I’m The Sucker Who Still Likes Travel Brochures

I’m a sucker for brochures. It makes no sense to plan one’s vacation itinerary, even in part, based on what you see in the flyers and brochures you pick up in your hotel lobby or at a visitor’s information office, but sometimes I do just that, and I suspect I’m not alone. By the end of a trip, I might have dozens of papers, maps and brochures strewn about my rental car and most of the time, they provide little if any useful information. And sometimes they are downright misleading. But I still keep picking the damn things up. Why?

On a recent trip to visit the Redwood parks in Northern California I stayed in a well-known national chain hotel in Arcata. As is my custom, I perused the collection of brochures in the lobby. I found brochures for four different casinos, one outlet mall, a golf course, two safari parks, two amusement parks, Jet Ski rental, a paintball park, “Bigfoot Rafting,” whatever the hell that is, and a cheese factory, among other tourist traps. The hotel is located just minutes away from Redwood National Park and a host of magnificent state parks that have some of the biggest and oldest trees in the world, but there were no maps or useful information on any of them.The parks are all free and the government employees who work there have no obvious incentive to drop off visitor’s guides or other materials at area hotels, but the four casinos in the region and all the other tourist traps have a vested interest in getting their brochures out there. I asked the hotel about their brochure policy but my query was received as though I had asked them to reveal a state secret and I never got a straight answer from them on how they decide what brochures to stock.

As an experienced traveler, I should know better than to visit a place based on what I see in a glossy brochure. But I have to admit I’ve been suckered more than once. On this same recent trip to the West Coast, for example, I saw a photo of some very impressive boats in a brochure for Petaluma, a bedroom community near San Francisco. I knew nothing about the town and assumed, based upon the photo, that it was on the Pacific Coast. The brochure contained boasts about the town’s historic district, and when I resolved to stop there, I had visions of a nice walk through an old, waterfront town.

A quick search on Google Maps revealed that the town is inland and has a river running through it, but I was already sold and decided to stop there anyway. No slight against Petaluma, because it’s a very pleasant town and it looked like a great place to live, but it isn’t much of a tourist attraction. On the day we visited, I saw no boats, impressive or otherwise, and it took all of five minutes to check out the historic district.

I’d estimate that 90 percent of the world’s most interesting places to visit have no brochure and at least half of the places that do are a complete waste of time and money. Still, don’t be surprised if you see me in a hotel lobby with an armful of glossy, empty promises that probably won’t pan out. Some habits are hard to break.