By Frankie Wallace
When you think of packing a backpack and a map and just hitting the road, it sounds so relaxing — and retro. But what most of us don’t remember is how stressful traveling could be before all our gadgets came onto the scene. It took so much more work to plan, and if your trip didn’t go according to that plan, you needed to be very willing to go with the flow.
As much as tech can stress us out (especially when it doesn’t work), it has done wonders for traveling. Whether you’re taking a staycation or you’re taking that dream trip around the world, tech enables you to plan, take-off, and wander without the wonder of what’s around the corner.
While our wanderlust may be the same as past generations’, many of the ways we engage with the world are totally different. And the ways tech is impacting travel may surprise you.
Fintech Makes Spending Seamless
If you were lucky enough to have taken family vacations as a kid, you might remember wanting to collect the different types of currencies your parents got. You won’t necessarily remember how complicated getting those notes was for your parents. Until recently (and even now), booking a flight was relatively easy: figuring out how to get your money when you got there was harder. It always involved a series of phone calls to the bank and a credit card company, perhaps trading some USD at your bank or another exchange center, or even buying traveler’s checks.
When debit cards came along, they simplified the process, but they came with huge transaction fees and the risk of getting blocked or lost.
In today’s world, global payments are so much simpler, and it’s largely thanks to fintech. Fintech companies now offer people better exchange rates and the ability to transfer funds, secure cards, and seamless payment options — no matter where you go and without the need to call your bank first. Streamlined apps and 4G connections mean you can see what’s in your bank account in real-time and even block or unblock your card with the touch of a button.
Big Data Makes It Easier to Leave Home
One of the most important technologies making it easier to roam free is big data. Unlike fintech, big data isn’t necessarily consumer-facing, but its effects are. Big data is behind trends like optimized pricing (used by sites like Trivago), improved safety, and increased personalization.
Hotels, in particular, are using big data to transform the guest experience. Marriott International uses big data to identify and improve popular features, such as whether and how guests spend money at on-site facilities. The company is also testing out the potential for facial recognition at check-in (no more standing in a line behind a tour group) and guest service robots for mundane tasks.
The use of data is about more than just what happens when you arrive in a new place. Leaving is also made easier. For example, the use of big data, mobile tech, and machine learning have created apps that allow people with chronic conditions to travel more freely. You can use an app to track your period (and never be surprised again), manage diabetes (and avoid emergencies in new cities), and general apps like Flaredown, which allow you to track almost everything related to your health (including the option to send reports to your doctor).
Apps Make Getting Around More Consistent
We all know about big apps like Uber and Lyft, which have changed both the way we travel and our home city’s streets. They’re eating into the rental car industry and allowing travelers to get out of cities and explore suburban areas. But the way apps have transformed travel goes so much further than ride-sharing: there’s an app for everything, and that includes every aspect of travel.
But what about when your flight gets delayed or cancelled? Bad weather (or just bad service on the part of the airlines) can you leave stranded at the airport and put a big damper on your vacation. Not only can you begin to rack up the hotel bills, but cancellation fees for further transportation, lodging, or events that you’re missing due to a delayed flight can turn a budget-friendly vacation into a bank account nightmare. Services like AirHelp can perhaps assist in those situations by checking to see if you’re eligible for delayed flight compensation on flights in or out of Europe. It may not compensate for all the hassle of missed connections, but it can take the bite out of increased costs accrued from them.
You can get an app to track weather based on your GPS location. Delivery apps allow you to order-in without ever picking up the phone. Hotel Tonight allows you to book a hotel ASAP when you miss your train or if that Airbnb doesn’t quite look it did in the photos. There are apps for packing to help you never forget your sunglasses or drive progressives again, for the airport, for public transport at your destination, and even for avoiding jet lag.
Tech has completely changed the way we travel in most cases for the better. Seeing the world has never been safer or simpler thanks to the internet and the travel industry’s willingness to embrace new ideas. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some time to unplug. Use apps and data to get you started, but don’t forget to breathe it all in once you get there.