I recently attended a tourism research conference in Singapore, some of the papers from which are appearing on the Geography for Travelers podcast. One of the things that I learned about, through two different researchers, was the Chinese concept of Donkey Friends. In Mandarin Chinese, the words Travel and Donkey have the same sound ("lyu"), though the tones are different. Because of this, the word Donkey has come to applied to a distinctly Chinese for or "backpacker" travel.
Using a social software travel website, the Head Donkey posts a notice that he or she is going to organize a trip on a certain date to a certain destination, and asks if anyone wants to join. Other Donkeys sign up by responding to this post. The trips are self organized and catered to save money, and everyone has their backpack. Like other tour groups, there are expected standards of behavior and role differentiations (some of which are along gendered lines), and people develop friendships that last beyond the one trip. Apparently the Chinese media has cautioned about the the potential dangers of traveling with strangers. Searching for information in English on Donkey Friend Travel online, however, did not result in anything that I could find.
This type of travel has not, to my knowledge, been very common in the US. Tripmates. com, however, may hope to change that. Tripmates is a new social travel site that share a lot in common with other social travel sites, such as 43Places.com, VCarious.com and MyLifeOfTravel.com, all of which I have used in the past, and the new TripConnect.com. This includes asking and sharing information about destinations and blogging about trips. What is different with Tripmates is an explicit focus on meeting new people. According to the website you can:
- Find a trip buddy so you don't have to travel alone
- Organize group trips with our exclusive Tripvite feature
- Meet locals or people traveling to your destination
There is an interest in this kind of travel, at least among a segment of the population in the west (see, for example, CouchSurfing.com). It will be interesting to see if traveling with Donkey Friends catches on outside of China.
FYI -Tripmates has also been reviewed breifly on Mashables.com
NEW: 6/21/07 - I see that TripMates has changed its name to TripUp.com - though the concept seems to be the same.