David Whitley prepares to enter the land that the internet forgot, and finds himself struggling to cope with old fashioned methods of booking and research
In January, I’m off to one of the more obscure corners on the RTW map – Palau. This week, I’ve finally got round to doing a bit of research on it, looking into hotels, tours and things to do whilst there. And it’s made me realise how much things have changed in the last ten – even five – years. I tend to have something of a process when I’m going somewhere. And I’ve just realised that it’s far more regimented than I previously thought.
Sometimes before I book the flight and sometimes afterwards, I’ll hop online and buy a guide book from Amazon (other online bookstores are available). I’ll usually go for whichever of the Lonely Planet or Time Out guides is best focused on where I’m going and most recently released. If neither of them fit the bill, I’ll move down the line to Frommer’s, Rough Guides, Insight Guides etc.
Once they arrive, I’ll use them to plot a rough plan of action and cross-reference hotels with whatever gets decent online reviews and is fairly cheap with the numerous online booking sites. I’ll then either book a tour or two, or use a comparison engine to find the best car hire deal. This is all just standard these days; most things can be researched and booked online without having to interact with anyone. And it’s amazing how quickly I’ve slipped into this.
My first proper travelling experience was in 2000 – just in the web age, but when WiFi was unheard of to the average traveller and the idea of nipping into an internet café to make a booking was a bit weird. We carried around a Cheap Sleeps Europe book, and either walked up to see if any beds were available or called ahead using payphones.
Trying to sort the Palau trip out hasn’t quite been a reversion to this era, but it’s not too far off. First up, there’s an incredible lack of information out there. It’s just not big enough to write commercially viable guides about – either in print or on the web. Therefore, none of the major guide book companies have a guide to Palau. Or even include Palau in an up-to-date regional guide. The best I could find was an ‘Other Places’ guide to the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. It’s written by former Peace Corps Volunteers and the Palau section is tucked in at the back, almost like an afterthought. It’s not heavy on detail – and neither is any other site I can find on the web.
I checked with the usual online hotel booking sites. Very few of them had any Palau hotels at all, and most of those that did were actually offering hotels in Palau, Sardinia. So I used the guidebook, and found some suggested hotels. Most turned out to have rudimentary websites and Yahoo or Gmail e-mail addresses. Two of the most likely candidates didn’t even publish their rates online, let alone allow you to book through an online system. I had to e-mail off and wait for a response.
This isn’t quite going back to pre-web times, but it’s not too far off. I’ve had to do things a way that I’d forgotten existed, and I still know very little about Palau. Refreshingly little, in fact.
Have you tried visiting somewhere that’s effectively off the online map? How did you go about finding information and making bookings? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.