The holidays have come and gone and I took a few weeks away with the family traveling overseas. Being the perennial geek that I am, this gave me a great opportunity to really experiment with some of the more interesting new travel-related technologies and websites out there to help us manage and organize our journey.
I have an unhealthy connection to my laptop. I carry it with me constantly like a security blanket. Unfortunately, my handy-dandy Dell weighs a ton and takes a lot of space while providing about an hour of battery life between charges. It is not, therefore, the ideal travel companion.
This year, I let go of the laptop and took only my iPad and smart phone. Being on Verizon, neither provided the “always connected” experience that I rely on at home, but both were great tools on the trip.
Not having access to “the cloud” presented some challenges as I prepared for the trip, although we were able to connect to WiFi at each of our lodging points. A few pieces of software proved to be critical:
- Tripit – This Web service, backed up by excellent apps on both Android and iOS, was the backbone of our planning. Every booking came with a confirmation email that was forwarded to Tripit. The service then parsed out the relevant details and built an itinerary that I could share with family members that could be saved on our devices for offline access and printed out nicely as a backup. When Internet access was available, the apps also offered one-click access to flight updates, weather, maps and directions.
- Offline Maps – I used DirectU Europe and MapsWithMe, each of which had their ups and downs, but they were free and proved to be very helpful in getting around town. We mostly used paper maps when wandering around, but these digital maps proved to be a serviceable backup when Google Maps wasn’t available.
- eBooks – I took a few travel books along, but wound up using eBook versions more than their paper counterparts. For the most part, I checked these out from our local library using Overdrive (the service to which the library subscribes), although I also gathered some great audio tours through Rick Steve’s app.
- Mindmap – This is a strange one, I know, but I used this free-form brainstorming app to organize much of the trip. As I read about destinations, I’d drop ideas into Mindmap and then dragged them around to build our itineraries for each city.
There are a number of sites that help find the best prices and options across a range of different sites, eventually sending visitors to those sites to actually book travel plans. The leader in this space is Kayak, which searches hundreds of sites to help users with the travel standards of hotels, cars and flights.
Visualize Travel Data
Another entrant that brings some new twists to the aggregator category is Hipmunk. Hipmunk has two major innovations that make it my new favorite site to search for flights. First, they put your flight options on a sort of Gantt chart timeline so that you can see when each leaves, lands, the length of connections and landings in a very intuitive manner. The second innovation is a proprietary sorting algorithm that they call “agony” that ranks sites not only by cost, but by the pain of flight, placing flights with multiple connections or that uses multiple airlines below some more expensive but less frustrating options.
If you want to stay somewhere other than a hotel, there are a several great options to find a private apartment, house or even just a spare room for rent. We used Airbnb to find a one bedroom apartment with a kitchen a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower for less than we’d have spent for small hotel room in the same area. The experience is very socially-oriented. Potential renters need to message landlords before getting a commitment on the space and everything gets reviewed afterwards – guests, hosts and properties.
Planning and booking proved to be very easy in part because of the ever-improving translation capabilities of Google. Whenever I hit a site or review in another language, Chrome prompted me to translate and voila! Those horror stories of the language barriers getting in the way are largely a thing of the past (at least until you actually get where you’re going).
Travel is one of those industries that has been dramatically changed in the last decade through technology and continues to be a great place to look for the cutting edge innovations that we’ll be looking to apply to healthcare in the next few years.