Image (c) Sean MacEntee
Technology is, as the saying goes, everywhere. And the times have indeed a-changed. Once the preserve of corporate road warriors on the company’s dollar, laptops and smartphones seem to have become standard items on packing lists – even for backpackers. This begs the question – does technology help to improve or in fact spoil the travel experience?
You’re going to answer that question, right?
Well I’m going to try to address it, yes. On one level I would far prefer to leave all the gadgets at home, even the mobile phone. I’d take my camera kit because I’d convince myself that a DSLR wasn’t a gadget but the rest I’d happily live without. I mean what’s wrong with a guide book and a map? Do we need our GPS coordinates while wandering the market in Marrakesh?
Many would say yes, after getting lost trying to find their hotel from the Djemma el Fna…
But isn’t getting a little lost part of the experience? Anyway, your longitude and latitude won’t help you there so that’s a bad example. Our view here at Grown-up Travel Guide is that there should be as few barriers between the visitor and the locals, and waving your iPhone camera around to get an augmented reality view of the mosque in Djenne with handy information superimposed onto the screen is just plain wrong.
There’s a big old “however” coming up here unless I’m much mistaken…
However, technology can also help you travel when used properly. On that note, I’d like to share my experiences of planning and enjoying a short break in London with the help of a laptop and a smartphone. To keep things easy I only made use of apps that are free of charge and available on both Android and iPhone/Pad formats.
So this is how I used tech on my trip:
- First of all I looked up flight information online. For Trondheim to London there isn’t a great deal of choice so I simply used the SAS and Norwegian websites. Both have good search functionality and a low price calendar which makes it easy to find deals. I have also rarely found better prices than on the airlines’ own sites. An advantage of booking directly is that you can earn frequent flier points (although not many for this route).
- I then set about finding a hotel. Again I like to book directly if possible as I find you get a better room and can earn loyalty points if the hotel has a scheme. I know this is debatable but that debate will have to be for another article. Many hotel chains have their own free apps too which can be useful when on the move.
- As the frequent flier whore that I am I use AwardWallet to track my reward programme balances. There is also an app available so you can keep track on the road.
- Flying with SAS I received an SMS 22 hours before departure informing me that I can now check in via SMS or the internet. I was also able to select my seat at no extra charge. On longer flights I would use Seatguru to find the best seat but I was able to grab the one by the emergency exit as it was clearly shown as available on the SAS site.
- I checked the weather for my stay using the excellent Norwegian site yr.no. Unsurprisingly I decided I wouldn’t be needing the shorts.
- I then booked my seat in a shared taxi to the airport using the cab company’s website and received an SMS confirmation of when I would be picked up. An app is also available. I would imagine this kind of service is fairly commonplace in other cities?
- I downloaded the Oslo airport app since I was flying via the Norwegian capital. Most major airports have something similar or even a loyalty scheme and app as in Copenhagen. This is worth investigating in advance as I needed to register then collect my card at Copenhagen. I was then entitled to free Wi-Fi at the airport, which is always nice. Check the websites of the airports you will be using for details of Wi-Fi access too; it can be free for a limited time such as in Oslo and Trondheim but you may need to collect an access code – save time by finding this out first. If you are a member of Priority Pass download their app too so you can check if you can use the lounge and actually find it. It’s worth noting that membership is often provided free with a credit card.
- Still at home I bought my ticket for the Heathrow Express from the airport into London. This was cheaper online and in advance and I also downloaded their app, allowing me to show the barcode image on my phone to the conductor on the train.
- I also filled up my Oyster card which I had bought on a previous trip to London. It is easier here if you can use a UK address but they will post a card abroad too. If you prefer you can buy a card when you get to London. I recommend bypassing the huge queues at stations and getting one from a newsagent.
- I made use of the internet to book tickets for sights I planed to visit. You’ll save money this way and can usually print out the tickets at home. Indeed you often have to, which is a pain if you are already abroad and have no access to a printer, although many places are opening up to the idea of e-tickets which you can open from your email client on your phone
- I also purchased my River Roamer ticket for the Thames Clippers boat service which I printed at home after it was emailed to me.
- Now to the most important point here – I did some research before leaving to find a SIM card I could buy to use while in the UK. I settled on Orange, and this worked fine. The disadvantage of having a different phone number while away is more than made up for by having full control over your roaming costs which can be extremely high, extremely fast. You can by one of these pay-as-you-go SIM cards in most supermarkets as well as other retailers, just make sure the plan you choose includes data usage. You can top up the balance online or in a store and keep the SIM for later trips.
- In England and now with cheap internet access from my phone I downloaded the Time Out app for London which is a good directory of things to do and excellent for checking opening times etc. I also made use of Google Maps. A London underground map app is also a good idea.
- I used the Time Out app to find restaurants and called to book tables. Yes, called! You can often email or use an online reservation system though…
- Trip Advisor is another website with an app that may be of use, but I tend to use the service with care these days as there are a lot of dodgy reviews.
- Finally I used the laptop as storage for the pictures I took – although with the low cost of memory cards you could arguably just take a few extra ones and leave the laptop at home.
Your conclusions from this little experiment?
Using technology to this extent was a great help; I saved both time and money. The most important aspect of travelling is to absorb a new place as much as possible, so don’t go overboard with the smartphone use while there. But for planning, and being able to find alternatives when your plans change (or a place is full, closed etc.) is a real plus. For longer trips I would prefer spontaneity – but if you have limited time use technology to make the most of it; it was a definite benefit for my visit to London.
Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide.com