You may have heard me say it before, because I’ve said it for many years, “We (hairdressers and barbers) are the original social network.” If you wanted to know who was having an affair in your town, your hairdresser or barber knew. What teacher should your child have next year in school? How about a suggestion for a great movie, restaurant, club, bar or vacation spot? You asked your hairdresser or barber. Before the internet, hairdressers and barbers had great crowd sourcing abilities and were the social hub of any community.
But as a traveling hairdresser, I have found my life becoming less social and more directed by commerce that seems to care less about me and more about the fact that there is always a next customer, or who doesn’t know that I wasn’t happy or how my stay really was. Ever get into a cab and then fear for your life? Or even better, land in a strange new U.S. town for your first time and have to help the cab driver with things like calling the hotel for the address? How about a horrible night’s sleep because of noise in a hotel room, or worse, bed bugs or a soiled room? If you haven’t, you are very lucky, lucky enough to stay at five star places or you haven’t had the chance to travel a lot because those are just a few things I have experienced. From hotel fires to hotels where the alarms seem to go off often during extensive stays, over many years, the only compensation I’ve ever been shown is an offer of a complimentary breakfast, or at best, to refund my night. The problem with that is, I bet that this wasn’t the hotel’s first time they had the challenges I experienced, and there wasn’t any way for me to really know if I had just stayed at a “bad place.” But then came along reviews and travel sites, though you still couldn’t get reviews on the cab that a starter at an airport just told you was yours. Even worse, we found out some reviews we read were false and some reviews were paid and made up!
So, after years of traveling and going from one nameless hotel room to the next, taking a chance on a cab ride that could range from good, to uneventful, to terrifying, I have moved on to social travel. Yes, I have points with a ton of rewards groups and they do work, but have you ever tried using them? Some point systems seem to make it so hard to book what you are looking to do, that they start to feel less like a “rewards program.” But when I decided to try social, things seemed to change.
I’m old-school, so my first mode of social transportation is always my feet because I love to walk. On my family’s most recent trip to Europe in November, we walked more than 20,000 steps a day in Paris alone. I love walking because it is always the best way to see all the things a single street, park or downtown has to offer and you get to meet people. If walking is too far to your location, mass transit is my second favorite choice. On mass transit, I get to meet people along the way and get a glimpse into their lives. If those two don’t work, there is always a social riding service like Uber. Heck, we even have Uber in Nazareth, PA and I have met some of the coolest people because of it. Plus, it can be good for my business too! I’m a hairdresser and a salon owner, and when I get into an Uber in my town I get to know the driver before I get in, and because of reviews, we get to know each other as we drive. The ride offers me the opportunity not only to learn something about my driver and our town, but I can tell my driver about our business. Also, because we are going to be rating each other, my drivers always seem to actually really care about my experience.
For me, social is the way to go and Airbnb has offered us experiences that made memories and made us feel “at home.” So far, I have stayed in three cities and currently have two more stays booked with a third pending because of how fun and affordable social travel can be. My first experience was in Paris with my family in a quirky sixth floor walk-up (actually the seventh floor because the ground floors in Europe are considered zero, not the first floor). We lived like Parisians for four days in a private apartment owned by a college professor who was in New York City. Our second experience was in Dusseldorf, Germany, where we stayed at a beautiful Airbnb with a name that meant “half and half,” or fifty-fifty. When it wasn’t rented as an Airbnb, it housed homeless Germans and the profits from the rentals funded doctors to operate and repair cleft pallets in Africa. This past week in New York City, I stayed at a quirky little apartment in the Lower East Village while working for the week at ARROJO. I experienced a neighborhood, not a hotel, and because of that opportunity, I experienced New York in a whole new way.
What I love about traveling socially is my reputation grows as I travel because of the reviews people leave about me, and I can meet people and have experiences I want to have because others have left reviews for me to read about their experiences. So, from the noodle shop I discovered, thanks to Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmerman, Cheap Eats and Siri (on Saint Mark’s by first) who all recommended it, to helping children in Africa because of my family’s stay in Germany, by traveling socially, I have saved money and been with people who made me feel not only like they cared about my experience, but also made travel fun at a place I could call home.
To see a picture from somewhere I am everyday, check out my Instagram (@patrickmcivor).