Travelling can be a magical, life-changing experience that you think you’ll never forget – but once you get home and fall back into the daily grind of work and household routine it’s frightening how quickly those vivid, vibrant memories can fade almost to oblivion. Of course with the advent of digital cameras we have ever more opportunities to record our experiences, but photos don’t tell the whole story – and sometimes sifting through the hundreds of hastily snapped, uncurated holiday pictures on a memory card can be more of a chore than a pleasure.
Then there’s the distance travel can create between us and those we leave behind at home; often when we’re far away, experiencing endless new cultures and discovering aspects of ourselves we never knew existed, we can come home to find that a rift has opened up between us and our loved ones. Therefore the idea of being able to create an online record of our adventures that encapsulates what we saw, heard, smelled and tasted – and how it all made us feel – that can be immediately shared with friends and family or kept for our own personal enjoyment is appealing for a variety of reasons. So my interest was piqued when Veerle Witte of Travel Diaries reached out to Travelettes and invited us to try out her new online platform – which is designed to do exactly that.
What is it?
Described as “the world’s only combo travel journal, blog and book”, Travel Diaries was created when founder Veerle Witte, a travel journalist, wanted to keep an online diary during a lengthy trip to South Africa that would include articles, maps and photographs – but couldn’t find a site that combined all of those elements. It’s not strictly an app in the usual sense, as it’s a web-based program that isn’t available for phones, but it functions in much the same way and can be accessed via a computer or tablet. It’s free to use – you only have to pay if you want to order a print copy of your finished diary, and even then the fee is modest – prices start at around $20.
How does it work?
For the purpose of this review I decided to log the details of my last big trip – an epic voyage from Berlin all the way to Siberia and Mongolia via the trans-Siberian/Mongolian railway, that incorporated a midwinter homestay in a traditional Mongolian ger, and finished with a somewhat more urban jaunt in the glittering metropolises of Hong Kong and Taichung, Taiwan. I’d written a lot of emails to friends and loved ones, and taken a lot of photos during this trip, but I’d never collated all of it into any kind of coherent record – so this was my chance to create a beautiful catalogue of my experiences!
I wasn’t disappointed. The user interface is clean, simple and intuitively designed. It’s pretty foolproof – you design the diary exactly as it will appear either online or in book format, choosing from various layouts of text and/or images for each page. There are presets for different styles and font formats for headers and paragraphs, or if you’re the sort of person who likes things just so, you can customise your own. After you’ve selected the layout for a particular page, you can insert text, images and route or location maps into their designated boxes with tremendous ease; even the least tech-savvy amongst us will find creating their travel diary a breeze. Once your online journal is created, you have the choice to either share it, converted into blog format, with friends and family; have it made into a beautiful, tangible hard copy (to be thumbed through whenever you feel like re-living your most memorable trips); or simply keep it online privately, as a record for yourself.
Who uses it?
Currently, mainly Dutch people! Veerle herself is from Holland and the app has been available to Dutch users since 2014, amassing thousands of loyal users due to its elegant interface, attractive design and unique offerings such as incorporating map routes or the finished-book option. It has been featured in esteemed publications such as National Geographic, but has remained largely under the radar for an Anglophone audience as the original version was only available in Dutch. Now that an English-language version is finally available, all that looks set to change!
What’s the finished result like?
On the website you can browse sample public diaries created by satisfied customers which give a great idea of how your own might look – lots are in Dutch, but that doesn’t really matter as they still give a great visual taster for the finished result. There are a few English entries too; I have to confess to getting quite absorbed in a couple of them! Most people have opted for the preset fonts and layouts so you can get quite a good idea of how they’ll look. A lot of the diaries do of course look similar in terms of formatting for this reason, but when creating something like this I personally find too many bells and whistles to be something of an unnecessary distraction. The standard layouts are easy to read, process and navigate, which is one of the most crucial factors when creating a blog – especially if you want people to read it!
I didn’t opt to get a printed version for the purpose of this review as there wasn’t time, but luckily there were some press images available which I think give a pretty adequate idea of how the finished product will look. You can choose between a soft-cover and a hard-cover version, and the book appears exactly as you design it online – so no unpleasant surprises await. You can even leave empty pages for pasting in scraps such as tickets, menus and other paraphernalia, giving a really immediate, physical reminder of your journey.
I haven’t quite finished creating my own online travel diary, but when I do I’ll be extremely tempted to order a hard copy as I’m a big fan of tangible, physically accessible souvenirs. I’ve also had a lot of fun assembling my jumbled memories, photos, emails and itineraries into a coherent record of a wonderful time; in many ways it has been like reliving the whole trip, unearthing long-forgotten memories, such as reading by the dim lights of our cosy compartment on the Trans-Siberian railway, building towers of crystalline ice on the frozen shores of Lake Baikal, or drinking cocktails amongst the shimmering skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Travel Diaries is the perfect app for those who want to gather and assemble their experiences into something that they can revisit, relive or share forever. If this sounds like something that might interest you, check out the app here, or for more information find Travel Diaries on Facebook and Instagram!
*This post was created in collaboration with Travel Diaries