What is Twitter? Many budget travelers might not be able to answer that question, and when they find out it's a microblog in the social media realm of the Internet, the answer might not matter much to them.
But Twitter can connect travelers to all sorts of late-breaking news. Here are a few examples from people I follow on the About.com Budget Travel page at Twitter:
On a fairly typical late afternoon, About.com's Go Caribbean Guide tweeted (yes, that's the term) about an airfare sale to promote some new JetBlue routes in that part of the world. Alas, by the time you read this, they are most likely expired. The deal he posted had a shelf-life of only one week. Much of what you read on Twitter is fresh but also highly perishable. Airfare and tour sales are tweeted by travel companies at rapid-fire pace.
A bit earlier than that tweet, it was posted that service on London's subway system -- The Tube as riders like to call it -- was being slowed by a labor strike. About.com's Go London Guide was quick to tweet a link to her article about the British Museum. When The Tube is slowed by a strike, it's a great time for budget travelers to focus on one valuable location.
You can access Twitter with hand-held technology, laptops, desktops -- anywhere there's an Internet connection. So if you're on your way to London, you'll know about the strike and you're already thinking about how you can make the best of that situation. If you're considering a last-minute getaway destination, the Caribbean could become a strong possibility because of the airfare sale.
Companies have discovered a marketing frontier on Twitter. They use it to communicate more than just travel sales with consumers. On this particular afternoon, Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it would not re-impose a fuel surcharge, even though oil at that moment was back above $70 USD/barrel.
Publications -- online and print -- have discovered Twitter, too. Another link a few minutes removed from Carnival's tweet leads to a helpful Conde Nast Traveler story on overseas tour costs. The story reports tours to Costa Rica and Thailand are significantly cheaper than last year at this time, and might be more affordable for Americans than many domestic trips.
All of this timely, actionable information appeared within a few hours. The beauty of Twitter is that you don't have to wade through a lot of text or dozens of Web pages to find out what's happening.
To begin tweeting, you simply supply a user name, password, valid email address and accept terms of service. You must be at least 13 years old to use Twitter. It costs nothing to join. You can simply read other posts or post 1,000 messages a day. If you choose the latter, you'll probably lose your followers quickly. People can add you or drop you as they wish.
That's about all there is to it. A discussion about the finer points of using Twitter is not my intent here, but budget travelers should pay close attention to this medium. The fresh information that can be acted upon is vital to finding good deals. It's also good to connect with other budget travelers who share your interests.
How about subscribing to your favorite airlines or hotel chains? Chances are good you'll find them, along with bloggers, authors and everyday wanderers.
Naturally, we'd love for you to follow About.com Budget Travel on Twitter as well!