A newspaper. Gum. A bottle of water.
These aren’t the only things travelers are picking up at the airport nowadays.
“Share a drink with an attractive stranger in the totally safe environment of a public airport,” reads the home page of the new website Meetattheairport.com. While it resembles mainstream dating sites like Match.com and OkCupid — members create profiles with their photos, age, body type — Meet at the Airport also asks users to include the name of their local airport, the time they’ll be there or the location and time that they’ll be at any other terminal in the world.
It’s among a rash of new apps and sites designed to connect travelers with one another (or with locals) for friendship, love or something in between. Whether you’re looking for a tour guide, a travel buddy or a frequent-flying soul mate, here’s how to find a site that’s right for you.
• If you’re looking for love: Members of Meetattheairport.com — which enables travelers to find and message one another if they are passing through an airport at the same time — describe themselves in one of several ways: “looking for something serious,” “looking for something casual,” “open to possibilities” (whatever that means), “looking for friends only,” “just looking to talk and pass the time” or “looking for a travel friend.” There are a number of options, though it seems most users want more than a friend. There are many single travelers (they note this in the “relationship status” section) seeking dates.
There are also some married travelers for whom that detail does not appear to preclude seeking dates. At least they’re honest. Consider it a reminder to read the fine print.
Speaking of which, like most dating sites and social networks, Meet at the Airport states in its fine print (seriously, I needed a magnifying glass) that “it does not take responsibility in checking the truth or accuracy of any information posted to the website” and that it does not “screen the content of any information provided to it.”
Bottom line: Airport dating is an amusing idea, but if you do arrange a rendezvous don’t share your flight information or itinerary with your date — you don’t want a stranger trailing you in a strange city. And be sure to tell friends or family where, when and with whom you’re meeting (Panda Express, Terminal 4, 3 o’clock!). Also promise that afterward you will call them (not text because, hey, a text can be sent by anyone).
• If you’re a woman going solo: Women who are traveling alone but don’t necessarily want to eat alone can scour Inviteforabite.com for public invitations from other female travelers. Why only women? Safety. In some neighborhoods visiting a bar at night by yourself is unwise and, as the site contends, “meeting unknown men for dinner far from home is risky.” A recent search on Invite for a Bite brought up invitations for dinner in Rome, coffee in Hamburg and brunch in Singapore. You can also post your own invitation.
Bottom line: A smart concept, though so far there is not a critical mass of users so there are not as many invitations as one might hope.
• If you want to make friends at hostels: Youth hostels are, in general, very social places, but the iPhone app WeHostels aims to make them even more so by enabling travelers to meet one another before they even check in. To use the app, select a city, enter your travel dates and then browse its top five hostels as well as the profiles of people who plan to stay there.
Bottom line: A particularly appealing idea for solo travelers hoping to meet fellow tourists, though you have to book a hostel through the site (which offers only five hostels in certain areas) in order to communicate with other people staying there.
• If you want to hang out with the locals: Triptrotting.com connects travelers with locals for advice and activities like bike riding in Beijing or a photo tour of New York landmarks. And while it’s not a dating site, the algorithm it uses to match travelers — based on qualities like interests, personality and profession — was created by a former chief scientist at the dating site eHarmony.com.
Bottom line: Like other such sites, this is an easy way to find like-minded adventurers. But because it’s new, it has fewer members than more established sites like Couchsurfing.org.
On Globetrooper.com, users can post a trip they’re planning and invite strangers to join. People using the site can see the trip details. If they’re interested in participating, they “follow” the trip by clicking a button, which in turn enables them to post comments and ask questions about it to see whether it is indeed something they want to do. If they decide that it is, they confirm their participation and agree on a starting point.
Bottom line: This site may help you find some wonderful people, but as with all sites like this, be cautious and get as much information as possible about your potential travel mates before agreeing to meet. Also, this site is for more adventurous travelers. Among the trip categories: “altitude 4000m+,” “motorcycle touring” and “overland & safari.”
• If you want to meet a friend of a friend on a plane, in a museum or at a bar: Banjo, an app for iPhone, uses location technology to facilitate spontaneous meetups while you’re on the go. Its creator, Damien Patton, came up with the idea after learning that while in an airport he missed connecting with a friend he hadn’t seen in years. Both of them had posted their locations on social networks — but not the same ones. Banjo is designed to ensure that sort of thing doesn’t happen; it combines all your social networks into a single stream of real-time updates.
Bottom line: Streamlining social media is always helpful, but to use this app you must have a Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or Instagram account and allow the app to have access to it.
Another location-sharing technology app, Highlight, is for iPhones and Androids (it requires a Facebook account to log in). The app notifies you if your friends are nearby. Additionally, if people in your vicinity also have the app, their profile appears on your phone, along with their name, photos and any mutual friends.
Bottom line: This futuristic social tool is a hit with technology wonks and social butterflies. If you would rather retain your anonymity when at the mall or the park, take a pass.
Planely.com matches you with fellow airline passengers, allowing you to connect with them on the Web before you connect in the air. How to begin? Log on to Planely and enter when and where you’re going. The site then uses its members’ Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to not only show you other travelers you might know on your flight, but also things you might have in common so that you can chat with a wine enthusiast, share a cab with someone staying at your hotel or discuss the conference you’re both attending at the crack of dawn.
Bottom line: Planely is made for those who like to network or schmooze at 30,000 feet. If you would rather be taking a nap, it’s plainly not for you.