Shortly after the birth of the Internet, people began using it to talk about a favorite topic of conversation, travel.
In 1998, as I planned a trip to Tanzania, I stumbled upon ThornTree, a travel forum written by travelers for other travelers — basically, “user reviews” before the term was coined (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree). Among the world of topics at the then-nascent site was, much to my benefit, the best safari outfits in Arusha. I was searching for a guide service that was small, genuine, steeped in local culture and — let’s be honest — cheap. Thanks to some British chap I’ll never meet, I found a great one.
Researching trips via the Internet has only gotten better since ThornTree got the ball rolling.
There are, of course, the standard-bearers: TripAdvisor and Facebook.
I relied on TripAdvisor — which boasts 100 million user reviews — as I planned a recent trip a tad closer to home, Des Moines. Facebook can also be a powerful tool. Don’t over-share vacation plans on social media, but the crowdsourcing potential is powerful there. A friend from Nashville looking for a room in Boston queried: “Where should I stay?” A friend who lives in the city helped her suss out an affordable hotel.
New sites are making their own marks and building communities of travelers. Gogobot is a nicely designed site that highlights photos; offers membership in tribes, such as “foodies” and “LGBT,” and allows members to post questions. IgoUgo is another newbie with a nice perk: A click on a reviewer’s name takes you to their profile, where you can see their other reviews and read their bio to get a sense of whose advice you’re following.
Send questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at email@example.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.