Travel Smarter 2012: New technologies that make travel more social

While there was once a time when people would simply head down to their local travel agent for a trip recommendation, the world of social media and technology has greatly impacted the way we travel. And that’s not only in terms of tips and advice, but also, in regards to trip sharing, accommodation booking, finding travel companions, and even choosing who we sit next to on a flight. Here are some technologies that are helping to make travel more social in 2012.

Finding a travel companion

I wish I had known about sites like these three years ago when I backpacked through Europe. I had searched dozens of travel companion forums, only to find pervy, old men who were offering to pay for young backpackers’ trips in exchange for sexual favors along the way. Luckily, we now have reputable, legitimate technologies that can help you find other travelers with similar interests who will be in the same place as you at the same time. First, there’s Ajungo, which allows you to find travel buddies through specifying itinerary dates and destinations and by funneling through your various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Foursquare, and Flickr. There’s also Globetrooper, which allows you to create trip itineraries and invite others, or, conversely, search trips to join by region or activity, such as canoeing and rafting, food and wine touring, mountaineering, or backpacking.Booking accommodation

Social accommodation booking sites have allowed finding a hostel or apartment to become so much more than simply searching a property and making a reservation. For backpackers who want to see who else will be in their hostel before they book, Gomio brings social media into the process and allows travelers to connect before their trips as well as plan activities and excursions. Moreover, CouchSurfing not only gives travelers access to free accommodation at local homes, but also has features that allow for users to plan trips, events, and activities together through forums and groups. And if you want to stay in a private, or quirky, accommodation, Airbnb allows people to list homes and rooms, which can range from anything from a treehouse overlooking San Francisco Bay to an entire apartment in central Rome, or even an igloo in Sulzberg. You can choose to search the entire site’s listings with reviews or connect through Facebook to see if anyone you know is renting out a space or has previously stayed at an Airbnb property.

Finding travel deals

You no longer have to wait and hope to stumble upon great travel deals, as social networking has not only made the world of travel more communal, it’s also made it cheaper. Personally, I find Twitter to be a really helpful tool in finding great travel deals by simply following certain handles that promote just that. Following @traveldeals, @triptwitnews, @travelbargains, @airfarewatchdog, and even airlines, hotels, and tour operators themselves will allow you to find out about promotions as soon as they are publicized. Moreover, “liking” business pages on Facebook, such as Best Travel Deals or Liberty Travel, allows you to see deals, sales, and contests as they become available. If you’re a Foursquare user, there are appreciation programs that exist to give you points whenever you check-in with a certain hotel, airline, restaurant, spa, bar, tour company, or business. For example, Topguest awards loyalty points for checking-in with companies like Clubhotel, Kimpton InTouch, Hilton, Virgin America, and more.

Connecting with local hosts

Instead of booking with an expensive tour company and getting a one-size-fits-all experience, there are many social tools that exist to help connect people with local hosts. CouchSurfing, which I mentioned above, offers an enormous database of users all over the world. There is also TripTrotting, which matches you to locals based on similar interests as well as Tripping, which allows you to connect with locals and also connect through Facebook to see if you have any mutual associations. If you’re not actually traveling but would still love to visit a city, the new Wander app links you up with a local guide who will “show you around” via texts and photos in exchange for a similar virtual tour of your city.

Finding a seat on your flight

Last year, KLM airlines announced a social seating service called Meet & Seat. Passengers share their Linkedin and Facebook profiles on the KLM Booking Engine and from there can browse other passengers’ profiles and seating arrangements. Though availability is currently limited to flights between New York and Amsterdam as well as San Francisco and Sao Paulo, the company will be expanding the service to more flights in the near future.

Travel planning

While travelers perviously were only able to rely on their guidebooks, there are now a myriad of resources available for sharing travel tips with like-minded travelers as well as getting reviews from locals, and creating and sharing organized documents. Spotted by Locals is a resource that includes city guides, blogs, and iPhone apps written by European locals about their home cities, while Gogobot is a travel review site that allows you to create your own travel network, share tips and advice, and connect through Facebook to read friends’ reviews. The site also ranks users based on their activity and review count, so you can see how much of a “travel expert” someone is when reading their reviews. Travelmuse is also a great social planning resource, as it allows you to add a bookmarker to your toolbar and save photos, websites, and text to a trip research folder. You can add destinations to your trip and look at what other users have done in the past to get ideas. The tool helps you stay organized with an itinerary calendar as well as get collaborative feedback from friends through Facebook. Once your trip planning is complete, save it to your computer or print it out to carry with you.

Journal sharing

With all of the social networking available, there’s really no longer a need to document your trips with a pen and paper diary. Tripline is an excellent social resource that allows you to create interactive maps of your journey by pinning locations as well as connecting to your social media sites to add Foursquare check-ins, Twitter updates, Facebook activity, and other social sharing to your interactive maps. A similar tool is the free TrackMyTour app, where travelers can create waypoint destinations, tweet updates, follow friends’ journeys, browse already completed tours for inspiration, and share their trip with friends via the TrackMyTour website. Moreover, Trip Journal uses Google Earth integration, allowing for every detail of the trip to be documented and shared in real-time, including routes, distance traveled, stops made, time, and speed. Blog entries, photos, videos, and comments can also be easily stored and shared through Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Flickr, and YouTube.

[flickr image via SteveGarfield]