3 Mistakes Digital Nomads Make When Doing Travel Research Online

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The benefit of making mistakes is being able to learn from them, and BOY HAVE WE MADE SOME MISTAKES during our tenure as digital nomads on Workation. And we’ve noticed some trends. The biggest mistakes digital nomads make when conducting travel research online are preventable – we’ll show you how to avoid them, based on our experience.

These are the three most common mistakes digital nomads make when researching their next destinations – ourselves included, unfortunately. Ladies, you’re going to want to check out #3 in particular.

Mistake #1: Allowing Decision Fatigue to Dictate Your Next Destination

When you’re living life as a digital nomad, or just on an extended Workation trip, choosing your next destination can be a real challenge. When you can go just about anywhere, decision fatigue can set in when doing travel research online and lead you to the “screw it, this seems fine” method of selecting your next stop.

IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THAT PLACE, GET OUT OF IT BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PLANE TICKET OR BOOK YOUR AIRBNB.

One of the worst things you can do is let decision fatigue make your choice for you. Trust me on this, you’re not going to like what you end up with as much as if you’d picked your next destination with a clear, unfrazzled head.

As I read this fascinating New York Times article about decision fatigue and how it can ruin lives, I saw a quote by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister that stuck with me: “the best decision makers are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

This quote has become something I think about often – not just when booking plane tickets and Airbnb rentals.

How do you know if you’re approaching decision fatigue, and what do you do about it? For me, I know I’m getting there when I hit the “I don’t really care, anything is fine” point. The truth is, I do really care and not just anything will be fine – I just need to put the decision away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and a clear head.

Decision fatigue led us to choose Aguada, Puerto Rico for our first Workationing destination as digital nomads. It wasn’t the worst decision I’ve ever made (didn’t even crack the top – or is it bottom? – 50%), but it wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made when researching travel online. The city of Isabela or even the town of La Parguera, home of the best bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, would’ve been better choices.

Last night in Medellin! #digitalnomad #digitalnomadlife #medellin #colombia #travel #travelblogger #workation

A post shared by Kari D. (@karidephillips) on

Living intentionally is a huge part of being successful – not just as digital nomads, but in our business and personal lives as well. Picking which destinations to spend time in is actually a huge decision, which dictates all kinds of aspects of your experience. Make that choice wisely, intentionally, and not while you’re experiencing decision fatigue.

Mistake #2: Not Being Aware of SEO and Affiliate Links When Doing Travel Research Online

This mistake is especially brutal for us, since we should really know better. Kelly and I are digital marketers – I own a company called The Content Factory, which represents several national and international brands.  We’re well versed in SEO (search engine optimization), and what it means to be good at it – I’ve been working in the SEO industry for over a decade. Here’s why that matters when conducting travel research online:

Just because you Google something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should trust the first few results. Ranking #1 doesn’t always indicate that the page you’re about to read has the most accurate information, just that it’s detailed and organized in a way that search crawlers prefer.

Ranking #1 for specific search terms, particularly related to travel, is a huge industry and there’s a lot of money to be made for ranking well. Content is written specifically to rank well, so more people will see and click on affiliate links (when this happens, the owner of the site gets paid whenever the link is clicked and/or when a purchase is made through the link).

A note about referral codes and affiliate links: you may notice a lot of the same companies, products and training programs being promoted across a variety of your favorite websites for digital nomads. Why? Because these companies, products and training programs probably have decent incentive programs – for every purchase, the owner of the referral website gets paid.

Are they any good? Maybe, maybe not…but the owner of the website who gets the referral or affiliate kickback is incentivized to really sell you on it, regardless of whether the product/service/training program provides actual value.

If you see a custom referral code, you can be sure the host site is getting a cut of your purchase – those codes are how they track purchases for referral payouts. In most cases, you get a discount and the referrer gets a chunk of what you pay. This isn’t necessarily always immoral or misleading, but it is something to be aware of when researching a purchase. Caveat emptor, as always.

Now, onto SEO: My first mistake in researching Medellín as a destination of choice for digital nomads was relying on Google instead of specific stats that I should’ve searched for directly. “What’s the crime rate in Medellín, Colombia compared to [insert alternate destination here]?” would’ve been a much better search term than “Medellín, best places for digital nomads” (the latter of which was closer to my search patterns prior to booking the trip).


Because Medellín came so highly recommended on the Digital Nomad subreddit, I didn’t search as many terms as I should’ve, or looked up possible negatives about the city. I had a major confirmation bias, and it impacted my decision making.

Pro tip: when conducting travel research online, don’t exclusively rely on the digital nomad subreddit (or any other single source of information, for that matter).

Mistake #3: You Don’t Check the Byline of Travel Articles

Kelly and I came out of Medellín, Colombia with a few lessons learned (you can hear about them in the Where We Went Wrong: Medellín episode of The Workationing Podcast). The number one takeaway: before you go and take travel advice from a stranger who wrote an article on the internet, check the byline.

Who wrote that article? Who is saying [insert destination here] is awesome? Or bad, for that matter? Should you trust them? Have they even been to the location they’re giving their opinion advice about?

Most importantly for women, what’s the gender of the person who wrote the article?

On the surface this sounds sexist, but I’m going to say it anyway: women should value travel articles written by other women, more so than those written by men. Here’s why: male travel writers tend to (validly) write about their experiences, but there’s no way for them to know what it’s like to be a woman in a foreign country.

The sad fact is that women aren’t treated as equals in many countries. Hell, in most countries, even the United States, men have an easier time than their female counterparts – and get paid more for the same work.

Take that cultural misogyny, put it on steroids, and that’s what we found in Medellín. None of the travel articles we read mentioned that, but looking a back I shouldn’t have expected them to – they were all written by men.

Female travel writers can talk to other women about what they can realistically expect as ladies traveling in places like Latin America. Let me tell you, it’s a MUCH different experience traveling as a single lady (or, in our case, two single ladies) than it is traveling as part of a male/female couple or single man.

While in Medellín, Kelly and I got treated much differently when we were alone than when we had one of our male friends escort us around town. This translated into all kinds of poor service and experiences, but it was especially apparent when dining out. Service at restaurants was MUCH better when there was even one guy at our table.

Without a penis at the table, we could consistently expect poor service (there were exceptions to this rule, but they were painfully few and far between). There were multiple times where we were ignored, to the point where we left before we even ordered.

How long are you supposed to be ignored while sitting at a restaurant table, before it’s time to go? We opted for a 20-minute limit.

Moving forward, we’re going to make a point to seek out articles written by women when conducting travel research online – ideally, women who have actually spent some time in the places they’re writing about.

When researching travel destinations online and reading related travel articles, it can be really difficult to tell if the writer has actually spent time in the location they’re talking about. If you Google travel articles, or best places for digital nomads, you’re going to come across a lot of listicles (e.g.: Top 10 Affordable Places to Live Abroad).

It’s not likely that the writer has spent a significant amount of time in all of these cities, so take their advice with a grain of salt unless they’re actually conveying experiences they’ve (recently!) had in the area.

Main Takeaways: When conducting travel research online, use multiple sources, check the byline, and don’t let Google dictate what you see.

Did we miss any common travel research mistakes here? If so, tell us what we missed in the comments and we’ll add them to the post. If you have your own horror stories from doing travel research online, share them in the comments section – let’s all learn from each other’s mistakes, so we don’t have to learn the hard way ourselves!

If you like this blog post, you’ll probably dig The Workationing Podcast – it’s full of useful information, fun times, and a few mistakes. Subscribe on iTunes, and if you like it as much as we think you will leave us a rate/review. To follow along in real time, catch us on the Workationing Facebook page or on Twitter.

Safe travels 🙂

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One comment

  • Just read your tips for travel planning and I think you offer some great advice. I did extensive planning for a trip to Rio for the Olympics. If I had just read the articles being written at the time and the online chatter I might have cancelled my plans. But, I did tons of specific research prior to mainstream build up. Going to some of the travel websites like trip advisor can be useful because you can drill down and read feedback to specific questions about the experience of being there and get feedback from contributors and people who have been (all different times of the year.) Best to read as many as possible so you can choose what you think makes sense and toss out the rest.

    Anyway, I like what you had to say and think you guys have a cool idea with the website and podcast. I haven’t actually listened to any of the podcast yet but will.

    Best of luck building it and on OKC 😉

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