When Keith Ozaki booked an Alaska cruise with InnerSea Discoveries, he had some questions about exactly what would take place on the adventure line's latest small ship, the Wilderness Discoverer. So he looked to Google for answers.
"It was so new that there wasn't much out there," said Ozaki, who lives in Boston. Then he found some posts about the cruise written by Keith Jenkins, who runs the independent travel blog, Velvet Escape (http://velvetescape.com). Ozaki forwarded those posts to his wife and father, who were also taking the cruise.
Most travel publications now publish some sort of staff-written blog, including USA Today, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic. Even Arthur Frommer is a blogger, as is Rick Steves.
Journalists, tourism industry veterans, and travel writers contribute to and run their own blogs (full disclosure: I am one of them). Other bloggers include hundreds of independent travelers who are sharing their round-the-world adventures, parents who write about traveling with their babies and children, photographers with glorious images, and other writers with specific travel niches.
If you're looking to add some diversity to your travel surfing, here are some ways that blogs can help with trip planning:
Read more details and see more photos. With no space limits, blogs have room to provide practical tips and photos that might not fit in a typical newspaper or magazine travel story. That's what Ozaki liked about the posts he read about his InnerSea Discoveries cruise.
"It had so much more detail than the vendor site. And the broad travel sites don't get into all that," Ozaki said of the postings he read on Velvet Escape. "In this day and age, I find some of those sources more reliable."
On the flip side, bloggers often don't have editors or proofreaders, so posts can be disjointed, tedious, and grammatically incorrect. Pieces aren't as polished, for better or worse.
Get unbiased opinions. Most bloggers work for themselves. Still, it's common practice in the travel industry for freelance writers to accept free trips and gear to review -- and more companies and destinations are giving travel bloggers these same opportunities.
So how do you know if you're reading something honest? The FTC has guidelines that bloggers disclose when freebies are given. Bloggers differ in how they handle their disclosures -- some put it at the end of each post, while others have a blanket statement -- but it's something to keep in mind as you read about that cool travel gadget or encounter a rave review about a beachfront suite.
You may also want to steer clear of booking your trip solely on the advice that you read in a travel blog. For example, train or ferry schedules should always be double-checked with the company directly.
Unhappy with the travel advice you read? Whether you found the travel tip on a blog or a travel forum, consider posting a comment about your experience when you get home -- or consider starting your own travel blog.
Ask questions and get answers. Travel bloggers love to hear from readers. What bloggers may lack in polish, they make up in passion -- and accessibility. If you've got more questions about something a blogger wrote, you can ask them directly and probably get an answer. That can help if you're seeking specific information about a hotel, a resort, a cruise ship, or where to eat.
I personally read travel blogs for the personalities behind the posts. A good blog keeps you invested in the writer's personal journey -- even if he or she is heading to a place you have no intention of visiting.
Find new travel blogs through aggregators. For people who are immersed in social media, discovering a new travel blog is as simple as following a new person on Twitter. But most people find travel blogs by accident through Google or another search engine.
Aggregator sites are another place to find lots of travel blogs in one place. Try Alltop (http://travel.alltop.com), Travel Blog Sites (www.travelpod.com) or a comprehensive blogroll such as the one on Everything Everywhere (http://everything-everywhere.com).
Travel journalist Chris Gray Faust dishes up travel tips on her award-winning blog, Chris Around The World. She's also the author of the Philadelphia Essential Guide, an app for iPhone and iPad. Follow her at @CAroundTheWorld.