Travelling can be the best of times, or the worst of times, depending on how prepared you are. But technology can lend a helping hand in making it all run smoothly. There are a host of AI-driven applications and tools out there focused on making every step of the way a bit easier, leaving you to focus on the fun bits.
We’ve selected some of our favourites below, what are yours?
Finding the best seat
Through SeatGuru, Reviews site TripAdvisor now leverages its popular data crowd sourcing model to show travellers to the best-value airplane seats and help them “fly smarter.”
Matthew Daimler launched a bare-bones version of SeatGuru in 2001– back then it consisted of a single colour-coded interactive airplane seating chart – to share useful information with other travellers. As a frequent flyer himself, he became frustrated at the vast differences in prices between airplane seats, and wanted to empower other users to make informed choices and scoop up the best deals. The site was purchased by TripAdvisor in 2007 and has since attracted over ten million visitors.
Each aircraft has its own page, and users can add their views by clicking on the “Submit Comments” button. Seats are rated according to whether they provide a “like”, “love” or just about “live with” flight experience. SeatGuru then leverages its proprietary G-Factor algorithm to allow other members of the community to pick the best ones based on factors such as width, pitch and comfort.
“Thousands of reviews have been added to the SeatGuru database by flyers who know a great seat when they sit in one. Our SeatGuru editors utilise these comments to maintain the accuracy of our airplane seat information and update the site with both community-submitted reviews and independent research,” explains Daimler.
Stricter security is making it more and more difficult to be sure that what you pack will actually be allowed with you on the plane. Where it comes to hand luggage, even if you stick to the ever-stingier cabin bag allowance, full flights will often run out of room in the overhead lockers, causing boarding delays and much annoyance.
The answer, you would think, would be to check your bag in, but the goalposts have been shifting there too. Allowances vary a great deal depending on the airline and the price of your ticket, and many carriers have stopped including a piece of checked luggage as standard for shorter haul flights. Fees for taking “extra” luggage on can quickly mount; taking three or more bags on United or Delta can cost around $150 each, and four or more bags on American Airlines will set you back a whopping $200 per piece. And if that bag is oversized, you’re looking at $75-$200 on top of all that.
There are some tricks worth trying to get around those problems, such as buying your ticket with the airline’s branded credit card, which often comes with extra luggage perks, or choosing an airline such as Southwest which has more generous allowances.
But if you have to purchase the privilege of taking your luggage with you anyway, why not skip all this stress? Services such as Sendmybag allow you to pack ahead of time and just have your luggage waiting for you at the other side. It is also possible to ship your luggage to your destination via a regular courier service such as FedEx, and the cost compares quite favourable with some of those eye-watering airline fees. For example, sending a 51-pound bag from Chicago to New York costs as little as $41.
Keeping track of your stuff
Few things have greater potential for quickly ruining a holiday or turning your business trip into a nightmare than getting your belongings lost or stolen. Unfortunately, that happens quite a lot, but here again we have some handy tech hacks that can come to the rescue should you need it.
The Tile app works with a little beacon device which you can put on your keychain, wallet or bag. It has handy features such as the ability to ring lost items from your phone. If you’re within a 100-foot range the device emits a loud tune, perfect for those “where did I put the keys?” moments.
TravelTag is another handy luggage-tracking app for iOS and Android. It even notifies you when your bag arrives at the airport conveyor belt, saving you having to watch that carousel come around one more time with someone else’s battered suitcases. Since we spend on average 18 minutes each trip fruitlessly waiting for that “Eureka!” moment where you recognize your bag coming towards you, that’s a collective 16 billion wasted minutes a year that this simple technology could potentially save the planet.
Most of us lead “always-on” lives, constantly searching for information and sharing our experiences online. And while a holiday might be a good excuse to unplug and have a bit of a “digital detox,” that should be a matter of choice, not of being unable to find a connection and relying on extortionate data roaming charges.
In most places these days, however, there is a wealth of Wi-Fi connections you’re able to use to stay connected – if only you know where they are. This is where a hotspot database such as WeFi becomes a lifesaver. They have a huge list of over 100 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, including rural areas you might not necessarily expect. You can download their app for iPhone and Android too, so that you’re never left without a search engine to find a connection in the first place.
Making money from your travels
Since sharing our experiences is something we enjoy so much, why not make money out of it? Travelling can be very expensive after all. That’s the idea behind IQplanner which bills itself as an “Airbnb for social trip planning” allowing you to monetise inspiring travel tales.
The platform enables travellers to share their own travel stories (which they call adventures), so that others can benefit from their experience and recommendations. Authors can write, edit and publish their personal travel itineraries, including video and images on the site’s blogging platform. If another user is inspired to book a bespoke itinerary, the author of the adventure gets rewarded with up to 70% commission.
“We’ve evolved travel planning to create an online marketplace for travellers loosely based on the sharing economy model, whereby those who share their experience are rewarded for creating high quality and purposeful content,” explains IQPlanner Co-founder Dmitrijus Konovalovas.
Once an author has finished uploading their adventure, they can share them in a browsable ‘adventure store’. Here, users can create their own travel plan using the author’s adventure template. Users can simply adjust the dates or ingredients such as hotels or cities to personalise a trip, and then book it. There are over 200 adventures already listed, and IQPlanner is collaborating with travel magazines, bloggers and photographers to create many more.