But as I travelled further and further, and kept landing myself in more and more trouble, I noticed that the email list was growing, as people signed up their own friends and family. Soon I had more strangers on the list than friends, and started receiving requests from these newcomers for back copies of stories they'd missed. I promised them all I'd put the backlog of posts on a website, ASAP.
It took three years.
So, here it is: all my emails back home, and photos from my trips to boot.
How was Ally'sTrip.com built?
I've had quite a few emails from fellow travellers asking me about the technical mechanics of the site: how it was put together, what's running it all, and whether I can set up a similar site for them. This long-winded reply gets a little technical, so bear with me, but it will hopefully answer your questions. If you have any others, post a comment below!
What kind of backend is Ally'sTrip.com running on?
This site runs on a content management system (CMS) that I custom built in the lead up to my European trip in 2004. I researched many other open-source CMSs before I figured nothing would do everything I wanted and started writing one myself. I'm a perfectionist and a masochist, I know.
But I thought you said you were a lawyer? What's an evil, morally corrupt paper shuffler doing coding custom content management systems?
My degree may say I'm a spawn of Satan lawyer (and a sleazy marketer too), but since 1998 I've worked as a product developer for a dot-com in Australia to fund my debillitating caffeiene addiction.
What server / language / database is the site running under?
The backend was written in PHP under an Apache environment and pulls data from a PostgreSQL database.
How do you update it on the road?
My main requirement in creating the CMS was to have a system that allowed me to produce snazzy articles on unbearably slow computers and internet connections in far-flung locations.
update the site on the road via a web form that lets me post articles (as plain text, with a little bit of HTML markup to make things bold and / or italic) and add pictures. The funky backend takes care of all the formatting, mailing of emails to site subscribers and general content management-ey tasks. Whenever I find an internet cafe that has computers with decent bandwidth, I upload full-resolution photos from my backup CDs to the website. The resizing of the photos to smaller dimensions (for previewing on the site, article thumbnails and desktop backgrounds) is done on-the-fly by the CMS using ImageMagick, so I can get by without expensive and rare software like Adobe Photoshop.
Can I have a copy of your system so I can use it on my travel website?
I'd love to say yes, I really really would. But unfortunately I can't. This site is not the poster-child for quality programming practices and in the mad rush to get it done before my departure I added a lot of code that is specific to my unique setup and situation. Not only is it not industrial-strength in terms of security, but to hack the code so that anybody can use it would require a fair amount of effort. I will consider doing this on my return to Australia, but until then you'll have to survive on your own. Sorry.
That sucks. How else can I get a similar setup?
You have a number of options, depending on your level of web programming exertise:
- If you're a complete web novice, I would recommend setting up an out of the box travel blog. There are many sites that will offer you a blog site where you can post updates, photos, etc without any technical expertise and people can subscribe to (and search over your site). A popular example of a general blogging service is TypePad, while you may also want to try TravelPod and Boots'N'All.
- If you're HTML savvy and kinda understand the basics of website mechanics, then you may want to sign up to a hosting deal that throws in a CMS as part of the deal. Generally you just give it some HTML templates and then add your stuff via a web based form. Voila! Once you've chosen from the dozens of CMSs that are available (see the site linked to below), do a Google search for "[CMS name] hosting".
- If you're a certified code-monkey you may want to install, tweak and hack an existing open source CMS. A good starting point to compare the hundreds on offer is the aptly named Open Source CMS.