Passplanet's History & News

 

You will find here information about the creation & development of Passplanet, from the original idea to the latest major update. 

The life of Passplanet, month after month

The fairy tale

Why internet ?

 

The life of Passplanet, month after month...

December 09: A small update... but the crash of my computer in october did not help since I lost the few update emails I had received. Is Passplanet living its last months ?  I have clearly no more time for it and the little updates I receive are far from being enough to update the site correctly. I shall keep it alive since I trust it is still useful for preparing the itineries but the practical info & prices should no longer be trusted.

January 09: An early update to start the new year on a good backpacking track! Best wishes to all!

April 08: The yearly update (sorry for the delay but my life nowadays has little to do with backpacking!) with some excellent updates and a few new localities...

April 07: Another update but relatively few contributors this time... Thanks to those who took the time to help others!

August 06: Another update... with a new section on Indonesia thanks, once again, to Fabrice Naps, the most reliable contributor of Passplanet!  Thanks to all the others who contributed.

April 06: The first update of the year... Not as complete however as it should have been considering my computer crashed and that I lost two months of updates (basically Sept & Oct 2005). If your contribution does not appear, you know why: kindly resubmit it!  I was just about to recovere from this adventure when the server crashed!!!  The main data was saved but most of the photos were gone... At the present time and due to my professionnal requirements, not everything has been restored. Sorry about that but the core of Passplanet is the info!

September 05: A major update, especially about China. Thanks to all those who contributed.

June 05: I am introducing a new email address, to get rid of all this crazy spam that is jamming my mail box. From nowadays, kindly use pass@... instead of ben@passplanet.com. I won't publish the new email address to avoid being registered by robots ans shall deconnect the ben@ address in a few time. With so many pages, I may forget to remove the old address but don't forget: to reach me, use the new one!

April 05: Nobody having proposed me for a new life, it took me a while to do another major update. The majority of the countries were concerned but China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar received most of it. Could I stress out the importance of submitting the info with a correct spelling or should I be satisfied and do the work myself ?  Considering my time constraints, I would appreciate an effort in that area... Thanks anyway to those who contributed!

August 04: A huge and major update, concerning all the countries covered, with a dozen new localities.  Thanks to the (more than usual) backpackers who submitted info and sorry for the delay in updating. With a business, a family, an association and a few books in preparation (see www.lemendiant.fr) , I am really doing my best but I would in fact need several lifes. If someone has got one extra...

January 04: Best wishes to all the backpackers around the world!  A few good updates published, in particular in North Laos, and new rules for using the site...

August-Sept 03: Holidays time for some. Not this year for us. Only a few updates submitted : I keep wondering about the selfishness of those thousands of backpackers using the info but not submitting any... That business in Geneva is growing and requiring much attention... Sorry therefore for the delay in updating...

July 03: Fed up with those people asking me questions already answered online and not even thanking me for my time. Who do they think I am: an answering machine ? The latest below: "I will be travelling to Bangkok within the next weeks. As a USA citizen and passport holder do I need a vister visa for a short stay - I get both reponses yes & no. Which is correct?" My answer: learn to be polite and check the site!

May-June 03: A quiet period as far as Passplanet is concerned (crazy time otherwise) with the usual updates. 

April 03: A series of good updates this month: the snorkeling files as usual plus lot's of useful comments and additions about China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Central America. Thanks to those who contributed!  As for those who use the info without helping back (and there is quite a lot of them if considering the traffic Passplanet's received), well, it is a problem between them and their karma...  Still, it makes me feel sad when I consider how selfish, dirty and commercial the internet world is becoming...  and it is unfortunately not just limited to the internet world...

February-March 03: Quite a few updates as well, in particular about the snorkeling files.  A new locality also added in Thailand:  Chiang Dao in the North. 

December-January 2003:  A great new year to all !  Updates to the snorkeling files, a new locality on the east coast of China, etc. 

November 02: This is gonna become an habit I fear: apologizing for the little time I had for Passplanet... Contributors should not worry however: also the updates may be less frequent, their comments, tips and updates will still eventually reach the web!  This update includes new snorkeling files, a complete update of a few localities in China, numerous new tips for Laos and Myanmar, etc.  Thanks to those who contributed!  As for me, a new "element" burst into my life, a little bit earlier than expected: my boy Michael was born on the 18th of November!  No doubt, I am getting older...  In parrallel with Passplanet, I also set up a site to present our well being center, now open in Geneva. People interested can visit us at www.oasis-centre.com  

August-Oct 02: A very busy period, since I am helping my wife to open a well being center in Geneva. This very actual project required me to develop new skills, far away from the internet or travel worlds... Still, I did not entirely forget Passplanet, with a sery of good updates.

July 02 : A wife, a new place to stay,... Needless to say, I had a lot of of things to deal with outside of Passplanet. To get my attention, the servor however erased the whole English section about China and it took me a while to load it back. Quite a few updates as well...

June 02 : A very exciting month for me, since I got married !  Lot's of things to do... and consequently little time for Passplanet... A few updates, of course, including new localities in Nepal and a page on where to trek by David Woollan. Thanks !  I also found the time to update the surveys for the asian countries...

May 02 : A new affiliate program enables you to book your hostel or guesthouse online and help Passplanet financially in the process...  Updates and additional infos, as usual...

March/ April 02 : I am now based in Geneva, Switzerland. Passplanet kept improving, little by little, and reached its 500,000 visitors... Thanks all for your help and support !

Jan / Feb 02 : Best wishes to all !  More localities added in Nepal, some updates, a new photos thema,... 

December 01 : Nothing special this months besides plenty of great celebrations... A few updates as usual...

November 01 : The translation of the China's section into French took most of my time this month. There was also a major update : the new Chinese trains' schedules are now online !  A new affiliate program was finally added, to enable you to organize your complex trip by air : trip planner !

October 01 : A lot of work in relation with the new hoster. Not being able to load with FrontPage, I had to re-design all the forms : no more automatic (and unreliable) submission ! Things will be done via e-mail from now on. Passplanet was finally accepted into the ValueClick network : kindly visit the sponsors !  You can now vote for Passplanet in a new table : Vote!  Finally, a lot of updates as usual... Thanks to those who contributed. As for those who use the info without helping back, well, this is a problem between them and their karma !

September 01 : A terrible month, marked by a number of technical incidents, plus the American Tragedy in the background of my spirit. Crazy world ! Anyway, I was unable to update the site for 3 weeks, it went down several times and the loading process was slower than usual. All this prompted me to look for a new hoster, for the third time ! Not too many people are serious in this business apparently... Passplanet is now nicely hosted by my good friend Patrick Cholet, thanks ! It moved from the States to Germany. Hopefully, things will improve from this point. On a positive side, David Woollan created the Nepal section. This section is however still in development... I also started the translation of the China's section into French and launched a new Photos Gallery. Finally, a new affiliate program to find your dream vacation ! Passplanet reached its 300,000 visitors.

August 01 : Launch of Passplanet's Central America !  Passplanet now covers 15 countries and more than 240 localities, making it one of the biggest independent backpacking site ever ! Thanks to all who supported & keep supporting the project. It is far from over...  Updating also of the backpackers' surveys of Asia with the forms submitted online.

July 01 : Development of the site to integrate Central America : Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Panama. The info about those new countries have been published as soon as possible, without everything finalized. Also added, two new sections about ideas I got on the roads : earn $$$ locally and backpacking tours. In Laos, two new localities have been added by Sarah Rasmussen from the States and the surveys updated with the forms received. Other countries were updated as well with the new info received.

24th May to 26th of June 01 : Another internet mishap affecting the site : the forms went down, without any error message appearing after pressing the 'submit' button. At the same time, my brother, who nicely collected my e-mails while I was on the road, got a virus on his computer and was unable to download the messages for a while. The problem went therefore unnoticed for a whole month !  Damn ! So, to anybody who submitted info or surveys using the form during that period (and getting a white blank page after pressing 'submit'), my apologies, you will need to do it again !  Your contribution is essential to us !

May 01 : Passplanet reached its 200,000 visitors.

March-June 01 : The time of the year I like best : backpacking ! An originality however this year : it was not in Asia but Central America. Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to be more precise. A great trip with plenty of discoveries but also a stressful one, with regular safety issues (something I was not used to in Asia). Getting around with my limited Spanish proved easier than I expected (thanks to the similarity with French) and I managed to get answers to most of my questions.  My Psion however gave me some headache as the screen decided to retire : I spend the last month writing without seeing anything !

Feb 01 : Passplanet reached its 100,000 visitors. As a few travelers nicely contributed to the countries' surveys, I updated the tables with the latest ratings. I also modified the photos gallery : new photos and new theme. A new partnership was also entered with Maps.com to find maps & travel accessories online. 

Jan 01 : The year started rather badly with a crash of the server ! Passplanet was unreachable for 5 complete days and the forms down for about two weeks. Happy new year ! Things however improved around Chinese New Year with a French guy, Laurent Briestel, bringing me the new Chinese Trains Schedules. The whole numbering system having changed, it took me some time to update the tables. But this is a major update ! At the same time, I tested the Flash software for a new presentation of Passplanet. The result : a new presentation but without Flash (at least for the time being) !  I think this new design is more readable. If you disagree, let me know. 

Dec 00 : I spent this month in Malaysia (KL), invited by a friend to develop his companies' web sites. For the first time in 2 years, Passplanet was no longer my priority. Still, learning to use the great Photoshop software enabled me to create new banners.  I also redesigned the whole site, with a set of colors per country and a few more graphics. The new  welcoming page was designed in orange, with new dragons. It has been replaced since then. December saw also the launch of the Indonesia section, developed by Matthieu Delbo. Only Sumatra was however covered. Finally, my friend Herve Simon and his assistant Cheryl Leow, provided me with a great new map of Asia. A month very well spent !

Nov 00 : The major task of this month was to translate the Indonesia information sent by Matthieu Delbo from French into English. While doing so, Passplanet reached its 50,000 visitors ! A new affiliate program was also established with HotelGuide.com : if you like to travel in relative comfort, you can now book your hotels online and save money ! Following some posting on the great travel newsgroup "rec.travel.asia", I had an interesting debate about spamming and some other related topics like whether Passplanet could classify as a commercial site (see F.A.Q. for my answer) and the lack of behavior of some guys. It always annoy me to be insulted when trying to help others... 

Oct 00 : The major event was the "official" launch of Passplanet Asia, covering 9 countries and 160 localities. This gave some funny guys the opportunity for some bashing of Passplanet on the great Thorn Tree of Lonely Planet. Those direct & indirect insults not only increased the traffic but also gave me the opportunity to discuss with the courteous LP staff and get a direct link from their section Subwwway "Pocket-friendly travel".  Thanks !  This being said, I find very sad that some people have nothing better to do than insulting sites whose main purpose is to help backpackers.  Those are the same people, I suppose, who find pleasure & excitement at posting repetitive trash articles on the above forum. The ugly side of internet...

Sept 00 : The month started with the pre-launch of Passplanet's Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore. Then, following the comments of a reader recommending Passplanet on the Thorn Tree of Lonely Planet (thanks !), an "anonymous" guy courageously posted an article claiming that Passplanet had been "mining" info from the Oriental List of Peter Neville-Hadley back in January (see below and Travel Tips "how to use taxi" for the real story). Some people really have a weird sense of humor and nothing better to do !  On a brighter side, after nearly a year of patience, Passplanet was finally registered in Yahoo ! under the category "Backpacking Asia". This certainly helped Passplanet to reach the 30,000 visitors but I still wonder why it was not possible to be registered under each country...

Aug 00 : Passplanet's Thailand was pre-launched, after a lot of hours behind the computer. While at it, I also created a limited French section, with the basic presentation of each country.  Very pleased by the result, I made the mistake to over-promote the new section on the Thorn Tree of Lonely Planet. I was therefore contacted by the courteous LP moderators and invited to limit my postings. I apologized and followed their advise since then.   

Feb-Jul 00 : this was a great time in the life of Passplanet : a trip to SE Asia to cover new countries ! Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia & Singapore. That was exciting (especially with countries I had not visited before like Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia), I met a lot of interesting backpackers, but, gosh, that was also a lot of work and I came back exhausted !  A negative aspect of this trip was to learn that my "partner" would not cover Vietnam after all.  A few weeks later, I fortunately met a French guy who promised to cover Indonesia and Vietnam at the beginning of next year !  The 20,000 visitors were reached by Passplanet China & HK in July. 

Jan 00 : An affiliate agreement is entered with Amazon.com for the latest travel guidebooks and with Recommend-it.com for an interesting way to recommend Passplanet and get a chance to win US$10,000 !  At the same time, Passplanet was the target of puerile calumny attacks from the Oriental List so called "moderator" Peter Neville-Hadley. All the 500 or so members of this interesting list (to which I contributed a few times before being expelled) received articles insulting Passplanet (rather funnily called a "para-site") under the pretext that I used one of the discussion to create the section "how to use taxi" in the China's Travel Tips. The true story ? The few paragraphs' article was indeed inspired from the discussion (no copyrights infringements) but the core of the problem was somewhere else : M. Neville-Hadley ordered me to link to his service and I did not follow his order immediately !  He started to insult me, first privately and, then, under the pretext of the taxi article, publicly via his letters. I tried to put an end to this affair by sending him a "conciliation" e-mail but was greeted with even more nastiness.  An interesting anecdote is that this guy is also trying to sell travel books about China... No wonder he does not like Passplanet ! Anyway, from this time onward, Passplanet was regularly insulted on various forums... The reason I can not forget this ridiculous affair.  Anyway, the traffic kept growing and reached 5,000. Also, Passplanet was rated 5 stars by William Collings, the Contributing Editor of Asia Travel Adventures  for Suite101.com. The first "official" recognition !

Dec 99 : This festive month was a relative break for Passplanet. The main stressful task was to find a new hoster, this time with unlimited access. Passplanet therefore moved from France to the States ! 

Nov 99 : The adventure begins !  The first survey  about a country is completed by a backpacker from South-Africa on the 3rd. John Chuk, from the USA, becomes the first contributor on the 10th. The first thousand visitors is reached on the 13th and the first two thousands on the 22nd. The first link submission is received on the 29th. 

28th of October 1999 : Passplanet's China & HK on the www !  This followed a lot of computer works to discover internet, master the software and put all the info into good shape. The result, I believe, was the most complete ressource to travel China available online, with some original info not found in any guidebook !

Feb-Sep 99 : The trip which started it all : China and HK ! I left to compile a new guidebook but ended up with this crazy internet idea...

 

The Fairy Tale...   

Hi, nice to meet you. My name is Benoit Saint Girons. This is a long French name so you would better call me Ben. My background, various statistics or color preference are none of your concern so I'll keep them for me. What you may want to know however is how I came up with that crazy idea of giving away for free all the information I spent months (and money) collecting and whether or not traveling can also affect your mental health...

I have been touring  Asia since 1992, first in Hong Kong where I worked two years to make money and then in other Asian countries where I found various ways to spend money. One of those ways, as well as early indication of serious psychological needs, was to decide to learn Chinese. As a logical consequence,  I spent quite some time in that big and highly original country known as China, with which I became emotionally adducted (if you know a cure, please send me an e-mail). During those adventures, I mostly used the Lonely Planet's On a shoestring series (budget infos for a group of countries) and, honestly, found them rather good and convenient (with, obviously, the limitations of any guidebook)

In 1997, I decided to change air and to visit Sri Lanka, India & Nepal before heading back to China. Finding no "On a shoestring"  for this area, I decided not to commit suicide but to buy a guidebook from another publisher.  This was an excellent move : the book was so bad that it forced me to think about ways to improve it. And this is how it all started : once upon a time...  

Waking up a bit late and alone, I quickly realized that trying to compete with the Champion "Lonely Planet" or the Challenger "Rough Guides" would be a bloody fight. Not being masochist, I decided not to try to be better but, instead, explore ways to be  different. I smoked a bit and, eureka, found a big highway...

I spent the next year thinking about it in many various directions and positions. The concept evolved quite a bit but still maintained its core ideas (all rights reserved) :

  • Budget's information only. If you are rich, kindly send me money so I can afford to recommend luxury hotels next time...

  • Indispensable & reliable information only. If you do not know how to tie your shoes or need recommendations about every corner's restaurants, better join a tour or carry books written by culinary experts of your own nationality...

  • Facts, not literature. If you travel in order to get time to read, please store on novels or essays written by good English writers...  

  • Regular updates. If you do not like to waste time trying to find a place that has been closed for the past two years, please help us maintain our infos fresh & crispy...

  • Light & cheap. If you like to carry a big bag and a small wallet, plenty of heavyweight guide books are already available on the market...

In 1999, my conditions deteriorated to the point that I decided to become serious about my business idea : I went to China again and collected practical information for quite a few interesting places. At the same time, I annoyed all the  backpackers I met with silly questions about the places they visited or their expectations of a guide book. And the concept evolved again a bit more...  

The initial feedback was very encouraging. I therefore took the decision to expand the offering to other Asian countries.  I went to Asia again at the beginning of 2000 and traveled extensively for 5 months, visiting one more time Thailand, Malaysia & Singapore and discovering Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.  Then, at the beginning of 2001, it was Central America : Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. And here we are : 15 countries and more than 240 localities covered !

 

Why internet ?

The idea of using Internet as a promotion tool was obvious from the early beginning. But the decision to use it as the main way to share the information at a very affordable price (it's free !) was more recent. I took that extreme decision for several reasons :

  • As far as I knew, nobody had done it on such a scale before so it was an interesting & innovative kind of challenge.

  • The information would reach more backpackers faster and, who knows, some of them might be interested to join me in the adventure...

  • I believed that a quality site could eventually generate enough revenues to keep running & growing

  • I was a novice regarding internet and this would be a good incentive to learn  

But the main reason was for the interactivity offered by the web. A "classic" guide book takes time to write,  publish and distribute.  This is why most publishers can only manage an update every two years (at best !).  Unfortunately, travel information is very volatile and after one year, when the book reach the stores, quite a few addresses are already obsolete. By using the web, it would be possible to avoid those annoyances. Indeed, the updated info sent by travelers can immediately be shared with others !  Interactivity & exchanges between backpackers is the main idea behind Passplanet !  A "Get infos before my trip, Give infos after my trip" kind of dynamic. So, please, take the time to participate ! and help others travel the world ! Thanks in advance.