Social Media Tips for Travel
If you feel the urge to brag about upcoming travel plans, you’re not alone. After booking a trip, about 54 percent of U.S. travelers update social networks with related posts, according to a February 2013 PhoCusWright study of mobile travel trends.
And it’s not only your friends who are paying attention. Savvy travel companies monitor the social media buzz, occasionally rewarding vocal fans with improved customer service, special deals, and even thoughtful surprises.
“Sometimes guests will tell us on Twitter or Facebook that they’re coming for a special occasion—a honeymoon, birthday, or anniversary,” says Joe Capalbo, general manager of Kimpton’s Onyx Hotel in Boston. “That gives us an opportunity to create a memorable experience by surprising and delighting them when they’re here.”
But once you reach your destination, it can be challenging to find the balance between enjoying yourself in the moment and getting caught up in a flurry of tweets, Instagram photos, and other social media updates.
“Take the pictures in the moment and post them later,” suggests Travis Katz, cofounder and CEO of Gogobot, a social travel network. “I spent Memorial Day weekend in Big Sur. There was no signal, so I couldn’t post anything. I snapped photos, and I got to watch the sunset without live blogging. It was fantastic. When I got back to civilization, I relived the moment [when I shared the photos].”
A little pre-trip preparation can also help you sift through the endless stream of information without feeling overwhelmed. For instance, take a few minutes to add the Twitter handles of your airline, hotel, and destination’s tourism board. Local bloggers can also help introduce you to restaurants and activities; don’t be shy to ask. While email requests are easily ignored, a direct message or comment via social media can be a great way to flag someone’s attention for input.
Even if you’re not a power user of Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, you can still tap into these social networks and benefit from the crowd-sourced suggestions. And with the ability to share as much (or as little) as you want from your own trip, your social media updates could help the next traveler plan his or her upcoming vacation.
Now that’s good travel karma.
Quick and Nimble is the Name of the (Airfare) Game
These days, fare sales can arrive—and depart—in a flash. The best way to jump on them is to follow the Twitter handles of fare-tracking sites, such as @airfarewatchdog, and individual carriers. I saw several great offers for midweek flights, but since I was planning a weekend trip and my dates weren’t flexible, I couldn’t take advantage of the sales. In this case, good old Kayak came through for me with a well-priced United Airlines flight that fit my schedule.
When It Comes to Hotels, Take Your Mom’s Advice: Don’t Settle
Social media is rife with deals. I knew I could do better than the $200-per-night rooms I found on traditional online booking sites and apps. For my trip, I searched “Portland hotel deal” on Twitter and scored, via Travelzoo, a $119 room at Hotel Modera for a Friday night (a savings of $40). In the meantime, I dropped notes to several hotels via Facebook to see if any discounts were available for my Saturday night in the city. Hotel Lucia quickly responded with a special $161 rate (15 percent off) and an offer of free Wi-Fi (worth $10).
Cheat Sheet: Looking for a discounted room? On Twitter, try searching combinations of your destination name and the words hotel, deal, promo, promo code, discount, and sale.
Get with the Program
Many hotel groups offer special rewards to Facebook and Twitter followers. But if you follow their loyalty-club accounts, you can receive even more freebies. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has a Facebook page for its free-to-join InTouch program where it announces “social password” specials. “Whisper” the right word at check-in and you can get room upgrades, free breakfast, and more. Unfortunately, Kimpton didn’t have any secret deals for my weekend in Portland, so I stuck with my original reservations.
Cheat Sheet: Two more hotel loyalty clubs that treat members like royalty on social media: Hilton HHonors (Facebook fans get deals offering extra points) and Starwood Preferred Guest (the Starwood Hotels Travel Exclusives Facebook page often lists special deals for SPG members).
Be a Chairman of the Board
As my crowdsourced recommendations piled up, I needed a way to organize everything, so I logged in to Pinterest and created a Portland board. I’d asked around for the best cafés that serve mochas, but in a city that takes its coffee seriously, there was no way I could keep them straight: Stumptown Coffee, Barista, Ristretto Roasters, Extracto, Heart, and Public Domain. What was the difference? With my mouse, I hovered over each latte-art photo that I found on Pinterest, hitting “repin” to save them to my Portland board. I also filled my board with photos of recommended restaurants, hotels, and sights. The result: a photo-based black book with everything I wanted to do and see in Portland.
Turn Down the Volume
The din on social media can reach a roar if you don’t take control of it. Creating lists on Twitter will help you sort through the noise and keep up-to-date on a destination. After following someone on Twitter, click the “person” icon and choose “add or remove from list.” By following the tweets on my Portland list, I spotted the news (via @eaterpdx) that Pine State Biscuits, which a Facebook friend had recommended, had closed one of its locations. Given that the closure hadn’t yet been updated on Yelp, I was grateful I hadn’t wasted precious time with an unnecessary detour.
Cheat Sheet: Create a list for your trip by following local restaurants, hotels, tourism boards, and chambers of commerce, newspapers and magazines, and travel and food bloggers.
Channel Your Inner Boy Scout: Be Prepared
Facebook and Twitter are often the first places to break news of flight delays and disruptions. I arrived at the airport with a list of the relevant handles for my airline (@United) and airports (@flySFO and @flypdx). If my flights were disrupted by weather or any other factor, I knew exactly whom to follow—and tweet—for help. Luckily, everything went off without a hitch.
Cheat Sheet: Keep these Twitter handles in your back pocket, in case of emergency: @cnnbrk (breaking news), @flightstats (airport delays and flight tracking), and @weatherchannel. Also look for mass-transportation Twitter feeds (for example, New York City’s @MTAInsider and Boston’s @mbtaGM) and those of local governments—both city and state—which often tweet updates on road conditions, snow removal, safety, and airport delays.
The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease
The more you engage businesses—politely—on Twitter and Facebook, the more return you’ll get on your investment. The day before flying out, I posted a message on Hotel Modera’s Facebook page saying that I’d be arriving late. “What are my odds of getting late checkout?” I asked. Within the hour, I received a response saying my request had been noted in my reservation. When I arrived at the hotel the next evening, the front desk had already confirmed a late checkout: I could keep my top-floor room until 2 p.m.
Cheat Sheet: American (@AmericanAir) and Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) are particularly quick to respond to customer-service issues on Twitter; other airlines, such as Delta, have designated handles (@DeltaAssist) for such questions. For hotels, try contacting both the chain and the specific property.
There are No Perks of Being a Wallflower
You’d be surprised by how generous locals—even strangers—can be with insider tips and information. If you want to get to know a destination, crowdsourcing your friends and networks is key. But if you take your conversation public, you’ll get even more insight. While navigating the city, I found myself chatting over Twitter with Portland-based travel blogger Jessica Spiegel (@andiamo) and, later, with the hip new sandwich joint Lardo, which made a personal appeal to get me to stop by. The result was one of my favorite meals: a delicious pork meatball bánh mì sandwich and “dirty fries”—topped with fried pork scraps, marinated peppers, rosemary, sage, and Parmesan.
Cheat Sheet: To chat directly with a person or business, follow them and then start a tweet with their Twitter handle (for example: “@andiamo, what’s your favorite food cart?”). To start a conversation or solicit advice on a particular topic, search for relevant hashtags, such as #foodies or #portlandmusic, and include them in your message to maximize your chances of getting a response. If you’ve taken a piece of advice, follow up with a thank-you tweet.
Pay it Forward
Crowdsourcing relies on good travel karma. Rack it up by leaving travel tips or reviews after you’ve stayed at a hotel, experienced a much-hyped venue, or stumbled on something new. Tell others what you thought, and if you would recommend it. Whether it’s the view from your hotel room or that amazing meal you still dream about, your smartphone photos can also do much of the talking. And as I review my Pinterest board, Instagram photos, and other digital mementos, the details of my Portland trip are always at my fingertips, ready to share with anyone.
Cheat Sheet: Find interesting Twitter feeds by browsing the options under “Who to Follow.” When viewing profiles, scan their lists, which classify their feeds into topics. You can subscribe to a list to see updates from all its members without having to follow each. On Pinterest, log in with your Facebook or Twitter account and import your contacts to start following their boards. Like Twitter, Instagram also uses a hashtag system to categorize its photos, making it easy to find users with similar interests.
Best Practices: How to be Savvy (and Safe) on Social Media
Most social-media apps are location-enabled, so be smart about what personal details you divulge. If you’re traveling alone or are uncomfortable revealing your physical location, consider updating your social media channels only after you’ve left a restaurant or checked out of your hotel.
Being “social” is fun, but you should always feel safe. Pay attention to your surroundings—walking while texting is never a good idea.
If you plan to stay connected when you travel, make sure your smartphone battery can handle all your tweeting, check-ins, photography, and videos—and leave enough juice to call a cab or map your way back to the hotel.