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1. Post your specific travel plans with a ‘call to arms.’
You’re probably already going to post a status update or tweet about your trip, but be tactical about it. Instead of a simple, “Headed to X today — so excited!” make sure to include reasonably specific details, along with a question. The prior example could become, “I’ll be in X for the next 4 days — who knows something I should see that’s not in the guidebooks?”
The inclusion of a question mark makes your post much more likely to receive responses. Businesses on Facebook know this well — they call it a “call to arms” and have proven that posts with questions receive more comments than those without. You’re not trying to sell a product here, but you do want your friends to respond to you with words rather than a simple Like, and the strategy works the same way.
The prime reason to do this is to solicit advice from those in your network that know about your destination. You don’t even know which of your friends has experience with your locale, but someone does — and if you can catch their eye online with the city or country keyword, they’ll be more likely to reach out. I’ve had people I haven’t talked to in years put in a comment full of helpful tips on my posts speaking of impending trips to Rome and Paris. You’ll be surprised who responds if you bait your post enough to make them want to.
If you’re traveling during popular vacation times, you might even get a personal message from a surprised friend exclaiming they’re vacationing in the same place you are, suggesting a meetup. I can recall posting about a Rocky Mountains ski trip or Hawaii family vacation on Facebook before takeoff, only to discover after landing that multiple friends of mine are also in town and have already reached out.
2. Use Facebook city pages to find friends.
If you enter the name of any city in the Facebook search bar and select the city result that comes up — for example, “Paris, France (City)” — you’ll get the relevant city Facebook page. It will have some advertising smut from local businesses, but it’ll also have more personalized details, like photos of your friends who’ve tagged them as taken in Paris. What you’re looking for is the field on the lower left that says “Friends who have visited Paris.”
Here you can see everyone who’s been there, is from there, has studied there, or has lived there. The “lived here” field is a gold mine — it gives you every person on your friend list that has ever lived in the city, and considering Facebook’s relative youth and penchant to nag users until they fill out their current location field, it’s relatively simple to determine who’s currently living there. Click through to their profile if you’re not sure and check their recent updates.
Using this widget, I’ve arranged foreign rendezvous with people I haven’t seen in years — high school classmates, former sports teammates, and people from so long ago I forgot I was even friends with them on Facebook. You can do the same, with nothing more than a decent Facebook friend count.
3. Reach out to your weak connections.
Now that you’ve retrieved that extended family member, friend of a friend, or jocular European tourist who gave you a lift when your car broke down in the Grand Canyon last year from the depths of your friend list, send them a personalized message. Much like a Couch Request, this should be polite but also relevant, because chances are this is a person you haven’t spoken to recently, or perhaps at all since the initial friending.
Check out their recent Facebook activity and comment on it in your message, then continue on to that same ‘call to arms,’ but this time be more detailed. Ask them what their favorite parts of the city are; ask them what they would do if they had a weekend free with no obligations; ask them if they have time for coffee!
You might protest that you barely know these people, and you’re right. But it’s amazing how strong a bond you can have with someone simply because you’re both in a foreign land. I’ve crashed on the couches of people who I’d give no more than a casual head nod in our university hallways back home, simply because we happened to notice that our travel schedules lined up.
A potent example of this was during my recent trip to Berlin, where a night out with a former classmate (discovered through Facebook city pages) led to the discovery of another local German who’d studied abroad at our university and lived in the same building with me, yet I’d never met. We made up for missed time as she introduced us to some local bars, and I eventually ended up crashing at her place at the end of the night. And all because of a cursory look on my part at Berlin’s Facebook page and a quick message to the classmate, who I hadn’t even known lived in the city.
Don’t underestimate the power of your existing social network. A simple prompt from you, and friends that you forgot you had will come out of digital niches to help you on your trip. Just don’t neglect to do the same for anyone who contacts you.