I’m not sure how I fell into such a cozy comfort zone, one cocooned by carefully curated choices, tried and true recipes, and the path not just most traveled but most trampled. I didn’t start out that way. It was a gradual process, but it seems like lately I’m always testing the water before jumping in and reading the reviews before downloading the book, buying the movie tickets or ordering the dress. And not just the first handful of reviews. I have an entire system where I start with the one-star grievance recounts and move my way up to the glowing recommendations perhaps populated by friends and family.

How did that happen? How did I feel the need of others’ opinions — even those of strangers — before I form my own?  It doesn’t make sense because I believe those who dive into experiences with exuberance, damn the torpedoes and all of that, have an edge on living life to its full potential. I yearn to shake off the grip of expectations and catastrophic calculation, especially in this later stage of life where decisions are narrower and consequences less dire.

I feel an urge to pull out of the metaphorical pluff mud I feel stuck in. Step One: I want to take a hard look at how access to endless information gives safety seekers like me way too little rope.

No Luddite here, but what did we do before Yelp, Amazon and Trip Advisor reviews? Back in the day, I’d follow recommendations from dog eared copies of Lonely Planet guides, foodie friends, NYT Book reviewers and the teenager taking up tickets at the movie theater.

Reviews used to be the purview of actual experts. Book reviewers read the book and discussed plot arcs, character development, place and symbolism. One learned how the reviewer felt moved by a turn of a phrase, a description of a sunset or a scrap of dialogue that sparkled like an ocean of Windex.

Same with culinary guides. When you are in the hands of skilled reviewers like Beaufort locals, Lynn and Cele Seldon, your experience deepens with their descriptions of how the flavors blend in an original way, or how the chef added an unusual spice that takes a salad to the next level.

You grow under the hands of an art expert pointing out shadows and techniques in an oil painting, a photographer describing the sunset’s pink afterglow or birder identifying the birdsong and its migratory journey. When a naturalist takes you on a walk through a Lowcountry maritime forest or a master gardener explains why your hydrangeas could use some coffee grounds, you can delight in knowing you are in capable hands.

Which is the opposite of the plethora of trash found in many online reviews.

One recent restaurant review complained vociferously about how the server didn’t refill his tea and how the tabletop felt sticky. Left unwritten was how the cook in the back was dissolving sugar into a new batch of golden brewed tea. Or how the table got sticky from little hands dipping into the melting sugar of hot beignet donuts. Where was the description of the tomatoes grown a mile away, picked with the dirt still on their fat, red skins?  Did the snappish writer even know the shrimp was scooped up in newly repaired nets just off the Port Royal Sound by third generation shrimpers?

I digress. I’m not advocating skipping what researchers insist nearly 90% of consumers rely on for purchasing decisions. I want to know if the sunscreen I’m paying too much for really is greaseless and scentless but makes my skin look ten years younger all while protecting me from 99% of UV rays. But it’s exhausting, too.

Here’s my new simple plan. I’m going to ask for restaurant recommendations from locals and if passing through a new town, choose the diner where the police cars and pick-up trucks are parked. If a fisherman describes the watering hole as a five-star dive bar, that’s better than a Micheline star anytime.

I will read the novel you tell me changed your life and will explore the trail recommended by the experienced hiker as he’s shaking the dirt out of his shoes.

I don’t think there’s a way to escape from the tyranny of endless information and opinions but there are ways to be more discerning about the curators. Perhaps the tourist destination is as wonderful as the 20,000 4-stars indicate, but maybe the guy who knows the olive oil maker’s grandchildren’s names is the right guide in a strange land.

As far as ignoring ‘herd advice?’ I’m working on returning to the Old Me, the Me who takes her chances, thank you. But in the meantime, if you are crazy about your sunscreen, please let me know.