I became a traveller around about the same time that travel guide books lost relevancy. A handful of travel books still line my bookshelves for old time's sake, but I have largely ditched printed travel media and all the dog-earing of pages that goes with them, in favour of websites, apps, and interactive maps.
One effort I've been exploring, Wanderfly, is a free web app and Chrome app that works like an online travel book for recommendations of things to do, eat, and see while travelling. It's unlike TripAdvisor or other travel review websites, and more similar to Tripomatic or Stay.com, services that help you build personal "city guides" and itineraries. Wanderfly looks much more artfully designed than both Stay.com and Tripomatic, but it doesn't have as many useful features.
When you sign up for Wanderfly, you must create an account using either a Google account ID or your Facebook credentials. I would much prefer to see an option to create an account using any old email address, as I like to protect some of my other accounts from interacting with outside sites and services.
Throughout my time using the site, I had repeated moments like this when I felt worried because I didn't know how my data might be used or what privacy protection I could put in place for myself.
For example, as you create a profile, there's no indication if this profile will be public (it is, and there's no option to change it) or private, or if you have any control over who can see it.
In building your profile, you'll be asked to name some qualities of a trip that appeal to you: Adventure, luxury, culture, art, and so forth. These preferences are used to populate a list of people you will "follow," and to suggest places you might want to travel.
Wanderfly automatically starts you down the path of following perhaps dozens of users it recommends, which I was again uncomfortable seeing.
The main thrust of Wanderfly is to search for your next holiday destination, and you begin by ticking off new or different qualities if you so choose, as well as toggling an expense estimator to reign you in from daydreaming too long about a trip you can't afford. One problem with the expense estimator is it's not clear exactly what's included in the price. Is it accounting for accommodation only, or accommodation and airfare from my home city (indicated in my profile)? You can also set a limit for the number of days you'll be travelling, and type in a specific region to further narrow your search results, too.
A search for a £1,000, four-night trip somewhere adventuresome, deemed "essential" by other travellers, and with good food enticed me towards Cusco, Peru, the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, Marrakesh, Morocco, and a few other places both near and far. These results seemed more randomly generated than based on my terms, and that's in part because they're generated by other users and how they tag locations.
Pick a destination, and Wanderfly pulls up a list of local places to see, eat or drink at, and have fun visiting, again with user generated information about all of them. When you come across a place you might like, you can save it to your account.
What you can’t do is plan what day or time you'll visit these places. At least Wanderfly supplies an interactive Google map to help you plot out what's nearby.
A few other features include modules for searching out flights and hotels, which open in another window as a Wanderfly-branded hotel reservation search aggregation site. To confirm and pay for a hotel, you'll have to link through to yet another website, but the aggregation tool is nevertheless helpful to have on hand for doing a true cost estimate.
After I had explored a few possible destinations and saved more specific recommendations of where to visit once I arrived, I wanted to navigate back to a view that showed all of my saved destinations – and that proved tricky. After a little trial-and-error, I found I could click on my user name at the very top right of the screen to find this rather essential page. Seeing as saving destinations and suggested itineraries is the heart of the app, I was expecting that link to be more prominent and more obviously labelled.
Wanderfly provides yet another interesting take on online, interactive, social travel guides, but it is ultimately not a whole lot more useful than a traditional travel book. Until it can help you create day-by-day itineraries – and provide adequate tools or at least more information about what is private and public on the site – you're better off using Stay.com, even though it's not as smart looking.