How Twitter and Facebook can save you time and cash on vacation

Usually when I'm planning a vacation, I buy -- or, if I'm lucky, borrow from a friend or a library -- a recent copy of Lonely Planet, Frommer's, or some other heavily researched, heavy-to-lug tour guide book. But for my recent cross-country summer roadtrip, I experimented with relying upon the wisdom and whim of Facebook friends and Twitter users to save my family time and money.

Our social networking world -- which in June consisted of my 1,300+ Facebook friends, my brother's 1,300+ Facebook friends, the 660+ Tweeps following @nicolecwong, the 280+ Tweeps following @gregwong, and the complete strangers who ran into our queries in the wide-open Twitterverse -- instantly offered us tips ranging from where to find cheap-but-tasty meals in the town we were entering to which entertainment venues were worth their admission prices.

One of the biggest reasons I'll ask my social networks for recommendations on my next trip is that the advice they give may actually be tailored to my unique tastes, since they probably know me better than a guide book does. Still, advice from strangers can be just as useful. One of my 140-character Twitter updates documenting our travels helped a random vacationer find a fun, free outdoor evening show to enjoy in a tiny Arizona town.
Here are snippets from our 17-day roadtrip's Twitter and Facebook conversations:

9:25 a.m. June 2 Greg Wong: En route west to Nashville, Tennessee. Any worthwhile stops or early bird meal specials? Was thinking about dropping into Knoxville.

9:37 a.m. June 2 Bernice Chen: Waffle House -- open 24 hrs!

9:41 a.m. June 2 Megan Soojeen Shin-Park: I've been to Waffle House. It was pretty good.

9:43 a.m. June 2 Yung-Hee Chia: Loveless Cafe

10:25 a.m. June 2 Karen Dickey: Nashville: the famous pancake house! downtown.

12:21 p.m. June 2 Daniel K. Hoh: yo dude, i rec pancake pantry on 21st and blakemore right next to Vanderbilt University. it closes at 3pm though. if you don't make it on time, then i rec calypso cafe also right next to Vandy...get the black bean salad!

1:26 p.m. June 2 Greg Wong: Thx for all the recos! I'm trying my best to fit every commented suggestion in.

2:44 p.m. June 10 Nicole C. Wong: @ geologically gorgeous red rock Arches National Park, UT. Why didn't I know of this b4? Highly recommend seeing it! Thanks 4 tip, Scott

2:55 p.m. June 10 GirlsSentAway: @nicolecwong Moab is wonderful. Stayed at Sunflower Inn. If can, take corny evening boat ride down Colorado Riv. Great bkstore in Moab.

10:27 p.m. June 11 Nicole C. Wong: is in middle-of-nowhere AZ for 48 hrs. Food here is not good, but hotel's free WiFi is. Can get work done & catch up on tweets!

4:43 a.m. June 12 jimberkman: @nicolecwong Curious where exactly is middle-of-nowhere AZ? I went to school at ASU and my folks used to live in Prescott

4:45 a.m. June 12 jimberkman: @nicolecwong BTW, be careful if you drive through Searchlight, NV. Very close to AZ border. Basically just a gas station & a court house!?!

11:05 p.m. June 13 Nicole C. Wong: Williams AZ on Route 66=roadtrip's most pleasant surprise. Got to tiny town that time passed by in time 4 free nightly cowboy shootout show

5:45 p.m. June 15 christi5321: @nicolecwong we are headed to Williams,AZ now...I need to look into that cowboy shootout! Great tip!

7:25 p.m. June 15 Nicole C. Wong: @christi5321 Williams' cowboy shootout is at 7 pm every night in front of a different store on Route 66. Should be easy to find. Have fun!

So you see, now that social networks give you personalized travel tips within minutes of typing a text message on your mobile phone, you actually could give up using guide books. Since both technology and travel destinations are constantly changing, seeking trip advice in material printed months earlier is just so 2005.

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