What color do you travel in?

MADRID -- Spanish start-up tries to put the color back into those musty, black-and-white travel guides.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

MADRID -- Watching a pink sky descending over Ibiza, while sipping cava in the middle of the Mediterranean. Feeling the icy fog resting on the snow-topped, richly brown limestone cliffs in Arco, Italy. Looking out a cafe window on a typically rainy Parisian day, black building tops stretching into the wet, gray air.

Either you dream in color or in black and white. It's the same for travel. There's nothing wrong with Frommer's and Lonely Planet guides -- they provide you with a lot of information for a broad audience -- but they are still in black and white, while most of us travel in search of color.

"Guidebooks and editorial teams aren't really inspiring. What I want to know is what other people like me did to have a great time," says Chris Pearrow of Madrid-based social travel site Minube, which puts photos in front of words.

Minube in Spanish translates to "my special cloud" or happy place. It's a social travel and blogging site that, for once, doesn't give priority to pricing, but rather to dreaming.

In 2007, "when it was started, our founder, this guy Raul [Jimenez,] he was unemployed and he got together with four of his friends and started Minube in a public shared workspace," Pearrow says. It's turned into a travel-crazed 27-person team today, based here in Madrid.

"The problem was, right when they started, everything went to [crap] in Spain in 2008. They couldn't get money, they couldn't get loans," he says. They had to get creative and it was probably the best thing they could have done. Instead of relying on investors, they decided to follow the example of websites like Kayak and Expedia, by integrating flight and hotel bookings into the process. He says that Minube has been able to be profitable and self-funded the whole time.

It also means that they've never had to resort to selling ads to make a profit. "Advertising is so lame," Pearrow says. On other travel sites, he says that you get "five pop-ups immediately. Really we don't want ads, we want experiences, inspiration."

The first step on any trip is that inspiration. Minube takes you through this and the other steps: planning the trip, booking the flight and hotels, actually traveling, and, finally, sharing your experience.

"Typically, your Aunt Peggy went to Istanbul, said it was great and, 20 years ago, you had the horrible slideshow," Pearrow says. That was how you'd decide whether or not you wanted to go to visit Istanbul, too.

This Brit-American is planning his wedding to a Spanish woman for later this year. Minube is full of "inspiration" categories to spark adventures. He chooses the "fall in love again" category and it brings up places that people have deemed romantic. He clicks on a photo of someone holding a drink in front of a pool -- "looks exactly [like] what I want to do" -- in Mazatlan, Mexico.

Photos also lead to quicker decisions than reviews. "If I see an amazing photo of a tropical beach, I don't need to read that it's an amazing beach," he says. He then starts exploring the site, creating his "Mi lunamiel en Mejico" folder. He then shares the folder with his fiance who can add and delete at will.

The most popular inspiration search functionality is the one created on a whim: color. If you are in an aggressive mood, you'd likely click red. If you're feeling calm, you might click on light blue and find yourself wandering through page after page of beaches.

When everything is planned and you go on the trip, you can download your Minube folders to your smartphone or iPad to use offline, including maps, directions and saved recommendations, without those pesky roaming fees.To offer in-the-moment authenticity, it needed to be offline. "If you are hiking the mountains of Thailand, you're not going to have WiFi for hours in each direction," points out Pearrow.

The next step in your adventure is the traveling itself. "When you are traveling, we've tried to make it really easy to upload in the moment," Pearrow says. SP is interviewing him in the historic, central Madrid Cafe Comerical. He snaps a photo of a typically Spanish scene of a group of dapper-dressed old men arguing football over coffee and toast. He uploads it to Minube. "Take a photo, share an experience."

He said that, while traveling, when you are connected to WiFi, the Minube app can recognize your location and suggest places near you. It's especially great for the Spanish tradition of tapeo, going from bar to bar for small drinks and tapas until the sun comes up. It helps avoid tourists' challenges like directions and different languages. You can build a map for the night in the first bar with WiFi and save it for later when you go to the down and dirty pubs that would never offer Internet with your copa.

Pearrow stresses that Minube is a recommendations site, not a review site. "If you didn't like a restaurant, nobody really cares. That's not the focus. I don't want to know where not to go. I want to know what to do, where to stay to have the best experience."

From claiming to be one of the first travel blogs in 2007 until today, Minube is available in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Mexico Brazil Portugal, and, most recently, the UK and the US. Pearrow says it takes longer to spread it around the world because, while Minube includes a "drunken translator," they give much more clout to reading in the native language of the traveler to get the true feel for the first-hand experience.

From the perspective of the only Anglo on the Minube team, Pearrow likes that it's not a British or American site. "If you go to Madrid in TripAdvisor, everything is written by tourists. If you go to Madrid on Minube, you have locals."

With more than 200 countries featured, they have first-hand, photo-rich experiences of just about every place to the ends of the earth, except North Korea and a few lesser-known Pacific islands.

Nowadays online bookings -- available only in Spain, Italy and their sister site in France -- make up about 20 percent of their profits. The rest comes from work with tourist agencies and city public relations offices.

Minube contends that they are not an editorial office or an ad agency. They will however schedule a Blog Trip to visit a city, where they bring a handful of heavy Minube users, treat them to the experience in exchange for their blogging. "Look at this awesome time in La Rioja," he says, clicking his Samsung over to Spain's most famous wine region.

The folks at Minube also firmly believe that dreaming has no price, saying "If you really want something, money is not really an object. If my dream is to take a 15-day cruise around the Mediterranean or go to Antarctica, I'm not going to wait and not go if I don't find a super cheap deal," he says, emphasizing that Minube is not your Priceline-style, fast-cheap-fare booking site. "These are places you go to because you feel you have to, not necessarily because you have a deal."

Pearrow does warn that Minube is very addictive. "I used to be annoyed with people that came to restaurants and snap photos of everything, but now I'm the worst offenders."

Photos: Minube

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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