Whenever my lovely wife and I take a vacation, we take a lot of photographs and keep a log of what interesting things happen every day. For the past few years we've used a self-hosted WordPress blog, which entails making sure that the WordPress software and plugins are updated on a regular basis and hoping that someone doesn't decide to throw malware onto the site. For future trips, we might be using MapQuest Travel Blogs and the accompanying free Travel Blogs iOS app to track our trips.
First, a disclaimer; MapQuest is owned by TUAW's parent company, AOL. Our editor-in-chief Victor Agreda noticed this app first, and since we were both about to travel -- Victor for business at SXSW, me for fun -- we talked about trying it. It seemed like a pleasure trip would be a more appropriate use of the Travel Blogs app, so I offered to check it out.
New users need to create an account on MapQuest Travel Blogs, which is done either from the website or the app. I had some issues logging in after signing up from the app, so I ended up going to the website to resolve those problems before continuing with the app.
Travel Blogs works on the concept of a travel book with chapters. Each chapter can describe a specific day on a trip, or a segment of a long journey that spans several days. When you create a new chapter, you're asked for some upfront info, including a chapter name, a location (optional, but a map displays where you have traveled) and a date range.
Once you've created a chapter, it's time to add content to it. That's done with a tap of the Add button, which provides the option to add a story (text), photos, activity, restaurant (food), hotel, transportation and date.
While the MapQuest Travel Blogs are web-based, you don't need to be connected to the internet while preparing a post. The app saves your information locally for synchronization to the blog servers.
The location features in this first version of the app could use some improvement and will most likely be updated in the future by the MapQuest team. An app like Foursquare does a GPS lookup to figure out where the user is and then provides a list of nearby places where I can check in. When adding a new chapter or story, the Travel Blogs app doesn't seem to know where the heck I am. In fact, although I could go into the Maps app and see exactly where I was, I had to manually scroll the Travel Blogs map before it showed where I was, and then had to manually drop a pin on the map to denote my location. That's a bit of a location fail as far as I'm concerned.
Don't even try to set a location pin for a story -- it's not possible. Should you want to create a chapter for a destination -- Rome, for example -- you're not going to be able to denote locations in the city unless they are known locations. I wanted to be able to set various pins as we cruised around in the Caribbean, and I wasn't able to do that unless I created a new chapter for each and every location pin.
The app should also do an auto-sync when it realizes that I'm on a 3G, 4G or WiFi network. Instead, I have to manually tap on the sync icon to force the sync. It's a little thing that could be "fixed" by simply providing a setting to "Sync automatically over WiFi" and another for "Sync automatically over cellular." Sure, tapping a sync icon isn't hard, but it's one more thing to accidentally forget to do -- especially if you've had a few adult beverages while writing your blog entries.
The big idea of the MapQuest Travel Blogs is to share your trips with others. If you decide you want your blog to be a private one, there's a way to password-protect it. For those who want to share with everyone in the world, the blog is published to the Travel Blogs website and you can then send the URL to others via email, Twitter or Facebook. In all cases, that URL links to a nicely formatted blog. My example blog for this little journey is located at http://travelblogs.mapquest.com/19807/disney-fantasy-cruise-2013 if you want to see how the blog is formatted.
If I were going to give this app and service a score on a scale from 1 to 5, I'd give it about 3.5 right now. There are a few rough edges, but all in all MapQuest Travel Blogs is a trip in the right direction.