Social networks aren’t just for bragging while you’re on vacation, they’re an indispensable tool for planning and making the most of your trip—even if you don’t know a hashtag from a hashbrown
BARE FEET IN THE FOREGROUND, aqua-blue ocean in the background. This Instagram cliché is the extent of many people’s knowledge of social media when it comes to travel. But besides letting you humble brag (otherwise known as plain-old brag), many apps and sites offer real value to travelers. Among the best reasons to befriend, follow and be followed: You can get leads on great airline and hotel deals, keep a tidy visual diary while you roam and find the hot spots in every city ever ’grammed about. And, sure, you can also let all the sad souls back home see what you see, when you see it, bare feet and all. Here, a few tips on clearing the clutter and making social media work for you.
The constantly evolving social network has long been the go-to place to share your vacation pics (yawn) and, more usefully, to hit up your friends and their friends for recommendations on where to stay and what to do in any given destination. And in recent years, a series of beefed-up features is making both the planning and sharing process more efficient.
Go Live | Launched world-wide last month, Facebook Live lets you live stream whatever you’re seeing and hearing directly into your friends’ Facebook feeds. You can broadcast in real-time your ski lift ride in Telluride or your truffle hunt in Umbria, then keep those broadcasts in your timeline until you delete them.
Gang Up | If you’re planning a getaway with a number of people, create a group and invite all your fellow travellers to use the “timeline” (think of it as a message board) to discuss logistics and make suggestions. “On an email thread, it’s easy for stuff to get lost in the shuffle,” said MoMo Zhou, a spokesperson for Facebook. “This helps you stay organised.”
Show and Tell | Facebook’s Events tab isn’t just a collection of invitations from people you met at networking events a decade ago. Within the past few months Facebook’s mobile app has rolled out the ability to browse events (live music and art exhibits, for example), by time and city, making it easier to snag tickets to see your favorite sax player, say, in a little-known jazz club in Amsterdam.
Twitter has turned into an all-in-one spot for sharing—briefly. Along with disseminating your travel woes and triumphs in 140 characters or less, you can now post a slideshow of up to four photos and even edit and post a 30-second video. But it has, arguably, more-practical travel functions as well.
Bargain Shop | “Twitter is a quick, cost-effective way [for travel companies] to push out a last-minute deal or flash sale,” said Lauren Smith, vice president of marketing for tour operator Trafalgar U.S.A. “Search specific destinations, keywords and hashtags like #traveldeals.”
Troubleshoot | Twitter can also help resolve travel snafus, especially of the airline variety. “Twitter teams [on some airlines] are usually more empowered than phone agents,” said Gary Leff. “You can avoid hold times and get through to someone quickly. A seatmate on a recent flight tweeted @AmericanAir that he was going to miss his flight, and they rebooked him before we landed.”
Armed with a series of flattering filters, the photo-sharing Instagram app is a nearly foolproof way to make your deskbound colleagues back home jealous, and perhaps more important, serve as a daily travel diary. That’s old news. What’s new is that the app now makes it easier to help map out your next trip and guide you when you’re on the road.
Window Shop | Last summer, Instagram rolled out a more robust search feature that lets you look up photos taken at practically any place you might be interested in visiting (beaches, museums, restaurants, you name it). That means if you type “Paris” in the search window, you’ll be led to all hashtags and posts with Paris-related tags. “I look for photos from people based in the city I want to go to,” said Amanda Spurlock, the social media manager for Zagat, the restaurant-review company. “They usually lead me to cool insider spots, like their favorite coffee shops.”
Show Restraint | “When you’re traveling, you can get so stoked on [all the images] you’re capturing that it may seem like you can’t get it out fast enough,” said Chris Burkard, a travel photographer with approximately 1.6 million Instagram followers. “But restraint is key.” Unlike on Twitter, where even the most zealous of tweeters are excused, on Instagram, there is such a thing as over-saturation. “I don’t have a magic number,” said Mr. Burkard, “but I typically post one to two photos a day.”
Snapchat launched in 2011 primarily as a way of sending short-lived pictures (and, later, videos) to friends. But in 2013, the app added Snapchat Stories, where a user can post a day’s worth of snaps and videos compiled into a movie of any length that anyone (followers or not) can view for 24 hours. True, you could share a picture or short video on Instagram or Twitter, but Snapchat is the only social app that lets you seamlessly string together a chain of photos, videos and commentary to sum up your travels.
Make a Travel Video Actually Worth Watching | The most well-crafted Snapshot Stories have a narrative arc. “If it’s all stills or selfies, it isn’t that engaging,” said Beth Kirby, a photographer and founder of the food blog Localmilkblog.com, who recently “snapped” her way around ceramic studios and hot springs in Japan. Start with some early exposition—perhaps a selfie video at the start of your bike ride through the Pyrenees—snapshots and clips as you approach the Col du Tourmalet and a big finish. It’s like mapping out a PowerPoint presentation, only more fun.
Dive Into Your Location’s ‘Live’ Stories | Not really into making a little home movie? That’s OK. Thanks to Snapchat’s “Live” stories feature (swipe right from the home screen) you can view a curated collection of photos and videos from the geographic region you’re currently in. It’s a quick, snappy introduction to some of the people, places, news and events that are trending nearby.
The newest of the apps here, Periscope—owned by Twitter and launched last March—has one main function: It lets you turn your smartphone into a live video camera, letting you stream whatever’s around you directly to anyone on the app and Twitter, and respond to comments in real-time. Your Periscope feed can pop up in your Twitter feed and stay live for 24 hours, and then—poof—it’s gone, meaning a less-than-perfect broadcast won’t live to haunt you. And earlier this week Periscope announced it’ll allow users to preserve their streams by adding #save to the title of the broadcast.
Take Viewers for a Ride | Like an increasing number of media outlets and bloggers, Kalyan Karmakar, the founder of Mumbai-based food blog Finelychopped.net, uses Periscope to transport viewers to far-flung corners of the world—in his case, through the food markets and back streets of Mumbai. “I like to use [Periscope feeds] to give people a chance to learn about other cultures,” said Mr. Karmakar.
Don’t Sweat It | According to Ms. Spurlock, who runs Zagat’s Periscope account, many people are hesitant to use live-broadcasting because they’re worried that it won’t be good enough. “There’s the added pressure of not being able to perfect and edit and add filters,” said Ms. Spurlock. “But the Periscope community’s take is: Just hit broadcast.” And don’t stress about your phone’s memory. Periscope ’casts are streamed rather than downloaded, so they don’t take up any memory.
A Word About Hashtags
Think of hashtags as breadcrumbs leading the way, in the vast universe of social media, to topics of interest to you. For travellers, there are more hashtags than stars in the sky, but according to Janice Morris, Twitter’s head of lifestyle, a few of the most popular ones are:#CruiseChat (a Tuesday forum for all your pressing cruise questions), #TravelTuesday (another Tuesday forum for Tweeters looking for all kinds of travel tips) and #FamilyTravel (an anytime, any-day handle that offers a wealth of kid-friendly travel advice and recommendations).
Credit: Frederica Del Proposto (Image) | Andrea Bartz (Content) | Wall Street Journal
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