Backpacker Research

Discovering Innsbruck

Some of you may have noticed that I’m behind on updates this month.  I apologize for the gap in content, and promise to dive back into things with lots of exciting new material in August.  As some of you know, in addition to authoring VirtualWayfarer I’ve been a full time masters student over the past two years in Communication and Cognition at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.  The experience of living expat life, and pursuing a two-year masters program abroad has been an incredible one.  As with all great adventures, this one is winding down.  On August 1st I’ll be handing in my masters thesis and completing my program.  As you might imagine, that August 1st deadline means that I’ve been up to my neck in journal articles, research data, and writing deadlines.

It’s going great, but I’ve still got lots of work to do before my final deadline.  It hasn’t left much time to breath, let alone sit down and write new updates here.  The flip side is, however, that the thesis is an analysis of Facebook’s influences (both positive and negative) on hostel and backpacker culture.  Through it, I’ve put together a wealth of incredible research which really helps delve into the role social networking sites like Facebook play in changing our behaviors and enabling our relationships. Once completed, I’ll be sharing highlights from my research and the final thesis here on VirtualWayfarer.

If the topic sounds particularly interesting to you, and you’re antsy to learn more, you can read my paper, Exploring the Influence of Facebook on Backpacker’s Social Experience in Hostels. Published earlier this year, it is my first peer-reviewed academic article and was co-authored by Dr. Cody Morris Paris.  Cody is at the forefront of backpacker research and has done some fantastic work.   The journal article is based upon a survey of backpackers and served as preliminary research for my masters thesis topic which covers a similar area.

Independent of my current thesis project, I’m teaming up with Cody once again, for a second look at backpacker behavior. If you are interested in participating, we have three questions that we are collecting responses to.

1. Share a story or experience about how technology (mobile or social media) has disrupted or separated you from the ‘travel experience’.

2. Share a story or experience from traveling in a ‘technology dead zone’ where you were disconnected from your online social networks.

3. Have you ever ‘unplugged’ by choice while traveling? Why? Please share a story.

If you want to submit your answers, you can either e-mail them to me privately [alex *at* virtualwayfarer.com], or leave them as a comment on this thread.  While it is not necessary that you answer all three (it is great if you would) please answer the questions in-depth while using specifics.  Basic information about you is also appreciated. Cutoff for submitting your answers is August 1st, 2013.

On a completely unrelated note, I recently switched VirtualWayfarer to a new hosting company.  The site is now hosted on an account by itself.  It is my hope that this should improve site performance, speed and reliability.  If you notice any issues (or improvements), please let me know!

Time for me to get back to work on the thesis!  As always, thanks for reading and your ceaseless support!

Preparing for a Trip? Make Sure You Facebook Your Destination!

Colorado-8927

By now you may be familiar with sites like Couchsurfing, AirBnB, Global Freeloaders, and Hospitality Club.  Those of you who are more aggressive social media users also probably leverage Facebook on a daily basis to help organize and socialize your life. When finding a restaurant our generation often fires off a tweet, pulls up Yelp, or posts a quick Facebook status inquiry.  Most of us have read The Four Hour Work Week and books like Never Eat Alone. We understand and appreciate the value of our social network and regularly interact with our friends and contacts on a local level.

Yet, when it comes time to travel, we often set all of this knowledge aside and revert to making the same basic mistakes. We often have travel questions or needs, and would love opportunities to connect socially with long distance contacts.  As we prepare for our trips we talk and post about them in general terms but, almost never make active inquiries.

If you were looking for a job, you’d leverage your social network.  If you needed a new roommate you’d reach out to your social media contacts.  If you had a nagging question you couldn’t find an answer for, they’d be your logical ‘go to’.  So why not make similar inquiries when preparing for a trip?

A plethora of recent startups revolve around connecting us socially with people nearby.  From Foursquare to Facebook check-ins, it has never been easier to keep in touch once you’re at a destination.  These do little, however, to prepare for the trip to that destination.

So, before you take your next trip, don’t just tell your Facebook and Twitter friends that you’ll be visiting a destination.  Ask them who lives there, who can host you, who is free to show you around, meet for coffee, and perhaps even introduce you to other near-by must see places.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a place you’ve never been to before or a place you’ve visited 100 times.  You have an amazing resource at your finger tips.  Use it!  I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the power of your network. And above all, don’t be afraid to act on the introductions your friends and contacts offer to make.  It’s one of the best ways to enrich and enhance your travel – and who knows, it might even save you a small fortune in travel costs.

Still need a conventional resource? Head on over to Amazon and snag a Lonely Planet Guide for your destination.

It’s Good to Have Friends

Stave Church, Oslo, Norway

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been reading my Scandinavia trip posts, it was one heck of an adventure.  One filled with great food, amazing natural scenery, beautiful cities, fantastic cultures, and wonderful people.  I’d like to dedicate this post as a thank you and as a wonderful illustration of the value and power of social media as a way for coordinating meet-ups and maintaining international friendships.

While I met a lot of great people during my trip and will be keeping in touch with many of them, there are four in particular I owe a huge thank you to.  They opened their homes, treated me to meals, introduced me to their culture, shared their friends and set aside large chunks of time to show me around their cities.  The time spent with each was special and something I hope to reciprocate in the future.

Friends in Oslo

Hildur and Sten – I’ve known Hildur for a number of years and met her initially while she was at Arizona State University getting her undergraduate degree. As school wrapped up and we graduated she headed back to Norway and settled in Oslo. Which worked out great, as Oslo was my gateway to Scandinavia and first real taste of Norwegian culture. Upon my arrival Hildur introduced me to her boyfriend Sten – an awesome guy who volunteered to give me the premier local’s walking tour of Oslo.  Make sure to check out my blog posts from Oslo for an idea of what we covered during my visit.  From Viking museums to Palatial parks we hit them all.

The two really made my time in Oslo special.  They introduced me to a number of amazing local foods, taught me several park games, introduced me to a bunch of great people, and really shared a much better understanding of the city with me.  They also hosted me in their guest room for the duration of my stay.  Thank you!

Kevan in Copenhagen

Kevan – I met Kevan just under a year ago during my Central America trip.  At the time he and another friend where in Mexico to celebrate the New Years.  I rolled in to the hostel fresh off the bus from Guatemala, grabbed a beer and got to know everyone as the New Years festivities wound up. When Kevan noticed I was heading to Denmark/Copenhagen on Facebook he volunteered to show me around and set aside a day and a couple of evenings to introduce me to the town via a great walking tour, his group of friends and a fantastic tour of Copenhagen’s local watering holes.

A gracious and generous host, I really enjoyed the insights Kevan had to offer both into the history of the city, the local culture, and the general history of Denmark as a whole.  It’s an amazing place populated by an incredible people and somewhere I’m eager to re-visit and explore in great depth.  Believe it or not, I even learned a bit more about English as a result of our conversations.  Thank you!

Hamburg Friends

Philipp – Another friend from my Central America trip, I originally met Philipp in Playa del Carmen.  We met at the hostel during my first visit when four of us teamed up to rent a car and then set out to snorkel Dos Ojos, visit Tulum and look for turtles in Akumal.  With just over a day to properly explore Hamburg, Philipp stepped up and took me on a fantastic tour of the city.  The walk was a real kick – from underground tunnels to old Nazi fortresses and golden sand beaches we covered a ton of ground and history.  I was also introduced to a regional Germany drink I’d never had before and had the opportunity to dive into local German fare.

A great guide, he really went out of his way to show me around the city and share some of the more obscure elements of the city’s history with me. While I knew some of Hamburg’s history, I had no idea just how interesting a city it was, or how major a commercial player on the national scene. The tour was great, the food good and the company exceptional.  Thank you!

Bergen from Above, Norway

While still possible, most of these connections would have been nearly impossible to maintain without modern technology and infrastructure.  Without tools like facebook, IM and e-mail I probably would have all lost touch shortly after meeting.  Instead, we’ve been able to maintain our friendships and connect when opportunity permits. That’s an incredible thing, and one I really value and relish.

Each of the four I mentioned in this post showed fantastic hospitality and kindness.  They set a wonderful example and serve as a constant reminder for me, of how important it is to strive to pay-it-forward.  To host, and help travelers and friends when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a wonderful reminder that the little things are sometimes some of the most powerful.

So, on a closing note – thank you all once again!  I can’t wait to see when and where our paths cross next.

Your Facebook “Live” Newsfeed is Only Showing 250 Friend’s Updates. Here’s how to fix it.

How to make your Facebook Recent Updates show all of your friends.

If you’re a moderately active Facebook user and have over 250 friends you may have noticed that the “Most Recent” newsfeed seems to omit things.  For my part, it’s a conversation I’ve had a number of different times with friends. Collectively musing on just how Facebook goes about displaying the recent updates. After all, the “Top News” option seems pretty straight forward, but “Recent Updates”?  One would think that covered all of your friends updates in a somewhat real time feed. That was the point after all, right?  Wrong.

The reality is that Facebook made the decision to filter your Recent Updates in a way which really turns it into a less elite “Top News” option.  Now, if you’re like me and genuinely nosy/curious what your friends are up to you’re probably genuinely interested in recent updates from ALL of your friends, not just the top 250 which Facebook chose for you.

The good news is, while anything but intuitive it’s incredibly easy to expand that number to encompass all of your facebook friends, pushing your feed back to a useful real time stream from all of your friends and contacts.

Step one:

Log in and click the Facebook logo.  This should take you to your main feed page. In the middle right hand side of the page you’ll have the two options, “Top News” and “Most Recent”.

Step two:

Click over to “Most Recent”

Step three:

Scroll to the very bottom of the page where the “Older Posts” option appears on the left hand side. Note that on the right hand side there’s an easily overlooked “Edit Options” text.  Click it.

Step four:

Change the “Number of Friends” option from 250 (or whatever it is at) to your current friend count+100.

Step five:

Save it and enjoy! Your feed is once again a real cross section of recent updates from all of your friend. Not just Facebook’s version of a VIP list.

Run into any issues? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help you solve it. Found this useful?  Share it!

Post Arizona Travel Tweetup Wrapup

Arizona Tweetup Number 2 Crew
(From Left to Right: Kerri, Toni, Patricia, Alex, Jackie)

We just wrapped up the 2nd Arizona Travel Tweetup and I’m thrilled to say it was an absolute blast.  We added three new faces to the group and spent a couple hours exchanging travel stories, wisdom, and doing more than a little brainstorming.   You can see the original event announcement here.

Who made it (make sure you’re following them!):

Kerri who tweets at @khegre and is a passionate travel micro-blogger.

Jackie who tweets at @bikelady, blogs at Bike With Jackie, Arizona Travel and Adventure and is a professional travel writer and published guide author.

Toni who tweets as @SmithTempe and @VisitTempe, blogs on Visit Tempe and serves as the voice of Tempe travel.

Patricia who tweets as @patriciaelenie, blogs on Patricia Lapadula and is an active independent travel blogger and photographer.

and myself – Alex on twitter as @AlexBerger, blogs here VirtualWayfarer and runs the UltimatePackingList and TravelResourceList.

For those looking to connect with fellow Arizona based travel people please make sure to look over my AZ Travel list on twitter (if you’re not on it post here or shoot me a tweet).

What We Talked About

I was really excited by how much ground we covered over a relatively short period. For those of you who were not able to join us – here’s a taste of what you missed:

Travel stories and photos – No surprise here right? We had some great ones from an amazing long duration sailing trip, to stories about culture shock in Africa, crying babies, and the woes of traveling with young children.  @patriciaelenie brought several stunning photos from her recent SEA Semester program where she sailed for several months around the Caribbean while @BikeLady brought several copies of her recently released Backroads and Byways of Arizona guide.

Twitter – It’s not really a tweetup if you don’t talk about twitter and we did! From general discussions about social media, to more specific discussions about how we use and rely on twitter as a tool we had what i found to be a very informative discussion.

One of my favorite tips came from @khhegre who suggested the creation of small twitter lists consisting of category driven favorites. She’s used this as a creative way to overcome the challenges that go with the forced feed sampling approach which happens as you break 200 follows. The creation of lists still allows you to sample general tweets, while making sure you’re able to filter it category or emphasis when the mood strikes.

We also discussed the ways in which twitter has changed how we follow and consume blog content.  The general consensus was that while many of us previously had favorite blogs/blog feeds which we followed, that our general approach had changed.  Now the emphasis was on people, individual articles and information feeds, over the blog feed itself.  Our new approach has evolved into sampling what looks interesting from our twitter feed which if reflective of general twitter users (Which I believe it is) shows a fundamental shift in how bloggers need to position themselves, distribute their posts, and share with the community.   It looks like you’ll need to be even more social and pro-active in the future if you want to put your content in front of people.

We also discussed a few other basics, things like how we choose who to follow, the impact and importance of your following/follower ratio, and the power of twitter as a tool to build new relationships and friendships. Especially for travelers!  I found @SmithTempe/@VisitTempe’s insights into how Tempe has been pushing into Social Media and really re-defining their relationship with the travel community to be really informative and exciting.

LinkedIn, TBEX, Tripitini – As a community focused event, the question of communities came up.  We talked about three of the largest concentrations of general travel discussion.  LinkedIn was a new one for me, but apparently as a very vibrant travel discussion community.  We discussed Travel Blog Exchange in some depth including a break down on the recent TBEX conference which @khegre had been able to attend as well as Tripitini a more recent community on the scene that is very similar to Tripitini and has an active travel community.

Facebook – We spent some time brainstorming on the way we use and interact with Facebook as well as its potential for improving social interaction, building/maintaining travel contacts/friendships and as a traffic/community building tool.  The consensus?  Facebook has done amazing things for empowering travelers and giving an easy way to meet and stay in contact with friends made on the road. We also looked at how Facebook is increasingly becoming one of the primary traffic drivers for independent bloggers and community sites.  Probably in no-small part due to the same shift we’re seeing in Twitter as people move from individual blog loyalty to a focus on people’s recommendations and individual links.

Hostels and Couchsurfing – We had a fun chat with a few comical adventure stories about what hostels are, who they’re right for, their positives and some of their drawbacks. We also discussed Couchsurfing (with a quick introduction to what it is) and different tools for reaching out to travelers as they visit Phoenix/Arizona.

Lots more beyond that, but those are the highlights that jump to mind! Hopefully they serve as good food for thought for those who were not able to join us.  If they’ve sparked a thought or question, don’t hesitate to keep the conversation going in a comment here on this post.

Thank you again to everyone who came out.  I hope to get a 3rd Arizona Travel Tweetup organized for sometime in late September or early October.  I look forward to continuing to build the community and helping put real faces and names to twitter/blogs/websites.

Is E-Mail Dead? A Millennial Weighs In

Orkney Islands - An Old Rusted Tractor at Sunset

I was recently approached by Scottsdale Airpark News Magazine to write a piece on social media. I chose to weigh in on the life (and death) of e-mail, the generational gap in usage behavior and explain the conundrum baffling many business experts: why don’t young business professionals rely on e-mail as their primary source for communication?  This post is a follow up to another piece I wrote entitled; Social Networks, E-mail and User Behavior in August of 2008.

From Scottsdale Airpark News:

Is E-Mail Dead? A Millennial’s view on today’s trusty tool

Stop! Before you click the send button and fire off that next e-mail, ask yourself, “Who is my audience and what is their age demographic?” As we prepare to enter a new decade, it’s time to think about how the use of e-mail has changed since 1995. Those who are 26 years and younger—“Millenials”—have a very different attitude about it than Generation X or even Y.

In the mid to late ’90s, e-mail was the leading edge. It offered unparalleled utility, was time effective and cost sensitive. It quickly became a requirement in most places of business and a part of our daily routine. Yet, despite its apparent necessity, the next few years will see e-mail moved to the endangered species list.

Change of Address

Non-Millennials embraced the Internet during a period when Internet Service Providers (ISP) and work-associated e-mails were king. If you’re over 26, you’ve probably had one e-mail address associated with your home ISP and a second professional e-mail for work. Most non-Millennials change their e-mail only when they move or change employers, so they have had maybe two addresses in the last 10 to 15 years.

Millennials, on the other hand, have been forced to adapt. During the peak of the tech boom, America’s youth were flooding online. Hungry for privacy and their own piece of online real estate, they signed up for free e-mail providers like Hotmail, Yahoo and eventually Google. They had free time, a burning curiosity, and a native understanding of the web which drove them to explore … sometimes recklessly.

What many discovered was an inbox inundated with spam. While older generations used e-mail for conversations, Millennials had instant messaging. The end result was a transient relationship with e-mail. Too much spam? Just register a new address. Interests changed? Register a new address. Pokemanmaster87@hotmail.com too childish? Time for another. An environment quickly evolved where keeping your address book up to date was impossible.

Enter Social Media

Many people were shocked by how sites like Facebook became so successful among young people. The answer is simple. Social media sites provided a “one-stop shop” for most of the resources Millennials desperately needed. They wanted a simple service that essentially replaced e-mail with a database-driven address book that users automatically updated—and one that provided real-time chat, e-mail-like functionality and the ability to share rich media.

Facebook and co. rocked the boat but didn’t end e-mail’s dominance. After all, e-mail still offers value not readily duplicated by social networks. It remains our go-to resource for sharing documents and files, the preferred medium for professional communication (especially due to its archival value) and a necessity for trans-generational communication.

It’s time to prepare for a new decade, one that’s no longer shackled to e-mail. File sizes are skyrocketing and have quickly swamped e-mail’s capability. This has spawned spinoff resources, such as Drop.io, which allow quick and easy file sharing. Social media is no longer the sole domain of Millennials and the occasional early adopter. It’s reached a critical mass where Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are commonplace. They’ve become the new status quo, paving the way for the mass adoption of Google Wave and similar products delivering a more engaging, real-time, collaborative and user-friendly experience. It all points to a future that is sure to retire e-mail to the domain of rotary telephones, typewriters and fax machines.

So, before you hit send, ask yourself, is e-mail really the right medium for your message?

Alex Berger, a Millenial, is the author of the blog VirtualWayfarer.com, as well as an analyst with Fox & Fin Financial Group, 7333 E. Doubletree Ranch Road, Suite 200, Scottsdale. Alex@foxfin.com; www.foxfin.com; @MandAAZ.

View a .pdf of the print version here.

Have thoughts, comments, or your own insight to add?  Please join the discussion with a comment below!

Personalize Your Travel Photography

Even the most experienced travel photographers make a simple mistake. It has nothing to do with the quality of the photos they take, is independent of the quality of their camera, and has little to do with composition. I’m not talking about how to take stunning shots of the local people, natural beauty or architectural flare you encounter.  I’m talking about the photos that will never make it into the photo gallery you share with friends and family at the end of your trip.  I’m talking about photos of near strangers which offer an entirely different opportunity.

Building A Global Community

I’ve got the travel bug.  There’s no denying it.  If I don’t manage a trip every 8 months or so I get antsy. Very antsy. One of my favorite things about traveling is the people I’ve met over the years.  Just today I chatted with a friend from Sweden on Facebook, reflected on time spent in Spain when I saw an update from another friend, and wished yet another friend I made while on the road Happy Birthday.  That’s a pretty incredible opportunity for a guy sitting behind a computer in arid Scottsdale, Arizona.

What I’ve come to realize is that we now have an incredible tool to not only keep in contact, but to help each other record part of our experience. The catch is, we have to remember to snap a few extra photos along the way. Those photos help cement our friendship, build comradery and offer a wonderful way to remember amazing moments that bring memories back to life.

The Power of Facebook

Facebook has been an amazing tool for travelers.  It’s an easy way to connect, share media, and keep in contact.  It’s also a huge tool among hostelers and backpackers.  Even though the majority of its market share is tied to English speaking countries, the site has become the default service social network for travelers.  Spend more than a week hosteling and you’re almost guaranteed to end up with a Facebook profile.  Love it or hate it, there’s no question that Facebook offers a much better tool for keeping in contact than e-mail.  It also provides a fantastic tool for sharing photos. No small task when it takes weeks, if not months for travelers to get to a computer where they can upload, sort, and tag their shots.

The Social Photo

What is the social photo?  It’s an opportunity for travelers – near strangers – to help each other document their trip.  As you meet people on your tour, in hostels or at random start snapping photos of them as you would a travel companion or life long friend. Not just photos of them posing as we’re all inclined to do, but photos of them experiencing the adventure.  Supplement these shots with social shots during fun events and outings and do your best to make sure they’re flattering.

Let me be clear. I’m not encouraging you to be that weird guy with 50 photos of that attractive girl from the hostels cleavage. I’m also not encouraging you to snap 50 photos of people you don’t know.  I am encouraging you to snap a few shots here and a few shots there that not only help document your trip – but can really be a wonderful discovery that helps your new found friends document their own.

These shots are of course, worthless if you don’t share them – so make a concerted effort to not only connect on Facebook with fellow travelers, but to also upload your photos and tag them! It’s a delightful surprise to have fun shots from past trips appear on Facebook months after your original trip has wound down.

So get out there and make sure to fire off a few extra photos next time!

As always, I value your comments!  Have a favorite photo that someone took of you on the road?  Feel free to share it in the comments below!

Social Network Revelations – When Mom Joins Facebook

Listen to this post:

Audio Blog: When Mom Joins Facebook

Something happened today that left me rather surprised.  It was one of those powerful epiphanies that don’t necessarily change your views on things, but rather re-affirm and clarify what you already knew in such a powerful and clear cut way that it leaves you a bit shell shocked.

To set the stage – I got a call last night from my mom.  She was interested in setting up her own account and giving Facebook a try. For the last year or so I’ve let both of my parents log in on my account to view my photos (especially trip photos while traveling) and periodic postings.  We got her account set up fairly quickly as I answered several of her initial questions over the phone and before long she was making her way through her basic profile adding information and updating settings. I suggested a few friends and then left her to play with the site. While a traumatizing thought for a lot of young adults my age, that’s not the source of the revelation.

You see, my parents and I have an extremely close relationship.  I typically call home on a daily basis as I make my 20 minute commute home from work and during the call we exchange ideas, reflect on the day, and brainstorm.  They are both incredible mentors that I work and talk with on a regular basis.  A relationship made that much closer by the 2 years we spent on the road together when my brother and I were younger – 1 year backpacking through Europe and another year R.V.ing across the US. To that end, we all know a lot about each other. They are as much parents as they are mentors, and as much mentors as they are friends.

So, you can imagine my shock when I checked in on my mom’s Facebook progress and found not one, but two pieces of information I had completely wrong about her.  I’ve always thought that she received her masters in education similar to my dad’s doctorate in education as they have both been heavily involved in education for years.  The reality is that her masters was in Planning and Community Development – an equally fascinating field but completely different than education, as I’ve spent the last 15 some odd years believing.  The second revelation came in the form of a date. I always assumed, but had no real idea, she’d received her masters years before I was born. Here again Facebook set me straight. The degree pre-dated my birth by 2 years, not the 5-10 I’d envisioned.

I’ve decided to share these details with you, not because of their individual relevance, but because I believe it is a compelling illustration of the power of social networks as an informative tool offering insights into our friends, and even close family. Before yesterday, if you had asked me if I’d learn something new about my mom through her Facebook account, my answer would have been a confident “no”. Obviously, I was mistaken.  Social networks can provide powerful insights into those we associate with and affiliate with. They collect, sort, and display insights into us that might otherwise never come up in casual conversation but are highly relevant to our relationships. A lot of the dialogue about Facebook and its impact focuses on how social networks connect us with people relationally (eg: 6 degrees of connection) but this experience has reminded me that social networks offer insights far beyond how we connect.  They offer us insights into who we connect with as well.

Today I learned a bit more about one of the three people I’m closest to and it was through Facebook. What a surprising day.

Similar experiences?  Thoughts?  Please share them in the comments!