Sometimes I lurk over on the Lonely Planet travel forum known as Thorn Tree. It's not quite the same as it used to be since they shut down the site a year or so ago and then banned links for a while and they still haven't reinstated PMs. But it is fun to see what sort of questions people pose to the worldwide community of travellers, and even more amusing to read the replies.
On your average TT forum themed around a particular country or geographic region there'll be a question about visas at least every couple of days. Almost all the visa questions are identical, and doing a google search would almost always supply the answer. So the worldwide travellers' replies aren't always very polite!! Wry smile and snigger from the lurker here..
Then there's the "where should I stay, which hotel is better, etc" type of question, something that is totally personal and really, Trip Advisor is probably a better forum for this. Especially as most people asking this question are looking to do an internet booking of their accommodation, and a fair few of our world weary travellers seem to be great supporters of the cheap homestay that hasn't got itself an online presence yet. As I happen to be in the wander around town looking for cheap digs with character group of travellers, I usually roll my eyes at this one too.
I particularly like the "Warning I got scammed" posts, because they are often the same scam, just different person being scammed. Message to original poster: If you had bothered to read Thorn Tree before you left, you would have read about the chap who got scammed identical to you the week before. But since the first and only time you write a post is to warn us not to get scammed, then.... well does anyone else see the problem here???
There are the "where can I meet up with other people travelling" type posts, because, let's be honest, we don't go travelling the world to meet the locals do we? You do occasionally see somebody ask the latter question, but not nearly often enough. There could be some awesome answers to that question. There aren't any to the former, aside from direct yourself to the nearest backpacker ghetto...
Single female travellers post asking whether it's safe to travel alone. Ummm, good question, but darling, it's been answered 300 times before in the last fortnight!! The answer, by the way is yes, unless you are wandering around drunk late at night, in which case it isn't, but nor is it safe in your home town either....
The most amusing post I've seen for a while was regarding a chap wanting to know where he could change Travellers Cheques in deepest darkest Sumatra. Apparently he doesn't like using ATMs because they charge fees, and was furious when we all said that we used ATMs. It's a bit like getting angry that you can't find typewriter ribbon for your antiquated Olivetti because everybody uses computers now. And just because one country still has ribbons, expecting another country will too. And that the majority's choice to go over to using computers is some sort of sellout. I think our chap is a wee bit unbalanced myself.
For me, the most depressing part of lurking on the forum is to discover that the same old questions, about the same old routes, get asked on such a frequent basis that people stop being helpful. Do people not bother to do at least some rudimentary research before blabbing out the self same question that got asked last week? So one time travellers answer them with less accurate information and the old hands fail to even bother to reply, seeing as they've already answered that question fifty zillion times already, maybe even written a website about that region...
As an inveterate researcher of destinations I find it incredibly easy to find the same information about a handful of destinations, yet almost impossible to find information about places not on the well travelled route. And when someone does ask about an off beat destination, the pool of replies is very limited, and sometimes non existent.
So are community forums useful if you want to travel further afield than the usual tourist destinations? I'd say yes, but only if you can post your questions in more detail, and be able to PM certain forum members that you know have the knowledge. So Thorn Tree, get the hurry on for reinstating PMs please!
My new best friend is Google, and Google Translate. It isn't perfect, but it's a very effective way of translating local tourist and government information into your own language. We all know there's a lot more to see in your own village than ends up in a guidebook. Bypass the guidebook and go straight to the local source. Now in my language too!
Can't do that on an Olivetti!!