Between Twitter, email, Facebook, texting, IM’ing, and all the other technological communication tools available to us, it’s easy to form relationships that are entirely online. But travel is all about making connections in the real world – getting offline, unplugging, and connecting face-to-face, sharing experiences and creating new memories. Here are five ways to use online tools to help enrich your offline travel experiences.
Couchsurfing is all about connecting in the real world and making new friends in your destination. The premise is simple: those who have a couch will welcome a guest into their home, those who need a couch to stay on can find willing hosts. But CouchSurfing is about much more than just a place to stay. It’s about interacting with locals around the world so you can get an inside glimpse into the culture and ways of life of a particular place.
Even if you can’t provide a place to stay, you can get involved in the CouchSurfing community by offering to meet up with travelers for coffee or a drink, or you can participate in the forums and attend CouchSurfing events put on by local chapters in your area.
Though Yelp isn’t yet available everywhere (most big cities in the US, UK and Ireland are covered, though participation varies), it’s a growing force. While the focus of the website is the user-written reviews of restaurants, hotels, shops, and services, there’s a very social side to it as well.
In addition to writing reviews of local establishments, many users connect on talk boards and at real-life events. If you’re going to be traveling through a city where Yelp has an established presence, you can chat with locals on the talk boards to get recommendations for things to see and do (a word of caution – Yelp users tend to be on the snarky side and they tire of the same “what is there to do here?” questions; you are much more likely to get useful information if you personalize your request). You can also attend Yelp events – both official (usually put on once a month by Yelp staff, and offering free food and drinks) and unofficial events thrown by users of the site. If you’re going to be staying in one place for several weeks or months, Yelp is a great way to make some new friends in the area.
TripAdvisor’s Trip Friends
TripAdvisor’s Trip Friends application won’t help you make new friends, but it will help you get the best travel tips and advice from your existing social circle. Once you log in, the app will tell you where your friends have been. And when you research a destination, the app will show you which of your friends has already been there. Then you can easily post a question to that person or on your own wall asking for travel advice about the destination.
Particularly if your social circle is quite larges, this application can be useful in helping you figure out who to go to for advice on a specific destination. After all, your friends can offer some of the most tailored travel advice for you, as they’re probably the ones who know you best.
Meetup.com may be one of the most specific resources out there when it comes to connecting with other people around the world. With 180,000 monthly meetups happening in over 45,000 cities around the world, chances are there’s not only one near you (or near where you’ll be traveling) but there’s also one tailored towards your exact interests. 28,000 different interests are already covered, ranging from entrepreneurship and spirituality to pilates and dodge-ball.
There are over 70,000 Meetup groups, with the largest being in major cities like Chicago, London and New York, and with Meetup groups in over 40 countries, chances are you’ll find one wherever your travels take you.
Yes, all those “I’m the Mayor of McDonald’s” posts you’ve been seeing on Facebook and Twitter streams are annoying, but once you actually use FourSquare you begin to see its appeal. More than just a way to rack up “badges” of questionable value (though some places do offer discounts and freebies to “Mayors’), FourSquare is a great way to get tips on particular places in a city, and to connect with other people who are there.
Once you sign up for FourSquare, you can “check-in” at various locations. Each time you do, you get points, but more importantly, you can read tips from other people who have been there, and add your own. Wondering what to order at a certain restaurant? Look for tips on FourSquare. Want to tell people about a great off-menu dish? Add a tip on FourSquare. You can also easily find other recommended places near where ever you are. And, when you check it an a place, you can see who else is there. If someone you are connected to on Twitter happens to be at the same location you are, you can take your online friendship offline.
For travelers (or anyone, really) with a blog running on WordPress, check out an excellent Facebook Connect plug-in created by fellow travel blogger Justin Klein: WP-FB-AutoConnect Premium.