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Virtual Travel Communities

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The virtual world is beginning to blend seamlessly with the real world. The social side of technology is making the World Wide Web much more localized by bringing like-minded people together and in the process creating closely knit online communities.

A combination of features like worldwide accessibility and instantaneous communication has made it possible for backpackers, globetrotters, and other adventurers from all over the world to join together at different online platforms to exchange information, experiences, and plans in their favorite pursuit — travel.

Subscribers range from the professional travel writers to hardcore travelers and adventurers and regular folks who are simply interested in reading online. Travel communities are accessible by millions of interested people all over the world.

Out of some major and lesser travel forums on the Web, I have had the good fortune to belong to a few and have been visiting some others for my travel information needs.

Exceptions apart, all virtual travel communities have some common features. Communities mostly provide a warm, trusting, and supportive atmosphere. When members share information, they do it with great care and responsibility. They rely on each other more than they do on outdated travel guidebooks or on second-hand and static information from conventional travel literature.

Visit any online community and one finds anything related to travel, along with flames and off topic comments, which are sometimes informative, sometimes funny, and occasionally annoying. The mutual exchange of information is not restricted only to destinations, affordable places to stay and dine in, security issues, maps, weather conditions there. and where to find the best bargains and how to find public restrooms or which Websites better describe any particular place (or which dress a female anthropologist going to study Kalash clan up in northern district Chitral should wear during her extended stay there). It goes much further to helping in finding work, selling and promoting each other in local markets.

“Travel forums have become hunting grounds for meeting fellow travelers and making new friends. You really do not require any other reason to join a community or two,” says Atoorva Sinha, who intends building up the travelers’ community at Mindzwine.

Carla King is a founding member of one virtual travel community called Wild Writing Women for female travelers. She emailed, “When we published 'Wild Writing Women — Stories of World Travel' (an anthology of women’s travel stories) — we got a lot of publicity. People wanted to know how we traveled solo and weren’t afraid, and just how we went about it. We started giving workshops. We also started giving writing workshops and hosted a free monthly literary salon. People just gravitated, and we accepted them. We made a business of it and formed the online community. So it’s a profitable business for us to expand the community, and also, happily, it’s close to our hearts.”

Members are slow to respond sometime. Chris Heidrich, the director of BootsnAll says, “One has to be patient in waiting for a response from members and insiders. It should be understood that it is a voluntary favor and some people do not come on board or check email as often.” Court, who is always found on board in the same community adds, “Some time they may be away traveling to yet another location.”

The recipients of information have to keep in mind that whatever comes is based upon individuals’ personal experiences or empirical observations. One member may have had different experiences than others. When I posted a query about virtual travel communities (for this article) at the BootsnAll community, the first reply referred me to Nick, the mediator at another community at Bali Blog who in turn advised me to email direct to all on his mailing list. The replies I am still receiving are varied, showing so many perspectives. “There is nothing like variety,” says Nick.

The virtual world is composed of information rather than physical identities. Information spreads and diffuses. Those who belong to these impalpable spaces are also diffuse, free to take it or leave it.

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