where to go: Puglia, Italy

OK, so normally #WheretoGoWednesday is a weekly-ish feature on the most popular destination on TripTuner for the past 7 days but I was won over by the good folks over at Southern Visions Travel, a Puglia, Italy based operator of amazing gourmet & cycling tours.  They stopped by TripTuner HQ this week and wowed us with their culinary prowess

Polignano a Mare

in between various events and an appearance with J.C. Hayward on Washington, DC’s News 9 at Noon.  I had the pleasure of experiencing one of their tours this past summer and highly recommend it for a unique and memorable, active yet relaxing sojourn.  Whether it’s browsing the whitewashed town of distinctive trulli buildings in Alberobello, a caffe fredo after a bike ride to Locorotondo or a fantastic seaside lunch of cavetelli frutta di mare near Polignano a Mare, you will never forget this still relatively untouched (at least by Americans) region down in the heel of Italy’s boot.  And of course, if you need some guidance on getting it done, we’re here to help.  Stay tuned!

Where To Go: Big Island of Hawai’i

Image by Randy Stewart

It’s time once again for #WhereToGoWednesday. The Big Island was the most desired destination this week, and it’s easy to see why.  It has something for everyone – from the local flavor of lush, green Hilo to the craggy lava beds of Volcanoes National Park; from the resorts and golden sands of Kona to the sometimes snowy summit of Mauna Kea and it’s observatories.  All good reasons, but this howlie would go just for the ahi tuna poke alone.

WhereToGo: Bazaruto Island

Though it’s not surprising to see tropical beach destinations rise in popularity during the winter, it’s notable that Bazaruto Island in Mozambique is this week’s most popular destination for #WhereToGoWednesday.  When we set out to create TripTuner, we wanted to help travelers find places in tune with their interests – both near and far, familiar and unknown.  To have such a remote destination top the charts this week tells us that we’re succeeding in shedding light on lesser-known locales.  Bazaruto (part of the eponymous archipelago) is a remote gem of sweeping golden-

bazaruto island lodge

Bazaruto Island Lodge photo by F H Mira

white sand dunes, surrounded by deep indigo waters of the Indian Ocean, just a boat ride away from the popular coastal town of Vilankulo.  South African travelers have known about this part of the world for awhile, but Bazaruto Island remains largely unspoiled, with just a handful of luxe places to stay like Indigo Bay Island Resort & Spa and the Bazaruto Lodge.  Inspired to see more options?  Check out these remote beach ideas.  Stay tuned.

Where to Go: Harbour Island

This week, Harbour Island is our most popular destination, and since I have a very special personal connection to this place it’s hard to rave about it without exposing a bias. So I’ll just let the description on our overview page say it all for now, and perhaps every now and then I’ll update this post with a few choice tips and pleasant memories (of course I’d love to hear yours in the comments). In the meantime, feel free to just GO – we can help you get there. Stay tuned!

WhereToGo: Torres del Paine

Grey Glacier - Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Grey Glacier - Torres del Paine National Park, Chile - photo by wallygrom

Happy New Year! We’re kicking off 2012 with a new weekly post #WhereToGoWednesday featuring the most popular destination of the week on TripTuner. This week it’s the natural gem of a national park Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia. There’s nothing quite like taking in the sunset over Grey Glacier, a surreal multi-colored spectacle that lulls you to sleep after a long day of hiking…that is until you hear the crashing of the glacier shedding a few pounds at night. Speaking of sleep, you can pitch a tent lakeside, hole up in a refugio (cabin) or splurge at the Explora Lodge a.k.a. Hotel Salto Chico. Want an informed take on how to arrange a trip there? Just ask – we’ve been and can help you sort it out quickly. In the meantime, stay tuned!

Just Back from London

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge at night, viewed from a Thames River boat.

Just back from London and the World Travel Market with our Editor at Large (and New York Times Bestselling Author) Franz Wisner. Had an enjoyable and productive week introducing TripTuner to a select group of old colleagues and prospective partners alike. Year in and out, this event often delivers as much benefit from the chance encounters as with scheduled meetings. Only time will tell, but it seems we made a good impression, receiving many compliments on creating an exciting, engaging new way to help travelers find places in tune with their tastes. While there wasn’t much time for exploring, we did manage to take in a few sights en route to evening events and dinners: going through the Thames river locks; floating beneath a spectacularly lit Tower Bridge; strolling past an illuminated Big Ben and Parliament before viewing the city from the top of Millbank Tower. We checked out the freshly renovated Four Seasons Park Lane as well as the new Aloft hotel–thumbs up on both. After a pleasant dinner at Kentner’s in Soho (tasty French-brasserie fare and Champagne bar in a hip but accessible townhouse atmosphere) we had a chilled vodka martini nightcap at Duke’s Bar— the place where local lore says Ian Fleming conjured 007’s famous “shaken, not stirred” preference. All in all a successful quick trip, and we didn’t really notice the fact that we hadn’t seen the sun for 4 days. But hey, that’s London!

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CALLING ALL SAINTS: 7 WAYS TO BE AN ANGEL

It’s All Saints Day. A holiday in many countries. In Spain, they call it a puente. A way to “bridge” two weekends together and take a trip. But I’m working. You too? Well, we can still think about where we’d like to go. So go ahead and dream about Punta Cana, Paris or Polignano a Mare – I’ll be working hard today on making TripTuner a better place for you to discover that perfect destination match for your next trip.

And for those of you (us?) who were a bit too scary on Halloween, here are 7 paths to redemption. How you can be an angel and help me help you travel better:

1) JOIN – from $9.95/month, you get our expert help whenever you need it all year long: fast answers, insider tips and booking assistance. Plus full access to premium features.

2) SIGN UP – we offer a free test drive to give you a taste.

3) TRY IT – just for kicks, search for a destination and tell me: does it work for you?

4) INVITE A FRIEND – when they join as a premium member, you get $20.

5) LIKE US – like our Facebook page. First 100 get a special thank you gift.

6) FOLLOW US – on Twitter.

7) PARTICIPATE – do you have a favorite place we should feature? Amazing photos? Let me know (comment below).

In keeping with the theme I suppose I could add “become an angel investor” here. Makes total sense for a young startup like ours. We’re not actively looking for investors, but I do enjoy sharing my vision for the company so let us know in comments if you’d like to learn more. Or just follow this blog. Stay tuned.

Thanks to rittyrats for the photo.

Diving In

Starting a company in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression is a daunting task.  You’re diving into the relative unknown – like jumping off a cliff.  Not a very positive analogy, I know.  And a bit cliché.  But what the heck, I wanted to find some way to include this video in a post.

From a distance, the jump looks very doable – as does a startup business.  Then, with each step upward you strain a bit.  You begin to feel just a little bit of apprehension.  But you keep on.  You put the building blocks of a business plan together.  And then you reach the last step, the point of no return.  The jumping off point.  You’ve done the research – others have made this jump before – but there’s still doubt.  It could be low tide.  The business opportunity might not be so large after all.  The water may not be as deep as you think.  But you have this vision propelling you.  The seeking of a thrill, however short, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with confronting one’s fears and doubts directly, of persisting in spite of it all.

Then the moment of truth arrives and there is only one way to break through the lump forming in your throat.  You must act, quickly.  Otherwise if you linger too long, you will find a rapid stream of reasons why you should not do it.  Doubt will settle in, and you will forego a chance to pursue your dreams.  So even if you have the best laid business plans, in the end what’s needed is a bit of craziness with a heap of confidence and an unwavering belief in your vision.  It’s the only way you can take that last step, and plunge into the exhilarating realm of uncertainty – or in this case, the waters of the Fiordo di Furore, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

While the potential rewards of business success are great, in this case I was happy to earn the admiration of my daughter (who’s excited scream you’ll hear midway through my jump).  Thanks for listening and welcome on board what is sure to be a refreshing plunge into new experiences.  Triptuner.com is now live.  Here we go!

Asia Travel Advice On-the-Go: A Tale of Two Travelers

Two acquaintances of mine were on the road recently, doing their own separate solo tours of Asia.  One is a female post-graduate student in her mid-20s (we’ll call her Julie) on what Australians might call a “walkabout”, an extended trip of a few months.  The other (let’s call him Brian) is an urban professional in his mid-40s, taking a three-week break between jobs.  Because I’ve traveled extensively in the region, they asked me for help in planning their respective trips.

While both of them shared the same wanderlust, it is interesting to see their divergent approaches on getting travel advice.  Both had the same big-picture questions (is X period of time enough to see certain countries, what’s the best way to get around, etc.)  But when it came to more specific suggestions about hotels or activities, Julie was just fine scouring the web for free info.  I’d offered my help, but she didn’t really see the need.  Maybe it’s just a sign of her generation: “millennials” are well-known for their comfort with technology.  But I’ve even heard older travelers boast of how easily they can dig up good travel info.  Indeed it’s almost a source of pride.

So what’s the big deal? I too enjoy uncovering valuable nuggets of travel info – whether it’s a more direct flight, the perfect hotel or a unique activity. Some websites will even give you a “medal” if you play along and contribute your own info.  Which in turn makes such sites more attractive to search engines, creating even more opportunities to sort through an ever-increasing amount of info.

But over the years I’ve found that it can eat up a ton of time.  And when I do search, my signal-to-noise ratio is much tighter – I’d like less searching and more finding.  Call me old and crotchety but my brain gets enough info searching and processing every day at work.  It’s like getting your driver’s license.  All you want to do is drive, then years later all you do IS drive.  The novelty wears off.  Same thing with technology.  The excitement of getting 4 million search results in 0.7 seconds wears off after clicking on the 4th or 5th result.  (Like many, I’m still waiting for technology to deliver my increased leisure time).

Perhaps Julie is simply a better multi-tasker, whose younger brain can withstand more info processing like a newer-model computer.  But as a recent Stanford University study shows, over-tasking the brain affects even the hardiest multi-tasking college students.  Try keeping it up in an office environment for 20 years, and you begin to understand why people like Brian want to cut to the chase and get solid, timely advice.  Without a ton of searching.

So when he asked me to help finalize an itinerary for his Asia trip, I tried not to bog him down with a ton of options.  I promised to help him out on the go as needed, but emphasized that above all he needed to GO.  Get out there on the road and enjoy these precious travel moments as much as possible.  Of course his tight time frame can explain why he chose to rely upon my on-the-go help rather than do it on his own.  And what an ironic twist that having a “virtual trip assistant” of sorts inspired Brian to hop on a flight and delight in spontaneity – something usually reserved for college students.

How did this all turn out? Brian had a great time and became a loyal early advocate of Triptuner.  As for Julie, she finally got her fill of DIY travel planning and sought me out for her last stop in Singapore.

We each have preferred ways of getting travel advice.  I just think that there’s got to be a better way of accessing all of this valuable info in a meaningful way, while providing the personal service to help fill in the gaps.  It’s one reason why we’re building Triptuner.

Marketing Tips from a 6 year old

So anyone who’s a parent or who’s been around younger kids are amazed at how quickly their young fingers become adept with our iPhones and iPads. And yes, listening to fathers gloat about their kids’ accomplishments can get tiresome.

But I gotta give it up to my daughter. Just started 1st grade and I think she’s ready to help run my web startup. One recent morning, she let out this zinger: “Daddy, how can people you don’t know get to your website?” I was flabbergasted. Just the other day a friend asked for my elevator pitch. And I was ready (it’s a web app for personalized trip ideas and on demand expert advice). But my daughter stumped me. Here I was, giggling on the outside but somehow stymied as I searched for a simple kid-friendly explanation of my marketing strategy! “Well…ah…you know, first you have to create something that people want…so that when they want to read about something…or, when they are searching for something that you have, you want to make sure they click on your site.” I totally flubbed it. How the hell am I going to pitch potential investors? Fortunately my wife chimed in: “you know, it’s just like when you search for Jonas Brothers videos on YouTube.” My daughter got the relevant example. “Oh. So you make it so people can find something they like on your website.”

Now as any entrepreneur knows, marketing is critical to any new business – the old adage about building a better mousetrap (and how the world will beat a path to your door) doesn’t hold true anymore. Finding a core group of “earlyvangelists” or champions for your product is critical to its success for sure. But continued growth will need to come from new customers – the strangers my precocious daughter was talking about. Fortunately I do have a plan, and part of it is something you can participate in. Please take the quick 3-minute survey at http://svy.mk/my6yrold

to see if you fit into our target market (or at least what we think it is). If you’re selected, we’ll give you a chance to earn gift certificates to your favorite places like iTunes, Amazon or Starbucks. And in the process, you’ll be helping out an entrepreneur trying desperately trying to stay one step ahead of his 6-year-old daughter. Which may just ensure success!