How to use tech to improve travel

Posted on March 14, 2014 by in England, Europe, Features, Places.

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, tablets 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 iPad 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 tablet 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.

Fair enough.

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 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.
  • In England and now with free internet access at my hotel 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. All of these are best viewed on a tablet.
  • 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.

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.) technology is a real plus.

For longer trips I would prefer spontaneity – but if you have limited time gadgets can help you make the most of it; it was a definite benefit for my visit to London.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide.com

What gadgets and apps do you use when travelling? Do you think technology improves or spoils travel? Let us know!

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5 Responses to “How to use tech to improve travel”

  1. Andrew @ Blogging GuideMarch 14, 2014 at 12:14 #

    Andy

    I would love to be travel tech savvy. I know how much it can help me.

    Next time my phone is due an upgrade I am def going to get some sort of smart phone and use it.

    I intend to travel to the US this year and want to make it as smooth as possible.

    Last year my wife and I drove through Europe and we booked hotels on the way but it was via a laptop and hotel room!

    Andrew

    • Andy HiggsMarch 14, 2014 at 12:33 #

      Hi Andrew, yes it’s worth giving it a go. After swearing blind I’d never get a smart phone (especially not with one of those touchscreen things!) I gave in when my trusty Sony died. I went with the Samsung Galaxy S2 and have to admit it’s been great. Just simple things like access to email when on the go are a major plus, and the apps etc. are a bonus. The main issue will now be data costs, so check online before you go to the US to find a SIM card you can use so you pay local rates. Or you could consider something like Mi-Fi, which Matt reviewed over on Landlopers: http://landlopers.com/2011/09/06/internet-travel-access-cheaper/. If you search his site he also gave his thoughts after using it in Europe.
      Cheers for now,
      Andy

  2. Kathy Ver EeckeMarch 14, 2014 at 13:07 #

    Hey Andy –
    I use the TripCase app. You can add plane, car rental and hotel info. It keeps it all handy, but most importantly it sends you updates about your flight; delays, cancellations etc.
    You can also track your expenses in the app, forward your itinerary etc.
    Best part, it was either free or darned close!
    Kathy

    • Andy HiggsMarch 14, 2014 at 13:36 #

      Hi Kathy and thanks for the feedback. I have downloaded (but not really used) TripIt which I think is very similar, it’s true this kind of tool can help you keep track of things, and being warned of delays etc. is very smart. Have a great day,
      Andy

  3. Andy HiggsMarch 14, 2014 at 14:01 #

    If you want to see an extreme example of tech equipment for travel, this article (which is written from a US angle) is both informative and daunting at the same time. I would never feel the need to go quite this far: http://www.forbes.com/sites/marcwebertobias/2011/06/24/tools-of-the-travelgeek-voice-and-data-devices/

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