How Pinterest Made Me My Own Travel Agent

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

17 comments

  1. I love Pinterest! I probably spend about an hour on the website everyday. It is extremely inspiring and a great way to get ideas and test your creativity. I also love traveling. I believe that traveling is extremely important to gaining a better understanding of the world and all of the people in it. I have a travel board on Pinterest and I find that it inspires me to/want to travel to unique places that I would not normally go. I always find all of these cool places all over the world that I pin and put them on my bucket list of places to go. Pinterest allows me to see pictures of places that I have never even heard of/considered going to, but once I see these pictures it makes me to want to go there.

  2. I studied abroad in Italy last fall and I wish I had thought to look on Pinterest! I definitely have seen a shift from recommendations through professional services to blogs and free postings online–even on Instagram. Although I haven’t used Pinterest for travel tips before, I would compare it to Instagram when you can click a location and see what really pops out visually. It’s also nice to know that a lot of times these types of postings aren’t sponsored or promoted from businesses, so you know these excursions are sincerely fun and worth your time.

    1. Really interesting! Like @scourtney18 said I wish I had thought to look on Pinterest when I studied abroad!

  3. Really cool article. It is crazy to think that you were able to do all of that research with just one website, whereas just 5 or 10 years ago your options would have been pretty much limited to going to see a travel agent in person. It makes you wonder how we will be planning trips 10 years from now. I don’t use Pinterest, but I think that Shannon’s point that these postings are not sponsored or promoted from businesses is really important. It’s really cool that you can find someone passionate about the experience you are about to encounter, and aid your own experience with tips and tricks from someone who already has done the exact same thing.

  4. Cool blog post! I don’t use Pinterest personally, but I can really see the true impact and benefit it had in tailoring your travel plans. I think it is really interesting to think about all the apps that we as consumers have at the tip of our fingertips to personalize our experiences. When you mentioned using Open Table for restaurant reviews it made me think of the app Infatuation! It’s a really cool restaurant review app that categorizes restaurants based on “phrases” or “feelings” – it’s pretty new and I used it all summer to find hip and trendy places to eat at while I was in New York! You should check it out!!

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Taylor! So funny that it is based off “feelings” because often I want to search by “vibes” but that can be hard in traditional review apps. I just downloaded it and look forward to trying it (I’m always on the hunt for new restaurants to try)!

  5. This was a really good article! Pinterest and other crowdsourced websites have a huge advantage over travel agents. There’s no profits to be made which means that people are posting because they have a strong belief in how good (or bad) something is. You get a real sense of the place or product, as opposed to a sales pitch. The development of Pinterest and other websites, such as Yelp, have made travel planning so much easier..

  6. Really nice post. I hadn’t thought about how Pinterest was changing travel, but you make a pretty compelling argument for it here. Nice work!

  7. Really cool post! I really love your point about using keywords like “free” or “must see” to find new places because I think most people would only search for keywords like “Florence.” One thing that I wonder is how international Pinterest is today. Since it is such a visual platform known for inspiring design/creativity, it is mostly targeted to females and English-speakers. I would think that this might complicate the searching process if someone in Italy is uploading content in Italian, and you’ll never be able to find these “local” spots due to the language differences on search. “Hidden gems” might not directly translate easily in Italian, and could make this really difficult!

    1. Hi, Kaitlin! I never thought about the possibility of a language barrier. I think your assumption about it mostly being English-speakers is probably true. I personally never ran into a post that was in Italian even though I was researching Italian things. I don’t know if there is some sort of filter that helped weed out any foreign language posts or if the content is mostly in English (or if I was lucky)? Either way, I think the fact that it is an image-dependent platform helps bring some of the gaps.

  8. I really enjoyed this article. The consumer usage of Pinterest to basically curate personalized experiences based off of the testimonials of others is super powerful in today’s digital age. I think it sort of goes hand in hand with crowd-sourcing – the ability to take the experiences of others and put together the ideal vacation based off of recommendations is, I think, hugely influential. The best part is it still allows for user creativity and the ability for individuals to pick and choose their own path. Pinterest definitely builds off of the millennial affinity for experience – and to feel “more experienced than you actually are” – rather than providing a material product.

  9. Tiffany E · · Reply

    So much planning and information is right at our fingertips all of the time. We can be inspired by our network, ask for recommendations, and plan a whole itinerary based on social media. It really is quite amazing. Something I still struggle with is the amount of information available. At what point are reviews redundant or unproductive to consider? Hasn’t every hotel or experience had someone who hated it? We know how deceiving pictures can be too. I still wonder if the opinion of a real life human (i.e. travel agent) will hold value in the future given the amount of contradictory information out there.

  10. Really interesting! Like @scourtney18 said I wish I had thought to look on Pinterest when I studied abroad!

    1. meant to directly reply to Shannon…didn’t know you couldn’t delete/edit comments on WordPress

  11. Awesome post!! A lot of people talk about how websites like Airbnb & Expedia (like you mentioned) are taking over the travel industry, so I’m really glad you focused on a different perspective. It was definitely a super compelling argument. I also loved the side by side Pinterest/real life pics; it definitely proved your point. (Assisi shoutout was also much appreciated) Great work!

    1. I had to include Assisi because it’s too beautiful and so underrated. :)

  12. Amazing to know how Pinterest can help. I never used it but now I am convinced this is a great app for other than decor and wall papers. I love travel and part of my summer internship and next week presentation will be about travel. I did not know interest could help with that. Now I will research and add it to my next plans on social Media. Great blog!!

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