Nothing says â€œwish you were hereâ€ like the multimedia blitz known as travelogue websites: do-it-yourself electro-diaries that offer features, including maps and video clips, with specific appeal to travelers.
The sites provide you with a unique URL address where you can upload photos and write about your adventures – while you’re on the road or safely back at home. Relatives and friends can then go to the site and catch up on your latest adventure.
We took a look at three of the more popular sites and compared their ease of use, appearance and cost.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: So it’s a little peppy (â€œSnap it, Map it, Share it!â€ screams the header), but using the site to create a travelogue is as easy as picking a username for it. That user ame will also be part of the URL where your readers will head. The site, which launched this year, is free for noncommercial use; monthly fees range from US$29.95 to $89.95 if you include promotional or commercial material.
PROCESS: We registered, supplying a username, password and email address. Then we named and logged our first diary entry. Total elapsed time: about two minutes. Each diary entry has a headline, a text box and an option to attach photos, voice clips or videos (hosted by YouTube.com). We used the cartography feature to add a map to the entry.
WHAT WE LIKE: There’s an RSS feed option, meaning that readers can sign up for email alerts to let them know when you update your site. You can also control who can see – and comment on – your blog. It’s simple and uncluttered and definitely rivals writing home the old-fashioned way.
CAVEATS: There’s no spell-check option. Ads run along the right side of the page and are tied to key words in the diary. If your computer doesn’t have an embedded microphone, you’ll need a headphone set to attach audio via the voice clip feature.
BOTTOM LINE: We’d use the site, especially for long trips.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Formed in 1997, Travelpod claims to be a â€œproud founder of travel blogs on the web.â€ It has plenty going for it, but we were turned off by the market research-esque registration process: Personal information such as sex, age, nationality and marital status is requested. The basic service is free; for $39.95 a year, posters can disable ad displays and add a password protection feature.
PROCESS: Once again, our login name was part of the URL. To write a travelogue, we selected a trip ID and a title and wrote a welcoming message. You can choose what sort of guest options you’d like (we opted to let guests leave comments), as well as a map style (classic or satellite) and a photo-by-way-of-cellphone option, good for posting on-the-fly snaps.
WHAT WE LIKE: The spell-checker is a top feature, as are the italics, bold and underline options. You can preview your page to catch any typos and create an email list to send updates. It can take a while to go through the process of posting, but there’s an â€œupdate expressâ€ option that’s great for when the clock’s ticking at an internet cafe.
CAVEATS: Only those with enhanced membership can limit public access to their travelogues. You’ll either love or despise the Support My Travels option, which you can use to elicit travel funds from friends and family members. Pages are busy and prominently feature advertising.
BOTTOM LINE: This site is definitely a contender.
FIRST IMPRESSION: The image of an open road on the homepage made us want to travel immediately. We opted for a free account; a premium account, which includes unlimited image uploads, 100MB of image storage, custom maps and a message board, is $12.95 a year. Again, member names serve as site addresses.
PROCESS: Although it was a free account, our billing address was required in order to sign up. Next, we could either write a travelogue or browse others written about the same destination. We clicked on the â€œpublishâ€ button at the top to enter text and upload photos; when we entered the destination city for our travelogue, a relevant map appeared. On subsequent logins, we followed a prompt to enter in three cities: where we’d been, where we were now and where we were headed.
WHAT WE LIKE: You can email a TrekVite to alert friends about updates. You can put together a list of TrekTips, which can be saved to your website or posted anonymously on Trekshare.com, which was founded in 2000 and claims to have 25,000-plus members. For $4.95, you can purchase a zip file of your travelogues and photos, download it to your computer or burn it to a CD to give to friends.
CAVEATS: Member pages are a confounding mess of lists, maps, chat logs and links to ads. Every sign-in leads to a prompt to update Where I’m At, which is a pain. Only premium members can save high-resolution images and upload movies.
BOTTOM LINE: This site won’t be replacing our handwritten notes home anytime soon. (WP/AMcD)