I travel quite a bit for work.
I'm also mildly OCD, so I have a mini-ritual of sorts whenever traveling to a new city of buying a new Lonely Planet "Encounter" travel guide for that city before traveling there.
They're handy little books, pocketable at 6x4 inches. They contain a condensed listing of major sights, restaurants and the like, with a decent detachable map at the back. I appreciate the density of the information and also the slightly offbeat selection of places each editor includes which a more conservative guide might skip over.
The ritual part is that I enjoy adding a new book to my collection slightly more than I do using the things. On my bookshelf, they are a visual representation of where I've been and gone, all in a nice orderly set, each city marked by a unique color on the spine. When I arrive back home, I take the book out, place it next to its brethren and stand back to admire the set and reflect a bit on my trip.
I've gone so far as to buy a book for a city I've visited in the past and don't necessarily intend to visit again, just to pad the collection. Some of the places I visit don't have a book in the series and so I am forced to buy one of their larger books as an ill fitting substitute, and this irks me more than I care to admit.
Many people have this sort of relationship with travel. One of the most cliche visual representations of a traveler is a weathered suitcase covered with stickers from various locales. I know fellow travelers who collect kitschy souvenir spoons or refrigerator magnets in a similar way.
Ultimately, what we traveler/collectors are attempting to do is collect experiences, and yet, the actual experiences are often much more mundane and anti-climactic than our collections might belie.
To the Product-mobile!
There are any number of travel products in the world, from television shows to books to websites. All effectively seek to create a repository of information about places one could visit. The good ones winnow down the vast world to a manageable list of places one should actually visit. The best ones offer a glimpse into the experiences of people in those places, be they visitor or inhabitant.
That's all well and good, but in my experience, the place is really not the thing I'm after. I often arrive at a location I've heavily circled in one of my trusty travel guides, only to be profoundly disappointed because it didn't match my imagined expectation of what it would be like to be there.
It's the experience rather than the place that I'm after, and travel guides often lack clues as to how a traveler should engage with a place once they've arrived. Also, some experiences worth having don't really have a locale at all. Some exist in time. Others can only be had by being with people.
So, how about a travel site that is focused on these experiences instead of just places?
What does an experience look like? To me, the format for sharing an experience is a narrative and chronological description of a span of time. Something like:
"I woke up in the early dawn, still acquainting myself with the time change, and bored, I grabbed my camera, hopped a train to Shinjuku station and walked around the neighborhood. Tokyo is a very different place at 5am. The bustling crowds are replaced by occasional pairs or threesomes of still drunk stragglers from the izayakis, squinting at the daylight as they stumble to their beds. An army of somber men in little helmets and orange vests comes out to clean the streets and pick up bags of garbage set out the night before by the businesses and homes. Most of the shops are closed and their garish displays of baubles shuttered behind steel doors."
This content should be richly linked to locations on a map, business listings, photos, and other related content.
The core use-cases for a minimum viable product would be something like:
- Contributor posts new experience.
- Traveler searches for experiences related to a place, time or person.
- Traveler "pins" an experience.
I'd eschew a commenting system in favor of a more simplistic bookmark/like system. I think that provides the right degree of moderation without distracting from the content. It may later still be worthwhile to provide a feedback mechanism for readers to interact with contributors, though I envision this as being a private exchange.
This "pin" system could also serve as a way for travelers like myself to collect those experiences that I've already shared with the author. This may require a second "done that" pin that segregates future vs. past experiences, though I'd want to observe how people use a single "pin" feature before deciding on that.
Advertising is an obvious source of revenue, high-traffic travel content is generally quite valuable, though incorporating it would need to be done with some care lest it cheapen the experience.
It might also be interesting to consider a "pay what you want" or even fixed subscription model with revenue sharing amongst the top contributors. This would greatly encourage contributors to post high-quality content and would foster a sense of innate value in the community that would lead to a more engaging experience.
To go to market, I'd begin by launching a closed beta, inviting notable travel writers/bloggers to try out the platform. This would serve to create an initial nucleus of high-quality content and would accelerate the iteration of the design and function of the site towards the easy creation and beautiful presentation of that content.
The rest is left, as they say, to the reader.