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Subscribe to the Travel Notes Blog Travel Notes: Travel Notes Blog: February 2007

Spanish Language Schools

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

At Travel Notes, we get a number of website submissions from language schools; most of them for learning Spanish. Unfortunately, we don't list them all and sometimes it's hard to explain why one was listed and another not.

I was therefore intrigued when we were asked to review 123TeachMe - a Spanish Language Schools Directory.

The colour scheme of the website looks a little passive and some of the clip art in the Matching Game is a bit naff, but by moving the words across to the 'graphics' I did learn a few new Spanish words.

While billed as a 'Spanish Language Schools Directory', there's plenty of practical help for those wishing to learn Spanish online; from Beginner Spanish Lessons to Intermediates.

Looking at the directory again, schools are supposedly sorted by location and activity.

The location part is easy enough but I found the 'activity' section rather confusing; especially as when I clicked through to a few of the websites I didn't see much about the 'keyword' activities they claimed to offer.

Some of the websites 123TeachMe list, we definitely wouldn't have linked to; like the 'one page' on a Fortune City free webspace. And for one of the schools in Paraguay, the link went to Lonely Planet.

I was wondering how schools went about getting themselves listed and eventually found out in the FAQ section. I also learnt that some 'language school' websites were fronts for sales agents.

No wonder we get so many language school submissions to Travel Notes. And maybe that's why we don't list them all. Something just doesn't feel right when we read the details on our submission form, or visit the so-called language school webite; although 123TeachMe claim that 'it is often impossible for a student to differentiate between the website of a legitimate language school and the website of a sales agent'.

I hope for your sake that we can, otherwise try 123TeachMe.com.


Celebrating The Best in Travel Blogging

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Things move fast in Blogosphere, so fast that once something is announced, and a 'ripple of buzz' is created, it's already over; lest the blogging attention span is gone, or worse - the spammers arrive.

No sooner had Chicago-based Mark Ashley, of Upgrade Travel Better, announced (during the headline-grabbing, build up to the award-ceremony season for performing artists - The Oscars and Grammys) that he would create The Travvies....... than nominations had closed.

You had to travel there fast to make the list, or have a loyal fan with an ear to the ground to touchdown in time and nominate you.

The 2007 Travvies Timetable
Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
Announcement of intent: 'Any travel blog that existed in 2006 and that generated at least 52 posts in 2006 is open for consideration. The primary focus of blogs should be on some aspect of travel'.

One post a week would have made a travel site eligible.

Monday, February 5th, 2007
Nominations begin, from the general public; where readers could 'post their nominations for the appropriate category via the comments section of the post announcing that category'.

Monday, February 12th, 2007
Nominations are closed.

So What Happens Now?

'A panel of invited judges will investigate and select their top 3 selections in each category. The five blogs in each category that are most often chosen by the judges as finalists will be presented as the finalists for each respective category. Judges have been invited on the basis of their expertise in travel, media, and web culture. To prevent conflict of interest, no one who themselves writes a travel blog can serve as a judge. To prevent "tampering," the judges' names will be announced along with the finalists, not before'.

Finalists will be announced on February 21, and voting will begin immediately via an online poll.

Polling closes February 28 at 6pm, Chicago time (CST).
The winner in each category will be the finalist who receives the most votes from the general public.

Winners will be announced on March 2nd.

As there's often a lot of media speculation and comment on the merits of the performers nominated for 'Oscars' and 'Grammys', here at Travel Notes we'll be doing the same with the 2007 Travvies.

And the categories are......

Best Travel Blog:
'As the overall winner, this award will go to a blog whose travel-related writings have been consistently interesting, entertaining, useful, well-written, or otherwise worth spending time reading'.

Best Destination Blog:
'This award celebrates the best travel blog focusing on particular destinations — cities, countries, whatever. Quality writing and/or photography that make you want to book a flight to that location'.

Best Informative/Practical Travel Blog:
This award goes to a travel blog that provides news, commentary, advice, or general insight into the workings of travel. Unlike a destination blog, this blog is more practically minded.

Best Group-Written Travel Blog:
'This award celebrates travel blogs consistently written by two or more authors, regardless of subtopic'.

Best Single-Author Travel Blog:
This award celebrates the best travel blog writing by a single blogger. Again, the topic is open, as long as there is only one regular poster.

Best Photography on a Travel Blog:
'Some blogs focus more on the visuals than the writing. This award celebrates the best in visual media on a travel blog'.I know blog entries usually start with new posts at the top but as this is the introduction index it's posted, for effect, after the reviews.

The reviews will follow down from here in reverse order: so that we post the review you'll hopefully be reading last, first - that's if you read the whole review in a linear fashion.


Best Photography on a Travel Blog

The Official Travel Notes Blog

2007 Travvies Nominations: Best Photography on a Travel Blog

Some blogs focus more on the visuals than the writing. This award celebrates the best in visual media on a travel blog.
Posted in order of nomination.

Exposed Planet: RSS
Not a photo a day here, rather Harry Kikstra's collection of landscapes, mountains and South America. Starting from the image on the index page, you have to work backwards or click on one of the categories. As Harry is a mountaineer, he gets up to the places that not many people go. Too many close-ups of faces though.

Michael Simon On The Road:
New York City to South America overland. The photographs are too linear for my liking and lacking in descriptions. Some editing and better use of the material would have helped. Since this has been moved from blogger to its own domain, Michael needs to get into his document source and correct the feed URLs in the head tag.

Notes From The Road: RSS
There is some excellent use of compelling photography as background images, blending into introductions to various regions. There's a lot of content around the site in general. Using links in the RSS feed is not so compelling though; especially as some of the different feed headlines linked to the same article.

Fred Miranda:
An overall stylish presentation from Digital Darkroom, presenting their 'weekly assignment' winners together with product reviews. There were over 1,000 'photographers' online when I looked - some 400 of them registered members. Each snippet links to the other entries in the assignment (viewable to guests) but non-members can't access the WA board and there's no RSS feed. Not really devoted to travel but more to photography with some images that could be considered travel-related.

lifevicarious - pixelpost: RSS
I'm afraid a 'daily photograph' with technical camera details and no further comment does little for me; unless the images are outstanding. And these are not.

The DC Traveller: RSS
I'm on cable modem and the loading of this site caused my browser to hang. Nice and clean enough, except for the flashing new message and cheap smiley ads, but nothing special. Use the RSS feed if you want your browser to load faster.

My Travel Backpack: RSS
User-submitted photos of themselves, or friends, standing in a scenic setting. This is followed by details about the 'pack' and a location map of where the photo was taken. Seems like a unique concept and the site is clean. Sadly, someting was wrong with the image paths and they didn't show up in the Feedburner feeds.

Melody's Travel Blog: RSS
Illustrated adventures in Goa and Singapore but it doesn't look like there's enough posts there to make the cut. The place was quiet for almost a year before the nomination; two posts since then.

Let's Visit Asia: RSS
Like the DC Traveller, this is another b5media production and a browser-hanging website waiting for cheap ads to load on the main page, so use the RSS feed for best results.

Select World Travel
They may have 'won a couple of travel agent awards' but they shouldn't really be in contention for this one. Too many glossy, promotional campaigns (obviously not created by themselves) and not enough real visual stimulation.

Flickr Blog: RSS
Content supplied by the snap-happy community in a major way. Being the 'online photo management and sharing application of choice', for a large cross-section of the blogging world, images are not hard to come by; some of them really very good. But it's what Flickr do with them on their blog that should count, in my opinion.

True Flavour Memories: RSS
'A blog by Donald Woo, co-founder of Trufflers (Thai boutique travel host); about living, travelling and eating' [in Thailand]. May be to your taste, if you like a glaring pink frame around every picture. Their attempt at branding with every image distracts the eye from what it should be looking at.

Flight Level 390: RSS
Sorry if my bleary eyes are getting to me but this is nothing more than a blog with some very average pictures on it. Fly over there at your peril.

Final Verdict

We all know what Flickr is great for and My Travel Backpack is a nice concept.

But in my opinion, Notes From The Road edges slightly ahead

Labels: ,

Best Single-Author Travel Blog

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Best Single-Author Travel Blog

This award celebrates the best travel blog writing by a single blogger. Again, the topic is open, as long as there is only one regular poster.
With some 70 nominations, and a few coming in after the nominations had closed, this is a popular section and will take some serious reviewing to make the deadline I've set.

Posted in order of nomination.

View From The Wing: RSS
Plenty of useful information for jet travellers looking for a little 'flyer talk', along with some use of images but not really a contender.

The Cranky Flier: RSS
Brett, the airline dork, has worked in aviation and the travel business. The second nomination in line edges up the runway ahead of the first.

Killing Batteries: RSS
'Leif Pettersen’s battery-powered rise to the zenith of travel writing rapture' is a nice enough read but as far as awards go, it's just a little flat. There's plenty of substance to the posts, so worth going along with your jump-leads to help spark the blogger-reader interaction that the writing deserves.

Tim Leffel’s Cheapest Destinations: RSS
'Bargain destinations, travel values, and cheap places to vacation'. Rich enough to deserve its nomination.

Andy HoboTraveller: RSS
The Hobo has been around for ages, both travelling and blogging, so will not seem like a tramp off the street to most of you; even Forbes and The Guardian have mentioned him before.

AviationDaily on Airports: RSS
Probably in the wrong terminal here and might take-off better in the 'Best Informative/Practical' category; depending on the competition.

AviationViews: RSS
Spicing up airline news is not the easiest of things to do. Grounded due to fog.

The World, My Playground: RSS
Adventuregirl puts on a good display in the playground. Sharp photographs blend in well with the soothing colour scheme, making it a pleasure to read the writing.

Learning Cantonese: RSS
My thoughts are that the guest blogger's entries invalidate Daisann McLane for this nomination.

Vagablogging: RSS
Again, invalid due to the number of posters.

How Conor is Spending All His Money: RSS
The travelling is done and we're moving to Nepal to start an orphanage.

MaxaBlog: RSS
Rudy Maxa's 'savvy traveler news' is another I would prefer to think about again, if it's in the 'Best Informative/Practical Travel Blog' category.

Funchilde: RSS
Around the World in 100 (or so) Days - is the tagline and I'm still pondering with this one. It hasn't really thrown me overboard. It's not that there's anything wrong, I just can't find that extra-special, what's really right with it, kind of feel. Maybe I need 100 or so more days for it to grow on me.

Megan Lyles:
Megan's bus trip from New York City to the tip of South America, with photographer-partner Michael Simon. Sadly, as it's more of an archive now, the entry has a flat tyre as far as the awards are concerned.

The Tranquilo Traveler: RSS
Joshua Berman is the author of numerous award-winning guidebook titles with Avalon Travel Publishing's Moon Handbooks series. I've a feeling it's not the winner here though.

Fly Away Cafe: RSS
Another b5media blog to stall my browser; which kind of puts me in the wrong frame of mind before I start. There's almost enough time to make a coffee while I'm waiting. And I could do with one right now, especially after clicking a link - and then sadly, right-clicking the mouse; back to lag-city.

Escape Blog: RSS
'Getting there is only part of the equation, making sure you don’t piss off the locals is where the excitement begins'. If you say so, but won't break out of the shackles here.

The Seattle Traveller: RSS
Sadly, b5media again.Which makes me feel that any aspiring, travel-award-worthy scribe should trek off to somewhere more reader-friendly.

Online Travel Review: RSS
Daily airline news by Jared Blank; a former travel analyst with Jupiter Research who's a slave to Continental's OnePass, complains frequently about the 737 being used on transcon flights, is obsessed with Icelandair and has a little fan club in the nomination comments.

Travel Sweeps: RSS
The link was posted badly in the nomination thread but we won't hold that against them. Writing on the web is not just about the words and what it does for the reader. It helps if it looks appealing to tired eyes too. Barbara Benham has done this well and is up there with the best of them. The subject is worthy too. Who doesn't want to win a travel sweepstake? Bookmarked and subscribing to feed.

Budget Globetrotting: RSS
Nick is an 18 year-old, aspiring world traveller from the 'United States’ mundane Midwest', as he puts it. The purpose of this blog is basically to find budget travel ideas for his own future shoestring trips around the world. He's put a fair amount of work into it already and could be one to keep an eye on; especially if budget travel is your thing.

'Melody’s Travel Blog' was nominated again in this category but we've already reviewed it, slightly negatively, in the 'Best Photography on a Travel Blog' category. It certainly doesn't sound any better for being nominated here. As with 'Lets Visit Asia'.

Travelistic Blog: RSS
It's a shame this travel site was nominated in what I consider to be the wrong category. The writing isn't sharp enough here, which isn't surprising when it mainly presents videos for travellers. It would not have pushed our top two choices but it may well have closed down a stop and focused itself somewhere between Flickr and My Travel Backback; with some cosmetic changes on the layout and a free link check to weed out the broken images; on the internal, archived pages.

Wendy Perrin posted in the comments to nominate 'Upgrade: Travel Better' - 'For recognizing that travel blogs deserve recognition, starting The Travvies, and raising the profile of those lesser-known but great travel blogs out there'.

Now as Wendy is so humble, the PerrinPost RSS gets our honourable mention. It really is what travel writing on the web should be about. The writing is crisp and the photography; especially the currently-running 'tropical' blues and greens, really makes you want to be there; if you don' already feel that you are.

Then a few posts later I saw that 'Perrin Post' did get a nomination. Quite right, too!

TravelerWire: RSS
I almost cringed when I saw a blog from a site called 'Directory of Hotels' but it's
actually a very professional-looking production. The writing doesn't waffle and the
photography is sharp. A real contender.

Travel Happy: RSS
Chris Mitchell, a British writer currently based in Bangkok, offers his own personal guide to travelling in South East Asia and Australia up for nomination. And why not? It's actually quite deserving.

Dive Happy: RSS
Chris also has a companion blog for travellers who like to spend their time under water in Thailand and South East Asia.

Select World Travel was added to this category as well, but as with in the 'Best Photography on a Travel Blog' category, I don't feel it makes the final selection here either.

Smarter Travel put forward two of their blogs for nomination: Up Front with Tim Winship RSS and Ship to Shore RSS by Erica Silverstein. Both might have looked better in 'Best Informative/Practical Travel Blog' categories but don't feel right here.

Corporate America Runaway: RSS
'Sherry escapes from NYC to travel the world' and sometimes has fun not acting her age while she does it.

Exposed Planet was already covered in the 'Best Photography' category and looks rather bare alongside the travel-writing competition here.

Happy Hotelier
'A happy doorman, bellman, concierge, front desk agent, technology engineer, Limo driver, valet parking attendant, cleaning boy, gardener, pond- and central heating technician, personal assistant, butler, cook, designer, developer and owner of a small and very luxurious Hotel in The Hague', Dutchman Guido J. van den Elshout likes looking around for hotel-related news, publish his own hotel reviews and has a nice list of travel blogs he likes to read.

A Luxury Travel Blog: RSS
Not quite five-star treatment here. What really bugs me is all the 'bookmark this' and 'tags' lined up before we get into the post; which are mostly just snippets, so nothing to really get into.

I don't think Nerd's Eye View deserves linking to as it's just not 'travel' enough.

Chronicles of On The Road Travel: RSS
An online resource for independent travellers in South and Central America. I actually came across this one on MyBlogLog just the other night and added myself to the Community, which I don't very often do. I hope to see this one in the 'Best Destination Blog' category, as I feel it's better placed to do well there; considering it's not really 'written by a single blogger'.

Flight Level 390 didn't really impress me in the 'Photography on a Travel Blog' category and it didn't reach the right level here either.

And there we have it. The total number put forward didn't come out as high as I expected, due to duplicate nomination calls and one Russian nomination that I didn't bother to look at.

Final Verdict

While 'The Cranky Flier' might take-off ahead of the other aviation-related blogs, with some competition from 'Online Travel Review', I think a less-specialised travel blog has more of an all-round appeal and deserves to win this category.

'HoboTraveller' has probably been left at the side of the road this time, with 'The World, My Playground' and maybe even 'Travel Sweeps' both creatively nudging ahead (I hear a fan club over there scream with delight).

Considering Nick is yet to get seriously on the travel road, Budget Globetrotting could be one to keep an eye on in the future.

In my opinion though, the Best Single-Author Travel Blog is a close call between the equally professional productions of Perrin Post and TravelerWire.


Best Group-Written Travel Blog

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Best Group-Written Travel Blog
This award celebrates travel blogs consistently written by two or more authors, regardless of subtopic.
Posted in order of nomination.

Hotel Chatter: RSS
Independent hotel reviews with plenty of photographs. We're off to a good start, be sure to check-in here.

Gadling: RSS
As part of Weblogs Inc, there's plenty of content to interest just about anyone. I don't really like their huge menus at the bottom of the page, to all the other channels though. But I guess it's better than having it all at the top. And then there's the totally unrelated (to travel) index at the side too, than can get confusing.

Jaunted: RSS
As it's from the same stable as Hotel Chatter and only one can get the vote, Jaunted gets the elbow.

Inside Traveller: RSS
National Geographic travel blog by Jessie Johnston and Emily Kin. Surprisingly for the National Geographic, it lacks photos. Plenty of links though.

Southwest Airlines Blog: RSS
If you're nuts about Southwest you might like to know about their employees, customers, airplanes and airports. A real team blog, as the credits show.

World Hum:
Dedicated to exploring travel in all its facets: how it changes us, how it changes the way we see the world, and finally, how travel itself is changing the world. Concentrating on the journey rather than the destination. RSS feed not working.

The Lost Girls: RSS
Put together by Amanda, Holly and Jen; three twenty-something New Yorkers who ditched their media jobs to embark on a year-long, round-the-world journey in search of adventure and inspiration. Let's hope they find it.

Vagablogging: RSS
Well, at least it's in the right category this time.

The Gate: RSS
The frequent flyer community's attempt to fly off with the singles and doubles titles. But it's stalled at the gate.

TripHub: RSS
A real hub of information for planning your next trip. You could spend so much time sifting through it all that you decide to stay at home and read instead.

The Citizen: RSS
'A youth culture travel guidebook written for the anti-tourist'. I counted less than 52 mini-guides here, so I guess it doesn't qualify. But check it out anyway.

The Travel Net:
It feels like a different 'blog' for each region, with a lot of very empty-looking categories and flickr 'styles' in the pages but no pictures. Not ready for an award at all.

Gridskipper: RSS
Not a pleasure to read on my monitor, with one thin column of content over on the left and acres of empty space on the right.

Brave New Traveller: RSS
That's more like it. 'News, reviews and opinion for the savvy online explorer'. Already listed in the new TravelNotes.org Travel Blogs section, before I saw the nominations and I'm glad to see this one in here. It's clean and balanced with good writing and sharp photography. What more could you want?

Today in Travel: RSS
Daily group blog written by Josh Roberts, Christine Sarkis and various other contributors from Smarter Travel.

Vagablond: RSS
Travel, food, wine and shopping. What more could a good vagablond need? Add in some top contributors and you have a recipe for success.

I think I expected this category to be a little harder but for me there are only a few real contenders.

Final Verdict

If it's raw, new energy that you want; go with Amanda, Holly and Jen.

But if we're honest, the girls have probably lost out to the more complete presentations.

Hotel Chatter deserves an honourable mention (they should probably be in the 'Best Informative/Practical Travel Blog' category) but my front-runners are Brave New Traveller and Vagablond.
If I had to pick one blog to win Best Group-Written Travel Blog, it would be Brave New Traveller.


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