Bold statement, I know. You probably think this is going to be yet another boring round-up of the latest travel apps that are being pushed out by press releases sent to every blogger and their mother. But no. These aren’t your traditional travel apps. I don’t have TripAdvisor or Viator or Expedia or Lonely Planet downloaded to my phone. I’m sure they’ve got great apps, but seriously—they’re just not that much fun.
Not your Typical Travel Apps
This shouldn’t come as a surprise but the best travel tips often come from locals. And what better way to connect with locals than through sex! (KIDDING!) Hookup apps don’t have to be used for sex, I promise. However rare you think it might be to meet someone through a hookup app for a nonsexual time, trust me—it happens. I’ve done it! Living proof right here. I remember using Grindr during Prague’s gay pride to chat with a guy from Stockholm who rattled off a list of “hipster tips” for my trip to his city a few weeks later. On that same solo trip, I met another solo tourist also in town for the gay pride and we hit it off as good friends for the weekend—making it easier to enjoy the festival.
Every app is what you make it. And that’s no different than your stereotypical hookup apps. Just don’t be a douche about talking to strangers on these apps. Be respectful, kind and honest. Friendliness can go a long way and you might just get some good travel tips out of it, too.
It’s not just an app for filters
Instagram isn’t probably an app you think about using for travel tips, but it’s actually super useful. Before going to a new place, I usually search the name of the city/country as a hashtag to see what types of photos people are putting up. You can use it to find cool things to do or even cute cafés and restaurants. I think the search feature on Instagram is hugely under-utizlied and is actually quite powerful. One thing I like to do when I’m visiting a new destination: after uploading a geo-tagged photo, I check out other photos uploaded to the same location.
I look for ‘grams with a cool style (or, let’s be serious: cute boys) and then check out their feeds to see what other places they go to. It’s not to be a creeper, I promise—it’s just that if this person was in the same café that I’m enjoying, who’s to say the other bars, restaurants and café’s they’re uploading photos from aren’t equally interesting. It might sound time-consuming, but 5 minutes on Instagram and I might find myself at an underground club I’d never find in a guidebook. Read more about using Instagram on the quest for more here.
Foursquare & Swarm
Even with the split personality, still useful for spying on friends
I love using the Foursquare app when traveling because you can search by keyword or topic – so if you’re sitting in your hotel room and looking for a great place for brunch, you just search for “brunch” and see what comes up. While they unfortunately split the app into two, with Swarm swallowing up the check-in feature, the two apps are still integrated pretty well. The Foursquare app shows you if any friends of yours have been to places nearby or even just ranked or recommended somewhere, so it’s a great way to come back home with more interesting stories to share with your friends. “Oh hey — I went to the same café you had brunch at last year in London. Didn’t you just love the pancakes?!” No, that’s not creepy at all when it’s with a friend!
Foursquare and Swarm also make discovering hidden secrets easier. One night in Shoreditch, my sister and I walked into a restaurant open late for dinner. We didn’t know the restaurant, or the area very well, but when we were inside, there were nearly a hundred tips on Foursquare practically begging us to ask our waiter to “see the cat.” I was curious, and once I did the deed, I found ourselves whisked away to a basement speakeasy bar with a kick-ass logo and an even more impressive array of classic cocktails.
Local, indie blog apps
Find whatever you want…if you know where to look
My other favorite kind of travel app is of the more local variety. I love searching for local apps before visiting somewhere. Admittedly, these are the most difficult to find. But if you’ve got a favorite local blog, start there. They might have their own app you never even knew existed, or just reach out to them to see what they recommend. Of course, there’s always Google: “London local apps” etc. As an example, before visiting London, I found and downloaded an app called “British Street Food” which shows all the food trucks across the UK and how to find them, plus includes ratings & reviews. If you’re looking for something specific, it’s almost guaranteed that in this day and age, there’ll be an app for it. So just search beforehand and download a few trials to see what works for your holiday.
Honestly, I swear — it’s not just for sharing what you ate for breakfast
Okay, it’s probably apparent by now that I’ve got a slight obsession with using social media for travel tips. And understandably it works well for me considering my large (and authentic, I’ll add) following. But there are simple ways to use these apps which anyone would find useful. Twitter’s search feature is one of the best available search engines on the internet. Bet you didn’t know that. Go to the Twitter Search page and click “advanced.” You’ll find a whole lot of options including a “local” feature where you can search only tweets geotagged in a specific destination — just enter the city and hit Search! Smart PR professionals will already know about this feature (hopefully).
Even last month, I was tweeted at recently by a Tex-Mex restaurant and a pancake house when staying in Texas. Both found me through the Twitter search and could tell I was clearly interested in food as evidenced by my onslaught of disgustingly unhealthy food photos on Twitter. As a tourist, you can do the searching and see what you might find. On your phone, the Twitter app handily sorts your searches by “Top Tweets” and “All Tweets” so you can essentially see things that are either popular or else just things that are recent.
Because it’s not always fun to get lost
Google is basically my life source. It powers so much of my life, I often forget it’s everywhere I go. But as a traveler, I’d be amiss to not mention how useful Google Maps is as an app. Obviously there’s the map function so you can get from Point A to Point B. But there’s also a powerful search feature built in. Type “bars” and it’ll show you bars nearby. I personally use the app by starring/favoriting each place I plan on going to when in a new destination—that way they’re easier to find when I’m out late and confused about where I am. The favoriting of places also helps me to find them again later (when I’m signed into Google on my computer) so I can quickly leave reviews and maybe even upload a photo or two. I don’t really know why I do it—leaving reviews on Google. But somehow it feels like I’m doing something good—and the review feature built into Google Maps is just so quick & easy to do.
Speaking of social media, this week I’ll be at the Social Media Week Hamburg event, speaking on a panel about travel journalism in our digital age. Check the event details here or view the socialmediaweek.org website for other international social media events happening in your area. Travels of Adam is an official media partner for the Hamburg event, so all week I’ll be sharing more stories about social media. Make sure you’re subscribed for more updates!
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