The Nemo Memo
My Mac Magazine #36

With all the attention going to faster Web connections, a very vigorous old-tech corner of the Internet continues to flourish. The Usenet discussion newsgroups are alive and well, especially in the <> family.

My Newsgroup Alpha Directory lists:,,,,,,,, and usa-canada. Thousands of messages are posted daily to this loose consortium of worldwide travel-related groups, and most of the questions are answered quickly, accurately, and enthusiastically by experienced fellow-travelers.

Last year Barbara and I were planning a trip, and needed specific train and rental car information, so I immediately posted my concise questions to the appropriate <> newsgroups, and patiently awaited the responses. They arrived almost immediately, and I soon became friendly with several of the “posters,” as they are called.

After our trip, my email correspondence with Gretchen Fifer
continued, and we maintain an irregular back-and-forth on a variety of travel-based items of joint interest. She generously agreed to explain her involvement in using the Internet for extensive vacation research. Gretchen and Ray, her husband, are retired, and live in South Carolina, U.S.A.


John: Were you an early adopter of the Internet, Gretchen?

Gretchen: Hardly. I never thought much about the Internet until recently. From all I read I supposed it was a myriad of mishmash information, like an encyclopedia with no index.

John: Do you still feel the same way?

Gretchen: My feelings have definitely changed. I first logged onto the <> Usenet group, because my main avocation is travel. Ray and I have been to a lot of places, mostly on our own, planned by me.

John: How did you become so adept at planning your trips?

Gretchen: I worked for a travel agency for about six years after I retired, so I know the basics of travel and have a lot of info in my head, including a collection of much outdated material.

John: Do you go on commercial trips of any sort?

Gretchen: We have taken six organized tours and a few cruises. Most of the tours were to places we felt we needed a professional guide, but we easily could have done two of them much better on our own.

John: How did you react when you first encountered the range of material in the travel discussion groups?

Gretchen: It sure was interesting to read all those questions. Initially I thought, “I know that,” so I answered a couple of requests, timidly at first, and was surprised by the positive responses I received.

John: Did you then have personal email with the people you met on Usenet?

Gretchen: Yes, a lot of those questions and answers developed into dialogues. The first one was about Bavaria, a place we love, and others followed from there.

John: Did you ask for and receive specific help yourselves?

Gretchen: Definitely. The first interesting result was from a gentleman named Bud. I was able to obtain wonderful directions to our destination, a major hotel in Washington, D. C. With Bud’s assistance, Ray and I were able to drive directly there with no endless circles of confusing turns.

John: I certainly benefited from comparable information on our trip last year.

Gretchen: And, John, after you returned, you posted a wonderful thank you to all your correspondents who provided you with useful info, and you outlined your completed trip. This log of yours really intrigued us to the point of planning a nearly identical vacation, even staying in the same apartment!

John: That’s a riot. Be careful on those slippery stairs, and remember to bring a shower curtain so the bathroom doesn’t flood.

Gretchen: How did you know Ray splashes everything within a hundred yards? Was that you with the QuickCam and the PowerBook in our bathroom last week, John?

John: Cut it out. Back to the questions. Do you ever post advice, but don’t hear from the recipients?

Gretchen: Yes, and I am really sorry I don’t know what happened to the woman who wanted to know about the three places she was going to visit, and then wanted to drive thousands of kilometers to see people during a two-week vacation. Or the girl who needed a visa for Russia in one week!

John: Do you find some Usenet posters jeopardize their trips with inadequate preparation?

Gretchen: Of course. I don’t understand the reluctance of some people to use the proper channels for obtaining documents. There are things you can do, and things you cannot do, including visas on short notice, passports in a hurry, or airfares that are quoted on the Net but are not available when you call to reserve.

John: Are some posters clueless, and turn to the <> community for advice you consider to be frivolous?

Gretchen: You’ve got that right, John. It’s amazing how many people don’t actually know where to go – Just that they want to go someplace. I don’t answer those questions any more, because there are so many good books out there, and I don’t have time to write a book myself. The saddest question was from a girl who said “I have a train pass for the U. S., so I can go anywhere. Where do I go?”

John: Have you ever been frustrated not to be able to meet any of these “e-pals” in person?

Gretchen: We had a couple of near misses. Jim and his wife were on a cruise that docked in Madeira while we were vacationing in Madeira. Ray and I tried to meet their ship but a horrible parking problem prevented us from being able to get anywhere near the dock. That meeting would have been fun with those unusual circumstances.

John: Do you hear back from any people you helped?

Gretchen: One fellow, Sid, wrote to thank me for directing him to a tricky hotel location, saying “You were right on the money, Gretchen.” That made me feel good, to be accurate, and then to be thanked personally.

John: What about the Web? Do you also use WWW resources?

Gretchen: Oh, yes, I check out sites with travel subject matter that interests me, all the time. Two couples, Ed and Julie
and Don and Linda http://
have helped tremendously with customized, and precise, destination questions.

John: Such as?

Gretchen: Before our recent trip to Portugal, Linda downloaded and forwarded a Web site on Portugal which I could not get to download, in addition to sending some material from her own site covering the same area.

John: What are you currently investigating?

Gretchen: Just last week I posted a newsgroup question about a cruise we want to take. We soon had answers, then submitted more postings, which led to more responses. The cruise sounded good, so we booked it on the recommendation of a man named Bill.

John: How do you make the actual booking?

Gretchen: We didn’t book directly with the cruise line. I always feel safer with my travel agent, and she got a better price than I would have been offered.

John: What are the most remarkable results of your Internet involvement?

Gretchen: The two most unexpected were: first, an email message from Bob, sent from a cybercafe in Turkey, near the hotel where we recommended he stay (and did); and, then, getting to meet a long-time correspondent couple from England when they came here as a result of requests for information about our own home turf, here in the southeast of the U.S.

John: And how do you now feel about “traveling the Net,” Gretchen?

Gretchen: It means a lot to me to receive a thank you from someone for whom I have spent time researching and responding. Then, to be able to follow-up with the same person and ask them for help, well, that’s what makes the world go round, right, John?

John: Thanks for your help last year, and thank you for your fascinating answers to my questions?

Gretchen: And thank you, John, for helping me in return. It’s the personal touch, you know, that makes this whole Internet experience worthwhile for me. What great people, and so full of helpful advice.

John: That wraps it up from my end. Give my best to Ray.

Gretchen: Just a final question. Do any of your readers know of a delightful little place within driving distance of the Nice (France) airport, where we can spend a few days before coming home this June? I mean away from the crowds, perhaps near St. Paul de Vence or Menton? See you on the Net, John. Keep in touch. And I’ll let you know how the duct tape holds the shower curtain in place!

John Nemerovski (

Websites mentioned:


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