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 youd expect from a typical travel Web site.
But Spuds Travels, www.interlog.com/~chapman, a site documenting the global
gallivanting of a plastic potato head, is far from typical. Its 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.
Id compiled a mountain of photographs of Spud in different
places over the years, says Spuds 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 Bettys Travel Kiosk,
share all the things that have done me well over the years and help
people avoid mistakes I have made. Winsetts 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
Matts Travel Journal, www.qantm.com.au/ext/mclarkson, resembles Winsetts in
appearancehandy links, suggestions, destination narrativesbut
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 honestlyperhaps even disparaginglyabout 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
Even traditional, profit-motivated sites are beginning to appreciate
the value of consumer-created content. Many, including
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: Theres 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 dont go through a fact-checking process, which is
standard with professionally written stories. Theres 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 youre 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, youll be
staying abreast of a certain potato heads love life.