Sunday, November 20, 2005

Changing Web Resources

I just discovered (mostly to my dismay) that three of my favorite sites for general travel research on the web have made changes:

The New York Times
This site has eliminated the link to travel information from one of the guidebook sites (Frommer's or Fodor's, I don't recall which). Obviously, this doesn't bother me - I seldom found anything of interest through that link and didn't use it.

If you haven't looked at the New York Times travel section, I recommend you try it. You have to register to access it, but registration is free and they really won't email you a bunch of crap you don't want. They have added an annoying full-screen pop-up ad that is the first thing you see when you go into the site, but aside from that, this is a great site. The archives goes back to the early 1980s, it is easy to search, has a printer-friendly format available, and covers a wide variety of interests and budgets.

Conde Nast Traveler
I've subscribed to this magazine for years and have always had mixed feelings about their web site. Before this change, I thought they had it set up about as well as I could expect. Now I'm not sure what to think.

I haven't spent enough time playing with the new site to have a feel for how many of their magazine articles they are actually posting, but the number seems to have gone down - or maybe they are just harder to find once you've thrown out your old magazines. (Posted articles go back through 2001, but it never has included all articles.) I searched for articles on Machu Picchu and Peru a couple of different ways and actually came up with more articles when searching for Machu Picchu than I got by searching for Peru. Botswana shows up in the article search, but isn't even listed in the destination guide. Go figure.

In other ways the new site design appears to be more user-friendly. When I start seriously planning next summer's trip to Europe I'll have a better feel for whether or not that is true.

Here's what mystifies my about operations like Conde Nast Traveler: I've subscribed to the magazine almost since it's inception, so why can't I use that subscriber number to access ALL the magazine's content on the web? The stuff posted tends to be heavy on lists of the world's most expensive hotels and golf courses and light on the really funky travel writing that that I love. It bugs me that I still have to tear pieces out of the magazine if I want to be able to reread them in the future.

Of course, Conde Nast is light years ahead of most magazines. Take a look at Islands, which makes only a tiny fraction of it's articles available on the web. Again, why can't magazine subscribers access everything on the web?

Note to traditional magazines: GIVE ME A REASON TO GO TO YOUR WEBSITE. While I'm there looking for an article from an issue I tossed two years ago, I'll probably click on some advertising link or another. But trust me, I'm not going to go to the web site just to see your sponsored links and paid ads.

Lonely Planet
I've used LP a lot to get a feel for a place early in my travel planning and as an easy spot to pull up basic info. The old site had a tremendous amount of well-organized, easy to find, and really useful information available for free. Now the World Guide section has, in effect, been rendered worthless, with no destination-specific information to speak of (they have a couple of sentences that you have to navigate around just to get to). It is very disappointing.

On the other hand, they still have the Thorn Tree up and running. Although it can be time-consuming to wade through, this is a great resource. The quality of the info varies, but by reading through it a bit I usually can tell if I would feel the same way as the respondent or the opposite. And I have yet to think up a question that someone else hasn't already asked.

It mystifies me as to why LP made this change. Their World Guide section was always the first place I went when I started to noodle a travel idea. While there, I'd usually check some of the other stuff available, including their selection of publications. I'd still buy the guide I think best for my particular destination and type of travel (sometimes LP, sometimes not), but now I won't be looking at their site to see what they might have available that isn't already on the shelf at my local library or bookstore.

I'm also mystified as to why companies like LP don't put EVERYTHING on the web, keep it updated, and then change an minimal annual web subscription rate (say $30) to have access to it. I'd subscribe. And if I were planning a multi-day trip to, say, Paris and LP had a good guidebook to Paris, I'd still want a copy of the book. I really don't see how they'd lose.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Europe Next Summer: Paris

My parents were here the other weekend to celebrate Christmas before heading south for the winter. We spent much of the time planning a summer trip to Europe - a trip I anticipate with a fair amount of trepidation.

My father served in the US army in Berlin after the end of WWII and before construction of the wall. Evidently it was a great experience, as he always speaks fondly of Berlin and is always eager to return there. Now there are regular reunions in Berlin for the US military personnel who served there. He attended one a couple of years ago and wants to attend another next year.

They have asked my husband and me to join them for some European travel before the reunion.

Traditionally, this task should fall to the elder of my two brothers. He too was stationed in Germany in the military and actually took our parents on a European tour in the mid-80s while he was living there. He also stays with and travels with them regularly, something I have not done since I was 19 - a long time ago.

Despite the trepidation, I am mostly looking forward to it. It could be a dreadful experience for all involved, but it also could be really good. I'm working hard to improve the odds that it will be good.

Which brings us to Paris.

For more than a year now my mother has been insisting that any trip to Berlin for my dad has to include a trip to Paris for her. Paris? My mother wants to go to Paris? Why? My father says he would like to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and that Versailles would be nice too because the treaty that ended WWI and led to WWII was signed there. My mother just says "I want to go to Paris."

So we are going to Paris. In August.

I'm taking notes if anyone knows of a lovely quaint lodging located in a charming and convenient neighborhood - oh , and it needs to have air conditioning.

What have I gotten myself into?