Get advice from friends and experts via an online social network the next time you’re planning a motorhome getaway.
By Rhonda Reedy
Social networking Web sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can play a major role in planning your travels. It seems we’re always eager to ask friends about a new restaurant or for referrals when looking for a mechanic. Web sites such as these allow you to apply those same principles to mapping out intended travel destinations, both domestic and foreign. Best of all, using these sites is free, as long as you have Internet access.
So many social sites are out there that it’s often difficult to know where to start. Following are a few that are user-friendly and great places to begin.
Twitter. “What’s happening?” is the question posed on Twitter (www.twitter.com). Learn the latest from people involved in various businesses and individuals around the world as they “Tweet.” A Tweet is a short, 140-character-or-less message about what you care about at the time. It is estimated that Twitter has nearly 200 million users putting out millions of Tweets per day.
Signing up is easy. Just enter your name and e-mail address, select a user name and password, and you’re ready to go. The premise behind Twitter is to “follow” people that interest you and for people to “follow” you back. You don’t have to follow anyone you don’t wish to hear from. It takes some research to find the right people to follow to get the best and most applicable results. One quick and easy way to find people with similar interests is to place a hash mark (#) in front of keywords in your Tweet, such as #motorhome. This will return a listing of Tweets containing that word.
In researching a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, I went to my Twitter home page and selected the “People Search” button. In the search box I entered “New Orleans.” Many users with these keywords in their name or bio were quickly listed, such as “VisitNewOrleans” (New Orleans Tourism and Marketing), “NewOrleansCVB” (New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau), and “NewOrleansShows” (Tweets about concert news and reviews). I was able to narrow down the original long list of users to these relevant ones by viewing the short bio beside the user name. Clicking on the name will let you read their recent Tweets to make sure they apply to your travel planning needs before making the decision to follow them.
Following someone is as easy as clicking the “Follow” button. Their Tweets will then show up on your home page each time you go to your site. If you use a mobile phone with an Internet connection, such as an iPhone or Android system, the phone can immediately alert you to an arriving Tweet. The same is true if you use a mobile app device such as an iPad.
To contact someone or respond to one of their Tweets, type “@username” in your box directly followed by the question, such as “@NOLAonthecheap Where is the best place the locals go to get authentic gumbo?” By using the @ symbol, your question will post on your page and on their page.
However, you may want to put a question out to everyone, such as “Traveling by motorhome to New Orleans. What are your favorite resorts?” With this one question, I received responses not only from my followers familiar with New Orleans, but from people who had the city in their search (which means every time a Tweet is posted with that word or words, they are notified).
Carefully selecting people to follow will help develop a list relevant to your travel planning, whether it’s for a specific destination or RV travel in general. Once you no longer need this information, you always can “un-follow” someone.
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com) is used mostly by businesspeople and job seekers, but because it’s an open network, using it to pose questions can elicit many responses.
Setting up an account is more involved here, as the more information you add, the more complete your profile is. Making contacts with current or past business associates, classmates, or coworkers is a good way to get started and build a network.
Across the top of your home page will be a link for “Groups.” Click on that word and a search box pops up, where I entered “RV.” A group called “RV Enthusiasts” comes up that is for LinkedIn members who enjoy motorhome travel. Another great feature of LinkedIn is that you can create a group if there isn’t one that fits your exact needs.
With LinkedIn, you have the ability to post questions within a group or in general. Unlike Twitter, there is no limit to the length of your questions or answers, so responses can be more detailed. Because there are many groups and users throughout the world, it’s an excellent resource for general or specific questions related to your travel.
Facebook (www.facebook.com) is the most popular social networking site in the world. Originally designed for use by Harvard University students, it now boasts more than 600 million users worldwide, with more than 150 million in the United States alone.
It is no longer a college fad. In 2010 the vast majority of users were beyond college age, with the largest percentage of users (29 percent) in the 35-54 age range. The fastest-growing group on Facebook is people over 55; they made up 9.5 percent of the users in 2010, up from 2.3 percent in 2009.
The idea is for each user to set up a network composed of friends with whom he or she can share updated information, including photos and videos, and generally keep in touch. Facebook is the place where you may, just by typing a name into a search box, once again see long-lost friends from many years ago.
You must have a working e-mail address to get started. Once your page is set up, you can manage and customize it as desired. Your profile can be open or completely private, or somewhere in between. You control which people can see your profile and whom you add to your network. You can search for your friends or family who already are on Facebook and, once you find them, send a friend request. Other people can invite you to be their friend, and you can decide to accept or decline. Accepting their invitation will add them to your friend list.
You can choose to be alerted to new Facebook activity you’re interested in via e-mail. If, for example, you comment on a friend’s photo, you can read e-mail alerts that tell you about other comments as well. Or, you can choose not to get the e-mail alerts; it’s up to you.
Businesses, groups, and associations such as Family Motor Coach Association have Facebook pages also, and you easily can find fellow motorhome owners among FMCA’s “friends” list. In fact, if you want plenty of travel advice, you may wish to mine the friends of FMCA yourself and invite them to be your friends, too. To quickly find FMCA on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/fmcafans. Other RV-related Facebook pages exist as well.
The more RVing friends you have, the more chances are you’ll get good advice when you update your Facebook status with something like “Planning a motorhome trip to Arizona “” any campground suggestions?” As your Facebook friends comment on your status updates, it can result in a flurry of information-sharing and great ideas. Any questions you post can generate responses from friends you know and trust or people you’ve met on the road with similar interests, so you will hold their opinions and recommendations in high regard.
Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the three social networking sites I find easiest to use and the ones that I get the best results from. Outside of these, there are other options that you may find useful, as a number of other social networking sites do exist. With fewer ways to narrow a search, these can require more research on your part, as you will have more results to wade through.
Similar to Facebook is MySpace (www.myspace.com). You need to join and make friends; however, even if you set your profile to private, anyone can see your home page. It is very similar to Facebook in how it can be used to plan your vacation, however. Make friends who you can trust to share good travel information, and go from there.
Although some might not call it a true social networking site, YouTube (www.youtube.com) continues to grow in popularity. Basically, it is a video-sharing site on which users post videos and/or watch and comment on the videos that others have posted. Although the videos run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime, YouTube is worth a try. Type the name of the destination in the search box and select one or more videos from the resulting list. If you’re lucky, your search may turn up some videos that help to give you a feel for the destination in question.
In general, people want to help others and like sharing their knowledge or expertise. That’s why social networking makes such a natural resource for finding information to help make your travels fit all your needs. Choose one application and try it out or experiment with a few to see where you get the best results. Who knows? Along with finding the information you seek, you may even make some new friends.
Travel Tips From FMCA Members
A diverse group of FMCA members “meet” at FMCA.com every day. Go to www.FMCA.com, click the Forums tab, and you’re set for action. You will find categories for online discussions about everything from buying a motorhome to technical topics; how to get online while on the road; traveling with pets; and the subject of this article: places to travel.
FMCA.com has more than 17,000 registered members who all share your passion for motorhome travel. Simply post a question in the “Travel” category about a campground or travel destination. Leave enough time between posting your question and your departure date, and with any luck, you’ll receive several responses. There’s even a forum dedicated to traveling outside the United States to places such as Canada, Mexico, or overseas.
Be sure to read and search for previously posted discussions in the “Travel” section of FMCA.com’s Forums. You may find that your destination has already been discussed.
And for those who enjoy watching videos on YouTube, FMCA has its own YouTube channel “” www.youtube.com/user/fmcaonline. Here you’ll find plenty of motorhome videos, member videos, and technical videos. A link to the channel can be found at the bottom right of the FMCA.com home page.