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Electronic 
Explorer


Easter Island

Art by John Flaming

Spud had always looked forward to visiting the bustling city of La Paz. At 12,800 feet [3,901 meters] above sea level, the highest capital city in the world had many surprises in store. It was at the market where their eyes met. Spud noticed her while buying a talisman...her full red lips pouting. Collagen injections or not, those lips longed for kissing.

Not exactly the fare you’d expect from a typical travel Web site. But Spud’s Travels, www.interlog.com/~chapman, a site documenting the global gallivanting of a plastic potato head, is far from typical. It’s one of a growing number of personal travel Web pages that contain no professional travel writing or advertising and exist solely as vehicles for individuals to relate their journeys, photos, and advice.

Most amateur Webmasters created their sites for self-fulfillment. “I’d compiled a mountain of photographs of Spud in different places over the years,” says Spud’s Travels creator Timm Chapman. “I was too cheap to spring for 8 x 10 enlargements and frames, so I elected to jump onto the information superhighway and share the photos with the world.”

Betty Winsett, a 75-year-old retired high school teacher and photographer, started Betty’s Travel Kiosk, www.afn.org/~afn11300, to “share all the things that have done me well over the years and help people avoid mistakes I have made.” Winsett’s Web site is unspectacular (useful travel tips, details on travelers’ illnesses, a list of travel insurance firms, and links to health agencies and to the U.S. Customs Service), though there is a quirky account of a trip to Antarctica.

Matt’s Travel Journal, www.qantm.com.au/ext/mclarkson, resembles Winsett’s in appearance—handy links, suggestions, destination narratives—but speaks from the mind of 24-year-old Australian budget traveler Matthew Clarkson, and also represents a view largely absent from mainstream travel journalism. Of Israel, he says: “The hostels in Tel Aviv made me feel the same way as I felt in London: lonely and depressed. Maybe it has something to do with the large number of desperate travelers looking for work, which intimidates me.”

Why would travelers want to read through the raw, unedited summaries of ordinary travelers whose literary musings would likely be rejected by travel magazines? “Users feel connected with the content because someone real created it,” notes Aram Sinnreich, an Internet analyst at Jupiter Communications, a research company that tracks Internet travel. And unpaid voyeurs are more likely to write honestly—perhaps even disparagingly—about a destination. “That may hurt the place in the short run, but it boosts credibility for a site in the long term,” says Chris Elliott, a travel commentator for CNN.com.

Even traditional, profit-motivated sites are beginning to appreciate the value of consumer-created content. Many, including www.away.com and www.travel-library.com, give readers the opportunity to post their personal journeys online.

While there are no statistics on the actual number of personal travel Web sites, the number is growing, and Sinnreich expects the proliferation of consumer-created content to accelerate as more consumers become Web savvy.

A caveat: There’s a lot of useless and badly written stuff out there. Consumer-created content also varies widely in accuracy. Travelers should verify information with other travelogues, Web sites, guidebooks, or travel agents.

Away.com, which mixes members’ travelogues and photo essays with professional content, monitors personal postings for profanity and guerrilla marketing tactics, but nothing else; personal travelogues don’t go through a fact-checking process, which is standard with professionally written stories. “There’s just not time to go through it all,” says site spokesperson Juli Klyce. The stories are posted to “give people a chance to communicate with other people who have been to a destination, perhaps more recently than [the author of] the latest guidebook.”

So if you’re seeking a break from conventional travel sites, surf through the unpredictable world of self-made cyber travel gurus, made possible by the ease and low cost of Internet publishing. From these quirky, deeply personal, and sometimes atrociously written travelogues, one can always find a laugh, a few good tips, and occasionally a valuable insight. At the very least, you’ll be staying abreast of a certain potato head’s love life.

—John Briley

John Briley is a writer based in Washington, D.C., who just realized what to do with all his old travel photos.
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