©istockphoto.com/Simon Oxley

©istockphoto.com/Simon Oxley

Travel is a social activity. You meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. On a business trip, you hang out at your hotel bar and meet others doing the same thing. You strike up a conversation. Sometimes, you stay in touch. Every business trip is really a trip to meet someone. Business is, in the end, the art of the honest handshake.

So it’s not really surprising that the social aspect of travel has morphed into social networking. Sites like FlyerTalk are not just message boards about airlines and airports but also places where people “meet” and talk and, eventually, socialize. Friends are made, alliances are formed, plans are hatched. Travellers are a tribe, a group of people with common interests and problems, a real community. FlyerTalk makes this obvious.

Dopplr is another site that announces where you are at any given time to a wide range of people, some of whom you might not even know. My Dopplr account is hooked up to my Facebook account, so anyone who cares knows where I might be on any given day. (This might seem an intrusion of my social space, but how is it intrusive if I’m the one advertising my whereabouts? If I don’t want people to know where I am, I don’t post. It’s like turning your ringer off on your cellphone.) On Facebook, you can tell people where you’ve been, where you dream of going, where you’ve eaten, what you pack, where you buy stuff on your travels. The endless number of applications built around travel speaks to our desire to see the world or, if we can’t, to experience it vicariously through others. What these sites do is something many are calling “intelligent networking.” Our business trips are often networking opportunities, and the Internet has allowed us to network without leaving our desks.

On Twitter (yes, I’m on this as well; makes me wonder how I get any work done), anyone who is thinking about travelling announces it to the world. The “tweets” come in waves when someone is actually on the road; it’s almost as if you’re travelling with them, and, in a sense, you are. From Twitter you can link to a site where you’ve uploaded your photos, so your followers can see what you’re talking about. Go to Flickr, another photo-sharing site, and you can sort through millions of vacation photos from all over the world.

Why are we doing this?

Well, what’s the first thing you ask when meeting someone who’s been away? How was the trip? Because travel is social. You want to know the story. Even of someone you’ve just met.

“Watching” others travel allows us to construct our own stories in our minds. Every traveller has something to relate, no matter how mundane the reason for travel, and every anecdote has the potential to illuminate and entertain. So whether I’m following someone’s tweets or meeting someone in person after having met them online, my own personal narrative is nour­ished and grows – again, just like what travel itself does for me. And if this social travel allows me to grow my network and even wins me new business? Well, that’s about as intelligent as networking gets.

Originally published in Air Canadas enRoute, published by Spafax.