The Strange World of Facebook Travel Groups

International travel has taken a hit over the past few years. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, 2020 was the worst year on record for global tourism. 2021 was another challenging year and 2022 is when things started turning round. After a total loss of $2.6 trillion in tourism revenues between 2020-2022, tourism is on track for a full recovery.

Yay! So while solo travel is the preferred method of travel for many globetrotters, sometimes you want a travel buddy or two to tag along. Maybe your friends are busy at work, can’t get time off or just don’t want to go to the far-off exotic places you have in mind. So, what now? Enter the Facebook Travel Group.

In a far corner of Facebook are groups that ostensibly exist for people to find travel buddies. They’re generally named with some kind of variation of Find a Travel Buddy, I Need A Travel Buddy or Looking for a Travel Buddy, and while some of these groups have enabled people to share information, recommendations and even successfully brought people together, it can be a minefield to navigate. Intentions, it seems, are blurred. Often in these groups, people post photos of themselves, explaining their travel plans, requesting recommendations and asking if anyone else is available during that time.

Woman on Facebook travel group asking for travel recommendations
Asking for travel recommendations.

While the idea of asking strangers on the internet to travel with you might raise some eyebrows, some of the photos people present of themselves might do the same. People looking for travel buddies often post photos in what could be described as suggestive in manner. And while it could be argued there’s nothing wrong with this if the poster feels it’s a good way to find a travel buddy, it does raise some some questions, asked by fellow members.

In the posts below, one person is looking for a travel buddy to join her in Bali. The next is asking for travel suggestions and if anyone would like to join her at Anna Maria Island. And another is offering a free stay at a one bedroom apartment with a sea view in South Cyprus, claiming that he just enjoys meeting people from around the world and introducing them to the island. One commenter expresses her interest but then, perhaps appropriately, wonders why he is advertising his bare chest.

A member of a Facebook travel group looking for a travel buddy
Anyone for Bali?
A member of a Facebook travel group looking for suggestions and potential travel buddies
A travel enthusiast looking for travel buddies to join her at Anna Maria Island.
Member of a Facebook travel group offering free accommodation.
Free private accommodation in Cyprus. No catch? Hmmm.
Comment on a Facebook travel group, questioning why someone is advertising their bare chest.
Appropriate question?

Some people may just be looking for Instagram followers; a potential variation of the common Tinder profile, “I’m not on here much, find me on Insta.” Others could be looking for customers to join a paid holiday excursion run by their own travel company. And some could be looking to earn affiliate commissions by promoting travel agency products. The possibilities run far and wide.

Post by a user in a Facebook travel group, mentioning her Instagram profile
A would-be traveller dropping their Instagram handle
A poster on a Facebook travel group looking for people to join her on a trip to Egypt
Looking for people to join a trip to Egypt as a group leader.

But while this might be a slight frustration that groups dedicated to finding travel buddies are being used for commercial purposes, things are about to get a lot weirder. As part of our investigation to dig deeper into the motivations of certain users, we followed up on people’s offers to travel together. And we came across some ‘interesting’ proposals.

A user on a Facebook travel group claiming they are a 25 year old woman whose ID got hacked and is using their brother's ID.
Seems legit…

The individual above would have us believe he is in fact Katherine, a 25 year old from Norway whose ID got hacked and is using her brother’s profile. Not exactly inspiring us with confidence. And if his assertion was questionable enough to begin with, doubts continue to surface as he is seen replying to his own posts.

A user in a Facebook travel group replying to his own post.
It’s not often you see a person requesting a DM from themselves.

Other users like to post about various tourist locations without requesting buddies to travel with. Innocent enough it seems. But a closer look makes one wonder.

A user in a Facebook travel group posting about Milan Cathedral.
A Facebook user posting a photo of herself in front of Milan Cathedral

In the above picture a Facebook user posts about Milan Cathedral. One may notice the high engagement, likes and comments, many of which are full of praise for her appearance. But a closer look at her profile raises some questions. Why would she have the username “suresh.********”?

A user on a Facebook travel group with a name that doesn't match their username.
A Western female with a non-Western male username.

Maybe she simply likes the name. We can’t rule that out. But there are other possibilities too. Maybe the account has been hacked and is being used to post on travel groups for malicious purposes. Or perhaps the account is fake.

But if whoever is behind the account has made a slip up, take a look at the next person. Initially the Facebook user below posted what appeared to be an innocent request to meet new friends. We decided to do some checks and would advise anyone else to do the same before embarking on a trip with someone you meet on the internet.

A user on a Facebook travel group hoping to meet new friends.
Hoping to meet new friends.

We got in touch with her, asking what her travel plans were, and almost immediately alarm bells went off. People of course speak in a variety of ways, but we couldn’t help but notice her overly formal manner of speaking: “Dear sir, thank you for the greeting”.

A Facebook message to someone proposing travel plans on a Facebook travel group
Dear sir….

Piquing our suspicious, we decided to look further into her profile and noticed that she looked VERY different in 2019.

Image of a Facebook user looking very different in 2019.
Looking very different in 2019.

Now we can’t say for sure whether the individual pictured above is running the Facebook profile. It could be that photo was acquired elsewhere, unbeknownst to the individual pictured, and was used for other purposes in 2019. Perhaps the profile was hacked and renamed. The point is, if you’re really looking for travel buddies using Facebook groups, it’s important to do your due diligence. If you notice any red flags, it’s probably better to take a step back and evaluate the situation. Below is a post by an individual offering to pay for a flight to Kerala and 5-star accommodation. When we challenged him on his offer, the post was immediately deleted.

An individual on a Facebook travel group offering to pay for flights and accommodation
If there are red flags, it’s worth taking a step back and evaluating one’s offer.

There comes a point when one’s ability to be deceptive is so bad that it’s almost funny (if it wasn’t so sad). Say hello to the below individuals. Here is a post from one of them enquiring if anyone wants to join her on a trip to Belgium.

A user on a Facebook travel group looking for a travel buddy.
Anyone for Belgium?

We messaged the user, expressing an interest to travel with her to Belgium, and once again almost immediately noticed red flags. She became very poetic, stating that “Life is truly magnificent, full of countless possibilities to live joyfully, dance passionately, appreciate the beauty it has to offer and embrace its grandeur.” That’s good to know but we were more interested in your travel plans and didn’t really need a ChatGPT-inspired attempt at articulating the beauty of existence. Even funnier, after some questions about the next person’s travel plans, they even suggested that we could be lovers. Because that’s exactly what you suggest to a random stranger on the internet, right!?

Messages on Facebook by someone supposedly looking for a travel buddy
How poetic…
Message from a user on a Facebook travel group expressing the possibility of establishing a romance
Another one of the many red flags found on Facebook travel groups.

As we continue to express interest in traveling with the user, the real reason soon reveals itself. She claims to have paid half the cost of a trip and is now expecting us to pay the other half.

A user from a Facebook travel group asking for payment for a shared trip
Another huge red flag. One shouldn’t make payments requested from people they don’t know.

To some the prospect of traveling with a buddy, particularly when the buddy posts suggestive photos of themselves and proposes the possibility of a romance, can cloud people’s judgement. The risk is that you can find yourself with a lighter wallet and no travel buddy to boot. Red flags abound on Facebook travel groups and it’s worthwhile to exercise caution. While some people have used these groups to successfully travel with like-minded globetrotters, it’s also worth considering alternative options such as open trips with reputable travel companies that have sufficient reviews to make an informed judgement on their services. If you receive a message like the one below, maybe it’s better to block and move on.

Comment from a user of a Facebook travel group, sharing their details and phone number.
Maybe it’s better to block and move on…

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