Social networks and travel: the hard numbers

Cartoon of a man playing with building blocks with the Facebook logo.

Man building his life with Facebook blocks. Photo: Urs Steiner / Flickr

Social networks have made a dramatic impact on travel. During my first backpacking trip in 2004, I relied on e-mail addresses to stay in touch with the new friends I was making.  I once met a girl in Paris. Later into my trip, I was shocked to run into her at my hostel in Edinburgh.  What a small world!

That kind of thing would not have happened today.  We’d have added each other as friends on Facebook, she would have put a status update on her profile saying she was in Edinburgh, and I’d have messaged her before my arrival.  Since people change e-mail addresses more often than their social networks, adding people is a safer way to stay in contact.  Work and school e-mails are notoriously temporary.

The travel startup Tripl created an infographic that appeared in TechCrunch: More Americans are on Facebook than have a passport.  A sad statistic, indeed.  The infographic says 50% of Americans connect with friends and family on Facebook, while only 37% hold a passport.  It continues on to say that 72% of travelers access social networks while on the road.  As someone who’s waited in line at hostels while guests are checking their Facebook feeds, I was surprised the number wasn’t even higher.

On the flip side, the statistics say that only 7% of travelers use mobile internet on the road.  I think that’s due to the lack of universal standards in networks.  Your mobile phone in one country often won’t work in another, because your telecom carrier handicaps your phone.  That and the absurdly high cost of roaming charges.  From interacting with backpackers, very few use mobile phones abroad unless they’re living abroad.  I usually leave the phone at home and solely rely on public computers to reach my friends via the Internet.

In brighter news, it seems like about half of the users said Facebook photos inspired their trips, and also makes them visit friends who are living overseas.  I will say that a trip is much richer if you have someone to meet up with over there, who can show you around.

How do you use social networks when you travel? Are they more help or hindrance? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (10)  | July 29, 2011
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News, Travel Tech

10 Responses to “Social networks and travel: the hard numbers”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Traveled once with a friend who had a G3 iPhone, and the maps function was genius for navigating Macau and Hong Kong.

    On the other hand it kind of negated some of the serendipity of wandering and just coming across things, which I think can be true of technology in general? Nice to have, but over-reliance can take some of the fun out of a place.

    I say this as I’m in a hostel bar on my netbook, so thats also worth something…

  2. Peter Baer Says:

    I co-founded a travel networking site on Facebook that helps address some of these issues. Love any feedback!

  3. Peter Baer Says:

    It’s called Twigmore and you can find it on FB. Thx!

  4. Tracy Says:

    Saving up after spending a few years paying off debt before we can travel again. Once the money is there, applying for a Passport again will be #1 on our to-do list. As Stephen stated above, we enjoy the serendipity of wandering and coming across things. Although even 7 years ago on our European trip we relied heavily on the hotel lobby computer to check train schedules and find some of those fun local haunts. Even if I have an iPhone by our next trip, I think I will leave it home and instead just use the internet unless other commentors can convince me otherwise.

  5. GypsyGirl Says:

    Still, I vacillate with social networking, but have come to enjoy the connection and prospective it provides. At a basic level, it’s a form of communication that seems to command a huge level of debate because people feel at liberty to display themselves honestly; why people aren’t open in the first place is the real question. Though I keep up with it as I move around, people still usually don’t know where exactly I am. I don’t find it a hindrance, because I don’t let it be.

  6. Davis Says:

    Don’t let even part of your mind be back home; be where you are. Don’t be with the people you already know; be with the new people around you. Don’t get other people’s opinion; get you own. And when you get back home you will have a lot more new to tell your friends, because they haven’t been hearing about it as you went along. The more you will have stayed in contact with your old life, the less likely you are to come back changed. You are spending a lot of time and money to be Elsewhere: get your money’s worth.

  7. Rudolph Aspirant Says:

    Can I pleaase post, for everyone’s enjoyment a parody of a movie trailer ? (I swear, it is not a PR ploy of some sort. It’s just for fun.)

  8. Davis Says:

    Rudolph: yes, that was funny. Thanks for the link.

    The pressure to be on social media reminds me of the episode of “The Prisoner” when they were on his case for not being “mutual”.

    A more serious problem I have with it is that this constant being in touch deprives you of Solitude, which is a spiritual discipline.

  9. Caroline Says:

    I’m with Davis. I was appalled as a high school exchange student to Scotland that my Mother was expecting me to write her letters detailing my every move! I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to immerse myself in this new life that I sent a short note saying, “no news is good news from here as I am just experiencing so much that is new, different, and wonderful”. I actually felt overwhelmed at the thought of keeping in close contact and that it would really rob me of my time and attention on what I was experiencing.

    The last time I was in Argentina and Uruguay I would grab a moment on the hostel’s Internet to check my e-mail for emergency correspondence or pay bills at home that I couldn’t prepay before I left. Otherwise, I had pre-informed my family and friends not to expect to hear from me until I returned. They know me enough now to understand when I am traveling I truly don’t even think of home any more than absolutely necessary.

    Any spare time is spent processing all that is new and exciting that I am learning and living or talking to the random people I have time to notice and connect with on the fly. I especially love the deep connection that is so often made with someone who primarily speaks another language. I seldom here other people discuss this aspect of travel. Without proper words somehow some spiritual understanding of great depth is made. It is almost as if you are both expressing the highest and best of yourself during such an encounter. Just the memory of those connections I have made now brings tears to my eyes as I write this. Those memories are what travel really means to me. Anything that robs my attention from making those connections is only a great irritation to me.

  10. Caroline Says:

    Oops! Meant to say “I seldom “HEAR” other people discuss…..