Amanda Hirsch

Freelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her column, Outside the Frame.

With the economy in the toilet, many Americans will be skipping their summer vacations this year — but thanks to Twitter, the opportunities to experience other people’s travels vicariously are greater than ever.

Think of Twitter as a real-time, on-demand travel documentary, with the search feature delivering any kind of adventure you want, anytime.

For example: Craving your very own European vacation?

“People watching at an outdoor Cafe in Paris” – Twitter user VonMessick, from Michigan

“Love the gregarious nature of the Irish. You can get into the most interesting conversations with just about anyone here.” -TravelSavvyKayt, a freelancer writer and mom based in Germany

“Heading through sublime Don Quixote countryside today…the real Spain! The most olive trees you’ll ever see too! Love this drive.” -soultravelers3, a family of three that’s been traveling the globe since 2006

Maybe you’re craving a little bonding time with Mother Nature:

“island hopping in Galapagos. snorkeled with sea lions. Sweet!” -00sas00, a self-described “control systems geek” from Australia

“joel and i are hiking along the bottom of a river canyon. its after 10 at night…full light! good night alaska:)” -danielriem, a youth pastor from Illinois

The beach at Kauai“Beautiful day on the North Shore of Kauai. Pali Ke Kua view.” – sharts02, Kauai resident (photo at left)

Or perhaps you prefer glimpses of quirk:

“Wondering who in Honduras thought it would be a good idea to make liquor from lettuce-one of the odder things I’ve seen in souvenir shop.” -umarket, a couple from Prague on “creative sabbatical”

“3-story tall paul bunyan winked at me, waved and shook his head. He actually said ‘groin.’ And his Babe is anatomically correct. Crazy” -jamieortiz, biker and public relations professional from San Diego

Or maybe your motivations are more sinister — maybe you want other people’s travel disasters to make you feel better about your own “staycation”:

“Floor of internet cafe in Gracias, Honduras covered in brown beetle/cockroach looking bugs. Time to head out-hope hotel room isn’t the same.” -umarket

“Raccoons raided bike bags last night. stole 2 energy bars, bag of rice and beans. Smart guys- unzipped them but left foot prints on towel” -jamieortiz

…Though, of course, some disasters have happy endings:

“Just got rained on big time! Trekked thru a bunch of mud, then were rewarded with hot toddies!” -zanychacha, a “techno-data junkie” and artist from the Washington, DC area

And then, there’s the summer vacation of a lifetime — the following tweets come from astronaut Mike Massimino, who wrote them while in orbit:
Astronaut Mike Massimino

“The stars at night in space do not twinkle, they look like perfect points of light and I can clearly see the milky way galaxy”

“Flying over the Pacific Ocean at night there were some thunder storms, it is so cool to see lightning go off below the clouds”

“Night pass over Australia, the city lights give stunning signs of life on our planet within the darkness of nighttime”

Signs of life — that’s what Twitter boils down to, really; shout-outs from every corner of the universe. Who knows why we do it — why we take the time, mid-experience, to document it electronically. Is it narcissism? Addiction to our electronic devices? Or are we motivated by a desire to share our experiences with others? How similar is the impulse to tweet, to the impulse to document our lives in other formats — written memoirs, or first-person documentary films?

Share your thoughts below — or tweet them to me. You can find me at, documenting my life, bit by bit.

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Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.