If you feel the urge to brag about upcoming travel plans, you're not alone. After booking a trip, about 54 percent of U.S. travelers update social networks with related posts, according to a February 2013 PhoCusWright study of mobile travel trends.
And it's not only your friends who are paying attention. Savvy travel companies monitor the social media buzz, occasionally rewarding vocal fans with improved customer service, special deals, and even thoughtful surprises.
"Sometimes guests will tell us on Twitter or Facebook that they're coming for a special occasion-a honeymoon, birthday, or anniversary," says Joe Capalbo, general manager of Kimpton's Onyx Hotel in Boston. "That gives us an opportunity to create a memorable experience by surprising and delighting them when they're here."
But once you reach your destination, it can be challenging to find the balance between enjoying yourself in the moment and getting caught up in a flurry of tweets, Instagram photos, and other social media updates.
"Take the pictures in the moment and post them later," suggests Travis Katz, cofounder and CEO of Gogobot, a social travel network. "I spent Memorial Day weekend in Big Sur. There was no signal, so I couldn't post anything. I snapped photos, and I got to watch the sunset without live blogging. It was fantastic. When I got back to civilization, I relived the moment [when I shared the photos]."
A little pre-trip preparation can also help you sift through the endless stream of information without feeling overwhelmed. For instance, take a few minutes to add the Twitter handles of your airline, hotel, and destination's tourism board. Local bloggers can also help introduce you to restaurants and activities; don't be shy to ask. While email requests are easily ignored, a direct message or comment via social media can be a great way to flag someone's attention for input.
Even if you're not a power user of Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, you can still tap into these social networks and benefit from the crowd-sourced suggestions. And with the ability to share as much (or as little) as you want from your own trip, your social media updates could help the next traveler plan his or her upcoming vacation.
Now that's good travel karma.
Quick and Nimble is the Name of the (Airfare) Game
These days, fare sales can arrive-and depart-in a flash. The best way to jump on them is to follow the Twitter handles of fare-tracking sites, such as @airfarewatchdog, and individual carriers. I saw several great offers for midweek flights, but since I was planning a weekend trip and my dates weren't flexible, I couldn't take advantage of the sales. In this case, good old Kayak came through for me with a well-priced United Airlines flight that fit my schedule.
Cheat Sheet: Our five favorite Twitter handles for fare sales:
Credit: The Heads of State
When It Comes to Hotels, Take Your Mom's Advice: Don't Settle
Social media is rife with deals. I knew I could do better than the $200-per-night rooms I found on traditional online booking sites and apps. For my trip, I searched "Portland hotel deal" on Twitter and scored, via Travelzoo, a $119 room at Hotel Modera for a Friday night (a savings of $40). In the meantime, I dropped notes to several hotels via Facebook to see if any discounts were available for my Saturday night in the city. Hotel Lucia quickly responded with a special $161 rate (15 percent off) and an offer of free Wi-Fi (worth $10).
Cheat Sheet: Looking for a discounted room? On Twitter, try searching combinations of your destination name and the words hotel, deal, promo, promo code, discount, and sale.
Credit: The Heads of State
Get with the Program
Many hotel groups offer special rewards to Facebook and Twitter followers. But if you follow their loyalty-club accounts, you can receive even more freebies. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has a Facebook page for its free-to-join InTouch program where it announces "social password" specials. "Whisper" the right word at check-in and you can get room upgrades, free breakfast, and more. Unfortunately, Kimpton didn't have any secret deals for my weekend in Portland, so I stuck with my original reservations.
Cheat Sheet: Two more hotel loyalty clubs that treat members like royalty on social media: Hilton HHonors (Facebook fans get deals offering extra points) and Starwood Preferred Guest (the Starwood Hotels Travel Exclusives Facebook page often lists special deals for SPG members).