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Tell me if this scenario rings a bell:

You’re ready to book your trip. You’ve decided on a destination and are now turning your attention to finding the right place to sleep while  you’re away.

Before you book you:

a. call a friend who was recently in that place

b. head to a travel review site

c. check out the site of your favourite go-to-travel spot

According to a recent Holiday Inn Survey, the answer is “all of the above.”

What we do far less often, it seems, is turn to a seasoned professional reviewer for the last word.

Their survey of just over 1000 Canadians found that 85% of participants trust citizen reviews over professional reviews and only 1 out of 5 wouldn’t use a review site because they don’t trust its source. Also,  79% of participants said they turn to online reviews to help make their decision and 75% are looking at specific hotel review sites in that regard.

That’s a whole lot of us (and our vacations) relying on each other to decide where we should stay.

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While the amount of  travel review options out there can be overwhelming, I know first hand from our RTW travel experience that it can make a huge difference in the outcome of your trip.

But how do you decide which review to trust?

Here are some of the guidelines I use to help narrow the options:

1.  Emotion: Is the review you’re reading written completely in Capital Letters?Does it seem overly gushy? Chances are the reviewer is bringing more emotion to this review than may be warranted. I don’t discount angry or super loving posts right off the bat but I do read them with a skeptical eye. I want to see the details. What in their post lends credence to the emotion in the review? Can’t find it? I’d move along.  Similarly if I look at other posts that person has done and they seem to love everything…less helpful.

2. Friends First: If I can get a review of a place from someone I know and trust, I’m going to start there. Is there a blog you already go to for sage advice? That’s where I’d turn when you’re looking for a place to stay. Ask friends who travel or turn to the social media stalwarts you rely on. It’s also useful to start a list of places that are getting great reviews from your pals so that you can use it as a starting place when you start to plan.

3. Where do the reviewers agree: This is key. It’s all well and good that your hotel has a 24-hour gym but if none of the machines ever work, what’s the point? Search the reviews for commonalities. If everyone seems to mention the lack of cleaning attention in the rooms, chances are it’s an issue. Read reviews looking for the commonalities and you’re likely to get a better picture of what to expect.

pool jump holiday inn

Heading to this Holiday Inn property with your family? Better to get your review of the on-site pool from a family that’s been there, than the romantic couple who got splashed by this canonball, no?

        4.  Is the reviewer like you:  I love review sites that allow you to learn a bit about the reviewer. Both and are great for this. If someone is  

         going to review the pool, I want to know that they’re coming at it from a family perspective if I’m planning on visiting with my family. What’s the point of a review from

         romantic honeymooners on my family-friendly resort?  Things like the number and ages of the kids gives me more insight into the experience they’re having and I can       

         then compare it with my life and needs and use the review appropriately.

         5.  The Fine Print:  You’ve gone through the review with a fine tooth comb. It’s the perfect spot for you and your family and so you book in…only to realize when you get 

         there that the reviews you were looking at don’t take into account some recent changes. The date the review was posted and the time of year that the reviewer visited are  

         key factors in interpreting their post. Are you visiting at a similar time of year? Has the hotel undergone major renovations since the reviewer was there last? Are they

         going through construction now? All important factors to consider.

Finally, a word of caution: Review sites are great but make sure you aren’t seeking out a place that is absolutely perfect – it doesn’t exist. I’ve found it’s a good idea to approach review sites with an open mind and to have more than one property in mind while you search. It’s very easy to get lost in the searching and become overwhelmed. Remember why you’re taking the vacation in the first place. Settling for “good enough” instead of a never-ending search for “absolutely perfect” is sometimes the best way to save your sanity.

Your turn: What’s your favourite review site? And what tips and tricks do you use to make sure what you’re reading is the real deal?

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Holiday Inn. As usual the tips and words are all my own.