A 24-year-old architecture student sets off on a journey this morning from Boston to San Francisco -- but she has no flights or trains booked and she's not taking a car or a bike.
Instead, intrepid traveler Lindsay Rule aims to find out whether social media can fuel her trip to the West Coast -- and whether it can get her there in two weeks. Armed with a 40-pound hiking backpack and an appetite for adventure, Rule plans to plot her course via the communal online channels provided by CouchSurfing.org, RideJoy.com, Craigslist and other sites. She'll essentially be soliciting rides from strangers and trying to spend as little money as possible -- it's hitchhiking in the digital age.
Her trip is being sponsored by Audi and has been dubbed "The Social Media Test Drive" -- part of a study by the German auto maker in how transportation is changing throughout the world.
"I thought about it long and hard and decided it sounded like an amazing challenge," said Rule, who grew up in Oklahoma City and attends the University of Pennsylvania. "I've actually never been to the West Coast, so getting to go to San Francisco is exciting."
Rule was recruited by Architizer, a social media site for architects, which is partnering with Audi in its experiment.
The first leg of Rule's journey begins tomorrow at the offices of H÷weler & Yoon architects on Lincoln Street. She plans to make her way to an MBTA commuter boat -- and from there, to wherever the social media winds may blow.
Social media is increasingly becoming a conduit for travel, with people organizing ride-share programs or offering warm beds and hot meals in exchange for odd jobs or even just as a good deed.
All this means that the time-honored tradition of individual travel -- a man in his car on the open road -- is now taking a backseat.
"We, of course, realize things are changing," said Annegret Maier, of the Audi Urban Future Initiative. "Sharing in mobility is getting more important. We are going to provide mobility instead of just providing cars."
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