When I first moved to the Dominican Republic, I could never find anything online.
Having been spoiled by the instant access to information online in North America, I found it extremely frustrating to have no idea as to how locals found what they were looking for. And no, there’s no phone book either.
And then I discovered Foursquare.
Where as the old generation found everything they needed by word of mouth–which wasn’t such a hassle since most towns were still tiny enough for this solution– the new generation has found a fix for the rising difficulty of communicating within the exponential expansion of their community.
It’s like the word of mouth, but on steroids, and comes neatly packaged in a user-friendly app.
I spent a year and a half navigating the stifling traffic of the capital, desperately looking for a decent place to eat, to finally find hundreds of options had been hiding in plain sight the whole time, in the palm of my hand.
And foursquare isn’t just for food. Social media is cheap networking and promotion.
A business no longer needs to invest in any design or development, and doesn’t need to pay for hosting, so most local businesses here have adopted social media sites such as Facebook or foursquare to amplify their reach. I’m assuming it’s similar in most developing nations, where the need for a proper website is just a waste of resources.
While it’s almost impossible to find the business you’re looking for on Facebook, it’s incredibly easy on Foursquare.
But so, what makes Foursquare great for travelers?
Foursquare For Travelers
The first reason is listed above, when you’re ripping your hair in a foreign country trying to find the post office, or a supermarket, just open up foursquare, simple as that.
Well not quite. There aren’t really any valid post-offices here in the DR, the mail system is primitive at best, if not relatively non-existent.
But we do have supermarkets, and Foursquare will help you find them.
Foursquare Offline Maps
The main advantage of foursquare for travelers though, is access to online maps.
It’s not really how the app was intended to be used, but it’s made my life so much easier in the past, so allow me to demonstrate.
Before you leave the house, search places you know you need to, or that interest you, and save them to your to-do-list, which is always available offline.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a government building you’re looking for, or a national park, everything will show up on your map. Then you’ll want to click on each business/point of interest and click on the icon associated with that spot to load the map. Once the it’s loaded, it’s good to access offline.
**If you’ve never loaded the map, you won’t see anything once you leave your wifi.
Don’t just load the immediate area around that spot though!
Your phone is constantly calculating your location based on algorithms that mostly use neighboring wifi signals, so the little throbbing blue dot on the map will always show you where you are right now. So find the dot and load the map all the way to that dot.
It doesn’t matter how far you are, run through the route you’ll be taking, zoom in as much as possible for the whole route so you don’t lose your bearing half-way there.
Voila, now your map is loaded completely, even if you’re getting lunch across the country.
Especially good for the directionally challenged
If you’re one of those people who can never tell which way is north, you’ll find this hack especially helpful.
Sure, you can just use it to tell you where you are and where to go, but you can also go a step further and use it to train your directional capabilities, so you’re better at getting around when you DON’T have access to your iPhone.
Pay attention when you’re driving in the car, or walking around to which way is north or south, how many blocks you’ve crossed, and the street names.
Try to orient yourself in space as if you really were that little blue dot on a giant-earth sized map.
Challenge yourself to get to your next destination without looking at your map, knowing you can always look in your pocket if anything goes awry.
Relying on technology as a crutch will only help you in the short run while depleting your own capabilities over time, whereas using technology to challenge yourself to greater abilities will allow you to thrive in otherwise stressful situations.
**Remember, however, to keep your phone in your pocket when going through sketchy areas especially. If you’re walking down the streets of Manhattan, don’t stare at your phone the whole way. If you think you’re lost, find a safe park bench or something similar to load your map again. Flaunting your bling is a sure way to be forcefully separated from it.
Now lets not forget that Foursquare IS a social app, which means you should add your friends. Check in to locations you loved and leave tips for the next travelers for good karma, but also, Foursquare will tell you which of your friends has recently checked-in nearby. Maybe you didn’t even know they were in that town! Hit them up for a coffee, share your favorite travel finds.
There’s also a “trending” option in the “browse nearby” results. This will show you popular spots close to you, might be of interest!
Have you ever used an app for a purpose other than its intended use?
Are you someone who always knows where they are or could you get lost in your own backyard?