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Virtualtourist

The Virtualtourist flag.

Can a website change your life. For me it’s a yes. And it was for many other people too. Even if the site has been closed for more than two years now.

How did it all start?

It was back in march 2002. I just got back from a 4 month cycling trip in Southeast Asia. I had some money to spare and decided to go cycling through Spain and Portugal. The internet was still a fairly new thing back then. With limited information. But I started searching for some travel info about camping in Spain. And this was where I came across the Virtualtourist site. It was a website where people could share travel stories and travel tips. Now this sound like an everyday thing these days. But back in 2002, this was very new. This was way before all the travel review sites that we know of today. It was also possible to chat with other members of the site. And there was a travel forum, where you could ask and answer travel related questions. I ended up chatting all night about travels to people from Australia, Spain, Germany and the US. And this was the start of a life long love affair with Virtualtourist.

Taking the train from Poland to Ukraine with friends from Virtualtourist.

During these 15 years, I shared several thousand travel tips with other members. Chatted online with them. And met up with them in real life. In fact I met up with more than 1500 members in real life. And this was a very diverse crowd, from all over the globe. And I am still in touch with more than 500 of these people. It was a very diverse crowd that came to Virtualtourist. This was very different from the Lonely Planet thorn tree for instance, where most users are western backpackers. Virtualtourist had many active members from non western countries. And when I met them, I learned that most of these members were very educated and very interesting folks. Some of the people I met through Virtualtourist include: An Albanian talkshow host. A female Egyptian lawyer. A car mechanic from Pennsylvania. A jet fighter pilot from Pakistan. A Saudi Arabian lesbian. An antique shop owner from Estonia. A golf player from Malaysia. Just to mention a very few of those I met.

Pinatubo

Hiking the Pinatubo Volcano in the Philippines, with friends from the website.

Beer with a Virtualtourist friend.

Having beer in Poland with an Australian friend.

Friends Spain

Meeting friends in Spain.

The diversity of the people I met on Virtualtourist was very much what kept me on the site. I really got to meet people from some walks of life there, that I would otherwise not have met.

viking ship Denmark

We once had a meeting on viking ship in Denmark.

Goofing around

Goofing around at a party in Transylvania.

It was amazing to see how almost everyone got along fine when we met up in real life at various meetings and parties. It almost felt like meeting up with family members. Which is also why I still stay in touch with several hundred members from all around the globe. Virtualtourist worked way better than any other websites where I have met people. I have been to several Couchsurfer meetings for instance. It has been nice and I have met some cool people. And there are always this “let’s stay in touch” talk at Couchesurfer meets.  But my experience is that it usually does not happen. and that friendships often fade away pretty quickly there. Same goes for MeetUp meetings I have been to. And also various meet ups through Facebook groups. I think the reason why Virtualtourist worked as well as it did, was because we both had a website where we could communicate daily. But without letting religious and political opinions get between us. We were there because we had a common interest called Travel. And while it was big enough to cover members from all over the world, it was small enough to be moderated.

Even I would get the odd warning if i behaved badly 🙂

Religion and politics was banned. And that was good.

Being such a diverse crowd also required some moderation on the site. We had a rule called no politics and no religion on the site. And that mostly worked very well and allowed all walks of life on the site. One great advantage with Virtualtourist was also that the moderators and the owners of the city would also join some of hour meetings and social gatherings. Of course there will always be disagreements. Just like there will be in most aspects of life, when you put a bunch of people together, who do not know each other. But this was one place, where the global village really worked, if you ask me.

Viking dress

Once I was dressed up as a viking at a party in California.

Christmas Manila

Christmas gathering in Manila.

Who started Virtualtourist?

The Virtualtourist domain name was first squired by two university students in 1996. They soon abandoned the domain though and in 1997, it was taken over by two German university students called Tlman Reissfelder and Torsten Kalkbrenner. They wanted to make a website listing every geografical location in the world. And a website where people could share travel information. In 1999 they met up with an American guy called J.R. Johnson. With his help, they moved to the US. And then Virtualtourist really got going.

Virtualtourist

At the Virtualtourist office in Los Angeles.

The site became extremely popular in the early 2000’s, being one of the only websites in the world with shard travel information. As times went by, many people started copying their idea, including Tripadvisor. And in 2008, Tripadvisor bought Virtualtourist for a massive amount of money. The site continued for another 9 years, until Stephen Kaufer, who owns Tripadvisor, decided to shut it down. This was a very very unpopular decision by most active users of Virtualtourist. And Stephen Kaufer will be forever hated by these people.

 

But the friendships that were created there remains and continues to grow. and there are still large social gatherings with former users of Virtualtourist. This past spring, there was a large meeting in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. and next Spring there will be another large meeting in Newcastle, England. As well as some meetings in Florida and Chicago. And probably a few more around the globe. I’m also organising a little meet in Penang/Malaysia this December. Come and join us if you like :-).

Meeting with Heather from Australia at a Singapore food court (R.I.P Heather).

Halloween Florida

Halloween party in Florida.

 

Virtualtourist dinner in Manila.

Dinner in Manila.

Flying the flag with a friend from Rio de Janeiro.

Good times with Virtualtourist friends.

Virtualtourist friends

Happy times with online friends from Argentina and Spain.

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20 Comments

  1. John (IvanIvanovich)

    Good piece Clausie – we are forever

  2. Awesome. I too miss VT. When we were packing to come to Toatan I came across my VT flag and a bunch of swag from the first and second official VT gathering.

    Enjoyed the read. I think I still have a backup of my old VT pages. Now I need to go dig them up.

  3. Great blog Claus. Vt changed all of our lives and ww are better people for it

  4. Those faces! VT was special because we were special. Even today, I miss the Miscellaneous Forum when I cant sleep.

  5. You have a book in progress with this start. There is much more to tell.

  6. Enjoyed your reflection on a website that was important to many of us on many different levels. Hope our paths cross again.

  7. It’s a great story, Claus! I was glad to meet you as well! Happy trails!

  8. Great summary Claus. I miss VT too. I personally got the opportunity through a VTer to live and work in Russia for a while & travel there extensively. Next stop: the Glühwein meet in Karlsruhe
    Greetings from Switzerland

  9. I’m sending love from Plovdiv!

  10. This is great Claus, and so good to see so many familiar faces in the photos 🙂 But where am I, lol?!

    Seriously though, VT did change many lives, mine included, and I think it’s a sign of the strength of the bonds it created that so many of us are still in touch and still meeting up. Thanks for the mention of next year’s Newcastle meet, which is shaping up to be pretty big 🙂 And don’t forget there’s Rich’s Chicago meet next September which I hope to get to. Before that, though, I’ll be in Karlsruhe like Sonja for the Glühwein meet. How wonderful that between us we’re still hosting meets large and small, and getting together regularly!

  11. I love this Claus. Hans and I have made many friends through the years thanks to Vt. We have visited so many wonderful countries, including the Philippines which you Claus encouraged us to do in 2012. Sadly Vt is no more but it lives on in our hearts and the great friendships that were made.

  12. Nice one Claus. A thorougly enjoyable read – and it’s good to see that many ex- VTers are still keeping the group alive.and kicking.

  13. Claus, thanks for posting this. VT was very important for me, as well, and I’m glad to see that the meetings at least are continuing. I’m looking forward to seeing some old VT friends at the Glühwein meeting in Karlsruhe.
    Fortunately I have backups of most of my old VT tips, so I am gradually updating some of them (those that still might be of some use) and posting them on my website operasandcycling.com.

  14. Christine (Lacristina)

    Lovely, Claus! You’ve captured the feeling. VT meant so much to so many.

  15. Thanks for such an excellent recollection of VT and how it has, and continues to impact so many people around the world! Like Larry (and others) have said, those of us who embraced VirtualTourist have had our lives and views changed forever in a very positive way!
    Thanks again Claus!

  16. I shall be forever grateful to all the wonderful people in this group who have made me so welcome into their activities. After my husband died prematurely, I was worried that I might have to travel alone for ever more. Now I can arrange my own flights and accommodation but then join in the helter-skelter of organized outings, guided walks, meals etcetera and get to meet so many interesting, varied and friendly people from the four corners of the world (though please could someone explain how a circular globe can have corners??). Although I have only been involved for relatively few years, the trips with the VT crowd – to Portugal, Bavaria, Iceland, Roumania (not forgetting the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Ceremony and the London Treasure Hunts) I am so looking forward to what the future holds. Thankyou for sharing Claus.

  17. Diversity is also why I liked VT. Most of my life I was surrounded by people from my own background and with more or less the same education. But VT got me to talk to people that grew up in totally different circumstances.

  18. Wonderful Claus, I miss VT and all friends I met tks to it.

  19. Another of those whose life was changed by VT. And also had the pleasure of meeting you many times
    Thanks for including us in this blog , love you. Carmela71

  20. Claus my friend, it seems you have put it all in the mythical “nutshell”, VT is like family.
    We love meeting up with our “families” whenever we travel and especially having them come visit us.
    It makes traveling just that much more special.
    Looking forward to your next visit with us here in Israel.
    Martin (VT: Martin_S.)

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