Blogger Libby Zay

Introducing a new blogger at Gadling, Libby Zay

Where was your photo taken: Drinking a beer beside the Mediterranean coast in Salobreña, Spain.

Where do you live now: Baltimore, Maryland.

Type of traveler: I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl, who (for better or worse) rarely does research and prefers to get on the ground and ask questions. I often snag last-minute deals and am a notoriously light packer.

Worst hotel experience: In Chişinău, the capital of Moldova, I stayed at a hotel that appeared to be no worse than most backpacker hostels – save for the fact that the shared bathrooms were nothing more than troughs that seemingly hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. The light switch was located in the hallway, and some little brat decided to flip the switch on me and ran away giggling. As you can imagine, I was left pretty helpless.

Favorite place: This is a toughie, because am a firm believer that every place has its own redeeming qualities and have never been somewhere I absolutely hated. That being said, once city that recently charmed me is the port town of Manaus in the Brazilian rainforest.

Where do you hide your emergency cash? My stash spot is usually in my bra. But if there’s a lot of cash, like when I had to bring home a month’s paycheck in Ecuador, I go for the shoes.

Scariest airline flown: Luckily I haven’t had any near death experiences so far, even in so-called puddle jumpers. My preferred mode of travel is by bus or van, mostly because I like to take in the scenery at a slow pace. This does, however, result in some harrowing experiences. In South America, a bus driver once came to a complete halt and – literally – jumped out of the window because of engine trouble. I have also been at the wheel while nearly running out of gas in the middle-of-nowhere North Dakota and when the driver’s-side door opened around a dangerous curve in Staten Island.

Most remote corner of the globe visited: This would probably be Puerto Bolivar, which is deceivingly not actually a port but instead a village in the Ecuadorian rainforest. It took a seat-gripping overnight bus ride and a butt-aching, four-hour canoe ride to get their from the capital. As always, it was totally worth it.

Favorite guidebook series: I’m not much of a guidebook person, but I like leafing through Lonely Planet and Moon for tips. I also dig the concept behind Viva Travel Guides, a series that anyone can submit to and attempts to be the “most up to date” guidebook.

When I’m not writing for Gadling, I’m… probably writing another website, mainly AOL Travel or City’s Best. In the off chance I’m not glued to my computer screen, you’ll likely find me doing one of the following: walking my dog, watching a band, or drinking a beer. The possibility that I’m on the road is also pretty high.

[Photo courtesy of Libby Zay]

Blogger Pam Mandel

Where was your photo taken: At the signpost near the pier in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Where do you live now: Seattle, Washington.

Scariest airline flown: Here’s the embarrassing truth: I kind of hate to fly. If I could take the train everywhere, I would. That said, there’s a distinction between my hating to fly and my being afraid, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been scared on a flight.

A few years back I was in an “unscheduled landing” at O’Hare. We sat on the runway and I looked out the window at a bunch of emergency equipment rushing across the tarmac. It took me about ten minutes to realize that they were heading towards my plane. It’s because of that incident that I would rather not, when given the choice, fly American Airlines, but at no point during the whole dramatic undertaking, was I afraid. Mind you, recently, I was on an Aerolinas flight and the attendant was aggressively strict about turning off devices. “This plane is TOO OLD!” he said. That was kind of scary.

How did you get started traveling? When I was a kid, it seemed like we were always going somewhere. We moved across the country or we did epic road trips or family vacations. I was an exchange student, a kibbutz volunteer, a backpacker, an expat. I don’t know that I ever started traveling in any kind of official capacity, it seems like something that’s always been part of how I lived, from the time I was very small.

Favorite place: I hate this question because almost every place has something to recommend it. I love the Quinalt rain forest because of the giant trees and the way it glows from the ground and because it smells alive. I love Honolulu because it’s messy and multicultural and because you can swim in the ocean every morning when you start your day. I love Cambodia because it sparks all kinds of alternate past/future lives for me, as an archeologist or a foreign correspondent or a world saver or profligate slacker. I love Seattle because it feels like home in a way that no place ever has.

I’m a pushover, I love almost everywhere I’ve been. Almost. I didn’t think much of Tampa. Sorry, Tampa.

Most remote corner of the globe visited: Antarctica! I was in Antarctica in February, 2011.

Favorite guidebook series: Baedekers. I own a tiny stack of Baedekers from the late 1800s. They have ticket stubs in them, and fold out maps, and they are absolutely gorgeous.

First culture shock experience: I traveled in India for about three months a long time ago. India itself was okay — while I was rattled a little bit by the decibel levels in Old Delhi, in general, I didn’t freak out too badly. But upon return to the US, I was an absolute mess. I still remember that first trip to the supermarket. I stood in the shampoo aisle and started to cry. I was completely, utterly overwhelmed by the quantity of choices. It was awful, I was crushed with despair. I returned home empty handed.

Where would you buy a second home: My husband is from a small town in the middle of Austria, about halfway between Salzburg and Graz. If we had the money lying around, I’d absolutely pick up a little piece of land with a two or three bedroom cottage on it. Nothing fancy, a patio facing west, a place to hang the laundry. It would be great to have our own place there, to know that any time we wanted to, we could bug out and be European.

Languages spoken: My mom insists that Spanish was my first language. We had two working parents in our house and a Mexican nanny; apparently, she spoke only Spanish to me. I did Spanish and French in high school and I was pretty good at it, but I’ve forgotten most of it. I learned Hebrew in Israel; I had a wicked vocabulary but I could never read very well. When I fell in love with my husband I decided it was time to learn German so I could converse with his family. My German is passable, if a bit rusty. I also have the equivalent of a serious southern accent because the family speaks the Styrian dialect. My German teacher gave me a pretty hard time about it. “Where on earth did you learn to speak like that!?” My biggest woe is that the German has pushed out all the other languages in my brain. There’s a historical metaphor in there somewhere, right?

How to make travel editors like your blog

travel bloggerOne of the biggest takeaways from the Gadling NoFF happy hour last week was an idea of how many indie travel blogs there are out on the web at large. It’s a great way to get visibility and practice as a travel writer, whether one is just starting to get into the industry or is an experienced, global contributor. In some cases, a personal travel blog can be a place to collect all of your work, where potential clients or employers can get a good idea of what you’ve produced. Heather Poole, our resident flight attendant and social butterfly keeps up a great blog where she dishes on some of the daily flight attendant buzz and links around to her book, Gadling and the community.

Travel blogs can therefore be a resume of sorts, and many editors (including myself) like looking over the personal websites of potential writers to gauge writing ability, technical prowess and general voice. Often times, we peruse sites daily irrespective of pitches to find a good fit for our sites. That’s how we found adventure blogger extraordinaire Kraig Becker. His work with The Adventure Blog is unparalleled in its market — and was a perfect fit for Gadling when we brought him onboard.

That’s why one of our biggest tips when we talk to new or aspiring writers is to start a travel blog. It’s a good way to get practice in the writing world, get nestled within the community and start building up product. As David Landsel, editor of the New York Post travel section puts it:

I like to see that they’re speaking like an actual human being — a lot of bloggers are afraid to be authentic because they don’t want to get blacklisted by the places they want to cover. Fearlessness is one of my favorite qualities in a writer.

Naturally, every editor has his or her own ideal style, but there are certain aspects about every blog that need to be buttoned down to give us the best impression. Here are some of the things that you can focus on:

  • Formatting and typos. Obviously. But this is huge. If I’m flipping through a page of blog entries and there’s an easy grammar error in one spot or a misaligned picture in another then it’s a sign that the blogger isn’t paying attention. And if the blogger can’t get his or her blog right, then the trust can’t carry over to a public blog.
  • Voice. The blog medium is intrinsically opinionated, and how you direct this voice can make or break your site. Frommer’s Senior Online Editor Jason Clampet elucidates:
“I like a blog with both an expert voice and personality. Blogs like Cranky Flier and Chris Elliott’s are a great example of this. They give you information you can act on, as well as personalities that make them open to their readers.

The line between personality and self-absorption is pretty thin and few travel bloggers end up on the right side of it. I have no need for the ‘I did this then this then this’ and ‘I’m flying on an around the world ticket during my year off’ blogs. Might as well make that blog private between you and your poor parents. There are very few amateurs who can pull it off; most anyone who’s successful has a background in either the travel industry or as a reporter. I love a good hotel insider blog written by an anonymous manager or a solid tourism blog written by a tourism & marketing corporation minion. Ex-USA Today editor Chris Faust falls into the reformed reporter camp. She’s really smart about the blogging platform, but her content is so good she could get away with a Blogger.com account.”

  • Blogger v. Tumblr v. WordPress v. Custom. The level of intimacy that you have with your html is a reflection of your tech savviness. If the best blogging technology that you can use is Twitter then you have a lower chance of figuring out how to embed customized text or graphics in a corporate Content Management System (CMS). Conversely, if you’ve hand coded some wicked music robots into Tumblr then you have a good chance of being able to master even the slightest, dark corner of blog technology.
  • Dynamic embedding. These days, most CMSs have marginally strong means for embedding customized photos or video. But what about that random video from National Geographic that doesn’t directly link into WordPress? What about that audio file from NPR with a custom width that won’t properly fit into your page frame? Showing that you have the ability to manipulate your main vertical with a broad range of multimedia components is a strong step towards expert blogging.
  • A broad range of content. We get it. You work for the sexiest gear provider in the west and 80% of your posts, despite your independence, are sourced from that spot. That’s not a big deal. But you need to demonstrate your ability to cover your content from different angles. There’s narrative posts. There’s links to other sites. There’s reviews. There’s discussion posts. Changing angles is a good way to keep your content fresh and your readers interested. The ability to do this as a blogger is important.
  • Experience. Again, David Landsel:

“Like any topic, the more you cover it, the better you get. I want a writer to have been traveling extensively for at least a few years before I start taking them seriously. It’s not their fault they’re green — it’s just that their opinions are less interesting when they have less to base them on. Just put in the work and learn all you can, as fast as you can. When I think of some of the sweeping statements / hearty endorsements I made early on as a travel writer, I laugh (and also cringe.)

  • Social media presence. It’s great to have links to your content out on Twitter and Facebook — to a degree. If you’ve got a good modest presence in social media and you aren’t spamming your identical content out on feeds every 45 minutes, we know that you understand the value of community engagement and can apply your skills on a corporate level. And as social media takes the front seat in much of the traffic generation on the web, that skill is more and more important each day that passes.

Have we adequately convinced you of the OCD nature of travel editors? Great news. Now get that travel blog rolling!

US map of stereotypes

map of stereotypes
We here at Gadling love maps and infographics, so we’re enjoying this tongue-in-cheek US map of stereotypes, ranging from “rainy hipsters” in the Northwest, to “old peeps” down in Florida by blogger and artist Haley Nahman. We’re a bit puzzled over some of the stereotypes such as the “fashion bloggers” in the Carolinas, but can’t argue with the “mountains and meadows and maybe some animals” in Montana and the Dakotas. Hawaii and Alaska aren’t included on this map, but I’d guess something involving “hula and LOST” and “Eskimos and strip clubs.” The artist is a “life of the party” Californian and seems to be partial to food and animal descriptions. Which stereotype of the US do you hail from?

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.