I keep hearing about how AI is going to steal writer jobs and I’ve seen a LOT of “travel bloggers” starting to use it to write posts. I finally decided to give it a test – want to see how it did?
I asked ChatGPT for “Free Things to do in Branson, MO”, since that’s a post I’m actually working on and I thought it might be cool if it knew about things I didn’t. Here’s what it came up with, plus my commentary in parentheses:
“Branson, Missouri offers a variety of free activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. Here are some options:
1. Branson Landing: Explore the Branson Landing, a waterfront shopping and entertainment district. Enjoy the scenic views, walk along the promenade, and catch the spectacular water and fire fountain show that takes place in the evenings. (This is a decent item to include, but they left out SO MUCH info. For instance, the fountain show is hourly, there’s no mention of concerts and events that take place there, no info on the shops and attractions… I’m giving ChatGPT a C for this one.)
2. Downtown Branson: Take a leisurely stroll through Downtown Branson. This area is known for its charming shops, galleries, and local boutiques. You can browse for unique souvenirs or simply enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. (Again, this is beyond vague and unhelpful. If they’re talking about historic downtown, I wouldn’t exactly call it a “leisurely” stroll since the hills are steep, parking can be a nightmare, and it’s often crowded. Yes, there are some unique souvenirs but they don’t offer any suggestions for the best places to shop, like Dick’s 5&10 or the used book store. “Charming shops” and “local boutiques” feels kind of repetitive, and sorry, no galleries here. There’s also no mention of the free trolley you can use to get around. Giving this answers a D.)
3. Lake Taneycomo: Visit Lake Taneycomo, a beautiful reservoir that stretches through Branson. Enjoy a picnic by the lakeside, go fishing (with appropriate permits), or simply relax and appreciate the scenic surroundings. (Okay, again, super vague and lacking detail. They could add that North Beach Park is the most convenient place for dock fishing and picnics, but the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery
is also a great place for both of those, plus it offers fishing licenses and pole rentals. They also don’t mention the size – those two spots are a good 20+ minute drive from each other, and the lake stretches on a really long way. I could probably write an entire 1000+ word post about how to best enjoy the lake, but while this suggestion is technically correct, it’s again just not helpful at all for someone trying to plan a trip. Giving this one a B.)
4. Branson Boardwalk: Take a walk along the Branson Boardwalk. Located near the Grand Village Shops, it offers a scenic trail along the edge of Lake Taneycomo. Enjoy the fresh air, soak in the views, and watch the boats go by.
(Okay, this one absolutely cracked me up, because the “Branson Boardwalk” is next to the Grand Village, but it’s *nowhere* near the lake. At all. Not even close. Miles away. Good luck with that fresh air, since you’re right on the city’s busiest highway, and the only nearby boat is the Titanic museum
! You *will* find the Aquarium at the Boardwalk
here, which is awesome. This one gets an F.)
5. Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery: Explore the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, one of the largest trout-rearing facilities in the United States. Take a self-guided tour to learn about the fish production process and enjoy the beauty of the hatchery grounds. (Okay, I already linked my post about the Branson fish hatchery up in #3, but yet again, this one is kind of on the right track but also not good. There’s no mention of the free guided tours, the beautiful nature trails, feeding the fish, and a very important part… that it’s currently closed for at least a year. Oops. Giving this a D.)
6. Table Rock Dam: Visit Table Rock Dam, located just south of Branson. Take a scenic drive across the dam, enjoy the views of Table Rock Lake, and learn about the dam’s history at the visitor center. (Another disappointing answer. Sure, you can “visit the dam” in that there are some nice overlooks nearby and the Dewey Short Visitors Center has some fun natural history of the area. I wouldn’t exactly call the drive across the dam “scenic” – it’s 30 seconds of driving across a bridge with the lake on either side. It’s fine, but if you want actual scenery, you want to do the Lakeshore Trail that starts at the Visitor Center, passes by the Showboat Branson Belle
and ends out at State Park Marina. I’ll give this answer a B- for being on the right track but not really helpful.)
7. College of the Ozarks: Take a drive to the nearby College of the Ozarks campus. Explore the Keeter Center, a stunning lodge-style building that houses a bakery, restaurant, and a creamery where you can sample delicious homemade ice cream. The campus also features beautiful gardens and walking trails. (I’ve been to C of O for events in high school, but I haven’t personally visited the Keeter Center. I know that the restaurant there is pretty popular, and they do have an ice cream shop but having worked in ice cream shops as a kid, I feel comfortable saying that they probably aren’t going to appreciate you just wanting to sample flavors with no intention of buying. There are greenhouses on campus, but I don’t know of any gardens and walking trails. Overall, I feel like this is more of an activity to do if you’ve done literally everything else in town and just want to try something new, or if you’re visiting to go to the restaurant and museum, but since those aren’t free I wouldn’t include it on a free things to do list. C-.)
8. Live Music Shows: Branson is known for its live music shows, and some venues offer free performances. Check out the schedule of local theaters, outdoor stages, and entertainment venues to see if there are any complimentary shows during your visit. (Okay, this is a strange thing to include. I don’t know of any Branson theaters with free performances, but like any town you can catch some great local performers at bars like Waxy O’Sheas and the Paddlewheel at the Landing. Those are technically “free”, but I really hope you’re at least buying a drink and tipping the entertainer, so… not really free. Giving this one a D for being misleading.)
So overall, how did AI do writing a travel post? Not great. If you add up my scores, it averages to a D+. Honestly, even with all of my additions I’d only give this list a helpfulness rating of a B-. I would never publish something like this as an actual list. There’s just no point in shallow posts that just reword things other people have said a million times.
AI might be great for some things, like turning my cat into a cute cartoon, but I see absolutely no point of travel posts without personal information. “There’s a walking trail along Table Rock Lake” tells you nothing. “There’s a great, paved walking trail called the Lakeshore Trail that runs along the lake. It’s bike, dog, and stroller-friendly, and it’s fairly flat, but if you want to get down to the water it’s usually pretty steep and rocky. You can park at the Dewey Short Visitor’s Center, the Branson Belle parking lot, or at a few different spots in Table Rock State Park & State Park Marina, depending on how far you want to walk. You’ll also find BBQ grills and picnic tables, and there are 4 bathrooms along the 2+ miles of trail.” actually gives you information you can USE. If the person who wrote the post can’t answer a reader’s questions about the place they’re writing about, what’s the point?
All of THAT said, I’m working on finishing up a *real* “Free Things to do in Branson” post that I’ve had in my drafts for over a year now, plus a “Cheap Things to do in Branson” post with ideas under $10. I have a few weeks off school soon, so fingers crossed I’ll finally find time to finish them up!
And hey, do you have questions about any of the items on the list? Feel free to ask in the comments! Because other than the Keeter Center, these are all things I’ve actually done countless times, so since I’m not relying on computers to do my work for me, I can actually help you out!