Photos via Travelfish

Travelfish is a hugely popular online travel guide to Southeast Asia.

The success of Travelfish, Matador and other travel websites begs a questions – are travelers spending too much time online these days?

Here’s an open letter from Stuart MacDonald, the co-founder of Travelfish:

Despite the dour economic scene worldwide, it seems barely a week passes without a press release landing in my in-tray proclaiming yet another internet travel site destined to be the best thing since padded moneybelts.

The higher-tech sites promise things like localizing content depending on where you are (via your laptop or mobile phone) and telling you how far down the road the guesthouse is — but if you pass another guesthouse while walking down Khao San Road in Bangkok you might get a text from them telling you they are offering a 50% off deal if you check-in during the next hour.

Is that really as absurd as it sounds?

Obviously running a website like Travelfish, we hope to help travelers plan and enjoy their trip, but has travel become too wired?

It’s a sign of the times that it is considered normal to walk into a guesthouse and see it full of travelers gazing into their laptops, checking their Facebook page, updating their travel blog, uploading their photos, Twittering, ranting on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree or, yes, cruising Travelfish.

Just a few years ago, walking into a scene like that would have been decidedly odd.

How is this changing travel?

People’s sources of travel intelligence are morphing.

Largely gone are the days of guesthouse comment books, once immensely valuable tomes full of snippets and travel advice. Instead people search travel websites for up-to-date info.

Why ask a stranger in the common room where a good cafe is when you can simultaneously ask a million people through Twitter on your laptop?

Why use a guidebook when a savvy website will localize content to your iPhone and recommend the best guesthouse within 100 metres of where you are standing based on your past reservation preferences?

Why swap addresses when you can just swap phone numbers or email addresses on your Blackberry? When was the last time on the road you actually exchanged postal addresses with another traveler?

What happens when you leave your laptop, iPhone and Blackberry at home? Remember Poste Restante?

All these new ways of collecting travel intelligence can be great, but when it comes to up-to-date information they are rarely a substitute for sitting down with a complete stranger and swapping notes.

So try it: Switch off your laptop, walk across the room and introduce yourself to another traveler — you’ll be surprised just how much untapped information is sitting right there in the guesthouse common room with you.

And, of course, once you’re done chatting, be sure to get the laptop back on and post the information on Travelfish quicksmart — or at least throw in your two cents about wired travel on the Travelfish forum.

What Do You Think?

Hey there, wired traveler. What do you think about the profusion of online travel guides? Please leave a comment below.