By Ken Hegan for MSN Travel

How cheap could you travel around America?

A young psychology graduate, Ryan Dwyer, will soon find out. For the next three months, he’s travelling 12,000 miles (19,312 km) around the USA in his 1982 VW Westfalia camper van.

He’s going to see “many of the major American cities, sights, and historical points” for a total of $1,000. That’s just eleven bucks a day.

Unfortunately, Westfalias get feeble gas mileage. And the aged ’80s models tend to break down a lot. Dwyer’s fuel/repair bills alone could suck up his entire budget.

So Dwyer’s going to try an experiment. As he mentions in this post on Tnooz.com, to reduce his expenses, Dwyer will use 7 social media and ‘collaborative consumption’ services.

Via email, he said his goal is to “see if it is practical and sustainable to travel like this.” By using social media as a tool for connecting and sharing, he wants to see “whether people can use each other without abusing one another.

Here’s a picture of Dwyer and his Westfalia named Bernie.

Self-timer photo by Ryan Dwyer via Travelsocially.net

It’s an interesting social experiment. So below I’ve listed potential upsides and downsides to each of the seven social media sites Dwyer will be using:

1) Ridejoy

A ride-sharing service with the slogan “Share rides with friendly people”. Dwyer says Ridejoy’s website is “incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Sign in with your Facebook account and find rides in minutes.”

UPSIDE: You can dramatically cut your gas costs

DOWNSIDE: They’re called ‘strangers’ for a reason

2) Couchsurfing

Billed as “the world’s largest travel community,” Couchsurfing “helps you meet and adventure with new friends around the world.”  [Note: apparently ‘adventure’ is a verb now]

UPSIDE: Dwyer says it’s “a cultural exchange first, and free housing second.”

DOWNSIDE: The smell of other people’s socks…especially if you wake up to find them standing beside your couch and watching you sleep.

3) Airbnb

As their website says, Airbnb lets you “live like a local” in someone’s home. Dwyer says you can use Airbnb “to find housing rentals by the night.”

UPSIDE: Often cheaper than hotels. And it’s big fun to rummage through other people’s stuff and read their diaries.

DOWNSIDE: It’s not free like couch surfing. And as I wrote about here, you might be hosted “by some guy named Dre who owns the place and likes to keep it “immaculate”. He’ll likely be sleeping in the next room, too, which could interfere with my accidental sleepwalking night stabbings.”

4) Twigmore

As Dwyer says, “Why couch surf if you already have a friend who lives in town? This website shows you where you have connections, and hooks you up with friends and friends of friends who live in different cities.”

UPSIDE: A fun way to stay in touch with old friends around the world

DOWNSIDE: Not only do you have to make small talk with old acquaintances, now you have to make small talk with them in their newly adopted language.

5) Meetup

A site that helps you enjoy activities with people who like the exact same things you do.

UPSIDE: As Dwyer describes it, “this group connects people who can meet up based on mutual interests…I will use this site to spice up my travels whenever I get bored.”

DOWNSIDE: The people you meet could like the activity more than they like you. For example: I like film noir movies with lots of deception, blood, and plot twists where the character’s best friend turns out to be his worst enemy. So if I make friends at a film noir meetup, I’d be foolish to trust any of them.

6) Gogobot

Voted one of the 50 best websites of 2011 by TIME magazine, Gogobot helps you plan your trip based on reviews of people who are a lot like you…and NOT based on opinions of anonymous strangers who may like what you hate, and hate what you like.

UPSIDE: It’s free. And as Gogobot’s site says, “We believe the best advice comes from people you trust – people like you – and not from anonymous strangers on the internet.”

DOWNSIDE: Sometimes it’s better to throw caution to the wind, arrive in a town you know nothing about, and talk to the first stranger you run into.

7) Elance

Billed as the “World’s Leading Site for Online Work,” Elance helps freelance professionals find work. It lists thousands of job postings that can be done remotely while travelling in a camper van. All you need is a computer and Internet access.

UPSIDE: Dwyer says “I am going to use this site to do freelance writing and editing work to make some extra cash.”

DOWNSIDE: Dwyer plans to find editing work, but on his blog, he makes a grammatical error in his introductory sentence (I’ve bolded the error): “I am going drive around the US in a VW bus for almost free using the internet and collaborative consumption.”

[Note: I know I’m a jerk for pointing this out but it’s also standard to capitalize the I in Internet.]

8) Craigslist

A wonderful online service that, alas, has helped kill the newspaper industry by offering classified ads for free.

As Dwyer says, “there are other services that specialize in certain things like ride sharing…but Craigslist has strength in numbers. I will use Craigslist as a backup for anything else I might need.”

UPSIDE: Casual encounters. It gets lonely on the road.

DOWNSIDE: Craigslist is such a dull looking site, it makes me want to carve out my eyes. And you can’t drive a VW van very far with carved-out eyes, my friend. Trust me on this. Scientists have done studies on it.

At any rate, here’s wishing good fortune and safe travels to the intrepid Mr. Dwyer. I imagine he’ll bring back a lifetime of great stories.

What do you think…could you survive for 3 months on $11 a day?

— Ken Hegan

For more info or to reach Ryan Dwyer, visit travelsocially.net

Read all Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

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