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How to Use the Best Travel Forums to Plan Your Trip
Crowdsourcing Advice for Easy Travel Planning

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These days, the world is social and we listen to other people - users, customers, friends, as opposed to large corporations trying to promote their own places and services. So why not use the best travel forums when planning a trip?

Wherever you're going, chances are someone has been there, done that - and written about it. And now you get to benefit from their experience.

Even if you've never done it before, joining and participating in a travel forum is simple

Riad in FezFind recommendations on travel forums - like this Riad in Fez

Best travel forums - the biggies

The first thing is to find the right forum for you. Are you a backpacker? Are you looking for luxury along the way? Are you in your 20s or in your 70s? How long is your trip?

Some of the best travel forums have hundreds of thousands of members or posts, and others are tiny. While the smaller ones may be great if you're looking for specialized information, the size of the bigger ones almost guarantees you'll get some sort of answer about your question.

My all-time favorite used to be BootsnAll Independent Travel: the tone is friendly and supportive, people don't waste their time flaming or insulting others, and members tend to be genuinely patient in answering questions but... it seems to have become less active, sadly.

More active is Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Travel Forum. It's probably the biggest of its kind and is a gold mine of travel information. I'm less partial to its tone - a bit less patient - than to that of BootsnAll but it has the most members, the majority of whom are knowledgeable and passionate about travel.

Both cover a wide range of issues. They have destination sub-forums, usually by continent or region, but more important are their specialty travel sections like senior travel, women's travel, gay and lesbian travel, travel gear, responsible travel, adventure travel, travel with disabilities, making money, travel inspiration, solo travel... and I'm only scratching the surface. Have a browse and see for yourself.

Both BnA and Thorn Tree tend to be aimed at independent backpackers so higher-end or group travelers will have to supplement their information elsewhere.

A few worth mentioning include Fodor's, Frommer's, TripAdvisor, Virtual Tourist  and Travellerspoint. They're all hugely helpful on specific destination information and recommendations from others. Several have 'experts' and your questions will be answered quickly.

Browse around for a bit until you find one that 'feels right' for you.

Smaller travel forums

A forum doesn't have to have hundreds of thousands of members to be worth visiting. Many smaller online travel forums are friendly, erudite, funny, helpful, and even quirky.

An example of a travel chat forum that fit some of the above criteria could be Aardvark Travel (check out their Space Travel and Food sections, although this forum doesn't seem as active as it used to be).

If these don't suit you there are dozens more - just settle in and start surfing.

So you've scoured the best travel forums: what next?

You will have to register. It's free, and you only have to give out the information you feel comfortable sharing. You'll need a user name (choose something you'll remember - your user name will appear on your forum posts, or conversations) and a password (make sure you jot this down so you don't forget it). And now, you're ready to throw yourself into the fray.

Most forums have a section for new members, or 'newbies'. It's called something like 'Introducing Yourself' or 'Post here first'. Don't worry - it'll be obvious.

Drop in and say hello, tell people who you are - a few sentences are enough. Upload a photo of yourself (or a cartoon or caricature if you'd rather). The point is to signal to people you are interested in taking part in the forum and that you'll be posting once in a while.

Then find a thread - or a conversation - that interests you and jump in. Just click on it and ask a question, or if you can, answer one, all in the spirit of giving back in as well as taking.

A word of caution - what you'll be reading on the forums are people's personal opinions, not necessarily facts, so exercise your judgment and double-check before you spend any money on anything or take it all at face value.

What kind of questions are best for travel forums? Here are a few examples:

  • Do you know a great hostel in Mumbai/Dubai/Kashkai or anywhere?
  • How can I cope if loneliness hits?
  • Is a yellow fever vaccination still required by Tanzania?
  • Should I reserve a place to stay for my first night in Bangkok?
  • What size backpack should I take for six months?
  • Has anyone else here traveled solo, and what was it like?
  • I want to fly RTW through Africa and Latin America. What is the best way to do this?
  • I'm looking for a travel companion for an overland journey across Africa/Asia/Latin America...

No question is too complex as long as it's about travel. You'll be miles ahead in your planning if you take advantage of these online travel forums and participate actively. I do! 

Istanbul spice bazaarWhere do you find the best tea and spices in Istanbul?

What if you're looking for something special?

So far I've mentioned the more general forums - but there are plenty of specialized travel forums. Let me give you a sampling of what you might find if you dig a little:

  • specific destination forums, by searching such things as 'Russia travel forum' or 'travel forum Asia' or 'Caribbean travel forums'
  • expat forums - there's nothing like an expat to tell you what a place is really like! Try searching for 'expat forums'
  • thematic travel forums, for example food forums - Mouthfuls is a good example of a forum that combines travel and the food themes
  • specific types of transportation forums, like RVing, cycling, or The Hubb, for those of you who travel by motorcycle
  • and if you're looking for work, why not try job-related travel forums? Many professional forums have sections on overseas work and travel. One of the best of its kind is Dave's ESL Cafe, if you want to teach English as a foreign language. Or if you want to make your job portable and take it with you, try Working Nomad.

Whatever your travel question, travel forums are an excellent source of research - straight from the ground and usually answered by people who are right where you want to go.

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