internet on the internet. I remember my first Facebook group. I set one up for my first group of kids who graduated after taking my US AP History class in 2008. This was an amazing class with lively discussions and I wanted to know how their opinions were shaped and changed by college. Facebook ultimately destroyed the original group format and now it’s just this thing that you scroll by on your timeline. You might occasionally scroll by a topic you’re interested and want to follow or you have something pressing you feel the need to say. In the last two years I have left over a dozen groups because 99% of Facebook groups become mean, nasty, occasionally pornographic and always judgemental. The internet isn’t safe space and people say things online they would never say in person. Without constant moderating, all internet conversations turn into Reddit.
The two groups I have not left are Travel Fashion Girls (TFG) and Smart Mom’s Planning Disney (SMPD). Both are heavily monitored, and one is full of people whose idol is Mickey Mouse. Unsurprisingly, a post I made last year caused a massive purge in members from TFG because they violated the groups number 1 rule: if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. You don’t have to fight with people on the internet, you can keep on scrolling and say nothing when you don’t agree. I had posted a trip review from my two week trip to London and Paris (trip reviews are one of the backbones of this group) and the two things I said that made people angry were as follows. One, when someone asks for advice on the best dual voltage curling iron, don’t respond with who cares what your hair looks like you’re on vacation. The second was that I didn't think the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was much more impressive than stormtroopers marching down Hollywood Boulevard at Disney. My long and detailed post with all my hits and misses on my trip got a tremendous number of likes, positive responses and questions. But a handful of people had to spew hate about curling irons and the Queen’s Guard, and then the fighting got wildly out of control.
I was extremely impressed with how TFG handled it. They kicked off everyone who was arguing for no reason and posted their own statement saying everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you should just keep scrolling if you disagree. The next morning they reached out to me and asked if I would re-post my review rewriting some of my statements that caused some of the hostility, although they supported my claim that everyone travels differently and I’m entitled to my perspective. If you know me personally, you know I am extremely sarcastic and it doesn’t always read well in text. You also know I say stuff people don’t like and I usually say “sorry if that offends you but it’s how I feel.” But sometimes I forget. I thought comparing stormtroopers to the Queen's Guard was funny, some people did not. That was a long intro, I know, but I am getting to the Paris recommendations I promise.
This post is about crowdsourcing and how it can impact your trip, and the curling iron is one of the best examples out there. A few years ago a blogger I follow, The Sweetest Thing Blog’s Emily Ann Gemma, was in Paris and her hair was up almost the entire time. She’s well known for her long luscious locks that are always perfectly curled and I have major hair envy. She eventually revealed that she fried her curling iron on day one because voltage convertors don’t work. Most high end curling irons even carry warning labels saying don’t try to do this. She didn’t go into details, but I assume she eventually found a good one in France and the hair emergency came to an end. When I found out I was going to Paris, one of the first questions I posted on TFG was how to solve this problem.
I got three kinds of responses and I’m sorry to say the majority of them were people telling me I shouldn’t care about my hair so much. That’s called unsolicited advice and it’s completely unnecessary. My hair is almost as important to me as giving the perfect gift or only drinking Champagne from Epernay. The second response type I got was to buy one at a Boots (UK drug store like Dune Reed in NYC) as soon as I arrived in London. They would be selling ones that worked in both France and England. The third kind of advice was for different curling irons individuals used that were dual voltage. I wasn’t impressed with the Amazon reviews on any of them so I was planning on going the Boots route. However, last minute I got nervous and bought a $20 1.25” Conair Dual Voltage Curling Iron I saw at CVS the day before we left. It was ok. It was windy the whole time and my curl didn’t hold as well as I wanted because it didn’t get hot enough for my hair texture. Plus using a curling iron as a wand (which is my preferred tool) is never a perfect solution and I should have just used it as a curling iron. I used a lot of IGK Beach Club Texture Spray to help, but I only brought a travel size, and running around Paris looking for a substitute when it ran out took up more time than either of us wanted. I also used my tried and true TRESSemme Extra Hold Hair Spray.
The big mistake I made was ignoring TFG's recommendations. When you post a question on the TFG Facebook group, eventually a TFG team member will post a relevant link to their website, in this case it was a list of recommended curling irons. Each has been tested and used by professional travelers. The thing I said that pissed people off was that advice from strangers should be taken with a grain of salt, and should be weighed against the advice of experts. A curling iron was only one of many things people gave me unsolicited and unwanted advice on.
So what good advice did I get?
First, buy advance tickets to the Louvre so you can skip the line. I think I have already covered that we didn’t pay extra to get to the front of the Mona Lisa line or even really get a good look. It was more like getting a glimpse like a celebrity sitting in a VIP section. We move don to less crowded parts. I’ll point out the art lovers in the Facebook group thought seeing her up close and personal was very important, which is another reminder that you have to know how you travel and the hive mind on the internet doesn’t know how you travel.
Second, take a dinner cruise on the Seine river at night so you can really see the lights of Paris and the Eiffel Tower do it’s thing! We booked this trip through our Navy Federal Credit Card Points, the company was Compagnie de la Seine. The food was ok, but the views were outstanding! I was of course in the bathroom when the tower started blinking. The picture below is from that cruise, it was hard to get a semi decent one between the lighting and moving.
Third, after listening to people talk about going to the top of the Eiffel Tower or into the depths of the Catacombs, I learned neither of those activities were for me. Also that the Moulin Rouge is a giant expensive tourist trap, hard pass.
So what mediocre advice did I get?
The Musse d’Orsey is fabulous and you must go. The problem is no one told us in advance that you shouldn’t go on a Tuesday because every other museum is closed on Tuesdays and that VIP tickets don’t give you front of the line access, you still wait, you've just reserved your tickets in case they sell out. We tried twice to get in and never did.
The Paris Opera House is beautiful and you absolutely must see it. We were forewarned that opera is rarely performed there any more (ballet mostly), but not how hard it is to get tickets to see one of the operas. I wanted to see la traviata that was conveniently playing while we were there but I waited way too long to try and purchase tickets. I wish we had just taken the tour, but I am going to try again for next year.
We were given some good details on the Eurostar and taking the chunnel to London. We got very specific advice on how long the trip would take, where the stations were located, and the difference in seat classes. What was missing from the advice is that those tickets are like plane tickets and the longer you wait to buy them the more expensive they are. We also weren’t told that going through customs in Paris is fast and easy and takes forever in London, so we missed that train and had to pay a fee to change to the next train. My advice for you is that on the Paris end treat it like a train station. On the London end treat it like going to the airport, with TSA check points.
Another kind of mediocre advice comes in the form of restaurant recommendations. Paris has some fabulous restaurants but if you can’t walk there, then it’s up to a half day experience. Restaurant X might have phenomenal duck, but is it worth 1/14 of your trip time? Google wasn’t great either with recommendations due to Google having no idea what restaurant’s operating hours were. We did best by simply walking by and looking at menus. If the best food is really important you need to plan a lot of time to get there and back. If you know where you are staying, and ask for nearby restaurants and that may yield better success but honestly people’s idea of close didn’t feel that close given how tired you are at the end of a tourism day.
My final beef with the advice I got from crowdsourcing was the phrase “it’s so easy to get around Paris.” Now to be fair we were there during one of the largest protests Europe has seen in a decade. However, we couldn’t figure out how to get a cab until the last day. Uber is Paris is not like Uber in the US. They have to be hybrid or electric cars so there is a smaller supply and the same demand. We regularly waited 45 min to get a car. Eventually started ordering significantly more expensive UberXL vans who showed up pretty quickly. We preferred not to use the subway, partially because we were on vacation and partially because our French wasn't great. We had the most success with Google’s walking directions. The photo below is of us using the subway with our friend Jon who was in town for the day and travels to Paris occasionally for work and also knows how to use Google's transportation features better. He made us overly confident and the next day we tried on our own and ended up on the wrong side of town. We didn't try again.
So what advice would I give you on how to evaluate information that was crowdsourced?
Fact check! Just like political news you need to cross reference all information. Is that place still there? What are current prices? What’s on the menu? How far is it from my lodging? What’s the transportation cost? When do I need to make my reservations? When you get information off the internet, especially from the Facebook hive mind, you need to fact check. When people ask me for my Parisian recommendations and I don’t know about their financial situation or travel preferences and aren’t willing to dig deeper myself I recommend the following: Secret Food Tour, timed entry Louvre tickets, don’t buy advanced Musse d'Orsay tickets, or go on a Tuesday, take a Seine river cruise at night, and plan out a full half day to just get a great picture of the Eiffel Tower because it may be harder to get there then you think.
When I knew we were going again, I reached back out to the TFG hive mind and I got a mixed bag of completely worthless recommendations and some that I now know how to make quite useful. Apparently saying it isn’t my first trip and I’ve done most of the basics doesn’t stop people from saying see the Eiffel tower, the Louvre and Versailles. Specific queries really help...some. You can ask for restaurant recommendations in the Latin Quarter but half the time people don’t read the whole post and you have to parse through the information. People also make 5,10,20 year old recommendations. 20 years ago Space Mountain was the greatest ride Disney had and people will tell you it’s their greatest childhood experience and you must go. Sure, it’s still great, but it's no Flight of Passage, and those same people are unaware that the wait to ride Space Mountain is 3 hours and it cost $150 per person to get in the park. That probably wasn’t a great analogy but my point is don’t get advice from people who haven’t been wherever you’re going in the last at least 10 years and not fact check them.
If someone I know, or someone is clearly looking for great advice, then I ask qualifying questions. Rather than an overly detailed Paris explanation I am going to give an overly simplified Disney example. Coral Reef is a cool restaurant in Epcot that one side is a huge window into their massive aquarium. It’s a seafood restaurant. When someone asks if they should eat there I ask two questions. 1. Are you looking for a cool experience or good food? 2. Where are you from? If you are from somewhere with excellent seafood, like the North East Coast, California, the Gulf, you will literally gag on what they’re calling lobster bisque and calamari. But that first question is really important. Sometimes the experience outweighs the other factors. My advice on Coral Reef is get a reservation order some non-seafood appetizers and drinks to see the tank. Then leave and go eat in the world showcase.
But finally I would say not having every moment planned and having back up plans is ok. When we couldn't get into the Musee d'Orsay, couldn't get a cab, got lost on the subway, we just walked back to the latin quarter, in the rain. I hopped on AirBnB Experiences and found "Thierry’s Taste Wines with a Certified Sommelier" within walking distance of our apartment and it was fabulous. Sometimes the most fun can come out of a failed plan. This picture was taken during that amazing wine class.
Before my Paris series is complete I will give you my whole itinerary for my next trip that includes my good recommendations acquired from the hive mind but for now I will leave you with this: information is only as good as the way you use it. Crowdsourcing can be a trip savior or it can be it's demise. The choice is up to you!