Hops, skips and more notes from the road

John Gushue
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Some road-tested advice for the web-savvy traveller is coming up in a few paragraphs, but first, let’s start this week’s web tour with a random assortment of good things.

Visual Grub


I quite enjoy Instagram, the app that allows people to filter and share photos from their phones. I post my share of pictures, but I also like to relax by quickly scanning through the photos of others. You may not know that you don’t have to have a smartphone (or a tablet, or any mobile device) to do this. Visual Grub, which is free to download, is one of several programs that set up an interface on your computer that pulls in your Instagram feed. You can’t post (Instagram is strict about keeping that experience to mobile users), but you can keep a little window to the side that refreshes with a visually engaging mix.

New Yorker: Cartoons


Some executives at Monsanto, the company at the centre of the firestorm over genetically modified foods, muse about suing bees “for illegal distribution of intellectual property.” That was just one of the cartoons popping up on the daily feed of cartoons from The New Yorker, whose stock in trade for many decades has been one-panel bits of whimsy, irony, parody and fun. Some of them will even make you feel smart for keeping up with the news, but let’s admit it: we like cartoons for the laughs.

TinEye Labs


You can use Google or Bing (or Yahoo, if you must) to search words; here’s a tool that lets you search something else: colours. Using the photo-sharing resources of Flickr, TinEye Labs lets you pull out images that have a particular hue in common. This is no doubt useful for professionals who rely on images for their work (or inspiration), but it’s just plain fun if not amazing for us plebes. There’s a limit of just a handful of searches per day, so bear that in mind as you click.

Notes from the road

In July, I told you about Airbnb, a website that has really been shaking things up in the travel industry. Airbnb offers an alternative for travellers looking for accommodations, as it connects people who own apartments (or have rooms to let) with visitors, whether they’re looking for a cot or a castle. The hotel industry is not at all amused, but more on that in a moment.

At that point in the summer, my family and I were planning a fall vacation, and had decided to go the Airbnb route for booking our accommodations.

So … how did it all turn out?



It, fortunately, went very well. We booked apartments in three different cities, and we could not have been happier with the experience.

My wife and I picked spots in neighbourhoods that looked interesting to us, which meant that we stayed in the medieval (and astonishingly narrow) streets of Trastavere in Rome, the eternally cool Montmartre neighbourhood in Paris, and the stylish Fitzrovia section of Rome, each for quite a bit less than what hotels in those cities would have cost us. As a benefit, we had access to kitchens, laundry machines and a feeling of home.

If I have one bit of advice about Airbnb, it’s this: do your research, and vet the host. We spent a fair bit of time looking at our options in each city, and relied heavily on the user reviews for each location. Happily, each of the spots we selected turned out to be not only what we expected, but terrific; it turned out that the people who had been there before us had guided us well.

To be sure, renting in the “peer-to-peer” market, as it’s called, carries some intrinsic risks, for both sides. Think about it: you’re travelling a distance, and spending the night, or longer, in the residence of someone you don’t know. (The risk is a two-way one, which is why many hosts require a deposit.)

There’s also a growing controversy about Airbnb, with New York State targeting the company for undermining the (tax-charging) hotel industry. In Canada, Quebec has been keeping an eye on whether hosts violate laws forbidding sublets under a month.

Bearing all this in mind, we shook the dice, and we were glad for the experience. Each of the folks we rented from were stand-up, decent people, and their apartments helped us obtain the trip of a lifetime.

Organizations: New Yorker, Monsanto, Google Yahoo

Geographic location: Rome, Montmartre, Paris New York State Canada Quebec

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