Earlier this year, a book entitled The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor came onto my radar. The title initially caught my eye because it applies to so much more than global poverty reduction (the subject of the book, which is a great and important read, btw).
Nowadays, you’ll find an expert on every topic under the sun, and it’s not hard to see why: often, all it takes these days to be an expert is to declare yourself one.
We had the pleasure of meeting such a person on our travels. In the course of two days, she identified herself as the following:
- Author and prize-winning journalist (no mention of said prize)
- Award-winning entrepreneur (again, no mention of said award)
- Travel writer and expert (turns out she just writes posts about her trips in online forums)
- Former lobbyist and consultant for the energy industry (no mention of any employer or clients, though we asked)
- Disabled, decorated Vietnam-era veteran (from what I understand, she neither served overseas nor during the conflict, nor did she incur a disability as a result of her service – again, no mention of the decoration)
- Expert on fashion and former fashion journalist
- Professional speaker
- Seminar leader
- Communications expert
- Serious athlete
- Sky diving master
- Avid scuba diver
- CEO coach and consultant to Fortune 500 companies
- TV producer
And no, this woman is not 500 years old – all this and more crammed into just 60 years of living. Maybe she got a head start in the womb or something?
The travel industry is rife with people like this. Someone goes on a month-long trip through Europe or SE Asia, falls in love with travel, starts a blog, and boom – expert! Next thing you know, this person’s selling their services planning trips to countries they’ve never even visited and offering gems like “Make friends with a local and have them show you around. Explore! Discover!” when asked for city-specific food, shopping, and sightseeing recommendations (true story).
What’s more, defining expertise in the travel industry is difficult if not impossible anyway. How many countries does a person need to visit? How much time does a person need to spend in a particular place? How many flights does one have to take? What kind of experiences are needed?
We spent four months traveling nearly every inch of Vietnam via motorcycle, and I would NEVER call us anything close to experts on Vietnam, motorcycling, or motorcycling in Vietnam. I wouldn’t even call myself an expert on Las Vegas, where I grew up – too much has changed since then.
As I have mentioned, I think the best approach to travel is to make your own rules and do what pleases you. Of course, it helps to have some place to start, and both “experts” and novices alike have good advice, skills, and tips to offer … if taken with a grain of salt.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll break down the various types of travel experts and give our (non-expert!) tips for making the most of their respective advice. Read Part 1: The Travel Agent, Part 2: The Guide Book, and Part 3: The Blogger now … and don’t forget that grain of salt when reading our tips, too.
Part 4: The Print Journalist
Part 5: The TV Host