We all want to travel smarter, get more excitement from our trips, learn about local culture, customs and cuisine while travelling as responsible and sustainable as possible.
Even for the most accomplished traveller, this is no easy task and clearly does need quite careful planning.
One way to greatly improve your travel experiences is using social media. With nearly four billion social media users worldwide, it is a powerful tool when it comes to finding information about nearly everything that interests you, keep you up-to-date and facilitates connecting with likeminded people around the world.
On the other hand, in certain cases social media can be misleading and create expectations that are greatly exaggerated.
So how can you use social media to improve your travel experiences? And where should you remain cautious to avoid pitfalls? Read on to learn how I use social media to get the best out of my travels.
How to find great travel inspiration on social media
This is actually the easiest part. Building an interesting mix of accounts that you follow and interact with is the first step to create your own endless source of travel inspiration.
As someone who loves to travel – and writes about it – I am following a lot of travel related social media accounts on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, you name it. Tourist boards, travel agents, hotels, restaurants and off course other travel bloggers keep my feeds full of new stories and beautiful images that trigger my wanderlust.
What’s important is to add also accounts to that mix that provide content and information about your other interests, as these will likely also have an impact on your travels. This could be everything from culture to art, architecture, sports or food, etc.
Following this mix of accounts, you will see places other people are visiting, learn what they specifically did and how they likes their experience. In addition, you will find up-to-date information on local events, special offers and new hotel or restaurant openings.
For example, this is the broad mix of accounts I am following:
- Local tourist boards and destination marketing agencies: Providing general information about a place and its attractions along with up-to-date information on local events like festivals, sports events and everything new and exciting taking place.
- Hotel chains, hotel associations and specific hotels: Posting news about new hotel openings, special deals, their services in general and often also about local events.
- Travel platforms: Over the past decade, there’s been a growing number of large travel-related platforms. Though most aim to sell trip and hotel accommodation, these platforms like TripAdvisor or booking.com can be a treasure trove finding inspiration and special deals.
- Travel magazines: From the globally well know Condé Nast Traveller and Lonely Planet to smaller local travel magazines, all typically post about their print and online content, and also provide additional travel expertise.
- Special interest accounts: These are accounts that provide content on the topics I am interested in and will typically want to experience during my travels. For example, I am following accounts dealing with wine and food along with accounts dealing with design, lifestyle and architecture.
- Travel blogger and other influencer: Travel bloggers are a wonderful source of inspiration and advice. No matter what type of travel you are interested – from adventure to backpacking, budget and luxury – you will always find tons of accounts dealing with your favourite matter.
How to use social media to find relevant information to decide if a location is worth visiting
Sometimes, all I need to make me want to visit a place is just one picture.
But off course, you should never book a trip based on one or few images alone.
Luckily, social media offers you lots of opportunities to refine your search and unearth a great deal of specific information once you have decided you want to know more about a destination.
Some platforms are better than others for this type of search although all have their own benefits.
I start most of my specific searches on Pinterest and Tripadvisor. These sites will get you tons of specific information. I typically start simply entering a destination (i.e. a city or a region), than refine my search looking for specific places, or searches like ‘where to stay in …’, ‘the best restaurants in …’, ‘what to do in …’.
Once I have a general idea what to do and see I will start searching on other platforms as well. For example, I will search for specific places on Instagram to see them captured in different moods and angles to get a better idea at what time of the day it’s best to go there and how to capture them in an interesting way for my own travel photography.
Once you have decided where to go, social media can help you to find the best deals, make and manage your bookings and organize your trip
I now book probably up to 50% of my trips online, including flights, accommodation, restaurants and any types of local events and activities.
To make sure to be on the safe side -after all most advance bookings involve a payment or at least credit card credentials – I typically stick to sites I know are safe. In most cases, I will book directly with an airline, hotel and restaurant.
A great alternative to this approach, where you need to book everything individually, are booking platforms like TripAdvisor or Booking.com. These tools will not only allow you to search for the best deals and book almost your entire trip including transportation, accommodation and specific local activities through only one site.
They will typically also allow you to organize your entire trip by allowing you to have all your relevant documents stored at one place and will send you alerts regarding you flights and all other bookings.
During your trip, stay plugged in to get latest news, booking alerts and make last-minute arrangements
I get it, sometimes you just want to get away from it all when on vacation. Your smartphone and social media accounts included.
Whilst a digital detox can be exactly what you need, there are also very good reasons to check your accounts at least periodically.
When on a trip, I will normally connect with local accounts such as regional tourist boards, local news accounts, the airline and airport I am flying with/to and the hotel I have booked.
This way, I can get the latest news about a destination, get alerts on delays and can also quickly reach out in case I have any question or need to rearrange something. Which in most cases is much more easier on social media instead of calling a service number.
Social media can help you to avoid bad experiences – but keep in mind that tastes are different
Rating platforms are great sources to get customer feedback on hotels, restaurants, events and other activities. This will give you a good idea what you can expect from a place. After all, the wisdom of the crowd is something not to be dismissed.
If a number of different people state a place was dirty, service was unfriendly or food was not great, there might be a good reason to avoid this place.
On the other hand, keep in mind that tastes are different and what consists good service can mean very different things to different people.
Social media sometimes creates travel expectations that can’t be fulfilled
Searching for new destinations, hotels, restaurants and events to add to my bucket list, I am saving a lot of travel-related content. Lots of this content contains images – beautiful portraits of a particular beach, monument, hotel, a popular or still ‘secret’ place .. the list could go on an on.
It’s true, I have discovered many amazing places that I would have probably never known about without prior finding them on social media. It’s also true that many places you are itching to visit because of that beautiful photo you have seen, in reality do not live up to your expectations.
Images get photo-shopped or they are taken when no one else is around, i.e. at 5 am in the morning. In addition, only the very best are shared on social media. So once you finally made it to a destination, instead of an unspoilt beautiful place, you are likely to find yourself fighting for space with a huge crowd.
Other reasons why a place is not liking like that breathtaking photo? Weather conditions are not great, the image was taken at an angle that did not show you the busy road just next to the place, etc.
In addition, having seen a lot of pictures and read a lot of content about a place, the best activities to do and all the hidden gems you need to see … there is not much unexpected left for you to discover. And the funny thing with us humans is, when we have certain expectations and they are met, we are not getting overly excited. It’s just like that. It’s in the human DNA. If everything goes as planned, we do not think it was particularly great. It might be OK, but since you did not experience anything above and beyond the expected, you won’t think it was great.
Now imagine something goes wrong (it will when you travel) and your expectations are not even met!
So what does all this mean?
Make sure to manage your expectations.
In other words, do not become the victim of your expectations. Do not expect everything to be as perfect as the photo you have seen. Instead, expect that not everything will work out as planned.
Social media can make your trip less spontaneous
With all the research and planning ahead, I sometimes miss being more spontaneous.
In the past, I loved taking off on a road trip with only having set an approximate route. I would set off from one place and end at another (typically this would be two different airports) but leave plenty of room in between to change my plans and places I would visit in between.
These days, most of my trips are planned from start to finish, complete with all overnight stays booked, advance bookings of restaurants, special events/activities and particular places I want to visit all neatly sketched out in advance. As a result, I am following a rigorous timetable with not so much opportunities to change what to do and see or just taking it easy sometimes.
Not many complaints about it, as I have done a number of awesome trips that way. Still, sometimes I wish I would have more time left to do the unexpected.
In the end, using social media to improve your travel experiences is all about following the right accounts, use search functions and be quick when the perfect deal pops – and to find the right balance that works best for you between extensive planning and remaining flexible during your travels.
Are you using social media to make better travel decisions? How much do you relay on social media when booking a trip?
Let me know about your experience, good or bad!