Be a travel parasite

by on April 5, 2012 at 4:17 am in Travel | Permalink

From Jodi Ettenberg:

2. Be a travel parasite.

No, this does not mean mooching off friends or family. What it means is learning how to use guidebooks to your advantage. While they are useful to have for the history of a place or the basics in itinerary planning, I rarely look to guidebooks for the name of a hostel or restaurant. Instead, I look at their recommendations as things to piggyback on. Lonely Planet recommends a place as “Our Pick”? Great, I go there, and walk two doors down to stay nearby. Rough Guides says “this is the best restaurant in town”? Perfect! Almost every one of those recommendations will spawn another restaurant within walking distance. Industrious entrepreneurs quickly learn that when these books recommend a place, they quickly get overcrowded and prices go up. The solution: they open a place right next door or nearby to handle the spillover. Without fail, those are the places that are cheaper, more delicious and not jaded. Being a parasite isn’t always a bad thing. (Having parasites? Not so much.)

There is much more at the link, all related to travel insights.

1 David M April 5, 2012 at 4:58 am

Good advice. Adding to the list, many travellers I met may also learn something from reading Seneca’s letters to Lucilius, particularly XXVIII (‘XXVIII1) and III (‘III1)

2 Pete M April 5, 2012 at 5:11 am

Jodi is the best travel writer around

3 @jdcarpentieri April 5, 2012 at 5:40 am

Good advice. Did this very successfully in Copenhagen recently.

4 Christine April 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

That makes no sense to me. Isn’t it more likely a lot of mediocre places will spring up around the popular places? There’s no impetus to provide good quality when you’re going to get crowds of people anyway who couldn’t get into the highly rated place.

5 wiki April 5, 2012 at 9:07 am


6 revver April 5, 2012 at 9:37 am

The Impetus: getting the top pick in the next years’ edition of the guidebook.

7 wiki April 5, 2012 at 11:50 am

But how do you tell those who locate near to do well vs. those that locate near just to sponge off the rents? Most tourist areas are not noted for the excellence of their cuisine. High quality mediocrity, maybe. Excellence?

8 Jodi April 6, 2012 at 1:25 am

I haven’t found that to be the case outside of Europe or N. America. In Southeast Asia or S. America, it’s the opposite. Oftentimes, the pick in the guidebook was quite good / authentic /whatever … until it became overrun with people. Locals often know this, and hear the complaints and set up shop nearby. Overall, it does seem to work out – the newer places still have to try harder because it’s not like the recommended place says ‘hey, go two doors down!’ With restaurants, it’s often a street stall that sets up nearby, and it’s not all travelers who will eat there (though they should!), so there’s some self-selection as well. I’ve found the rule to work most of the time.

9 Andrew' April 5, 2012 at 9:13 am

Life is hard.

10 Urso April 5, 2012 at 9:54 am

This seems so circuitous.

11 Nick April 5, 2012 at 10:12 am

Interestingly, on my last trip to Mexico a few weeks ago, of the three Lonely Planet restaurant recommendations I decided to check out, two of them were out of business. I found that very, very surprising. This made me think that maybe there is a “curse of the Lonely Planet”!

12 Marie April 5, 2012 at 10:18 am

Eh, I would say that my personal experience (and that of friends) doesn’t hold to this. About 90% of the time we’ve eaten at a Rough Guide recommendation we were pretty happy with the food. When we picked ourselves (always in off the beaten path neighborhoods) we were often disappointed.

That said, we’re kind of jerks about food. Italy is pretty much bound to disappoint anyone who grew up with a real Italian mother. All bets are off in India, but again, nothing beats eating at someone’s house (which we were very lucky to do regularly).

13 liberalarts April 5, 2012 at 11:16 am

I find the restaurant recommendations to be very useful in guide books. For hotels, I start with a guide book, but only book based on on-line recommendations from places like trip advisor. Lonely Planet books, by the way, have gone a lot more upscale over the years, as their young hippie travelers have advanced in our careers. For Europe, I like Rick Steves.

14 Jason April 5, 2012 at 11:23 am

I agree with Christine. There is no basis for the assumption that ‘spillover restaurants’ will provide higher-than-average quality. The ‘spillover restaurants’ themselves are free-loading on the high quality (or value for money) of their neighbour, such that they avoid the need to deliver a similar high-value proposition themselves. Hungry, slightly desperate overflow customers from next door are unlikely to be discerning.

Contrary to the posted theory, I would suggest that ‘inconveniently’ located restaurants (off the beaten track) have a greater impetus to provide extra value for money in order to attract customers, because they need to compensate for the inconvenience of getting there. Geographically isolated restaurants are likely to have a higher proportion of repeat-customers, and rely more on word of mouth to generate business. As a result, demand for their products is likely to be relatively sensitive to quality and perceived value for money.

Probably best to avoid any restaurant that primarily relies on tourist footfall for business(lack of potential to generate repeat business = limited incentive to offer value-for-money), or in fact any restaurant where the ‘value proposition’ relates to non-food/non-service factors such as location / sea views / other gimmicks.

15 wiki April 5, 2012 at 11:51 am


16 Ed April 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I’ve found the “travel parasite” strategy to be successful. However, I have another explanation. Good restaurants tend to cluster together for whatever reason (I’ve never had success with the “off the beaten path strategy). Its also hard to keep a good restaurant at a consistent standard of excellence. If a guidebook recommends a restaurant, there is a good chance that this was a good restaurant two or three years ago when the guidebook was being written but the quality has change (or in some cases the restaurant has said closed). But that’s OK, they just gave you directions to a district where there are likely to be other good restaurants.

I’ve found that its important to keep in mind the city and the year the guide was published for restaurant recommendations. The restaurant sections of guides more than four years old are pretty useless. Note that hotels can stay at a high standard of quality for some time and of course for landmarks and sights you can use guidebooks written a century ago.

In New York, there is so much churn regarding restaurants that guidebook recommendations are a joke (and the better guidebooks admit this when it comes to restaurant coverage). But in other cities its more likely that the best place in town two decades ago is still the best place in town.

I agree with the above commentators on the Rough Guide, I’ve had a very high satisfaction rate with their recommendations. I prefer to use the Rough Guide supplemented by tripadvisor and chowhound, plus google searches, and I will consult a secondary guidebook (the Moon series is hit or miss but they’ve pointed me to some gems), though this all depends on how much time I have to prepare for the trip and where I’m going.

17 Barkley Rosser April 5, 2012 at 1:34 pm

There is also tripadvisor, although it is off sometimes, way off occasionally in my experience.

It certainly is true that most cities will have a restaurant district or row where many places are reasonably good, even if the “go next door to a highly rated place” strategy is very limited, which is my view.

18 IVV April 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I find tripadvisor to be terrific, but mainly by scanning the bad reviews. When someone hates the experience, it will be because of a number of personal factors that are quite apparent. Then, you think, do these attributes matter to me? If yes, then stay away. If no, then it’s probably a decent place.

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