When Barbara Mawdsley gets ready for her trip to Scandinavia, the Internet will be her first stop.
Mawdsley, a resident of Danbury, Conn., isn't so much interested in buying airplane tickets or making hotel reservations online, although that's common enough on the Internet these days.
Instead, she's looking for advice on where to stay, what to eat and what to see.
"On the Internet, you often get people's opinions, or you hear about out-of-the-way things that people just stumbled on. You get more of the local flavor," said Mawdsley, who participates in Travel-L, an Internet e-mail discussion group.
With the ease of communicating over long distances that the Internet makes possible, a whole new world of travel research has opened up.
"Every traveler knows that some of the best information they get about discovering a place comes from the people who live in that region," said Michael Shapiro, author of the book "NetTravel."
"What the Internet does is allow people to get that information before they leave, instead of waiting until they get there," he said.
Ken Blakeslee, of Middletown, Conn., who just returned from Africa, said talking on the Internet with other travelers can bring tips on everything from cozy hotels to little-known restaurants.
Blakeslee favors the global discussion forums known as Usenet newsgroups, which feature such areas as rec.travel.europe, rec.travel.air, rec.travel.usa-canada and many others.
The idea of encouraging travelers to exchange information has caught on at some large travel-oriented Web sites, which have set up forum and chat areas for that purpose.
"We have almost 4 million users. These people have been traveling awhile. They know how to get the best deals, the best places to stay and how to get around," said Liz Naughton, spokeswoman for the Internet Travel Network.
Microsoft's Expedia sponsors up to 40 live chats a week, sometimes featuring guests, so travelers can ask questions and exchange information. A separate part of the site lists tips for particular destinations that users have submitted.
Terry Nagel, moderator of Expedia's family travel forum, said travelers often report the highlight of their trip resulted from tips they picked up from other users.
"That's the kind of thing that you wouldn't necessarily find out from a guidebook. We have the immediacy of telling people about newly discovered places to go," she said.
Linda Coffman, who runs an Internet Web site dedicated to information about cruises, said people are very interested in passing on information to other travelers.
"It's such a sharing community on the Internet. People are just so willing to help any way they can. It's just like a great big family ' even better, because you don't have to have them all over for Sunday dinner," she said.
But not everyone thinks the kind of friendly advice offered by Internet users is as valuable as it might seem. Robert Young Pelton, who writes for Fielding Travel Guides, said people's tastes vary so widely that you have to be skeptical about a stranger's recommendations. "You get people who hate things and love things. And of course, neither can be trusted," he said. "It's hard to get some sort of common-sense advice."
Pelton recommended that travelers not rely on the opinions of others and simply do their own research. Using the Internet to contact travel providers directly and to read local newspapers at your intended destination is a good alternative, he said.
Some Internet sites worth trying:
* DejaNews, at www.dejanews.com, provides easy access to Usenet newsgroups, such as rec.travel.usa-canada.
* Travel-L, an Internet e-mail discussion group, lists information about how to join at w3.ime.net/aimee/travel-l.html.
* Internet Travel Network, at www.itn.com, has discussion forums.
* Microsoft's Expedia, expedia.msn.com, has discussions and chats.
* The Thorn Tree, a discussion connected to the Lonely Planet Web site, is online at www.lonelyplanet.com.
* Fielding Travel at www.fieldingtravel.com has discussion forums on a variety of topics, including cruising and adventure travel.
Pub Date: 6/21/98