Make the most of your limited travel time by connecting with locals before you arrive.
Arriving at the airport or bus terminal is usually a lonely experience — unless you’re traveling home, there probably isn’t someone waiting for you when you arrive. Getting to know people takes time, and by the time you’re feeling connected, it’s time to move on…
So what if there was a better way to meet people before you arrived?
This post aims to uncover five ways to connect with locals and local expats before you arrive. You’ll be seeing a lot of references to Krabi, the city in southern Thailand where I recently moved.
Let’s start with my favorite — for better or worse I’m on Facebook. A lot. Whether it’s because I’m managing pages, keeping up with travel blogging groups, or simply trying to stay in touch with friends, it’s the central place for my online social life. There are three great ways to use Facebook to pre-network:
Search for ‘friends of friends who live in [insert city here]’.
You might remember hearing Facebook added Graph Search in March 2013, yet it’s a feature that ends up going tragically underused. I suspect it’s because few people are familiar with the potential of it. In any case, this is one of the easiest ways of finding specific people to connect with that you’re already connected to. Type (or copy and paste) this search term into the search bar at the top of most any Facebook page.
I’ll note that Facebook begins to play the role of Nanny State every so often with a warning, asking you if you really know this person. That theory about Facebook only being for people you know? Yeah, not so much — there’s a reason the term ‘Facebook friend’ exists…
Search for ‘Upcoming events in [insert city here]’.
Again, using Facebook’s Graph Search, just a different term. Note that simply typing ‘events in [insert city here]’ may also work, though in my experience it brings up more events from the past than the future.
Search for ‘groups in [insert city here]’.
Once again, the graph search delivers:
You can probably figure how to use these tools, but personally, your use of these tools is best described as judicious. You can certainly attempt to befriend every ‘friend of a friend’ on the list, but don’t bother. Be selective — who looks or sounds like you have something in common? Take a peek at their profile (if you can) and see if you can tell. Events are great to meet people in person as well.
As for groups, again, be judicious. Introduce yourself, read the rules to ensure you don’t become a spammer, and in general try to be a force for good. You’ll soon learn which groups deserve to be added to your favorites (click the settings icon on the group’s homepage and click ‘Add to Favorites…’).
Couchsurfing has offered the world its name as a verb, and is a natural place to meet travel-minded people. It’s not just for surfing couches, though you’ll need a free account to start a conversation. Complete your basic profile and upload a few photos, but there’s no need to get verified for $25 USD unless you plan on seriously using the site.
I’ll note the website’s search functions pale in contrast to Google’s. I’d strongly encourage you to Google ‘couchsurfing [your city here]’ to take you directly to that city’s page. Once on that page, take a few minutes to start a conversation aimed at the people you want to reach. This isn’t a group per se, but looks to be a great way to get started without much effort.
If you want to join groups, however, the sky’s the limit! Note the amount of activity will be based on how big the city is and how many Couchsurfers are around. Be sure to host where you can — a great chance to earn some proverbial karma.
I’m a big fan of Twitter for a bunch of reasons (and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say you could follow me at @worthy.go). I love the real-time stream (which, yes, can sometimes feel like a firehose), and the ability to start a conversation with virtually anyone you like. You also know what #hashtags — while not a perfect system, they’re a fine way to find people who want to be found.
The site itself is a good place to start — head to the Discover tab and try searching for the city or country:
Another option (and one of many) is Followerwonk.com. Where Twitter makes it easy to find a hashtag in a tweet, Followerwonk makes it simple to find a person based on a search term in their bio:
Followerwonk is a part of Moz.com, which offers plenty of different stats about your website or your competitor’s. You can search through a person’s entire profile or just the bio.
So it’s clear, you’ll need to dig through these sets of data to find people that will be interesting to meet — there’s no magic button to meeting awesome people, and there’s always the chance that people have forgotten to update their profiles.
While this doesn’t sound like the most intuitive place to find people, Pinterest has gotten a lot better at crediting who actually took the picture. That doesn’t mean the person is still there, of course, but click the ‘Visit Site’ button to head back to where the photo was originally found:
If that doesn’t work, a reverse image search on a site like Tineye can help to identify who took the picture originally. Did I mention it’s always fun to see great photos of where you’re headed? This whole pre-networking thing isn’t just about looking at profiles and sending messages, of course.
Google for bloggers in that city
This one might sound the most obvious, but you’d be amazed how easy it is to overlook. By now you’re probably hitting on the same group of folks who are both A: online and B: want to be found. Once you’ve found them, however, make contact with a quick e-mail or use their contact form.
As with all networking opportunities, it’s a two way street. Aim to offer as much advice as you ask for, and be sure to return the favor whenever they’re traveling to your neighborhood.
Be sure to update your location before you move! Also, there’s no need for pre-networking to take very long — even less so if you opt to copy and paste a message before customizing. Pick two or three (or maybe even all five!) and be proactive when it comes to reaching out.