“ Rough Guides publishes books on hundreds of worldwide destinations, and we put that content online for our readers to access for free. Browse our destination coverage online, and check out information on everything from flights to food to accommodations and more. „
The website in this category is the more general one of the Rough Guides company. I asked to review the Travel section of the site that can be reached by clicking on the blue section on the Rough Guides hompage.
Rough Guides were established in 1981 and have become one of the leading publishers of travel guides. They encourage readers to contact them if they find mistakes in the books or to report significant changes that should be reflected in the next edition of that guide. They have been online since about 2000 and members of the community can write their own reports on destinations, tourist attractions, restaurants and accommodation to go alongside the information provided by the Rough Guides team of writers.
You dont have to be a member to use the site as a search facility and to read travel journals written by staff and members. However, since membership is free and members can rate other members travel journals according to how useful they are, it seems silly not to hop through the quick and easy membership process.
When you register you can enter your top five dream destinations, your top five destination of those you have visited and your main areas of interest when planning a holiday (relaxing, culture, trying new foods, active, etc) so that when you search the travel journals they are listed with the ones which most closely match your travel wants/needs.
To start writing your own travel journals you use the menu on the left handside of the travel homepage and click on Write journals. From there follow the prompts and the menus as you go. You cannot save drafts before submitting but you can edit if you see mistakes or wish to make changes later on.
Once you have picked the destination you wish to write about you must complete a brief overview that is presented according to a Rough Guides template and requires information on transport, what the highlights of that destination are and optional quick tips. Once this is done you can then add entries on places to eat, accommodation, activities - a drop down menu offers a huge number of choices sports, bars, museums, galleries, beaches, zoos, shopping. Id be surprised if you cant find something here to cover what you want to write about but if you cant, you can always make an entry under Free Form. I have used this to write about Haggling in the Medina, Restaurants in Naples in general, and to write about specific areas of a destination, for example Around the Monument (in Newcastle upon Tyne).
What you have written appears on the website immediately but it takes several days for a member of the Rough Guides editiorial team to verify it and rate it. The best rating is Editors Pick, but for the purpose of earning points for your account there are two levels depending on what you have written about. Furthermore, should you be writing about a Hot Destination (these change about twice a year and you can find a list of them on the site) you earn double the points. Once verified by a member of staff, members can read and rate your item according to how useful they found it. (Non-members can also read it but cannot rate it). You receive 10 Go Points each time a member reads your item for the first three months only.
If you wish to read the Rough Guides information on a destination this is best done using the bar at the top of the page. The information is more general than in the members journals and covers the practicalities like public transport, currency, types of accommodation, local cuisine and the main highlights for tourists.
When you become a member you get 500 Go Points immediately and after that you earn points each time you submit a piece of writing (the points can be seen in your total once a member of staff has verified the article). The number of points available varies and are clearly explained on the site but youll earn 100 points for a four or five-star entry and 10 points for a photograph.
The points can be converted once you have reached the required total into either Frequent Flier Miles or Virtual Gift Cards. The former gives miles on the American Airlines scheme (this also works in conjunction with British Airways, Quantas, Iberia and Finnair amongst others). They can also be used against hotel stays (Sheraton, Hilton International, Radisson and more) and car hire (includes Hertz, Thrifty, Avis and Budget and others). The first level is 25,000 Go Points which gives 5,000 Air Miles.
The virtual gift cards can be obtained for any of twelve on line retailers which include amazon.com and sites specializing in outdoor gear, luggage, books and beauty products and others. Here 6,000 points equates to $25.00.
Although the websites are American and the amounts are in Dollars, the scheme is still valid in the UK - obviously there is the drawback that you will need to pay extra P&P to the UK.
When I first joined you were also able to buy one off items and I used my points to try to buy some walking boots directly from Rough Guides but never received them. When I contacted Rough Guides to report this they apologized and sent me £80.00 of Marks and Spencer vouchers instead well over the value of the boots.
NAVIGATING THE SITE
It took me a while to learn how to navigate the site and without listing all the ins and outs here it must be said that it does take a certain amount of trial and error. You have to get to know the names that this particular site gives to certain features that might have alternative names elsewhere.
Overall, though, the site is easy to use and the system which matches your interests to journals that reflect them is a real timesaver. Obviously the amount of information you can find depends on the destination and, as you would expect, some destinations are probably over-covered.
More of a concern, though, are problems with using the special features such as the message centre. I very often cant access the message centre and even when I can, I cant always reply to messages I have received from other members who have read my work. In particular I have been unable to access the link that you use when a member invites you to join his/her circle of friends. I hope people dont think Im ignoring them!
For all its technical problems Rough Guides is a good community. Featured guides appear here and there with profiles and you can message members to ask them for more information or to say how much youve enjoyed an article. I have met some lovely people in just this way.
Click on Travel Talk along the top menu and youll arrive what is essentially a travel forum with threads for Europe, North America, Caribbean, etc as well as more general ones for Travel Safety or Round the World Trip Advice. Sadly the forums seem under-utilised. It would be nice to get more people using them as it would build a stronger community.
As one would expect, the site has links to the Rough Guides shops where you can buy the travel guides as well as other Rough Guides publications. However, they also have competitive deals on travel insurance, car hire, hotels and global cell phones. I have bought travel insurance through the site in the past and got a good deal.
Rough Guides is a colourful though fairly simplistic looking site that has not changed much in the three and a half years I have been a member. Other similar websites I have used look more contemporary and it does look like Rough Guides needs updating in the looks department.
Its perhaps a little more sedate than some of the other travel websites which appear to be monopolized by gap year Kiwis (no offence intended); certainly the people I have encountered have been a bit older and a bit less arrogant in their opinions than on other sites and there has been little of the travel snobbery I have seen on those other sites.
The Rough Guides website is one I would thoroughly recommend to people wishing to share travel experiences although the limited number of words for articles may frustrate some writers.
As a source of information it is reliable and useful although it may not always be the most up to date in terms of members journals. You should always check when the journal was written and perhaps use them as an initial source of information that you may need to follow up before making concrete arrangements
I am sure some of you will have a look and start writing there yourselves; it could be just what the site needs to rejuvenate it!