I have a confession: I have an immense collection of postcards that never reached their intended recipients. Lack of postage, a complete address, or even motivation have turned countless scribbled postcards into nothing more than bookmarks in my guidebooks.
But now there's no excuse. New apps make it ridiculously easy to send a photo postcard from your phone. I checked out a few of the free ones.
First up, Postcard by Concierge.com (www.concierge.com). It's the first iPhone app from the Condé Nast travel Web site, which is worth a visit in its own right.
The application is fairly easy to use. It overlays a frame on a picture snapped with your iPhone camera. There are dozens to choose from - some kind of cheesy, others kind of classy. I liked the one that looks like an old-style airmail envelope.
Pick a frame, set up your snapshot, and fire. Then you adjust the picture by magnifying or shrinking it a bit and centering it in the frame. Once you're happy with the image, you can add a message, and e-mail the postcard. If the recipient's e-mail is in your address book, it's a breeze to send, or you can type in an address.
The app also records your GPS location, so recipients can see where you were when you shot it.
The app is free, but be ready to see advertisements when you create and send your postcard. Also, the e-mailed postcard comes with a link to the Concierge.com guide to the location (if one exists).
Under preferences, be sure to turn off the option to share your postcard on the Web site, unless you want everyone to be able to see it. I accidentally posted a few practice shots, including one of my dog sleeping.
But your postcards don't have to be virtual. There are apps that will make a postcard you can hang on the fridge door or send to Grandma.
HazelMail (www.hazelmail.com) is the first I tried. The company prints out your photo and sends it via snail mail. Of course, this isn't free. The company will mail a postcard anywhere in the world for $1.50.
You can either snap a picture with the free iPhone app or upload photos from your computer. HazelMail puts the photo on one side and prints your message on the other.
The snail-mailed postcards are especially nice to send to older relatives who might prefer something on paper showing up in a real mailbox over something in a computer inbox.
But some pages on the Web site wouldn't open properly for me using a Mac, though they worked fine in Windows. And while HazelMail gives you one Hazel Buck when you open an account, it wasn't clear what that meant. (Turns out, that enables you to send one postcard.) You need to buy more to send other postcards.
The final app I tried bridges the gap between virtual and real.
Postino (www.apple.com/itunes) is a free app that will send a real or e-mail postcard with a photo from your library or one you snap in the app. A neat feature is the option to create your own signature by freehand drawing on your iPhone screen. Postino also offers frames for your photo, many of them fairly nondescript. In "Preferences," you can set Postino to include your location.
But the e-mailed postcard shows the company Anguria Lab as the sender, so it was shunted into my spam folder, while Concierge.com postcards showed my e-mail account as the sender.
However, unlike Postcard, Postino's e-mailed image was larger and lacked the advertisements and links to Web sites. Postino is also available for Windows Mobile as well as the iPhone. You can also use it to create paper postcards (but not electronic ones) from your computer through Facebook.
To send a physical postcard, you have to buy stamps from Postino: $1.99 for one, and a slightly discounted rate for greater numbers.
Of the three, I preferred Postcard. But if you want to send either virtual or hard-copy postcards, Postino is probably the best bet.
Next Sunday: Game Traveler
Dec. 27: Travel Deals
Jan. 3: Senior Traveler
What: Booking site for group travel, small or large.
Why: Useful when you have several people taking a trip together, all needing flights, hotels, cars, or sightseeing activities.
How: Search for airlines, hotel rooms, and cars by number of travelers. Also lets you narrow down activities for a destination based on interests and who is in your group.
What: Extremely quick airline search site that draws information from 600 airlines around the world.
Why: Major benefit is that it checks foreign airlines, even discounters. You may find flights and routes you didn't know were available.
How: Very simple. Put in destination and dates. You can sign up for e-mails about deals from your home airport.
What: Site for planning around-the-world flights.
Why: On many itineraries that take you to distant lands, it's actually cheaper to fly around the world rather than point-to-point. Also, the site gives you prices on around-the-world flights with at least four stops.
How: Price itineraries by clicking your route on a map or clicking on various cities. You'll also get suggestions for similar routes that give you more for your money.
- Ellen Creager,
Detroit Free Press