Tagging. Trending. Latergram. #Selfie.
If these terms make you break out in hives, you're not alone. Social media often gets side-eyed as a way for bored teenagers to communicate or a receptacle for Aunt Beth's cat photos. But social media can actually help you have a better trip, if you know how to use the tools that are at your fingertips.
Whether you're crowdsourcing recommendations, chatting with your airline through Twitter, or connecting with locals via Instagram, there are countless ways you can wield social media to have a more personal, memorable vacation experience.
Make Your Voice Heard
Companies use Twitter to engage with users and promote their brands as engaging, accessible, and current. And this is exactly why you should always follow your airline.
Not only do airlines tweet updates about weather conditions, closures, and airfare deals, but most do great jobs of interacting with followers (and some, like JetBlue, are even pretty funny). Twitter is the perfect platform for airing a complaint, voicing a concern, or even applauding an airline's good work to a large audience. I've had success in the past tweeting at my airline to ask for an update on a delayed flight or to check if an upgrade is available; often, the response is instantaneous. Why? Because airlines know it makes them look good and it makes travelers feel positive about them—it's a win-win for traveler and travel provider.
Just don't take your tweeting too far, like this Southwest passenger did—he ended up getting booted from the plane. Always be polite and constructive in your communication; a real live human is behind that account, after all.
Create Memories, Get Followers
In an ever-rising sea of social media, Instagram remains my favorite platform: It's low-investment, easy to use, and inspiring. When taking photos on the road, I generally hashtag and geo-tag my location. That way, I can compare my photos to those from other users, scout for other cool spots and photo ops in the area, and connect with amazing travel photographers around the world. Other users, tourism departments, and publications may regram your photos, meaning thousands of people could see your artwork. And you'll be making memories as you go.
Not yet an Instagrammer or not sure where to start? Follow us to get an easy introduction. We love hashtags.
Let LinkedIn Do the Job for You
Twitter isn't the only channel for reaching a customer-service agent. You probably have a LinkedIn account in order to stay current in the job market, but the professional network and social media channel can also help you get in touch with your airline. In July, KLM announced that it was launching 24/7 customer service through the platform. Ticketholders can use their LinkedIn accounts to chat with customer-service agents, reserve seats, rebook flights, and even make arrangements for additional baggage. No more hold music? We'll take it.
Whether you're still in the planning stages or already on the ground, it's a good idea to pick the brains of your fellow travelers. The easiest way to do this is via Twitter: Send out a tweet to your followers and the world at large asking for dining, attractions, and hotel advice. Tweet at and follow the tourism department of your destination as well; they may blast out recommendations and deals you won't see elsewhere. And participate in recurring travel-related chats; you can follow us to see when discussions take place and provide your own recommendations, tips, and photos.
You may also want to check Reddit or download a Reddit app and subscribe to your destination's subreddit. The /r/Travel subreddit is also a great resource for researching flights, restaurants, pricing, and seasonality.
In recent years, Twitter and other social media platforms have been instrumental in shaping world events, allowing users to share important and often lifesaving information. For any destination—but especially for the ones where unrest may break out or weather may turn dangerous—use Twitter to stay in the know. Follow your destination's news and media outlets and weather stations. If you're concerned about international safety, follow the U.S. Department of State and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. The latter account blasts out travel warnings and safety information; the responder can also help with passport-related questions and emergencies. You can activate Twitter alerts via highlighted tweets, text messages, or push notifications as well.
Score Free Perks
We recently rounded up a number of ways that the average traveler can leverage their social media accounts, no matter how small, to score free stuff. Airlines, hotels, and other travel providers often offer special deals to followers. For example, Starwood offers points to loyalty-program members who link their Facebook and Foursquare accounts with their Starwood accounts; these points can be redeemed for hotel nights and flights. Other hotels or restaurants may offer free goodies if you check in on Foursquare or Yelp, or they may blast out special Twitter- or Facebook-only deals for followers. And still other vendors hold periodic contests in which users can enter to win prizes for retweeting, regramming, or checking in. Deals and contests come and go, of course, so it's best to follow and monitor your provider in the hopes of getting lucky.
Users' safety and privacy is often a concern when it comes to social media. Disclosing too much personal information on the Web can be dangerous, whether you're at home or on the road. (We recommend making accounts private, limiting direct messages, and never displaying your phone number or address.) But there's a bright side to maintaining an online identity: It can actually help keep you safe. Airbnb, for instance, offers Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn verification for renters and users alike. I always connect with vacation-rental owners through social media before a stay; it reassures me that both owner and apartment are legit.
In general, both Facebook and Twitter offer the benefit of allowing travelers to stay in touch with loved ones (helpful in foreign countries where you may not have cell service). In times of unrest, natural disasters, or bad weather, you can reach out to followers, friends, and family and get up-to-the-second information on developments.
Readers, do you know any other ways to use social media to make your vacations better? Share with us in the comments below or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Ways Social Media Can Make Your Trip Amazing.
Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Lead Photo: Lead PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson/Getty Images)