1. Smart Travel Writing Contest Winners

    A big thanks to everyone who entered our Smart Travel Writing Contest. This contest had more top contenders than usual, so our choice was not easy. In 2011, our two winners will be headed to Tonga for a Seacology eco-expedition aboard the Nai’a, exploring South Pacific islands and visiting one of the few areas in the world where humans can swim with whales. Here are the winning trips:

    Jessica Allen: Sprinting After Chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda

    Jennifer Gold: Getting a Taste of Community-Based Tourism Koh Yao Noi in Thailand (pending confirmation)

    Both of these places (and their well-written descriptions), give us hope that the right kind of tourism can be used as a force for good in communities that want to protect the environment and their way of life.

  2. Close Encounters With Primates in the Wild

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    When our ancestors climbed down from the trees and set into motion an incessant wandering in search of greener pastures, most humans lost touch with our fellow primates. Perhaps this is why finding ourselves face to face with furry long-lost cousins can be so compelling. How could we not recognize ourselves in those faces, fingers, and familiar gestures? While homo sapiens sapiens has spread all over the rest of the earth, 90% of the world’s primate species live in tropical forests—fragile ecosystems that are hard to navigate without a prehensile tail or grippy toes, and which chainsaw-wielding bipeds seem hellbent on destroying. To get to the habitats where wild primates live often requires an arduous journey off the beaten path to remote national parks, reserves, or rehabilitation centers. Many of these places are learning how to save the forests by encouraging a new kind of sustainable tourism—one that makes conservation a more attractive option for local communities than poaching and slash-and-burn deforestation.

    Travelers unaccustomed to living with monkeys in their midst can get into some pretty entertaining trouble when the opportunity for contact arises. The animals often come out of neighboring forests and into tourist towns plying their furry wiles and foraging for easy snacks. A magical monkey moment can quickly morph from the mystical meeting of the minds depicted in Gorillas in the Mist to the menace of the Planet of the Apes. Sticking with more conservation-oriented protected areas will get you closer to the family groups and simian social clubs in their natural setting. Here they put the kibosh on full body contact and feeding the animals, but in return you get to observe the comings and goings, grooming, mating rituals, and general goofing off of non-captive primates. It’s far more entertaining and insightful than any reality TV—though strangely similar plot-wise, what with the nit picking, scuffles, primal screams, intense snuggling, and silly posturing.

  3. Smart Travel

    When we started working on our redesign, we had two priorities in mind: (1) clear away the clutter and make our recommendations and editorial philosophy the focal point; (2) encourage smart, meaningful travel, both close to home and far away.

    Our new design makes it easier for you to find what you are looking for, but we also want you to discover new places serendipitously. Exploring the world on Trazzler is like window shopping. Skip the trips that don’t appeal to you, but save the ones you like. As you do, your one-of-a-kind taste for travel will inform smarter recommendations tailored to your Travel Personality.

    Click to visit Trazzler

    What is Smart Travel? You will certainly find exotic getaways and the stuff of travel fantasies while exploring Trazzler. But most of Trazzler’s recommendations are within reasonable driving distance, fostering investment in your local economy and encouraging more frequent, shorter trips. Smart travel is active, not passive—travel changes lives and, as a multibillion dollar industry, can make an enormous positive contribution to the places we visit. Our new partner, Seacology, has given us the exciting opportunity to put this idea to the test. Simply by using Trazzler and earning miles, you can support their projects, which balance environmental and human needs, working to save endangered island species, habitats, and cultures around the world.

    Trazzler advertising will be customized, too. Together with Miraval, the top-rated resort and spa and our pilot partner, we are launching an ad platform that empowers advertisers to connect with 1,000,000+ users on Trazzler and social media in a highly targeted, meaningful way. To learn more, download our media kit.

    We got started when John Vlahides, Biz Stone, Adam Rugel, and Adam Weller created 71Miles. We then won a fbFund grant to develop Trazzler as a Facebook application. Today, co-founder Biz and Cheryl Rosner provide a steady stream of vision and support as board members, and we recently closed a seed round of funding. Special thanks to Ron Conway and SV Angel for leading the charge and pulling together an incredible team of investors in a way that only Ron can. They include: AOL Co-Founder Steve Case, Founder Collective, AOL Ventures, Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, and more.

    We’ll be adding many new features over the next month. Please poke around—we want to know what you think.

    — Megan & Adam