When you first set out to plan a trip, the research phase can range from fun and enlightening to tedious and frustrating. Your success usually depends on how easy or difficult it is to find solid information to guide your decisions. Online travel forums can be very useful in this regard as long as you let your excitement for the trip drown out any background noise.
Online Travel Discussion
Internet message boards for travellers have been around for a long time although I’m sure their traffic plummeted during the height of the pandemic. And with abundant Reddit and Facebook groups, some of the older forums have exited the information superhighway in recent years. Indeed, the once popular Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum was converted to read-only and then permanently closed.
However, there are still quite a few forums for travellers to exchange tips and advice, report on their experiences and rant about difficulties. Remember, you don’t have to actually participate in a forum to get value from it. It’s perfectly fine to lurk. Do a few key word searches to find past discussions on specific topics of interest. Or read some trip reports on destinations you’re considering.
I’ve learned lots of great tips on travel forums such as the Days Out Guide 2-for-1 London deals, various rail discounts, a cheap little apartment rental in Paris (pre-regulation) and many other interesting tidbits of helpful info.
If you’ve ever searched for reviews on a certain hotel or restaurant, you’ve probably consulted TripAdvisor. The TripAdvisor forums are particularly convenient since you can narrow the scope to a specific city or expand it to include the whole country. There is also a handy list of the most common questions and answers.
Much of the value in these forums is thanks to “Destination Experts” who are often locals. Though some are probably better than others, if you’re lucky, there will be someone especially knowledgeable on the forum you’re perusing.
Another useful aspect of the TripAdvisor destination forums is that they give you a sense of the relative popularity of a given city. If there is limited activity on the forum, you can safely assume that you won’t be among throngs of other tourists if you decide to visit.
Meanwhile, for destination forums with heavy traffic, you’re more apt to see “piling on”, where multiple people levy the same criticism after the point has already been clearly made. I’ve never really understood this phenomenon but unfortunately it seems common in social media.
Fodors Travel Talk Forums
Synonymous with guidebooks, Fodors also has a wide selection of travel forums. I’d say these are more of an actual online travel community than the TripAdvisor forums. Many of the regular posters have been around a very long time so it can seem a bit clubby or territorial at times. There is even a dedicated closed-to-new-members “lounge” for longstanding forum inhabitants to chat amongst themselves.
That said, there are some very well-informed people who are quite willing to respond in detail to newcomers’ travel queries. Just be warned that if you present a really fast-paced itinerary for feedback, they will almost gleefully point out how incredibly ill-advised your plan is. Personally, I find the Fodors forums most useful for the trip reports.
Rick Steves Travel Forum
If you’re familiar with the Rick Steves show on PBS or the organized tours bearing his name, you might already know that the website features discussion forums for European travel. While there is a place to discuss the tours, the majority of content relates to independent travel.
I’d say the tone is a tad gentler here than on the Fodors forum. New travellers who want to cover six countries in two weeks are still going to have their itinerary promptly condemned by the regulars, but perhaps a little less bluntly. People are more apt to use their real first name as their username. Maybe that makes a slight difference?
Flyertalk is very active with dedicated forums for nearly every travel loyalty program along with forums for a wide variety of other travel-related topics. Some of these even have representatives from the program who post occasionally and to whom members can reach out for assistance.
FlyerTalk is also an excellent place to learn about loyalty promotions. The members are typically very experienced with the programs and discussion centres on capitalizing on promotions or discounts in accordance with their terms as opposed to looking for ways to abuse a promo as you sometimes find elsewhere on the web.
Cruise Critic Community
If you want to find cruise aficionados, these message boards are for you. For those who have a European river cruise coming up, there are folks who will provide updates on current water levels and perhaps allay your fears that your cruise will turn out to be a coach tour.
The Disboards are where huge numbers of Disney fans converge. If you want to get the lowdown on how to tackle a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando or Disneyland in Anaheim, this is where you’ll get expert advice and news on recent developments at the parks and resorts. And while the main focus is all things Disney, there is good info on the Universal parks as well.
On the Disboards exists a Canadian trip planning forum. If you’re looking for a heads up about a Canadian discount or discussion from a Canadian perspective, you can find it there. This forum has a very friendly tone – not sure about the others.
Timeshare Users Group
The timeshare world appears to be comprised of two main groups: those with in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of timeshare systems who enjoy affordable vacations – and those who were duped by aggressive salespeople, paying tens of thousands for something worth less than zero on the resale market. However, individuals from the latter group sometimes turn into the former through education provided by members of the TUG forum.
My only interest here is an occasional glance at the last minute rental section. I’ve seen timeshare units for rent in places like San Francisco, New York City and Boston alongside all the ones located in resort areas.
I just recently discovered this rail forum when researching train tickets for an upcoming trip. The British rail system is rather complex so spending a bit of time on this site can help you better understand the ins-and-outs.
Red Flag Deals Forums
If you’re hunting for deals in Canada, RFD is the place to go – especially their Hot Deals forum where you can filter for travel related posts. There’s also a place for travel discussion. It’s not the most active board, but a Canadian point of view is reflected in the content if that’s something you’re looking for.
Reddit is a world unto its own. Amid the bottomless pit of “subreddits” is a wide-ranging travel forum along with more focused subforums for topics such as solo or budget travel. For destination advice, sometimes a designated thread is established for travel-related questions like in r/Scotland so the main forum doesn’t get too clogged up by advice-seeking tourists.
I have gleaned loads of useful tips and information from some of these forums. They are an excellent resource even if a few of the posters are prone to snide or sarcastic remarks. If you’re going to participate, just try to be as specific as possible with your questions and be open to constructive criticism. And if you are one of the people who generously share your travel expertise with others, you have my thanks. But for those who inhabit forums purely to tell others how foolish their plans are, I’ll withhold my gratitude.