Vanity Fair would have you believe that the dating app Tinder is an evil creation that's ushered in the “dating apocalypse.” As a newly single person though, I like that Tinder shows me single people nearby and puts them just a swipe away. And as an interaction designer, I love the way the swiping turns it into a game, an addicting one I keep playing over and over again. But in my first month on Tinder, I’ve been using the geolocation-based app less like a dating site and more like a travel guide. And I’m here to tell you that, when visiting a new city, Tinder is better for travel tips than Let's Go.
As I was preparing for my first trip to Berlin last month, a friend told me her co-worker had recently used the app in Paris and it had led her to the coolest bar ever. People using Tinder to find night spot recommendations instead of sex? I was intrigued. Googling “Best Hipster Bars Berlin” or “Best Coffee Shops Berlin” felt impersonal and out of date. Who decided they were the best and why? And how had these places changed in the months or years since the guide was written? Tinder was my chance to ask a local, and not just any local, but a local that an algorithm had determined was interested in exactly the kinds of things I’m interested in.
When I got to Germany in August, I added, “I’m in Berlin for a week” to the top of my Tinder bio. Tinder lets you adjust the range in which to look for people around you, from one to 100 miles. I already had a travel companion and wasn't interested in dates while I was there. I just wanted to pick the brains of people living in Berlin. So I started swiping right on people who I might not necessarily be attracted to, but who looked like the type I’d want at the table next to mine in a hip Berlin restaurant. The friend I was traveling with joined me in the swipe-right-for-travel-tips Tindering. A hipster dude with a mustache recommended going to a club in an old heating plant, and visiting an empty Nazi airfield that is now a gorgeous public park. A girl visiting for the summer told us about swimming in a forest a short bike ride away. A nerdy Russian-obsessed artist and computer scientist told us about a creative coding meet up, and a hacker bar made out of an abandoned air space satellite.
Tinder as Yelp was actually a 1000 times better than Yelp. Amazingly, every single suggestion was good—tips for what to see and do in Berlin that perfectly matched my personality.
Tinder’s built-in algorithm was matching me with people whose interests matched my own—technology, dive bars, art, and creative coding. Plus, once I started chatting with locals who were scattered across Berlin, they got to know me and offered up personalized suggestions for what I should do while in town. I was getting to tap into the insiders’ guide to Berlin, the type of information that doesn’t get put up online for just anyone to peruse. Travel tips that come from extended, lived-in experience.
I wasn't planning to actually go out with any of these people, but I couldn't tell them that. When Travel-Tindering, I learned that it’s best not to start the conversation blatantly asking for travel advice; when “what should I do here?” was my first question, people didn’t respond. You need a little honey to catch fly tips, so I changed tactics and started with casual, light-hearted conversation, mentioning the commonalities or things I noticed in their profile. When I inevitably mentioned that I was traveling, my matches were quick to offer suggestions of places to visit….and offers to accompany me. I decided to tell them, “omg thanks, I’ll let you know when I’m in the neighborhood,” rather than, “I’m here for the tips, and I already got a travel buddy, thanks y’all.” I only felt a little guilty.
Most dating apps include the unlikely but still plausible interaction of meeting just as friends. A fair amount of my “netflix and chill” dates have turned into “coffee and chill” platonic hangouts. There isn’t a wrong way to use Tinder, or any dating app, from an interaction design standpoint. A user can swipe left or right and chat about anything once they’re matched, then unmatch, report, and hide moments as necessary. The only way a user can specify what they are looking for is in their bio; there are are no design or UI elements stipulating “casual,” “relationships,” “friendships,” etc. Tinder isn’t defining what the relationship should or could be on Tinder, so in effect, anything goes. With Tinder's built-in geolocation, it makes sense, almost too much sense to use it like Yelp.
I’m not the only one to realize Tinder is as good for finding dinner recommendations as it is for finding sex. I asked Facebook if other friends had used Tinder this way. A handful replied, sending screenshots of interactions of “Hi, I’m in your town, what’s good to do?” questions they’d sent and received.
The app also offers a paid service that lets users swipe through and chat with people in far-flung locales; it’s called “Passport,” and seems specifically designed FOR traveling. Users can set multiple locations and swipe in those areas before physically being in that area. Why not line up a date before you visit a particular city or, at the very least, ask about its greatest dive bar?
I would not suggest using Travel-Tinder in real time to find a pizza place right here right now, because sometimes it takes users a while to answer. However, if you’re visiting a new city and feeling out of the loop on what to see and do, and want to know where locals actually hang out, then use Tinder. The app to make the planet a less lonely place works better than any Lonely Planet guide.
Caroline Sinders is an interactive artist, researcher, interaction designer and game designer based in Brooklyn and, occasionally, New Orleans.