The popular micro-blogging site is a handy tool for world roamers.
Twitter is a bona fide phenomenon, an obsession of Ashton and Oprah, and, as it happens, a terrific tool for travel. The free online social network service not only allows you to pose travel questions to your followers, but it's also been known to subvert communist firewalls and served as a lifeline for sharing information during the recent post-election conflict in Iran. As of this summer, the site was getting 20 million U.S. visitors a month. Here's how to tap into its travel potential.
What is it anyway? Twitter is a free micro-blogging platform that allows you to post short 140-character updates (that's about 25 words) to the Web for your "followers" to see. The site also lets you "follow" other people. So instead of making an expensive phone call to Mom letting her know you landed safely in Peru, you can update her, and your followers, in real time. ("Crying baby next to me on flight, but arrived in Lima in one piece.")
Before You Leave Get insider information about your destination by finding experts or groups to follow. You can search for the place either by typing its name into the search under the "Find People" tab, or by using a hashtag, which attaches a hash symbol as a prefix to any topic, allowing people to search for it easily (for example, #peru, or #travel). This will help you identify local experts and official tourism bureaus such as Portland, Oregon, which has set up a Twisitor Center—@travelportland—that allows travelers to pose questions and get recommendations from staffers.
Finding the Deals Many travel companies and airlines now use Twitter to broadcast discounts and deals, especially late-breaking ones. Marriott (@MarriottIntl) has offered Twitter-specific contests and giveaways to promote deals.
Getting the Tweet Out There are many ways to update your Twitter feed while traveling. One method is to set up your Twitter account to accept updates via text messages from your phone. (If you're traveling internationally, check Twitter's help pages to find out how to send messages when abroad and what your phone carrier charges for international text messaging.) You can beat some of those costs by downloading a free application for Web-enabled phones, like TwitterBerry for the BlackBerry and Twitterfon for the iPhone. Similarly, TwitPic is an application that allows you to send photos to Twitter.
The New Guidebook? Some travelers are setting guidebooks aside and relying instead on the tweeting masses to plan their itineraries. Earlier this year, Guardian reporter Benji Lanyado embarked on a "TwiTrip," asking his Twitter followers to guide him on hotel reservations, coffee shops, and museums around Paris, while Paul Smith became a Twitchiker, using the kindness of those on Twitter to put him up as he traveled from the U.K. to New Zealand. You need not take things as far, but Twitter can be helpful if you're looking for recommendations, whether for restaurants or local events. Of course, it's best not to become too dependent on technology. "You've got to find the balance," says Twitter user Sheila Beal (@GoVisitHawaii), who warns of "twittering so much that you're not living the moment, which is akin to seeing your vacation through the camera viewfinder." Don't focus so much on the small screen that you miss the big picture.
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