This is the first in a series of posts about the tools I depend on for trip planning. I’ll start with the message boards on TripAdvisor, because it’s the first place I go when researching a destination. The boards are incredibly active, so you can expect to get an answer within hours and find new posts daily. Most forums have at least one “destination expert,” or DE, someone who knows a ton and is committed to weighing in frequently to help travelers out.
What It’s Best For
The boards are a great way to get expert advice about those specific questions a guidebook won’t answer. Want feedback on your itinerary? Trying to decide if you need to rent a car in Seattle? Wondering what the best place is for pie near Glacier National Park? Or what time you should get in line for a first-come-first-served seat at the Bluebird Café in Nashville? You’ll get an answer in the forums.
How to Use It
If you haven’t used TripAdvisor before, the easiest way to get to the forum for your destination is to enter the name of your destination into the search field on the home page. The forum home page is only helpful if you want to browse destinations or find forums on topics such as road trips or traveling with pets.
Before you post a question, enter some keywords into the search field. There’s a good chance your question has been asked and answered about a hundred times already. (Props to the destination experts who patiently answer the same question over and over again.)
Read through as many posts as you can. You’ll pick up tons of useful tips and get answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Even after my itinerary is set, I continue to check back frequently and often uncover something awesome at the last minute. For instance, I stumbled upon a glowing recommendation for Tropical Dreams the day before we left for Hawaii. Reading trip reports (“TRs”) are particularly interesting, as you can see how other people spent their days, what was worth it, and what they’d pass on next time.
If you want a good answer, be as specific as you can with your question. Share your demographic info, interests, and dates of your trip to help the DEs guide you in the right direction.
Don’t bury your question in someone else’s post—start a new thread. You’re more likely to get a thorough answer, and you won’t annoy the original poster by poaching their thread.
Be specific with the title of your post, too. Indicate what information you’re looking for or offering. For instance, “Trip to Costa Rica” is not helpful, but “Best time to go to Costa Rica” is.
Return the Favor
After your trip, post a trip report to the forum. The trip reports are a nice way to “give back” for the help you’ve gotten. By sharing your experience, you’ll help other travelers get ideas about what to do on their next trip.