Girl’s Trip to Florence! + Chatbooks

The ability to take a Girl’s Trip always has been and always will be extremely important to me. It’s not that I don’t love the men in my life (my boyfriend, my Dad, my brother), or that I don’t enjoy taking trips with them (I do, most of the time, I swear), but my best girlfriends are scattered all over the country and so the ONLY way for us to see each other is to jump on a plane and meet somewhere. Now, some Girl’s Trips are more “exotic” than others — they have ranged from a fairly routine long-weekend get-together to watch a Stanford tennis match, to a no-expenses spared, week-long rendezvous in the South of France. But all have been equally as fun and memorable. I don’t know at what stage in life you met your best friends, but except for a few BFFs from my hometown (shout out to the 513), almost all of mine are former college tennis teammates. All that said (and I may have led you astray with the intro) a Girl’s Trip I took in February was EXTRA special because I took it with some “girls” that I don’t normally get to travel with — my Mom, my Aunt (her sister), and my 18-year old cousin, Grace. The trip was planned as a graduation trip for Grace (note: I don’t recall getting ANYTHING this fancy for graduation), so when my Aunt asked us if we wanted to join we jumped at the chance. A week of pizza, wine, and gelato in one of my favorite Italian cities? Don’t mind if I do.

Growing up playing tennis, I traveled to a lot of different states, and quite a few countries. However, the main attractions on those trips tended to be the tennis facilities that were hosting the tournaments, and the closest Subway (sandwiches). In other words, even when visiting some of the world’s most desirable destinations, I didn’t get to see a whole lot. That was fine when I was too stupid to realize what I was missing (aka a teenager), but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how precious (and rare) those opportunities are. Florence holds a special place in my heart because it actually IS one of the few places I have been able to visit as a regular ol’ tourist, but before our trip this winter, it had been a whopping 13 YEARS since I last held a genuine Italian gelato cone in my hands. If you ask me, that is FAR too long — but don’t you worry, gelato and I certainly made up for lost time. Just in case math isn’t your thing, 13 years ago put me in Florence pre-smartphone. So while I did have an early model digital camera on that trip, there was no Google Maps to help us navigate the city, no Yelp to check restaurant reviews, and no WhatsApp to easily text + call home. When I really stop and think about it, it was like we were living on a completely different planet than we are today. And honestly, I have ZERO idea how I survived an international trip without all of the technological conveniences we enjoy today.

During our 8 days in Florence (including a few day trips to Monteriggioni, Siena, and Venice) we taste-tested every gelato shop within a 10-mile radius, logged over 125,000 steps on our FitBits, and laughed until we cried into our wine glasses. All in all, a pretty perfect Girl’s Trip.

But where’s the tech you ask?! Well, truth be told a lot of gadgets, services, and apps were used on our trip, but there’s one in particular that I wanted to highlight — a service called Chatbooks. Chatbooks is one of several companies (see some alternatives at the bottom of this post) that gives you the ability to create photo books in an easier, more affordable, and less time-consuming way. I love a good scrapbook as much as the next girl, but anyone that has ever actually MADE a scrapbook knows how expensive and painstaking the process can be. On top of that, forget creating multiple versions of the same book if you want to send a copy to more than one person. Fortunately, services like Chatbooks have made all of those problems a thing of the past. While some might say that digital photo books take away a little of the “personal touch” that scrapbooking offers, I say it’s the message that’s important, not the medium. If a digital photo book helps me easily and inexpensively get my photos to the people that want to see them, that is what matters. Besides, I’m pretty sure 75% of my scrapbook projects ended up under my bed in little Jo-Ann Fabrics supply piles, never to be seen again #RIP.

How I Use It

You can create a photo book on the Chatbooks mobile app (Apple + Android) and on its desktop site, and it offers several photo book options, including:

(1) One-off Custom Photo Books — this is the option I chose; you create a photo book using photos from either your phone’s camera roll, Google Photos, Facebook photos, or Instagram photos; 6×6 or 8×8 book options.

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6×6 Photo Book
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8×8 Photo Book

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(2) Photo Book Series — this option is basically a photo book subscription; you pay $8/month (at the lowest level) and connect either your phone’s camera roll, or your Facebook or Instagram account; Chatbooks will pull in your recent photos and automatically create a photo book for you every time you post 60 new photos; you can edit the photos before the book prints and pause the service at anytime.

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Each option is slightly different, and you can read about the differences in the screenshots above. The Custom Books give you a little more flexibility, and I like the option for full-page photos (see photos of my book below) and the ability to create a larger size book. However, if I had children and was taking a ton of every-day photos that I wanted to document and save in an ongoing series of albums, I might opt for the Photo Book Series option.

Why I Love It (or Don’t)

Why did I choose Chatbooks over the other services out there? Well, marketing matters (to me). And branding (also) matters (to me). I saw a video that the company produced for social media that made me laugh, and if you can make me laugh with what is basically a glorified advertisement, you’ve sold me. BUT, could Chatbooks back up its clever marketing?!? As far as the actual book goes, the quality is excellent. The full-page photos are VERY slick. I would say that 95% of the photos look exactly how I expected them to look. Remember, these were shot on an iPhone 7, not a DSLR camera. Generally, what you see in the mobile app as you make the book is what you get, and only a couple of the photos came out a little less “crisp” than I had hoped. However, I chalk that up to the camera I used, and not anything on Chatbooks’ end. I also opted for a hard cover, which classed my book up even more (recommended!). I may give some of the other services a try because I like finding the best option available, but overall I’m very satisfied with my Chatbook. If nothing else far exceeds what I got from them, then Chatbooks likely has me as a customer for a while.

Chatbooks also appears to have good customer service and an active Facebook page where its team answers all kinds of questions. The mobile app is relatively easy to use, and I only experienced a few minor hiccups when creating my book. The only REAL issue I had was when I added a “text page” to my book. The text ended up being reallllly tiny and almost impossible to read without a magnifying glass. I don’t know if I did something wrong, or if something malfunctioned on their end, so I’ve been meaning to reach out to them. I will post an update here if/when I hear back.

My recommendation is to pick a trip or an event where you have a significant number of quality photos and design a book for yourself. I tested Chatbooks out by making a book for my Mom, so it was a nice way to remember the trip + get me some brownie points!

 

Alternative Photo Book Services (not all photo book apps/sites are created equal, so click on each name to read more about what each offers). If I end up trying some other services, I’ll post a follow-up. And if YOU try one and really love it, let me know!

 

Lagniappe: for a few more photos of our trip — keep scrolling! 🙂

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Gusta Pizza. Inexpensive perfection!
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Unlike me, she never looks boring and awkward in photos. Sigh.
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When in Italy, if you don’t have gelato at LEAST once a day, you’re doing it wrong.
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Paris isn’t the only city for lovers.
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The incredibly impressive meat locker at Buca Mario.
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A cloudy day-trip to Venice!
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I felt right at home during Carnival.
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Another trip to Venice without taking a gondola ride. I guess a photo is the next best thing?
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The beautiful Siena Cathedral from way up high.
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Flags representing the different “districts” or neighborhoods in Siena. I bought the Torre (Tower) flag 13 yrs ago, and still have it. Its symbol is the elephant!
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No trip to Italy is complete without a wine tasting (or two).
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Salami and cheese for every meal? Yes, please.

 

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Just two gals. Sitting on a ledge. Looking out over Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo.
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We loved our dinner at Buca Mario so much that we came back again two nights later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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