Using Wikipedia as a Travel Guide

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Remember how I decided I didn’t like having a guidebook with me in Morocco? (read it here) Well, as soon as I got to Egypt I was almost in a panic trying to find a map of Cairo—or any travel information whatsoever. Egypt’s tourism industry isn’t exactly friendly to individual travelers. It’s built much more for groups and large bookings.

But I’m getting sidetracked. This isn’t about Egypt’s frustrating tourism industry. It’s about our generation’s greatest achievement: Wikipedia!

Maybe that’s an overstatement. Maybe not. Wikipedia has changed the way we learn and I like it for that. It should never be the only news source, but sometimes it’s the easiest & most readily available. And I would argue that it’s better than nothing. So when I showed up in Egypt without any guidebook, Wikipedia quickly became my best tool.

WikiTravel

WikiTravel is a really useful tool. City and country guides are a great supplement to guidebooks. And, in a pinch, can even replace the need for a printed book. Accessing it on an iPod or smart phone makes it even more portable and easier. And then you don’t necessarily stand out as a tourist. Just a douche.

The site is set up like Wikipedia, but instead of giving you historical or cultural information on a topic, members add restaurants, hotels & attractions. It’s hit or miss, but definitely useful. And definitely better than nothing.

History & Cultural Information

Wikipedia’s best use for traveling, however, is the vast amount of historical & cultural information in the gazillions of articles. So many attractions are poorly labeled (especially in Egypt) and you’d be lost without knowing some of the history. Well, maybe not lost. But you definitely wouldn’t appreciate them as much if you didn’t know some background before showing up.

So that’s why I try and look things up on Wikipedia before (or after) seeing them. At least some of the times. And that’s where the absolute best iPod app of all time comes in: Simplepedia — Simple Wikipedia Reader.

Why do I love this app so much?

First of all, it’s got an easy interface to read & search Wikipedia articles. Table of Contents are included as well as the ability to change the font (and even line spacing!) size.

Secondly, every article you search for is automatically saved (pictures included!) for offline reading. Other Wikipedia apps charge for this service, but Simplepedia is FREE. They offer a premium version but as far as I can tell, the simple version is all you need.

So now you can just quickly look download the sights you’re going to see that day, open them in Simplepedia and then when hanging out inside Jerusalem’s Western Wall, you can read everything you ever wanted to know about it.

I understand there is some controversy about the legitimacy of articles (especially political/religious ones), but as long as you take it with a grain of salt, you should be fine. Just don’t take everything as fact without your own research or knowledge. I’m a firm believer that some knowledge is better than no knowledge.

 

Blogs published by Adam Groffman • Please note some posts do make me some money, but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

10 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. :)

  2. douche or tourist? hmmm, it's really a toss up. haha.

  3. Oh good to hear it's useful in those countries as well! I'm always curious whether some regions use technology in different ways. I use Foursquare a lot to find local tips as well, but it doesn't work everywhere. Wikitravel is a much bigger enterprise, though, so I'd expect it to cover more places.

  4. I think some places are bound to be better than others, but it's generally one of the first places I'll look to for information when I get to a city.

  5. For the past four months that I've been traveling through India, Vietnam, and Nepal, I've been using Wikitravel and Wikipedia exclusively! Wikitravel in particular is awesome for getting a quick handle on whats in the area, good places to stay, eat, and see.

  6. I use wikitravel ALL the time for Central America. Really solid information on the multiple ways to get to a city from another city. Also good information on local food and restaurants, particularly where to get street food.

    As I say that though I just arrived in Panama City and its lacking on information but this is the first time its let me down.

  7. Thanks Alouise,
    Wikipedia has been my go-to source for stuff for a while now. It's a powerful site.

  8. @Aurora – I know! It's so incredibly useful!!

  9. No shame in using wikipedia, I've used it before. In fact before I went to Toronto I was searching everywhere on the internet for a subway map, the only place I could find a decent sized one was on wikitravel. Like you said as long as you take the 'facts' with some grain of salt then it'sall good.

  10. Cool! Wikipedia IS fantastic! I find it hard to imagine how we were able to survive without it before! ;P

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