Frederic Gonzalo’s Blog

Does social media mix well with family vacation time?

I could not help but smile when reading this article on Mashable today, describing how to use social media to make the most of family vacations. It certainly raises the issue whether one should turn everything off completely to get some quality time with the family while on vacation, or on the contrary stay connected in order to enhance the experience with the help of social platforms. I still grapple with this question, but tend to agree on the latter rather than on the former based on two distinct experiences over the past year.

On vacation last summer with my wife and three kids in Boston, I actually kept my blackberry with me so I was able to check-in on Foursquare pretty much everywhere I went. In fact, that was pretty much the only time I actually perceived some value from locally-based applications since I have been using them in over a year and half now.

Social media access at destination

At Quincy Market, for example, as I checked-in, I accessed a 15% discount code for nearby ice cream shop – very useful when you have 3 boys, very keen on anything sweet! Without Foursquare, I would not even have heard of this shop! A couple of weeks prior to the trip, which was our first one to Boston, I actually had posted on my Facebook page the excitement we had of heading there for a week. Friends commented, and we received many valuable recommendations and insights I would not have gleaned through the city’s tourism website.

Having my smart phone with me also allowed to have our travel arrangements handy through the Tripit application, which I have also been using for a little more than a year and a half. This application, while perhaps not as “fun” as Gowalla or Foursquare, certainly proves to be more useful in general.

Sharing while travelling

The other trip our family took was to Japan over the past Holidays and New Year. I am grateful for these three weeks without smart phone, and my wife probably even more so (!), as it was indeed what I needed in order to “disconnect” from work and the everyday life. Except for a night or two staying at ryokans, Japanese-style accommodation, we thankfully spent most of our time with friends and relatives, thus accessing wifi networks and domestic computers.

The big difference between holding on to my smart phone and accessing my social networks resides mostly in that I did not have access to my emails from work, allowing me to “not think” of it at all. I could, however, check into my hootsuite account, read my favorite blogs or have conversations with friends via Skype, Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter.

Truth be told, I really did not break away from technologies during this second trip. In fact, I was perhaps busier on social media during that trip than I was while sightseeing in Boston. The key difference is in the use of the smart phone, and costs associated with this use. In great part due to limited competition in the telecom industry in Canada, roaming charges are ridiculously expensive when traveling abroad. It wasn’t so bad when I was in the US, since I was able to get a decent data & voice plan through work. Things would obviously be different and lots more expensive had I wished to use my smart phone in Japan, in Europe or South America.

Striking a balance while on vacation

So, does social media mix well with vacation time? I’d say yes, assuming the following three things:

1. Social networks & mobile applications add tangible value to your experience;

2. There are no costs, or very little, involved with roaming fees should you be using your phone outside your contracted area;

3. You’re OK with the phone being switched to OFF for periods of time that can be as much as 24-48 hours at a time – Yes, I know, you’ll need to come to terms with this harsh possibility… your spouse will love you even more for it… assuming he or she’s not consumed by the same hyper-connectivity addiction…

Right, it’s time to plan that next summer vacation. Suggestions anyone?