The first time I went to Europe was for a trip to Spain with my parents when I was in junior high school. We flew on TWA and connected through Eero Saarinen's beautiful terminal at JFK. We didn't buy a guidebook, and I had no idea what I wanted to see once I arrived in Seville. You see, the reason we took this trip as our first overseas vacation wasn't so much a great love of Spain but because my dad's cousin was teaching for a year at a naval base on the Andalusian coast. Such was the way of my family, when most vacations had some kind of familial attachment connected to them. Since this was in the days long before the Internet, I can't help but think that we could have improved our trip immeasurably by asking some well-formed questions on the right message board in advance of our vacation. While message boards are no substitute for a professionally researched travel guide, they are an excellent resource for the kind of traveler who is unlikely (or unwilling) to buy a guidebook. The trick is figuring out how to ask the right question.
Five Simple Questions to Answer When Asking for Help
To help ensure that you get a helpful answer to your message board query, whether it's here on Fodors.com or somewhere else, try to make sure you answer the following five questions in your post (and always be brief ... and I assume you'll say where you're going):
1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and tell some relevant details about yourself. (I'm a single 34-year-old woman; I'm a mother of 4 kids under 10; We're a couple in our 20s on our honeymoon).
2. What kind of advice are you seeking? It's very important that you say what you want and do so as clearly and succinctly as possible Avoid: I'd love some restaurant recommendations in New York City. Forget: Is there anything interesting to do in Bangkok? You'll get a better response if you are as specific as possible (I need some lunch recommendations near the Air & Space Museum in Washington DC, or I need a hotel room for 5 people in Paris.)
3. When are you traveling? It matters a great deal when you are taking a trip, particularly since seasons and crowds can directly impact every aspect of your travel experience (We've decided to take our first trip to Toronto this February; We'll be going to Nassau in September; We've decided to visit Boston the first week in May).
4. What kind of budget do you have? It's so hard for people to make recommendations for you if they don't know how much you can spend (We want a great hotel in Las Vegas for $29 a night on a Saturday). With some details like this, even when posters can't help you, they can tell you what's wrong with your plans (I want to go to Europe but can only spend a total of $800, including airfare).
5. What are you looking for ... or not looking for? Try to zero in on a few telling details that will help people help you. Try not to be vague (What Caribbean island is good for someone who loves great beaches?). But do say what you are looking for, whether it's a restaurant or hotel recommendation or even itinerary-planning advice. Try not to ask for "what's best"; rather, focus on what's right for you (I want to go to a Caribbean island where there is great fishing for my husband but also some nightlife outside of our resort and an excellent spa for me).
Talk to Me
When I started writing this column several weeks ago, the game plan was for me to introduce myself and to address some big-picture vacation-planning topics that might elicit further discussion in the forums. Now we want to transition to a format that's a bit more interactive.
You don't always want to read about me ... sometimes you want to read about you. I'd like to invite you to write directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you'll ask me any travel-related question that's on your mind, such as:
- Trip-planning advice
- Help finding the best deals for your upcoming vacation
- How to make your travel dreams come true for the budget you have to spend
- Questions about how the travel industry works
- Basically, ask me anything!
Each week, we'll choose from among the most interesting questions you send in, and my column will give you my answer (or answers ... we may be able to answer more than one question in a given week). Then we'll open things up for discussion on our message boards so you can get a wider range of advice (it does help to have advice from more than one person). I don't know everything about travel, so when I can't answer your questions, I'll ask one of my colleagues here at Fodor's. Between us, we've been to almost every country on earth, and we'd love to help you.
Photo Credit: istock photo / Willie B. Thomas