Making Travel Connections Online

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Taking their inspiration from Web sites like Facebook and OkCupid, a flourishing category of social sites is aiming to connect travelers and their friends -- especially those going solo -- to help them save money, stay safe and enjoy more authentic cultural experiences. Sites like Couchsurfing, Airbnb and Planely have led the way. Now add to the genre a handful of newcomers striving to make touring a city full of strangers a little more friendly and a little less costly. (All of the sites are free to join unless otherwise noted.)

EASYNEST You know the drill: you want to stay in an upscale hotel but you're traveling on your own and simply can't afford it. Enter Easynest. This new Web site aims to help like-minded adventurers meet and split the cost of a hotel room. In other words: it's an end-run around double occupancy pricing and single supplements. In fact, Easynest bills itself as Airbnb for hotels and resorts. You sign up with your Facebook account and then, like a dating site, create a profile with a description of yourself. Users are also encouraged to add links to their external social networks. You can browse hotels where others want to stay or post places you want to stay and wait for another member to contact you.

As the site is new, searches do not always yield results. A recent search for a potential roommate this summer in major European cities like Paris, Rome and London turned up no listings. Time will tell if that will happen less as more people discover the site. There are also some obvious pitfalls. A seemingly genial roommate online could turn out to be disrespectful or, worse, dangerous in person. Or perhaps he or she doesn't show up at the hotel, in which case you're out of luck (read: money). There is no insurance if you book a room and the person with whom you've chosen to share it cancels or refuses to pay. As for potential safety risks: do not assume that members have been vetted or that they are who they purport to be. Right now there is no tool like Airbnb's "Verified ID," which slaps a badge on the profiles of members who provide the site with multiple layers of online as well as offline identification like a driver's license and a phone number. If you're considering giving the site a whirl, do your homework. Try to crosscheck what members say with things published about them elsewhere online and in public records. Consider Skyping a few times before agreeing to check into a hotel together. Information: easynest.com.

FRIENDS OF FRIENDS TRAVEL A nascent social network for travelers around 18 to 35, this site allows members to share accommodations, luggage lockers, travel tips or a cup of coffee in a foreign city with friends and friends of friends. The aim is for travelers to meet new people, save money and have a more intimate experience with a city. For solo travelers, the network (which is free of charge) provides an extra layer of security by connecting them with friendly faces in unfamiliar places, which is why the site intentionally limits users to friends and their friends.

"By purposefully limiting your connection to friends and friends of friends only," the founders explain on the Web site, "you get the best of both worlds: the reliability of friends, and the excitement of meeting someone new." (If you like this sort of thing, there are additional travel social networking sites like Timeblend currently in development.)

Yes, you could just mine your own Facebook account for such connections (see next entry). Friends of Friends Travel puts a map of the world on each member's dashboard, though, enabling them to easily see the location of everyone in their network. Also, members can score deals from the site's partners, which include STA Travel, Hostelworld.com and World Nomads, if they pay £12, or $17.75 at $1.48 to the pound (the site's office is based in London) to join a "premium members club" for a year (that's an introductory price; the standard cost will be £19.99 a year). Information: foftravel.com.

GRAPH SEARCH. Want to sort all your Facebook friends by country? Sign up for this new tool from Facebook and you can do just that by typing "current countries of my friends" into the search bar on your page. International flags will appear along with the names of friends who live there. Graph search also allows you to find friends and friends of friends with the same interests. For instance, you can search for "friends of friends who like traveling" and essentially create your very own personal travel network. Information: facebook.com/about/graphsearch.

TINT.TRAVEL A Facebook app, Tint is not unlike Friends of Friends Travel in its ambitions. It uses Facebook to connect friends of friends to help them find someone to host them in a foreign city, show them around or share dinner. For instance, after you go to the Web site and log in using Facebook, you can click on "select a city" to see a slide show of photos of cities where you have friends. A quick glimpse revealed that the foreign city in which I have the most friends of friends is Paris. None of them are "Tinters" yet, though. So while it was neat to geographically group my friends, unless a critical mass of them sign up for the app, at the moment it's simpler for me to just post a message on Facebook or use graph search.

On the other hand, Tint allows you to post a "public" message to everyone who is using Tint in a particular city so that anyone (even strangers) using the app can send you a message. (Travelers planning a group trip may be interested in another up-and-coming genre of tools, like Travefy.com, that will strive to take the pain out of multiperson vacation planning.) Information: tint.travel.

VOULEZ VOUS DÎNER Introduced in Paris in 2010, Voulez Vous Dîner encourages people in cities around the world to cook meals in their apartments and houses for travelers who would rather pay for a home-cooked meal with a local resident than dine in a restaurant every night. Now Voulez Vous has a new, easier-to-use Web site.

A recent search turned up dinner in Versailles by a student cook for $32 and a dinner in London featuring specialties from Bourgogne, for $56.

You can register to cook or attend a meal, which you can sort based on price ($0 to upward of $200) and theme like organic food or culture.

The cost of the meal is determined by the host and is shown on the dinner's presentation page (the price includes a "reservation fee" of up to 20 percent of the price set by the hosts). Hosts also pay a fee to the site. After booking you will receive the host's contact information, and you can chat directly before you arrive. Bon appétit. Information: voulezvousdiner.com.

Follow Stephanie Rosenbloom on Twitter @stephronyt.

travel

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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