There's nothing like a well-produced video to inspire you to really get to know a destination. Guidebooks have their place, but they’re a bear to carry around, and by the time they’re published, half the information’s out of date anyway. Blogs and other user-generated content are more timely, but might not cover the subject matter you’re looking for. And while there's a lot of free videos out there on YouTube, chances are your cousin Nellie's shaky muffled Flipcam movies of her trip to Amsterdam won’t make you jump up and say “I have GOT to go there!” But Career Break Secrets video guides just might.
Disclosure: I was offered a free pass to the CBS Spain series, and two South Africa episodes, in exchange for this review. Host Jeff Jung is one of my fellow Meet, Plan, Go! hosts and we met last summer at TBEX '10. That said, the opinions expressed here are purely my own, as always! Jeff was kind enough to answer a few questions and provide some background information, and I've tried to make it clear which comments are his and which are mine. Because this is a product I highly recommend, I’ve joined the CBS affiliate program, so if any of you make a purchase, I’ll get a spiff.
What I liked
I really enjoyed this video series. For starters, the episodes are well-organized without seeming overproduced. Jeff says about 2-3 weeks’ worth of work goes into the planning, shooting, and post-production of each episode, and it shows. Key information is communicated in a clear and concise manner. The music is complementary without being distracting. And I thought the videos were just about the right length, offering the opportunity to dig into the subject matter and providing some juicy details without losing my attention. From the opening credits to fun extras like the "monkeyrama" montage, CBS keeps it light and lively. The overall tone is accessible and approachable, like getting trusted advice from your best friend.
Where the series really goes beyond the basic highlights is in the interviews. Jeff says, “I wanted to create a guide where I could tell the story of the travel experiences through the eyes of the people on the ground actually doing those experiences. I wanted the audience to learn from them, not just from me.” These interviews provide a personal connection to the activity, and often a poetic insight into why these folks are doing what they're doing. It provides an engaging aspect to the story that transcends the who-what-where, and, as Jeff puts it, allows the viewers to “go deep on a single experience.” Part of what makes travel really fun for me is the opportunity to pick up a new skill or give back to the community, and the way CBS delves into those topics is appealing. In some cases, the series covered activities I’d normally gravitate towards, such as winetasting or cooking classes. But in the other cases, I was pleasantly surprised to have my interest piqued for experiences I’d never considered. Walking the Camino de Santiago or volunteering at an orphanage in South Africa had never made it to my short list. But listening to Noemi, a pilgrim from Barcelona, wax philosophical about the Camino’s meditative/therapeutic effects, how the silence gives her a sense of peace and serenity, inspired me to think “hey, that might be cool to try!” I don't think I'd have had the same reaction from reading a guidebook with glossy photos or even a firsthand account in a blog post.
What could be improved
There were a few small areas for improvement, but it seems like these are being addressed. The earlier episodes featured interviewees speaking at a sideways angle rather than into the camera. I noticed a lot less of this in the later episodes, so I think the interview techniques are improving. Each video features a “5Ws and 1H” recap at the end, which is a great way to summarize and include key information that might otherwise have been missed. However, when this was paired with a set of “Top Secret Tips,” the end of the segment got to be a bit overly list-y. Again, I think some of this has been addressed in later episodes, as the information onslaught seems to have been pared down. Finally, I’d like to see a list of resources on the CBS web site, in case I didn’t take detailed enough notes or wanted to find a specific tidbit of info. Jeff says they’re working on this.
Who should buy this product
So why should you shell out your hard-earned money to buy these video guides, when the internet is rife with free info? Well, we all know you get what you pay for. Additionally, if you’re looking to get beyond the "see this, go there" information you might find in a guidebook, and you want solid advice on how to plan activities that will enrich your understanding of a particular city or country, Career Break Secrets is for you. Jeff summarizes it nicely:
“We go deep on the subject and give you real, usable advice and information. Some of that comes from me, but most of it comes from the travelers and organizations on the ground. You want to volunteer? Great. Hear from them directly what it's like. Not sure what questions to ask before you go on a long hike like the Camino de Santiago or Torres del Paine park? Great. Let's find out what the people in those places packed and what they advise for others. Compare us to The Travel Channel. They are in the entertainment business and provide travel-related entertainment. But at the end, you aren't necessarily a smarter traveler. We give you the information to help make you a smarter traveler and plan better by entertaining you. It's a subtle but important difference. Entertainment is what The Travel Channel provides. Entertainment is how we deliver information.”
Anything that entertains as well as makes me a smarter traveler sounds like a winner in my book. And that, in a nutshell, is why I highly recommend Career Break Secrets video guides. Because life is out there!TM
Currently Career Break Secrets offers video travel guides for the following locations: South Africa, Spain, New Zealand, Patagonia, Colombia. Each country pass is available for $17.99, or you can order the entire season for $49.99. Details about the episodes/topics covered for each country are available on the site. You can also get a taste of the CBS guides via the free Coffee Break podcast, and the “Because Life Is Out ThereTM” video vignettes.
Video vignettes: http://careerbreaksecrets.com/category/because-life-is-out-there