Can a road-tripper make his way around the US on $11-a-day using social media sites?

NB: This is a guest article by Ryan Dwyer, a recent college graduate who is spending the next three months travelling around the US.

If the internet made the world into a community, social media is making it into a family. Complete strangers can catch a ride, bum a bed, and meet up for dinner.

People are using other people to travel. But these services are still in their infancy, and the sheer number of them make it difficult to separate the crap from the incredible.

I am starting a road trip around the United States in my 1982 VW Westfalia. I plan to use social media and collaborative consumption services to keep my fuel and lodging expenses to $1000 over the course of three months (that’s $11 a day).

I think I can do it.

I will use a variety of services to determine how they measure up in the real world.

  • Are they easy to use, practical, and efficient?
  • Are they better than traditional travel?
  • Do they save money or waste time?

This is a real life test to see if travel has truly been revolutionized by social technology. Here is a list of the services I plan to use during my social, collaborative road trip:

1. Ridejoy

A ride sharing service that pairs you with friendly passengers and drivers. The website is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Sign in with your Facebook account and find rides in minutes.

I will use Ridejoy to find passengers who will make road tripping fun and help cut gas costs.

2. Couchsurfing

A cultural exchange first, and free housing second. This service has a huge community of wonderful travelers who love to share stories and open couches.

You can make friends on the road, and help someone out when you’re home. I will use Couchsurfing to meet friendly locals and stay for free.

3. Airbnb

Another intuitive site that you can use to find housing rentals by the night. Hosts list a room for a certain price, and you pay to stay. It’s not free like couch surfing, but it provides a more formal experience without the extortion of staying in a hotel.

I want to use this site, but most listing run too high for my budget. I hope to get the chance to try it out.

4. Twigmore

Why couch surf if you already have a friend who lives in town? This website shows you where you have connections, and hooks you up with friends and friends of friends who live in different cities.

I will use this site to find friends who live in various cities around the US.

5. Meetup

Love activities but don’t have any friends? Not anymore. This group connects people who can meet up based on mutual interests. Plan events and get to know people who like the same stuff you do!

I will use this site to spice up my travels whenever I get bored.

6. Gogobot

Trip planning based on reviews by people like you. Gogobot is trying to make trip planning easy and fun with a nicely designed site and user recommendations.

I will use this site to plan activities in various cities as I travel.

7. Elance

A comprehensive site listing thousands of jobs that can be done on the road with only a computer and internet access. Find the right job and work while you travel.

I am going to use this site to do freelance writing and editing work to make some extra cash.

8. Craigslist

Everyone knows about Craigslist, but it is still important to bring it up here. It is a fantastic go-to site, but there are other services that specialize in certain things like ride sharing.

These websites do a better job at the specific service, but Craigslist has strength in numbers. I will use Craigslist as a backup for anything else I might need.

What’s next?

There are many other great websites out there, but I think these are the best and most practical for a road trip in the United States at this time.

These have passed the initial stage in this experiment, as they have good design or have a lot to offer as a service.

The next test is try them in real life. I will be back soon to give my analysis of how they perform in the field, and if they offer a viable alternative to traditional travel services.

NB: This is a guest article by Ryan Dwyer, a recent college graduate who is spending the next three months travelling around the US.

NB2: Road trip image via Shutterstock.

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  1. Sarah Hughes

    What an excellent challenge you’ve set yourself Ryan. I think it’s a fascinating question to ask ourselves whether social media, however central to our lives by choice, is also becoming essential in certain areas. Coming previously from the charity sector, I love the medical, emergency, disaster and survival apps (wikiHow is a firm favourite) and with Chicke Fitzgerald’s sensible concern for you in mind, it would probably be wise to have an app on your phone that let’s you instantly ping different alerts to family, friends or the emergency services without you having to look up or punch in numbers. I read about a new one very recently, and if you don’t know of one yourself and like the idea then post me back and I will try and dig it out. Not free though, at £1.99 (I’m UK based) it may break your rules?!

    I really look forward to checking out your blog. If you will be using apps, then it’s possible you might want to download and use Fiz, let’s go places – – from time to time. It’s free, launched this month, but only on iPhone at present I’m afraid. It uses geo-location and mash-ups of data to give you all the useful stuff you need to know about places anywhere: location map, directions, traffic alerts (only UK at the moment), weather, web address, Foursquare tips, venue tweets, plus a platform for rating and reviewing the places themselves. I’m a co-founder and I hope you’ll consider it and like it!

  2. Kuan Sng

    Sounds a blast – do include the good, bad & ugly of your experiences and the different site performances. Having the vehicle is great and like a previous poster said, sharing fuel money as well as potentially getting a free shower + couch from your hitchhikers could be fruitful.

    However, to make it as neutral & unbaised a test of each site, you should resist the temptation to parlay the inherent cool factor of your endeavor as part of the collaborative consumption exchange. Yeah, review folks and provide visible social currency – but maybe no more than that forthcoming from an average person. If your caper (can I call it that?) builds publicity momentum, it may skew things such that you’ll start getting paid $11 day to drive around the country 😉

    • Ryan Dwyer

      My next post should have a critical analysis of each of the sites I used. I want to find out which ones are really doing something superb, and which ones aren’t worth the time. I agree with you point about being unbiased. I just tell people I am going on a trip around the US.

      PS I like the word caper, so feel free to use it.

  3. Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories

    This actually sounds like a really interesting little experiment. I think $11 might be doable; if you’re giving a lot of people rides in exchange for gas money and doing a lot of couchsurfing (or just sleeping in your van), food will pretty much be your only expense, although that can add up if you end up having to fend for yourself a lot. I’ll definitely be checking back to see how you’re progressing. Good luck to you…

    • Ryan Dwyer

      Glad to have the support, Daniel! The $11 a day is for fuel and lodging, which are the big expenditures on travel. I didn’t include food into this total, because there isn’t really a way to share calories using social media and collaborative consumption. Not yet anyway…

  4. Julian Green


    sounds like a fun trip. Not trying to make Bernie the Westfalia jealous, but check out this beauty

    If you have an iPad, try our Jetpac app – will show you pictures from your friends of all the places you are traveling through, and give you ideas on what to do, and who to ask for advice.


  5. eac craig

    Great concept + I am sure you will use other social networks to ‘complete’ the loop – example = write a review of a Couch Surf place on your Facebook linking back to the owner, post an Intsagram photo of a location that you discovered via a GoGoBot contact. Got to give to get.

    I look forward to seeing your thoughts on how SM has revolutionized – not just travel – but digital self sufficiency . Your travels will be an excellent, living case study.

    • Ryan Dwyer

      You are absolutely right. There will be other SM involved, and I plan to do my part to make them work. SM media has changed so many areas of daily life, and this is one industry that marks an incredible change because it inherently involves interacting with strangers. People are trusting people.

      • eac craig

        Super, look forward to ‘seeing’ your tour play out. (Post a link, pls) People trusting people is definitely at the core but then people acknowledging others to THEIR networks is secret sauce of social. Bon Voyage.

  6. Robert Gilmour

    Kevin, sure thing, but my agent will take the fun of planning/doing it off my shoulders!!! Maybe he’ll contact Ryan

  7. Chicke Fitzgerald

    Ryan – Are you going to be blogging as you go? Hopefully you have some “security” plans as well – making sure loved ones know where you are at all times (that is the mom in me…..).

    • Ryan Dwyer

      Hi Chicke,

      Yes, I will be blogging as I go. I will be writing a mix personal travel stories from the road and practical advice for traveling in this fashion. I stay in touch with my mom and girlfriend, so they usually know where I am. Thanks for the concern!

  8. Robert Gilmour

    They always could – (catch a ride, bum a bed, and meet up for dinner.&c) – it used to be called face to face communication! – but requires social skills, a completely different thing from social media skills

    I have no fiends on Facebook ( I deleted my page it was doing ny head in)- i guess i must be a modern digital ‘social outcast! Dear me

  9. Psycho

    Well, I guess, it’s easy when you have friends all over the country. Good luck. 🙂
    By the way, if you are going to visit Moscow (Russia) someday, you’re welcome to “couch surf”.

    • Ryan Dwyer

      Yes, knowing people certainly helps. There is no replacement for good friends. Thanks for the offer for Moscow. I could look for that old land bridge that once connected Alaska with Russia and drive my bus over there!

  10. Martino Matijevic

    Good luck with your adventure.
    P.S. There’s a typo in the title: Can a road tripper make*s* …


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