I’ve been away from my blog for awhile. I spent last month in Paris. It was a remarkable experience. Interestingly, even though I spent most of that time away from work, technology and social media played key roles in my day-to-day life. It left me even more convinced about the incredible potential of Web 2.0. I know many people remain skeptical about just how useful the likes of Twitter and Facebook are. Some can’t get their heads around just how it all works or why to bother. Perhaps the story of my month away will get you to reconsider.
After almost a year of planning, my husband Steve and I visited Paris for the month of May. We did a lot of research. After “virtually visiting” various neighbourhoods using Street View on Google Maps, we decided on an apartment rental. We planned restaurant visits, bike tours and museum trips all via the Internet.
One of the most helpful resources we used to prepare for our trip was Katia and Kyliemac’s Tourist Tips podcast. Each week, these two expats living in Paris host three separate podcasts. Tourist Tips doles out helpful info for the Paris traveller—everything from cultural differences and how to use the Metro to how to find public toilets. Their other podcasts cover what it’s like to live as an expat in Paris as well as lessons in French idiomatic expressions. Their engaging style and enthusiasm has garnered quite a following. They also have a blog, forum and Twitter profiles.
Steve is an IT geek who adores his iPhone and is rarely disconnected from the Web for longer than a night’s sleep. He’s also what they call an “evangelist” when it comes to extolling the virtues of technology. He has even been successful at getting his grandmother (80+ years) to visit his Twitter profile. Although she doesn’t “tweet” herself, she likes to check in on what Steve is up to. If you’re not familiar with Twitter, visit this previous post.
Throughout our trip, Steve took pictures and tweeted them along with comments. Although I sometimes got annoyed when we had to stop what we were doing so he could tap out his messages, it was a great way for interested family, friends and co-workers to see what we were up to in real time.
Sometimes these tweets led to unknown Parisians sending us direct messages. Once, Steve tweeted about problems we were having finding vacant Velib stations. The Velib is a public bicycle program in Paris that allows users to take a bike from one of the many stations throughout the city, use it and then return it to any another station. Sometimes, however, the station is full and you are unable to return the Velib and must find another station. Within moments of the tweet, someone sent Steve a message directing him to a handy, free iPhone application called A Bike Now that displays all the Velib stations as well as which ones had vacancies for returning bicycles. Brilliant!
Another time, when I couldn’t find skim milk in my local grocery story, I sent a direct message to Katia (from the podcast) and she actually messaged back letting me know where I could find it along with the colour of the packaging so I could easily identify it. We also learned, via tweet, of a book signing event taking place at a local bookshop of an author we had read.
We instantly had this little Parisian community around us and it definitely increased the quality of our stay.
On our last day in Paris, feeling a bit sad about the prospects of heading back home and to work, we had planned to go out to a restaurant, get home early and pack for our morning flight. Then, in the late afternoon, Katia and Kyliemac tweeted that they were organizing an impromptu picnic on the grounds of the Eiffel Tower and all of their followers were invited. The prospect of actually meeting these two women we had been listening to for months was too much to pass up. We bought a baguette, cheese and some wine, hopped on a Velib and made our way to the Tower. Not able to immediately find their location, Steve sent out a quick tweet and we saw a woman standing up waving her arms in the huge crowd of picnickers. It was Kyliemac. The evening was the perfect way to end our trip. About 20 people had assembled for the picnic—all of them expats living in Paris from various corners of the world. They were all listeners of the podcast. It was a remarkable evening.
I told Katia how useful the Tourist Tips podcast had been to us and how much we enjoyed listening. She told me that she and Kyliemac are constantly surprised at the large community that has come together around the show, both in Paris and abroad.
The story of my Twitter-infused vacation is not unique. Interesting and useful connections are being made via social media networks all the time. Yes, it takes some time and effort but the power it has to shrink the globe, create community and reach out to others is truly remarkable.
So, if you’ve been a skeptic, are you now convinced to get on the social media bandwagon? Have you had a remarkable social media experience either professionally or personally? Please leave a comment.