Bonnie Cha

The Journey to Find a Good Travel Journal App

Soon, kids will be heading back to school, where they’ll recount tales of summer vacation. As adults, we might not get summer breaks anymore, but the desire to remember and share memories of holidays doesn’t end after graduation day.

Mobile apps now ease travel-memory tracking. This past week, I’ve been using two travel journal apps, called MobilyTrip and Trip Journal, to help document my brother’s visit to San Francisco, which included a hike to a coastal waterfall in Point Reyes and a visit to Alcatraz.

While no one wants to spend their vacation looking down at a smartphone rather than taking in all the sights, these travel apps allow you to quickly organize photos, notes and location in one place. And, in the case of one app, you can tweak your trip journal back at your computer when you have more time.

I found MobilyTrip to be the more useful of the two, as the company offers a website where you can upload journals and edit them on a bigger screen. The app also offers downloadable guides for hundreds of cities around the world. Trip Journal was confusing by comparison, and the app repeatedly crashed.

MobilyTrip is free, and it’s available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. You don’t need an account to use it, but if you want to share and upload journals to the Web, you will need to create one, or sign in using your Facebook account.

The app’s main page gives you two options: Travel Journals or Guides. The latter is where you can search for and download city guides. I downloaded the San Francisco guide, and it offered about 500 points of interest, along with images, description and history for each. My brother is a bit of a history buff, so he often had questions about the places we visited — Sutro Baths, Alcatraz, Coit Tower — and with MobilyTrip, I was able to answer them.

To start documenting a trip, you can create a new journal by going to Travel Journals (this is also where all your previous journals are stored) and pressing the plus sign in the upper right-hand corner. There are fields for entering a title, dates and description, among other things. There’s also an option to restrict access to the journal if you only want to share with approved contacts and not the entire MobilyTrip Web community.

Then you can start adding details about your trip. It’s not intuitively clear, but pressing the plus sign next to the camera icon allows you write a description, add location and import images from your photo gallery.

I did this each day of my brother’s visit. For example, one day we went up to Sonoma, Calif., so I titled the journal entry as “Wine Tasting,” and kept track of all the wineries we visited. There’s room to add comments, along with an emoticon, but I kept my thoughts short, since typing long entries wasn’t optimal on a small smartphone screen, and because I didn’t want to spend all my time on the phone.

Fortunately, MobilyTrip gives you the ability to add and edit information using its Web app. Using an Internet connection, you can send journals from your mobile device to the website. If you’re traveling overseas or have a limited smartphone data plan, I’d recommend doing this once you get back to your hotel and have Wi-Fi access. This way, it won’t eat up your data allowance or rack up your cellphone bill.

The feature worked well in my tests. But one thing to note is that, for now, additions made on the website are not synced back to the mobile app.

At the top of each journal page, there are also one-click buttons for sharing via networks like Facebook, Twitter or simple email, so friends and family back home can follow your adventures. In addition, you can check out the trips of other MobilyTrip users for ideas and recommendations.

One drawback of the app is the location-based features. Right now, there’s no way to manually add or edit locations. For example, we went hiking one day at Point Reyes National Seashore Park, and my iPhone 5 wasn’t able to pinpoint our location, so it never got recorded. In those cases, it would be nice to be able to plug the name of a landmark or specific address into the app. The company said it is working on adding that feature.

Trip Journal is available for iOS and Android, and costs $2.99. There is a free Lite version for Android, but it limits you to just one trip.

From the main page, the app looks simple enough to use. You have four options: New Trip, Ongoing Trip, Archive and iTunes Import. But I found that once I got deeper into these sections, things got a bit confusing. Trip Journal also crashed on me several times.

I created a new trip and titled it “Frank’s visit to SF.” It then took me to a screen where I could start adding media, places and notes. These same tools are available from a toolbar, along with sharing features (under the More menu), and something called Route.

It’s not clear what Route does, and the app’s built-in Help feature isn’t very useful. Only after some experimenting did I realize that Route automatically records your positioning, while Places lets you do this manually. Since tracking location can eat up a lot of battery, I used the Places feature most of the time.

To review a trip, you can view memories by media, places or notes. There’s also an option to see all your visited locations pinned on a map. Unlike MobilyTrip, Trip Journal allows you to edit a location by dragging the pin to another point on the map. Using this method rather than inputting an address isn’t the most precise, but it’s better than nothing.

For example, I forgot to upload photos from our visit to Musee Mecanique while we were there, so I did it the next day at work. By doing so, it associated those photos to the location of my office, but with the editing option, I was able to move the point closer to the location of the museum.

Trip Journal offers multiple sharing options, including Facebook, Twitter, email and Google Earth. But if you send via email, the other person will need to have the app to see your trip details. Also, though I exported my photos and route to Facebook, they never appeared on my Timeline.

For those who love to explore new locales, MobilyTrip is a nice way to organize all your adventures in one place. But Trip Journal’s performance and interface issues don’t make it a good travel companion.

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