Forget guidebooks and random Google searches when it comes to planning your next trip. For the most up-to-date information, gorgeous photos, plenty of inspiration, and even real-time access to experts, social media is where it's at.
While Facebook is easily the most popular social network, several of the other services can be much more useful for travel planning. Here are three of the best, no matter where in the world you've decided to go.
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Instagram is ideal for trip planning in a couple of different ways. The most obvious is inspiration, since there's nothing quite like scrolling through dozens of gorgeous beach or landscape photos to whet the travel appetite.
Search for generic hashtags like #beach, #mountains, or #nature to get an idea of where you could go, or drill down with the name of specific cities and countries like #paris or #mexico. If you find an Instagrammer whose shots you particularly like, be sure to follow them.
Instagram is also useful for getting a real-time snapshot of what a destination is like right now. In the app, tap on the search icon, then choose 'Places'. Type in the place you're looking for and scroll down to the 'most recent' section to see what the weather's like, any festivals or other events that are taking place, and much more.
You can also see the locations where others have tagged their photos, which gives an endless supply of ideas for places to eat, drink,... and visit.
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This social network has become incredibly popular in the last few years for saving and sharing almost anything online, and that definitely includes travel information.
Just like Instagram, there's no shortage of gorgeous images to browse through, but unlike Instagram, those images link back to the web page where they were found. This makes Pinterest a great way of finding and bookmarking useful snippets of information as you plan your trip.
Searching couldn't be easier. Filter by category if you like, or just type one or more words into the search box on the website or app.
Entering “Hanoi coffee”, for instance, brings up a rich grid of delicious looking coffee photos, with links to articles on the best coffee shops in the Vietnamese capital, where to find great egg coffee (yes, it's a thing), food tour reviews, and all kinds of other handy tips.
If you see something you like, hit the big 'Pin' button to save it to a board for later. Think of a board as a storage box or... folder for keeping useful information. You can create any number of different boards to help categorize things: by country, activity, or whatever other criteria makes sense to you.
Don't forget to set your boards to private if you don't want others to see them, though, as they'll be public by default.
Prepare to lose yourself down a rabbit hole of fascinating travel stories!
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Twitter isn't anywhere near as visual as the other two social networks above, but it's still handy for trip planning. See what people are saying about pretty much anywhere on the planet just by searching for it on the site, or from within the app.
Hint: search both with and without a hashtag – #hanoi will only bring up results where people have specifically chosen to use that tag, while hanoi will return any mention of the city on Twitter, even in casual conversation.
You'll get a flood of short updates, photos and videos, links to articles, and more, all related in some way to the place you're interested in.
By searching for relevant terms, you can find out who's regularly sharing useful information about the place you're interested in. These are often expats and locals who live in the area, and with one click, you can follow them on Twitter for ongoing updates.
You can also ask them (politely!) if you've got specific questions, just by putting @ in front... of their username to tag them in your tweet. You'll need to create an account to do this, but it only takes a few seconds.