“Everyone wants to plan ahead and book something they read about on social media. Whatever happened to the excitement of just buying a plane ticket to a place without any reservations and then seeing where travel takes you?” asks Erik Trinidad, host and creator of travel web series Plausibly Ridiculous.
No one has the time to be spontaneous anymore. With an average of 10 vacation days per year, planning is essential.
Although social media has been blamed for ruining everything from independent travel to dinner conversations, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and even Tinder, when used strategically, can actually make travel better.
Here are six ways to use social media to have more meaningful adventure travel experiences.
Use Instagram for travel advice
With Instagram, you can not only chronicle your journey, but also conduct pre-trip research. After you arrive at your destination, Instagram Stories can help you figure out where to go or what to do locally on a Friday night.
Search by hashtag and location to find out everything from the weather to who else is traveling there to whether a town is super-touristy or a local treasure. Follow travel photographers, bloggers and influencers who jive with you so that you can be the first to learn about under-the-radar places, especially those popular among locals that haven’t been covered yet by Travel + Leisure or The New York Times.
If you’re a foodie, “Foursquare surfaces hotspots, especially in the culinary world, and when combined with Instagram, it allows for current snapshots into the vibe of an establishment,” says Armand Khatri, founder of digital marketing company Tracksuit.
You may want to cross-check your finds with YouTube, which provides a more unfiltered view.
Mine the hive mind for tips
Whenever you’re planning a trip, take former New York Times Frugal Traveler columnist Matt Gross’ advice and ask Facebook friends and the Twitterverse for recommendations: Whom should I meet? Where should I go?
Facebook’s “looking for recommendations” feature makes compiling tips easier. It also lets you keep in touch with friends from all around the world who can potentially host you or show you around.
Also, when you’re traveling, don’t forget to “check in.” You never know if a friend just happens to be in the same city as you.
Join a dating app to connect with locals (even if you’re not single)
Tinder, Bumble and Happn aren’t just for dating. You can also use them to meet people around you. Adjust the radius to cast a wide net, or focus on a particular neighborhood. In fact, it’s common to see profiles like “I just arrived in X and will be here till Y. Looking for recs and to meet locals.” (Thanks to Tinder, I was taken to a delicious Shan noodle restaurant for lunch in Yangon by a friend of a friend and partook in the summertime tradition of swimming down the Aare River with a Swiss match from Bern.)
If you pay, you can start making connections with people in the location you’re traveling to before your trip.
Find a cool event around you
Many businesses across the (developing) world don’t have web domains—they opt for a page on Facebook or Instagram instead because they’re free. To find interesting events you might not otherwise hear of, scroll through Facebook.
Join a like-minded Facebook group or meetup
Meet fellow travelers in the same boat as you and/or get travel tips before you go by joining a Facebook group or meetup. For example, Backpacking India Nepal Sri Lanka Maldives, a closed group with more than 12,000 members, is good for budget travelers heading to South Asia. Nomadic females can find a never-ending source of inspiration and information with Girls Love Travel, a closed community with more than 500,000 members worldwide.
Alternatively, find online language partners with sites like Tandem. You can both learn the language and make a new friend before arriving, recommends Paul Goodwin, who works at the United Nations.
‘AdAPPt’ to your location
When in Rome—and most of Europe—use WhatsApp. In Thailand, Japan or South Korea, download Line. For Myanmar and Ethiopia, get Viber. And in China or Bhutan, sign up for WeChat. These applications not only enable you to connect with people in your destination, but also help you stay in touch with them afterward, because who knows where your paths will cross next?
A final word of advice: Don’t forget to put down your phone (from time to time) so that you can actually enjoy your adventure and the company of your new friends.
Erin Levi is spending this year in four countries (Nepal, Iceland, Peru and Italy) as kimkim’s first global travel specialist, as well as authoring a guidebook to Bhutan. Follow her adventures on Instagram (@gldncrl or @kimkimtravel) and reach out to her for tips on Twitter (@goldencurl).