Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

A Better Travel Guide for Geeks

Pretty much anywhere you go, you can find some pretty scenery, a charming hotel, some decent restaurants, a couple of interesting museums. And the goal of most travel guides seems to be to tell you about these things. The result is a rather boring sort of tourism in which everywhere feels pretty much like everywhere else.

What I want is a travel guide that highlights the things that are absolutely different about this place than anywhere else you might go — the things you can’t see anywhere else. For my hometown of Cambridge, it might be the window displays on Main St. that explain how to sequence DNA, or the architectural marvels of Stata, BCS, and Simmons. In Boston, maybe it’s the Athenæum or the Globe factory tour. In West Virginia, maybe it’s going to see mountaintop removal or some back-to-the-land communes.

And maybe the right thing to do is to head somewhere else. Normal guidebooks are separated out by city and state, so if the coolest thing in Boston is actually to commute up to Providence, you’d never hear about it. But you’d put this guidebook on the Internet, so you’d give it your location and it’d tell you what was awesome nearby no matter what political jurisdiction it happened to be in.

Anyone know anything like that?

Related things: Ben Goldacre’s list of Nerdy Day Trips in the UK. jgc’s Geek Atlas lists cool science and technology places. Atlas Obscura lists curiosities. WikiTravel lets you add places of your own. I’m told Lonely Planet has some stuff like this. Smile When You’re Lying is an amusing account of the distortionary forces on the average travel guide.

You should follow me on twitter here.

September 4, 2011


A website I built (years ago, using web.py) - http://traveldk.com/ - gives users the tools to build custom travel guides. Maybe that would be a good place to start? I can contribute some info for the UK and Palestine.

posted by Tom Berger on September 4, 2011 #

Hi, maybe you like Mediamatic Travel (http://travel.mediamatic.net/). They have their focus on the things that you don’t read in the tourist books.

The Mediamatic Travel website acts as a network of cultural professionals from all over the world. It provides an open platform where they can exchange information about the unseen or underground culture in their city. Things you normally won’t find in your average travel agency.

posted by Lode Claassen on September 4, 2011 #

GeoCashing for travel activities.

posted by Mark Whiting on September 5, 2011 #

I would ask on http://travel.stackexchange.com (kinda StackOverflow for travelers).


Not the guides, but again, you can ask people there about the guides.

posted by Dan Abramov on September 10, 2011 #

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