The Contradictions of TripAdvisor Forums

TripAdvisor Forums have their place in a travellers armoury, there’s a huge mix of participants from naive first time travellers to seasoned professionals.  However like every other forum sometimes you need to take the “advice” with a grain of salt.

 TripAdvisor is really all about making money

Are you a Sales Lead or a Member?

TripAdvisor LeadsTripAdvisor is really all about making money, you as a reader are nothing but a potential sales lead for the services advertised throughout the site.  Every time you search for hotel rooms and flights through the site the cookies being baked into your computer are adding to the sites income.

The staff of TripAdvisor are there to keep that well oiled cash machine running and not to ensure the participants in the Forums provide consistent accurate advice.

So with that in mind lets move onto the next contradiction.

Destination Experts

Every Forum has Moderators, people who can keep the peace and offer sage advice when needed.  In he case of TripAdvisor the two roles are separated, a Destination Expert typically has a high post-count and a high rate of “presence” on the Forums.  The moderation seems to be done by deleting posts after they’re reported and very little (if any) feedback is given to the poster.

In my dealings with these Destination Experts I’ve found a mix of genuinely nice people who have the time and energy to help out, and also those who always seem to grind out the say cut-n-paste solutions that perpetuate myths.

Owee over at wrote a great piece about his attempt to become a recognised Destination Expert.

The term Destination Expert is misleading and in most cases an out right lie. A Tripadvisor chosen volunteer is a more accurate term. Please keep this in mind when using their resource.

Owee’s experience highlights the distinctly profit driven motives, and the level of restriction TripAdvisor imposes upon those experts (which also discourages many reputable writers from participating under their “real” names)

What about Good Advice?

I spend a portion of my time on TripAdvisor kicking through the Bargain Travel forum and was surprised when someone posted a link to the great NomadicMatt12 Things Not to Do When You Travel” article.

The link got posted in a few threads and a number of Destination Experts chimed in saying it was the best advice ever.  Terrific, because the 12 tips are genuinely useful for all travellers.

The ones closest to my heart revolve around money, The “Don’t Exchange money at the airport” and “Use a fee free card”.  The advice is rock solid and backed up by posts throughout the forums.  Over in the Destination Forum for Malaysia we have a Destination Expert giving a good balanced view of costs while a few people are advocating everything from changing money back “at home” – to carrying large amounts of cash which then contradicts the “beware of bag snatchers” mantra!

Not once did an expert or TripAdvisor themselves suggest checking out the article, nor could many others post the link for fear or falling foul of the “posting links to blogs” rule.  That rule would make linking to a breach as it’s a very commercial Blog no matter how much we value the content!

I’m not even going to talk about the Monkey post!  Well, ok, I will.  There was a post about Batu Caves, the writer had asked if the caves were worth it given they had a dislike of monkeys.  Fair question, I’m not a fan of them myself, and while some people tried to balance up the “value” of the attraction versus the population of monkeys others started talking about all the rabies travellers would get while being bitten.

Hardcore Monkey
“Biting the Bullet” – Monkey Style

Yes, monkeys can bite. No, monkeys don’t bite randomly

Once again there’s no consistency, and once again not even Destination Experts could agree!

Where does that leave us?

When you use TripAdvisor do so with an open mind.  Don’t let some views dissuade you from accessing what is still a marvellous resource, but always be aware of the pitfalls.

Opinionated Destination Experts, False Reviews and people willing to “work the system” to make a buck combined with he profit motive of the TripAdvisor company mean that like Professional Travel Bloggers you need to keep your wits about you.

Bargain Travel: The Money Problem

Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post

Here I’ll try to explain my approach to Bargain travel at the destination. It’s not my strong point and I’d say I’m still finding my mojo with it.

The Money Problem:

Reality is once I step off the plane in Malaysia (or any other destination) my Australian dollars are worthless except at currency exchanges, and airports have some of the worst exchange rates because you’re stuck needing a local currency and a bathroom and a coffee and usual a good nights sleep.

My money Tips:

Know and understand your exchange rate for your destination country. Use an app on your smartphone, understand the cycles of exchange rates, know what your should get, roughly, on any currency exchange. If you don’t arm yourself with this knowledge you will lose money.

If you are going to exchange your normal currency into the local currency of your destination don’t do it at the airport. Utilise the experience of hundreds of Tripadvisor members and ask about currency exchange in the appropriate destination forum. At the Airport only exchange enough more for some food, a taxi or transport ticket to your hotel and not much else. It’s pretty much a certainty the exchange rate will be worst at the airport, and worse still at the arrivals area.

My preference is to carry as little Aussie cash as possible and upon arrival head for the nearest group of ATMs. I use a Citibank Plus VISA Debit card (not a credit card) specifically because it has no international currency fees, NONE, no fee for using it, no percentage fee on the amount withdrawn or spent, and it’s spending my money not borrowing money. At this first ATM I’ll withdraw enough cash for a day or so, in Malaysia this may be 500RM, it’s enough to by some food, get a local SIM card set up, pay for a taxi to the city, handle incidentals the following morning and yet not so much that I’m walking around the airport half asleep dropping a fortune everywhere. Thanks to the Citibank Plus VISA debit card I pay basically spot on the market rate shown on

I’m making a big deal of the fee-free international transactions and cash advances because these fees add together really really fast.

Imagine using a card where there was a 3% surcharge on the currency exchange, and perhaps a AUD5.00 on every foreign cash withdrawal (excluding any local ATM fee). It adds up. If you’re on a long trip or spending bigger amounts you could be giving your bank hundreds!

Lets face it, the less cash you carry, the less you’ll lose if you’re the victim of crime OR just get careless and lose your wallet.

Local ATM fees can suck, but not all banks charge the same fee. My Citibank Plus VISA Debit card attracted a fee in some ATMs, when I was told of the fee I’d cancel the transaction and try another banks ATM. Turns out if I avoided ATMs from one bank only I was completely fee free! So yes it can look silly but don’t just accept fees as a fait accompli. Test out the competition.

The more you rush, the more you spend

I’m also a big fan of avoiding cash altogether. It’s amazing how easy it is to buy Starbucks when you want one and don’t have to run around trying to exchange another lump of Aussie $$ in Ringgits and probably pay less in the process! In short if you can use your fee-free card for “every day” transactions do it. Your bank statements will become another part of your travel memorabilia!

For me my happy medium of cash withdrawals is around AUD200 chunks. Seems to be enough money to get by anywhere for a day or two without overstuffing your wallet. Naturally if you’re anticipating needing to pay for long taxi trips or theme park food pack a bit more….