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Being a Good Resource Isn’t About Knowing Everything

You know how sometimes you learn something so gradually that you don’t realize how much you know about it until someone asks you a question and you blurt out an answer without realizing you had that information in your brain at all? I’ve begun to feel that way about travel in general, and specifically about Italy. It makes sense, of course, since I’ve been writing about travel for a few years now and have been obsessed with Italy for longer than that, but occasionally my own knowledge kind of sneaks up on me a bit.

One of those times happened when I was getting my hair cut over the weekend. The gal who does my hair has been cutting and coloring my tresses for more than 10 years and her kids are now in that short window of time when she thinks they’re easy enough to take on big trips but also only a few years away from heading off to college. So the family is currently mapping out the next few summers of travel, and she tells me that in a couple years she’s got Italy on the agenda. Needless to say, when she said that it got me thinking. And talking.

She’ll be traveling with not only her husband and three (by that point) teenage boys, but also her aging parents – so suggesting they look at, for instance, hostels near the Colosseum in Rome wasn’t an option. Instead, I suggested they look into a vacation rental. She protested, saying first that they didn’t want a big, expensive villa, and second that they’d want to spend time in the cities and not just the countryside. Which is when I started spouting random tidbits of information about all the apartment rentals right in the heart of cities like Rome and how affordable they are. I got well into my monologue before I realized I should probably relax a bit, seeing as how her trip is still two years away.

But even if I can’t shut myself up sometimes, it’s really wonderful to know I have all kinds of Italy travel information on the tip of my tongue – or, at the very least, at easy disposal. It’s especially useful given the increasing number of email and Twitter questions I’m getting lately.

One recent question came from a 20-something headed to Milan with her girlfriends. They’d found some seriously cheap airfare to Milan, and now they wanted to know if there were any hostels in Milan (yes, although not many and not necessarily very well-placed for many tourist attractions), whether looking at budget hotels in Milan instead was a good idea (yes, especially if you want to be more centrally-located, and although they’re a bit more expensive there are still plenty that won’t break the bank), and where the best nightlife in Milan could be found (Navigli & Sempione neighborhoods in particular, but you can find fun spots to get aperitivo all over the city).

Now, while I couldn’t have listed all the accommodation options for that gal without looking at the articles I’ve written about them, I knew where to find those articles – and knew I’d be able to find more information for her should those options not suffice.

I routinely get questions about visiting Rome, and it’s easy to understand why – it’s the most common entry point to the country (because Rome airfare tends to be cheaper than fares to Milan or Venice), and there’s going on in the Eternal City enough to keep most tourists busy for weeks. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t totally love Rome, but I still get these questions. And I love that I still get them – because it means people trust my opinion based on what I’ve already written in my Rome travel guide. So, despite not gushing about Rome (the way I do about Venice, for instance), I’m still able to provide information to people hunting for Rome information – whether it’s through my own experiences or those of my ever-growing network of Italophile and expat friends.

The bottom line, I think, is this – I may know more than the average bear about travel, and about travel in Italy in particular, but when it comes to being a good resource on any subject the goal shouldn’t be to know everything but, rather, to know where to get the information when asked.

In other words, it’s not about being a know-it-all. It’s about being a know-where-to-find-it-all.