Story originally appeared on Diamond Resorts.

Travel Tips

Your vacation days are precious – so it’s no wonder that those preparing for a well-deserved getaway take the planning process seriously. Some studies have even found that Americans spend more time planning their vacations than they do planning for retirement.

While online excursion and hotel reviews are a good starting point for finding insider tips about the destinations on your bucket list, its worth considering other methods of vacation planning. You might have grown up with your parents cautioning you with the phrase, Dont believe everything you read, and the timeworn adage rings particularly true in the modern era of social media and online reviews.

Below, we identify a few ways to assess if reviews are authentic, as well as some alternative ideas about how to plan a vacation.

What’s in a Review

Good reviews help businesses rise to the top of industry search results. But not all reviews are genuine. If the 20 identical “best pizza ever!” reviews on the corner shop that serves stale slices seems suspicious, its possible the company is padding its reviews with positive feedback.

Restaurants aren’t the only establishments you might run across online that can lead you astray. As you read through hotel reviews for any particular destination – or reviews for the tours you intend to take – keep an eye out for telltale signs that somethings amiss. Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

  1. Unlikely photos: The photos accompanying a review are effective tip-offs to fakery. Paid reviewers often set up fictitious accounts, copying pictures off the internet to use as their profile picture. A Google search of a pic (right-click on the picture and select search Google for image) that turns up results with a different name, multiple names or a celebrity’s name is a sign the review might not be authentic.
  2. A sudden influx of positive reviews: Are all the reviews appearing within a fairly short period of time? That could be a sign that the business has recently paid for positive influence. Similarly, be wary of businesses or tours without a single review that expresses a less-than-perfect experience.
  3. Generalizations : Disregard reviews that don’t describe personalized encounters. Verbiage such as “this tour is the best!” or “best food Ive ever eaten!” without specific details should get your guard up. Most true customers that have a good or disappointing experience describe the reasons why, so check the business’s website to make sure comments seem plausible.

Alternative Methods of Vacation-Planning

Take advantage of resources and travel planning sites that are most likely to give you accurate information. The below options don’t rely on online reviews at all, and can be a valuable part of how to plan a vacation.

  1. Niche travel blogs : Travel writers often provide an insiders glimpse into local goings on in a specific destination, including what to do, where to eat and off-the-beaten-path experiences. But don’t just read the blog. Check for authenticity by visiting the writers Instagram page, YouTube channel and other social media accounts. Little anecdotes having a hard time finding vegan fare, getting sick, receiving hospitality from a local, etc. and accompanying pics or other details are reassurances that the blogger is legitimate. If you’re dubious, check the writers pics. Unless they are a professional photographer, selfies and pics snapped with their phone should dominate the content.
  2. Apps and websites : Connect with locals and other travelers through travel planning sites and apps. Jetzy , Tripr and Vayable are three useful apps you can use to get info from residents of your destination or other travelers who have been there. You can also check out ToursByLocals to book a guided experience where 100% of your money goes to a local citizen. Or, have dinner in the home of a local by booking through the EatWith app, and converse with your hosts about the best things to see and do.
  3. Visualization boards : Whether you prefer to cut out/print photos and pin them on a bulletin board in your home or create a completely virtual board online, visuals can be an effective planning tool. Visit Pinterest boards such as Places to Visit Before You Die , We Are Travel Girls and other inspirational boards with multiple contributors to discover lesser-known places with pics taken by real travelers. Its easy to re-pin your favorites to your own board to prioritize your vacation must-sees. You can also check out Instagram posts hashtagged with your destination. You can be as specific or general as you want, typing in #Spain or #LakeTahoe to look at colorful pictures from around the country or town you hope to visit.
  4. Trust a real person : Use services that aren’t reviewer based. If all the options seem overwhelming, take advantage of your resort or hotels concierge, or consult a traditional travel agent. Friends and family members are also great information sources – you can post on your social accounts asking for tips based off of personal experiences. Facebook’s recommendations feature can be a helpful tool for collecting insights from your own, pre-vetted digital network.

For many people, planning a vacation is half the fun. These tips can make your travel-planning process a little bit easier. Getting ready for your next trip? Find international vacation destinations on the Diamond Resorts website today.