I visit online travel message boards quite often when researching my personal trips and articles I’m writing for SmarterTravel.com. With the aid of helpful Web users, I’ve been able to track down the locations of obscure little restaurants and inns, get recommendations for interesting places to visit, and figure out what sort of things to pack for a trip.
However, I’ve also learned not to trust everything people post, or at least take what’s posted with a grain of salt. While we all like getting personal recommendations, not everyone who responds to a question you post online is well informed, and some may not even have your best interests at heart. And of course, different people travel in different ways, so submitters may offer recommendations that fit their style of travel, not yours.
Here’s a breakdown of some of types of message board submitters to watch out for:
- The expat: It’s amazing how many bored expats living overseas have nothing better to do than spend hours sitting in Internet cafes, pontificating online about their immense knowledge of a place and condemning ordinary travelers for not being “authentic enough.” This type of message board lurker seems to take particular pleasure in insulting posters who ask questions about more mainstream travel and even in giving misleading or incorrect information to naive-sounding travelers as a way to “teach” them about off-the-beaten-path travel. Tip: If you read a post that’s sarcastic or insulting, ignore it.
- The amateur travel agent: Often, travelers who’ve recently returned from a vacation fancy themselves local “experts” and are eager to offer strong opinions. These submitters are usually well-meaning, but often don’t have a strong base of knowledge about a place. Tip: Whenever you get a recommendation for a hotel, attraction, or whatever, check it out with another source and consider whether it really fits with the type of vacation you’re planning.
- The grudge holder: Let’s face it, people are much more likely to be vocal about an experience when they’ve got a gripe. Online forums are filled with lurid tales of sickness, crime, filthy hotels, tour scams, and other unpleasantries. Such posts are often ended with a strong warning against ever visiting the destination where the offense occured. Tip: Don’t let one person’s experience color your perception of a place. Look at other people’s accounts, read guidebooks, and talk to travel providers to get a more complete picture.
Essentially, my advice for using online message boards boils down to this: Always get a second opinion.
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