Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Travel and Technology

A couple months ago, I was on an anti-technology kick, pushing for people to take relaxing vacations where they left all forms of electronic communication behind. While that is still a great idea, and I encourage at least one trip like that a year, I cannot deny the facts: travel and technology--in this day and age--are practically synonymous. If the numerous travel websites like Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire and Kayak are not evidence enough, check out all the latest travel apps that are available for smart phones. Technology is making travel easier, less stressful and more accessible, and people are loving every micro-second of it.

While technology can be a distraction on vacations, it can certainly help people get there and get around. I'm not sure where any of us would be without the trusty aid of GPS--what street are we on again?--or quick access to airline reservations--can we switch our flight to tomorrow? But there are so many more websites and apps launching nowadays that it's difficult to know everything that's out there.

On my long commute to work this morning, I was reading the feature story in the RedEye, which talked about all the ways that smart phones can ease the stress of travel. There are a number of different applications you can download related to the many facets of travel, some I had heard of, and others were completely foreign to me. As an avid traveler and someone who looks for anyway to simplify vacations, I felt a lot of these would be extremely convenient to have on a trip. I already have the app for Yelp.com downloaded on my phone, which is extremely helpful when hunger strikes as you are wandering around an unfamiliar city. All you have to do is open the app, select what you want to find (cheap eats, hot dogs, fancy restaurant) and your current location and results instantly pop up, showing hundreds of options located just a few feet away. Google Goggles is a useful app when traveling in a country you are very unfamiliar with. The program can translate a menu into English or can tell you the history of a monument in a flash, all you have to do is snap a picture of the item and the app does the rest. The Currency app is convenient when you are unsure about conversion rates--how much would this Fendi purse cost me in dollars? The app displays the current currency rates and even updates automatically with fresh information, since currency exchange can switch on a daily and hourly basis. Similar to Yelp, Happy Hour is an app that can show you all the great drink deals in the area you are visiting; so if it's five o'clock and you're out and about, this app can show you where to find a cheap watering hole close by.

As far as websites go, there is something out there for every possible travel need from tracking flights and navigating airports to managing travel itineraries and selecting optimal seating on planes.That's right, there is a website completely dedicated to finding the best seat on an aircraft. SeatGuru.com shows the layout for over 100 airlines and their featured planes, color-coding the best and worst places to sit. Reviewers back up these claims with comments about whether the seat is located near the bathrooms or if there is a cup holder. (Yeah, it's that specific.) You can also use the site to check for in-flight amenities. The only problem is that you cannot actually reserve your desired seat through the website, but at least you will know which one to select when choosing seat assignments online.

Some other interesting websites that caught my attention: TripIt.com, a website that inputs all your travel information into an online itinerary and sends you check-in reminders and even alerts you to flight delays and gate changes (you can also add restaurants and activities to the itinerary, but this needs to be done manually); Zicasso.com, a simple way to get travel ideas from a number of different sources all at once, all it takes is filling out a short questionnaire about the trip you want to take and voila, price quotes and suggested itineraries are at your fingertips within a couple days (and you don't have to commit to any of the travel companies that submitted suggestions); Livemocha.com is a site that helps you learn, or freshen up on, a language through flash cards, videos and live conversations with native speakers (but make sure you have a webcam, headphones and a microphone so you can fully learn any of the 35 languages featured).

Just as there is an unlimited amount of places to see in the world, there seems to be an endless array of technical options to get you there. So take advantage of these conveniences, utilize their benefits and make booking your next trip simple and worry-free. But be sure to toss that phone or computer aside momentarily and take in the wonderful environment that surrounds you.

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