To Tweet or Not to Tweet When Traveling

Last spring, World Hum, a travel blog owned by The Travel Channel, published a piece about whether travelers should use Twitter to update friends on their travel experiences. For those few people left on the planet who are unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a social networking site based on real-time blogging in 140 characters or less. As it grows in popularity as a means of news distribution and communication, more and more people are using Twitter as a mini-Facebook newsfeed, sharing with their followers the minutiae of their everyday lives, from booking reservations at Table 8 to dealing with ornery toddlers. Not surprisingly, travelers are using it as a means of sharing their on-the-road antics as they occur.

Rolf Potts, World Hum contributor (who writes the site’s popular ”Ask Rolf” column) and respected travel writer, ruffled a few feathers when he proclaimed that travel should primarily exist as a Twitter free-zone. He even compared the over-saturation of Twitter updates to a friend he had in college who changed his outgoing answering machine message every time he left the house (it’s safe to say no one wants to be ”that guy”).

As many travel writers and other professionals in the industry use Twitter to update their respective audiences while traveling the world, the response to Potts’ column was palpable. Even World Hum followed Potts’ piece with a counter-point, entitled ”Twitter Tips from 25 Tweeting Travelers,” presumably as a means of quelling the negative response to the original posting.

The truth is, at the basis of his argument, Potts makes sense. How can you gaze adoringly at the Eiffel Tower and really take in its magnificence if you are also simultaneously coming up with a pithy 140-character description of the moment on your iPhone? Doesn’t this detract from the travel experience as we know it? Doesn’t visiting far off lands and experiencing foreign cultures warrant our full attention?

Yes, but maybe the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Much of the complaints about Twitter are inspired by people who, let’s face it, don’t really know how to use the tool effectively or don’t care to learn. Social media being the great equalizer, this pattern of use (or misuse) is not likely to change anytime soon. The good news is that, interspersed among the random tidbits of useless information and trivial banalities, are some nuggets of newsy information, much of which is sure to inspire travel – and, from the perspective of the travel and hospitality industry, that is very good news indeed.

So for every person who doesn’t know the ”less is more” rule – i.e. the random traveler who provides up-to-the-minute tweets about his progression in line to enter Vatican City – there are Twitter devotees such as Gary Arndt, whose progress around the world (@EverywhereTrip) has been followed by The San Francisco Chronicle as proof that nomadic traveling is the hot new tourism trend. Or Juliana Shallcross, the editor of HotelChatter (@hotelchatter), who probably knows more about hotels than any one human should. Or Matt Gross, The New York Times’ ”Frugal Traveler” (@frugaltraveler), who shares useful tidbits of information about the destinations he visits that sometimes don’t even make it into his newspaper articles.

Even if at the core of his argument Potts is sticking up for the purity of the travel experience – a point of view that I definitely appreciate — as a travel professional, I hope most people ignore his advice and keep on Tweeting from the road. As Henry Miller said, ”One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” And thanks to Twitter, at any given moment we can get 140 characters-worth of another person’s way of seeing the world – whether they’re describing places we’ve seen, places we may never see, or places we will be inspired to visit.

Louise O’Brien is an Account Supervisor in the Hospitality & Travel division. She has worked in the travel industry for almost ten years, representing destinations, hotels, resorts and other tourism clients. She is a social media aficionado and counts Twitter among the tools she uses to better acquaint herself with the industry in which she works (@007LouiseOB).