It seems that every day there’s a new travel site looking to streamline the process of planning out your itinerary. And for good reason: trips, even the fun ones, are usually a total pain to plan. Those problems are only magnified when you’re trying to plan a trip with more than one person. Duffel is a startup that launched from TechCrunch50′s demo pit that’s looking to help. It’s giving users a straightforward, visual way to plan out their trips using a tool that’s long since proved its utility: a bulletin board.
Of course, as an online service Duffel’s bulletin board is virtual, but many of the concepts stay the same. To get started, first you tell Duffel what city you’re going to be traveling to. The site presents you with a virtual bulletin board populated with a handful of suggested activities and places to stay, each represented by a small note card. From there, you can add your own ideas manually (you enter a title, notes, and URL) or you can use the site’s bookmarklet to quickly save things from across the web to your Duffel.
The bulletin board is meant to serve as a central pool of all of the activities, restaurants, and modes of transportation that you’re considering. You can invite friends to brainstorm their own ideas and add them to the board. Then, when it’s time to actually plan out your trip, you can drag and drop each activity onto the timeline at the left side of the screen. To help plan out your activities, Duffel will automatically plot their location on a Google Map so you can see which items are closest. And when you’re ready to embark on your journey, you can print out an itinerary, which is automatically populated with information about the places you’re visiting. If you think your trip is particularly good, you can share it with the public. Likewise, if you can’t seem to find anything you want to do, you can browse the directory of trips shared by other users.
The site is well done, with a clean design and refreshing simplicity. But there are some features it lacks that competitors do have, like the ability to generate an itinerary with an hourly schedule (on Duffel everything is just listed by day, though some people may prefer it that way). More importantly it’s in a very crowded space — there are many travel sites out there, and even sites that help generate an itinerary for you aren’t very novel. Competitors include Nile Guide, GoPlanIt, Offbeat Guides, TripWolf and a host of others. Granted, there’s room for more than one player here to succeed, but Duffel is going to need to find a way to rise above the crowd.