This July I crossed the Atlantic for the first time to visit my roommate in Italy, where she spends her summer months. It was a two-week trip of a lifetime. We fit in as much as we could in fourteen days- including the breathtaking island of Sardinia, the medieval gem of Assisi, and most major hotspots between Pompeii and Milan.
Like for most people living in the digital age, I felt that planning my trip was a pretty independent process. In my mind, long gone are the days of consulting a travel agency to plan such vacations for you. In fact, The Huffington Post lists travel agents as one of the “eight jobs that will go extinct by 2030” thanks to digital sites like Kayak and Airbnb streamlining booking for consumers.
While preparing for this trip, I couldn’t help but agree that the plans were in my hands. I self-compared and booked my flights with Google Flights, opting for the cheapest option even though that meant taking three connecting flights to arrive at my destination. I logged onto my banking app to post a travel notice. I sent a text to my boss asking for vacation time. I even downloaded Duo Lingo to try and learn a little bit of Italian. Room accommodations were for the most part taken care of by my roommate’s family and so my significant task was to figure out what we wanted to do during our day trips into the major cities like Venice, Florence, and Verona. And that’s why I’m not crediting Expedia or Airbnb for giving me a new-found skill and confidence in planning international travel. I think it’s not too far of a stretch to see how these online services are running travel agencies out of business. In my experience though, it was the day-to-day activity planning, another service that used to be offered by traditional travel agencies, that was replaced by the social media platform, Pinterest.
Because I was going to be completely reliant on Wi-Fi while in Italy (my phone was basically a brick that could only take photos), I had to do all my research ahead of time. That entailed my Pinterest account, which previously had a few dusty pins randomly saved, becoming a fully-fledged organizer with a board dedicated to each city I was going to visit. These boards including photos of beautiful monuments, detailed maps of the best routes around the city, and tips from travel bloggers on the best of everything for each location. I only had a limited amount of time and I wasn’t sure when or if I would ever get this chance again, so I needed to make the most of it- and Pinterest did not let me down.
This is what I liked most about Pinterest’s platform and its adaptability to travel plans:
- Amount of content– The beauty of a social curation website like Pinterest with over 150 million monthly users is that there are so many viewpoints and so much information available. Instead of one biased travel agent pushing a specific path for money or another agenda, Pinterest has so many people sharing what they have experienced just because they are passionate about it. It’s the same concept of throwing the question to the crowd. When there are so many responses, one or more is bound to line up with your personal desires as well as, if not better than, the expert or travel agent’s recommendations would.
- Narrowing search functions– Even though all this information is available, one can still easily personalize results. I could be as specific as I wanted when searching through the millions of pins. I found keywords like “hidden gems,” “must do,” and “free” to be especially effective. This attention to personalization was something that used to be the job of a travel agent but can easily be accomplished by a search bar and some strategic word use. And the fact that all the results are images or have an image associated with them helps easily attract attention to the types of posts one seeks.
- Ability to organize and categorize– A board can easily become an itinerary. I could store and sort all the relevant posts in one neat place for easy reference. It’s also an interactive itinerary with links to information, directions, and more available to be clicked at any moment.
I dedicated quite a lot of time to this endeavor. All my hard work paid off though and the fruits of my labor were especially enjoyed when we visited Florence and had a jam-packed twelve hours with all kinds of excursions. While some argue that frustration over the effort required to plan trips will keep some travel agencies open, I personally found the planning and execution of those plans extremely satisfying. I felt that I knew the city or at least must have looked like it to outsiders. In reality, I was just following the step-by-step directions I read on posts like Miss Adventure’s Abroad’s post (we actually followed nine of her twelve recommendations). I believe that being so centrally involved in planning my day in Florence was one of the reasons it was my favorite city (if you ever have the chance, go visit!).
My trip to Italy is a reflection of how travel and the planning process involved in it is changing in the 21st century. The middleman has been removed, making the process generally cheaper and more direct. While Pinterest helped me find the best views, shopping, food, and of course, gelato, in Italy, I now find myself doing at least a basic Internet search before heading to most places. Even when visiting New York or Boston, places I am familiar with from dozens of previous expeditions, I still use Open Table to find a new restaurant or check Secret Boston’s calendar of weekend events. When showing my roommate around New York, she was impressed by my selection of sights and stops for food. However, I think the magic of platforms like Pinterest makes me seem more experienced than I actually am because I am tapping into the experiences of others. In fact, I’m willing to bet if my roommate spent an hour looking up French restaurants in the Theater District, she would have found either the same one I had chosen or an equally comparable one. Technology and social media have now placed the resources and power directly in the hands of the traveler- and I intend to use it to my full advantage in all of my future journeys.