People are more connected than ever before. Between Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, Flickr and all of the other social networking sites out there, you no longer need to leave your house to interact with friends and strangers (looking at you, Chatroulette). Social networking sites are also becoming key tools for travelers as they both plan and enjoy their trips.
However, like any new medium, there have been growing pains. Anyone who has seen their Twitter feed clogged by constant foursquare check-ins knows that some people overuse social networking. These sites (and the new ones that are launching nearly everyday) are here to stay and are valuable resources for travelers. That said, we all need to help the medium mature so that we can stop being so annoyed by people who are oversharing and start engaging in constructive, entertaining and educational dialogue.
With that goal in mind, Gadling has compiled this guide to using social networking as a travel tool. This should eliminate any confusion and help quiet down those who are abusing their newfound connectivity.Updates
Do let people know you’re alive: Rather than sending out mass emails saying, “I’m OK,” you can now utilize your Facebook and Twitter accounts to let people know that you haven’t been swallowed by a sinkhole. A moderate numbers of updates per day lets people keep tabs on you and know that you’re thinking of them along the way. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, along with the eruption on the Icelandic volcano, have shown that connectivity can be critical to helping people when disaster strikes.
Don’t give up-to-the-minute updates: If people are more aware of what you are doing on the other side of the planet than they are with what their roommate is doing on the other side of the wall, then you are updating too often. Add something to the discourse rather than just trying to be omnipresent. Put down your iPhone, step away from the internet cafe and go live your life. You can’t share stories with people if you don’t first create those stories.
Do give people a peek: Posting a few pictures along the way helps people share your excitement and see places through your eyes. Photographs also act as proof that you are indeed where you say you are while helping to tell your story in under 140 characters.
Don’t give it all away too quickly: No one wants to see your grainy, dimly lit cameraphone photos of what you claim is steak tartar but looks like a watercolor painting of vomit. If you can’t get a good shot of it, don’t share it (suggested by @Ellsass).
You don’t need to share every picture you take while you are still away. Save your full photo upload to Flickr, Picasa and/or Facebook for when you return. If you’re spending hours uploading and tagging photos, you’re missing out on experiences and memories (and more photos) while your trip is still happening.
Lastly, don’t feel as if every moment of your trip needs to be documented and shared. Gadling’s Sean McLachlan advocated going so far as to leave your camera at home.
Do ask for tips: Utilize Facebook and Twitter to find out about local attractions and restaurants before you hit the ground. Gadling’s Jeremy Kressmann touched on this previously when discussing place-dropping. Asking for advice on what to see and where to drink before arriving gives you with more information than guidebooks are often able to provide. Heck, I crowdsourced looking for suggestions before writing this post.
Don’t become a puppet: There’s no need to turn your trip into an entirely interactive experience decided by your followers. Do you really need to ask your virtual friends, “Should I have the flan or the poached pears?” Ask your waiter for some real-life advice. Or just follow your heart (er, stomach). Ask some locals in person while you are there. People discovered local secrets and hidden adventures long before the internet was created. Don’t turn over every facet trip over to crowdsourcing (but definitely order the poached pears).
Do check in and leave tips: Including tips on foursquare regarding the food at a restaurant, where to find the door to a speakeasy or what rides had the shortest lines at the amusement park actual make the service a real tool for travelers.
You should also check to see if anyone you know is at that location at the same time so that you can meet up and enjoy some time together in person.
Don’t link your foursquare and Twitter accounts: Sending all of your foursquare check-ins directly to your Twitter feed? I hate you. Your followers hate you. Stop. Unless you are adding some detail to your check-ins (i.e., “New bar with fantastic whiskey selection”), you’re just broadcasting your life and hoping that someone cares. People can follow your movements directly on foursquare if they so choose. Clogging people’s Twitter feeds just to overshare is sad.
Speak for yourself
Do let people know what you are doing: Updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed to let people know where you are and what you are doing is OK so long as your don’t mind people being able to track you down. You’re responsible for what you put out there.
Don’t reveal details about your friends: Just because you’re OK with your parents, employer and everyone else who follows you knowing that you are “so wasted” at Hooters doesn’t mean that everyone who is with you is as comfortable broadcasting that information. Don’t include other people’s names (or aliases) unless they approve of you doing so (suggested by @thecitizeNY).
Dealing with companies
Do follow travel-related businesses: With the list of airlines, hotels and tourism bureaus on Twitter growing exponentially, it’s becoming easier to seek out deals, navigate through problems and speak with customer service representatives. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about traveling with Twitter and looking for deals. By following these travel businesses online, you can take advantage of sales and voice your complaints when companies fail to meet expectations.
Don’t publicly attack them: If you have a substantial issue with a company, it’s best to reach out using traditional methods. Speak with someone in person if you are at a hotel or airport. Call their customer service numbers. Send them an email or letter. Only if they fail to respond or truly let you down should you seek to contact them via their Facebook page or Twitter account. Going off on a rant or tweeting about them incessantly tends to make you look like a lunatic rather than a victim.
At some point, you need to put your phone away, leave your wifi enabled hotel room and actually do something. Cut the cord (or leave the cloud, so to speak) and enjoy your time with the people who are there with you in real life. Or just be alone. There’s a time to share and a time to live. Knowing the difference will help you enjoy your trip and keep your online followers from deserting you.
There are definite advantages to traveling in the age of social networking. You can find deals, stay connected and share your experiences from anywhere in the world. But without boundaries, we all must suffer through cults of personality. We all want social networking to reach its full potential as a travel tool. We just don’t want to have deal with so many travelers who are complete tools.
This is by no means a definitive list. What did we leave out that you’ve learned from your own experiences with social networking and travel? Share your thoughts on all things connectivity in the comments below.