Traveling with friends and other families takes more than a modicum of patience, especially when it comes time to settling up for hotels and other expenses. Travefy (free) is a website designed to help people devise and confirm travel plans they make with their travel mates. The interactive site is simple, focusing on three main needs that travelers have: finding hotels, having conversations with fellow travelers about trip plans, and keeping track of expenses. And I wish it had more. Much more. Travefy lacks so many things I need to do before traveling that it’s hard to justify using it for the little it does accomplish.
Oddly enough, though, there isn’t a standout leader in the collaborative travel-booking category. I personally take group trips at least once a year, and all my planning generally happens over email, via Skype calls, or a collaborative Google Drive document. Sure, you can share itineraries with your road trip buddies when you book using popular travel search and booking sites such as Kayak and Orbitz, but there aren’t many services that support truly collaborative planning and travel management that do it well. TripIt does a good job of collating all your travel plans into one master itinerary, but it’s not built for multi-person discussion and planning. The same goes for manyother travel sites and services that aren’t strictly speaking for search and booking only. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to give Travefy a whirl because it’s free and has an innocuous signup model for your companions, but I recommend against using it to find a hotel, which is one of the three primary services it offers. More on why in a bit.
Making Travel Plans
As I said, signing up for a Travefy account is an unobtrusive process. Email address, password, done. You start by creating a trip and giving it a name, such as 2014 New Orleans Marathon. Then you optionally select the dates of travel from a pop-up calendar and find the destination with a type-ahead search box. I made a few sample trips for both domestic locations in the U.S. and abroad.
Then, you can invite others to join your trip by providing their email addresses, or skip this step to keep your journey private. The people you invite receive a link that brings them to Travefy, where they have to enroll with a free account as well. Once they’re in, they’ll see the trip you created in their list of upcoming travels, and you’ll see them listed in the entry for the trip in question as an invitee.
Four tabs line the top of the page: planning, invites, hotels, and expenses. The planning section is little more than a forum where everyone can express their opinions or ask questions about the trip. The planning area has subsections for common topics of conversation related to travel, such as hotel, transportation, activities, and food. The process of starting a new thread and continuing a conversation is pretty self-explanatory. What I don’t like here is that you can’t add more context through links or multimedia. For example, if in Facebook, you post a link, the site pulls up the page’s headline, teaser, and primary image, giving everyone who views your link additional information about it and context for carrying on the discussion about the link. In Travefy, links become hyperlinks, but the site doesn’t pull in extra information.
I can think of a dozen things I’d like to add to a travel conversation aside from preview images from hyperlinks. How about maps; flight itineraries imported from a booking site or airline site; restaurant reviews from OpenTable or MenuPages or Zagat; user reviews of hotels and tourist destinations from TripAdvisor or Expedia; photos; a calendar… you get the drift.
Back to those tabs. Invites shows the people you’ve invited to join your trip. The sections for hotels and expenses are meatier and deserve further explanation.
The hotels tab contains the only search-and-booking functionality on Travefy. You won’t find tools for reserving cars, flights, tickets to local attractions, or anything else. Just hotels. And unfortunately, the experience is miserable.
When I started looking for accommodations, Travefy did not automatically fill in the dates that I already provided for my trip. Fail. That seems like a pretty simple feature, and I was ready to forgive the fact that it was missing, until I ran into similar missing features.
The filters, for example, that you can apply to a hotel search are extremely limited, too. You can narrow down your results by maximum price (but not minimum price), star rating, and hotel name. Nowhere are there tools for finding a hotel based on neighborhood or area, as you can with Orbitz, or distance from a specific point, as you can with Kayak, or the kinds of activities you might find nearby (family-friendly, nightlife, museums), as you can with Hipmunk. You can’t sort your list of hotel results on Travefy either. Other sites do, as well as let you view only hotels that are offering deals, or only ones with specific amenities, and Travefy has none of these features.
You can pin a hotel to save it to your shortlist of options and add a comment to it as well. All the invitees can pin multiple hotels and vote on which ones they like best by “liking” them to find the best option for everyone involved. I couldn’t figure out how to un-pin a hotel from the shortlist, though.
I assumed that once I did find a hotel from my shortlist back in the main list, I could click the hotel name and find an informational page about the hotel. That’s what happens in every other site, where you’ll find photos and a full list of amenities, as well as user reviews when available and other notes. In Travefy, however, clicking a hotel jumps you to a new browser tab at an affiliate site where you’re presented with your pre-pay options for the room, with no additional information whatsoever. You’re taken straight to the checkout page. Who in their right mind would feel confident booking a hotel with so little information?
If you decide to try out Travefy, I strongly recommend skipping the hotel section, as I think most people will find it both frustrating and underwhelming.
The expenses section of Travefy holds up a bit better, though it doesn’t yet have any automated tricks, such as receipt uploading or importing. Travefy is reportedly working on a mobile app that will bring some of these desired features soon. As it stands, this section simply crunches numbers to keep tally of who owes whom what. Say you book a hotel for multiple people and pre-pay for it. You can use the expenses section to make note of it and divide the cost, either evenly among the people you select from your list of invitees or by dollar amounts that you assign. On the far right of this page is a tally of how much you’ve paid and what you’re owed.
The expenses feature works all right, but it’s manual. When the mobile Travefy app comes out and hopefully adds better ways to upload receipts, we’ll see if it improves.
Poke around Travefy even just a little, and you’ll find a lot of features you might expect and need from a collaborative travel management service totally lacking. For the time being, and especially if you only travel with a group once a year or less, I’d stick with email threads and Google Drive documents for keeping tabs on your travel plans. Forward your confirmed itineraries to your mates using the same travel search site you used to book, and call it a day.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc