Glancing around the hostel common room in New York, what struck me was how many guests were glued to laptops. Many of them seemed happy to be immersed in conversations with friends back home or uploading photos to Facebook rather than interacting with the other guests.
For better or worse, social media has changed the way we travel. What I wanted to explore today was how we can use the social web to get more out of the travel experience. We can mine the information on social networks to gain new travel inspiration, find like-minded wanderers and even save money on bookings.
Travelling alone is fun, but sometimes you need the company of another human being to share the experience with. While all your friends are slaving away in a hot office back home, unable to get the time off work, why not tap into social media to find yourself a travel buddy?
Couchsurfing is still a popular choice for finding someone to meet up with for a drink in your new destination. Just put a message out there in the Couchsurfing group for your chosen city.
Another option is Tint, a new Facebook app which unites travellers with locals for advice, dinner or even accommodation. Its integration with Facebook takes away some of the concerns of meeting people online, but you should still exercise caution.
If you’re looking for someone to join you on the road, TravBuddy is essentially a social network for travellers, with thousands of members all around the world. Just make sure you get to know your new companion before embarking on a three-month tour of Asia with them!
When I started travelling over a decade ago, my only source of travel inspiration was a copy of the Lonely Planet guide book. Nowadays a wealth of additional information from locals and backpackers is available on the social web.
I particularly like the new startup, Jauntful, which lets users create their own printable city guides. Users can input the names and descriptions of restaurants, cafes and other places they recommend. Jaunted will then plot them onto a map, which can be downloaded and shared with friends.
HotelClub has just launched a new app called HotelClub Explorer, which is great for curating content from across the social web. You can input the name of the city you’re exploring and it will find all the relevant YouTube videos, Flickr photos and tweets that might interest you. It’s kind of like having your own personalised travel magazine. Pinterest remains a useful resource for compiling a visual black book for your trip. Just create a new board for your chosen city and pin photos of the restaurants coffee shops, parks and vistas that you plan to visit.
Hotels and airlines often offer exclusive perks and discounts via social media, which aren’t available through other channels. Twitter is great for finding out about flash sales on flights, which can come and go in a blink of an eye. @airfarewatchdog is a good handle to follow for the latest info.
Facebook is handy for finding hotel perks, like money off your booking or free room upgrades. By becoming a fan of a hotel’s Facebook page, you will often be entitled to these benefits. So it’s often worth checking what hotels are posting on FB before making a booking anywhere.
CarryOn is an interesting new startup, which seeks to revolutionise the way we book flights and accommodation. Users simply follow the travel offers that interest them, and as the number of followers increases, the price goes down by up to 40%. It’s a fun new way of crowdsourcing deals.
But Is It Worth It?
With all of these tools at our disposal, the real challenge lies in how to use them. Do we want to spend all day glued to a computer screen just so that we can have a slightly better experience on the road? Will it even be a better experience? I think these tools should be used in moderation, where the returns outweigh the effort required. If not, perhaps it’s better to stick to that dog-eared copy of the Lonely Planet.