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Technology and the travel experience

There was a promising new post this morning titled "How technology has transformed the travel industry?" I thought it was going to be an interesting topic but sadly it turned out to be spam. Then later this morning I was thinking about it again as I was standing in line at a tourist location in Jasper, Alberta. The line was going horribly slow as I timed the average customer taking over 5 minutes to get their tickets. As I got closer to the front I realized it was slow because the customers came ill-prepared and were asking questions that could have easily been answered if they'd done their homework on-line ahead of time. And then once we were within the location, people were wandering like lost puppies not sure what to do next.

I'm happy to report I was prepared and I was in and out in less than 30 seconds and knew where to go and what I wanted to do. It was a great day. But it did make me wonder how we are using technology to improve our travels. Research online, reservations, e-commerce, digital photography, even up to the minute weather forecasts so you can plan your day. How is technology improving your travel experience?

Posted by
657 posts

Then later this morning I was thinking about it again as I was standing in line at a tourist location in Jasper, Alberta. The line was going horribly slow as I timed the average customer taking over 5 minutes to get their tickets.

I don't think this is particularly dependent on technology. A lot of people haven't bothered to do any preparation up front. Not with a computer, not with a book, not with a brochure. There are people that I've seen in line at, for example, the train station at a major European airport and are asking questions somewhat like "so where do the trains go?"

Back on topic, were on a trip earlier this summer to another American city where technology made a wonderful difference. We were able to ride buses all around town since the transit apps tell you what bus line to take and even give expected arrival times. 15 years ago you would have needed an armload of bus schedules and maps, going between one and the other to plan out trips. It would have been so cumbersome and tedious. Now its tap, tap, tap and walk to the nearest corner for your bus.

Posted by
205 posts

I am continually amazed at the number of questions on the forum that could easily have been answered by a quick Google search. Over the past 10 years I have booked flights, airport/hotel pick-ups, hotels, checked on museum timings, bus routes and numbers, found the nearest metro station, etc using my computer and latterly have travelled with my IPad and phone to gather info on the run. I use use Google Maps to check on hotel locations and street view to actually “see” the hotel in its location, as well as “walking” routes before setting out.

Posted by
1954 posts

I just spent the last hour on google looking up sites in Venice for my trip next week. It’s a Godsend! I use my iPhone while I’m in Europe for photos, calls, texts and map finding with google.

Posted by
2929 posts

Have to agree with the PPs. With a computer, tablet or smart phone you've got everything at your finger tips. All you have to do is look for it. It's made all of our trips better, both from advance research to up to the minute searches while on the go.

But as Alan found in Jasper, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't force him to drink. There have always been people like this, and there always will. I just wish there was a separate line for the clueless.

Posted by
20 posts

How refreshing to see these comments about travelers not doing their homework.. I have often thought the very same thing when reading forum questions.

I use the apps and Google maps as much as I need to ensure my itinerary is locked down and contingency plans in place.

I've taken 4 RS 'My Way' tours and am still amazed at questions to the guide on the bus just hrs before arrival in a new town, "What should we visit today?"

I'm a solo female traveler, 72 years young and
also believe that doing my homework. having the proper tools (RS guidebook,phone and backpack) is all I need for a successful trip.

Posted by
2043 posts

I can’t even explain how technology has improved our travels because there isn’t enough keystrokes available. Just the fact that we can reserve entry tickets, book walking tours, arrange pick up at the airport, rent cars, email, FaceTime, or WhatsApp family at home, find cooking classes or other unusual activities, check hotel locations and read reviews, check when festivals are to either avoid or attend, it is all helpful and makes a smooth, stress free, fun trip for us.

Posted by
3892 posts

Allan, your post reminded me of our experience in Amsterdam purchasing tickets to the Van Gogh museum. I did not purchase in advance because we were going to Anne Frank's house first. When we got to the Van Gogh museum, the lines were extremely long and not moving very fast, almost not at all. I had my husband get in line and I "got the lay of the land". I didn't have cell service but discovered that I could get museum wifi if I stood next to the building. Once I got on the museum website, I was able to purchase tickets for admission in 15 minutes. DONE! Went and pulled my husband out of the ticket line and explained to some of the folks in line what I had done. No one moved.

I would like to mention that we have 4 parents in their 80s. I've spent a lot of time trying to train my parents on how to use an ipad. My MIL, has never touched a computer. These are smart, successful people, but technology scares them. I tell my mom over and over that she can just "poke around" on the ipad. There is nothing she can do that can't be fixed. Still it seems to be too much. I think we need to give some folks a pass. It is a lot. Heck, my husband just got his first iphone and I'm working with him on how to use it. He is in his early 60s. We all have our strengths.

Posted by
38 posts

Yes, I use all forms of technology to plan a trip. Do more than use technology.
AND I pay attention to what I enjoy. How many museums and churches and other sites do I want to see?
AND I talk to people like all of you in the forum before and after trips. When I get to my destination, I keep talking and asking questions of fellow travelers and locals.
AND I have back up plans for the unexpected things like transit or museum strikes or weather.

Posted by
137 posts

My love-hate relationship with tech and travel runs the gamut of being thrilled with and immensely helped by use of social media/crowd-sourced reviews apps/GPS mapping in finding our way from Barri Gótic to a terrific El Raval spot for hands-down 'best meal ever' in Barcelona to, eye roll/heavy, dramatic sigh, being severely admonished at every. single. Paris. bistro. to "Wait! Don't eat!" until the requisite pic has been snapped for digital posterity. (Never have I ever felt the need to see someone else's plate; I'm only interested in what's in front of me.) I enjoy having my research done and prepared to use a machine but then choosing, if the option exists, to speak to a local at a Paris Métro station to request a carnet. Even as I try not to outwardly cringe as I sense the deserved exasperation with my atonal, improper French, I love hearing the language I only minimally understand, spoken beautifully and properly. I do appreciate knowing my options, being better informed, having all the helpfully pertinent details that technology so abundantly provides when I travel out of my comfort zone. Yet nearly equally, I enjoy at times being untethered to devices or not executing completely mapped-out plans and taking a serendipitous approach to the wandering and exploring; including asking for directions and relying on on-the-fly input from others. It can be frustrating, sure; but sometimes when time and space allows, it's so fun getting 'lost' when venturing somewhere new. I've got plenty of travel memories where all my wrong turns got me to the right place for unexpected and surprising discoveries. And that goes double for Italy. ;-}

Posted by
410 posts

Technology is a godsend. I remember the days of schlepping maps, sections of RS's books, Xeroxed memos and Cook's Railroad Time table. Not to mention the difficulty of making reservations. Phone? Mail? Play it by ear. (not good, got shut out on a Saturday night in a town that was fully booked). So helpful in navigating public transportation.
I do find the need to take a selfie or family photo in front of every bit of scenery or famous painting extremely irritable. I will never forget a woman who insisted in the Museum d'Orsay, of shoving each one of her kids, individually, in front of a famous painting to get a photo. I do take photos of art work, but I do it quickly, unobtrusively, when there is a break. If no break, I move on.
I do agree that a number of the questions asked on the forum could be answered with a quick Google search.

Posted by
2043 posts

jules m, we had a similar Experience at the van gogh a few years back. I had prepurchased the tickets for the day but not a specific time.When we saw the 3 lines - no ticket, museum pass ticket, timed ticket -I quickly went on line and got a timed extrance for for 10 minutes later. Also while in Amsterdam, we were going to the Anne Frank house and my cousin saw the looooong line. He said no way, I’m not waiting hours to see the sight. I pulled out our timed tickets and we walked to the head of the line and right in the door for prepurchased. There were many young people on line, so fear of Technology is not an excuse. Many people, and we have friends that fall into this category, like to be spur of the moment. They don’t like to “plan out their whole vacation”. I explain we plan and leave time to just wander or take a ‘vacation day’. We spend too much money on our vacations to sit around each morning asking, what do you wanna do today, I don’t know, what do you wanna do.
I edited this because I remembered we had the museum pass but not a timed ticket.

Posted by
911 posts

I always do my homework, I'm a planner, and my MIL is always so pleasantly surprised how smoothly things go for us. It is because of the homework.

Posted by
3892 posts

Barbara, I so agree with you. I would much prefer to not prepurchase tickets to sites. I hate being locked into a schedule, but more I dislike spending my vacation in lines. Or even more, not being able to go to a desired site at all.

I'm a planner. What I have found effective is to prepurchase tickets where necessary, but for everything else I'm planning on doing, I just make a list with days and hours open, and the amount of time I think I'll need. In the morning, I check my weather app and pick something to start with and as the day goes on, I'll add whatever fits the timeframe, weather, or other conditions.

I've been using the Rick Steves walking tours for quite a while, now. LOVE them.

For planning, Google maps was a game changer. During our travels, we use Maps.me. We download maps prior to our trips, "pin" hotels, sites, restaurants, etc. and then we can use Maps.me offline for directions.

During COVID, I started to listen to digital books borrowed from my library during my walks. When I started to plan a trip, I discovered that the particular app our library uses (Libby) has all kinds of travel books available. They can be checked out for 3 weeks so perfect for travel. I can even add books during a trip. I find them a little hard to use on an iphone, but perfect on my ipad. Typically, I'll used the ipad version in our hotel room and make due with the iphone while out and about. All the books get downloaded and used offline.

Posted by
657 posts

I would like to mention that we have 4 parents in their 80s. I've spent a lot of time trying to train my parents on how to use an ipad. My MIL, has never touched a computer. These are smart, successful people, but technology scares them.

I've found that unless older people can find a compelling reason to use something, they won't. We got our mom a laptop. Email, nope, wouldn't do it. But she wasn't great at directions and depended on our dad to figure out how to get where she wanted to go. After he passed away, she learned how to use the GPS in her car in about a week.

Posted by
3892 posts

@John, we had hoped that pictures of their newborn 1st great grandson who lives across the country would do it. So far, not so much. However, you raise a good point, one of the reasons we were hoping to get my mom going on an ipad is that it is very likely she will outlive my dad, and we think at some point, she's going to need some technology to function in our world. My dad currently does quite well with his desktop computer. We hoped the ipad would prove easier for my mother and she could be more independent.

Posted by
1424 posts

Good post and good responses!

I just want to add that many of us on this forum, meaning to be kind and supportive, actually do a disservice to people who post questions that would be easily answered self-reliantly. I think we would do better to teach people to fish rather than to give them a fish.

Posted by
1033 posts

I figuratively do a face palm sometimes at some questions I see here and elsewhere, but I also recognize that some people have different needs, experience, and comfort levels. Some people ask questions that they probably know the answer for but just want some reassurance from others. I know I do that in other contexts.

Having been subject to a few online responses along the lines of, "You are an idiot for even asking that," I think the better course is to always try to be kind.

These days, what annoys me more is when someone asks a question and most of the replies take issue with the asking rather than answer the query or better yet, just say nothing at all.

Posted by
1758 posts

I was a late arrival to the computer age but now can’t imagine life without it. The biggest impact right off the top is buying air tickets. Remember calling every airline and writing down every possible flight, price and time? I had reams of notes. I spent hours and hours. The day I could see everything at once on one screen was the end of my Luddite era. Also recall when the first stop anywhere was the hotel service in the train station, or reserving a time and day to make a long distance ‘trunk line’ phone call from the post office in Copenhagen. I also do tons of research online in addition to print. A favorite for me is to google images as well as information…personally, when I see one hundred pictures of somewhere and they all are taken from the same spot, or feature the same two blue domed structures I begin to wonder. But that’s just me. Safe and informed travels to all.

Posted by
1780 posts

Different people have different travel styles. Those who use this forum tend to be self-selecting as DIY types, but that doesn't work for everyone. Most folks here have devoured every available resource before their trip and, if they were passing by a group tour as the leader fell over dead, could easily take their place.

People also have different approaches to life. Some want to be told how to find the answer, some just want to be told the answer dammit. Life experience also plays into this.

Posted by
46 posts

Technology has changed travel in so many good ways, but there is one downside for me. Just a few weeks ago my husband and I were looking at a scrapbook I made of our honeymoon in England 28 years ago. It has pictures, ticket stubs, paper maps and all sorts of ephemera that you just don't get much of these days. It even has our flight info and boarding passes (the flights were $149 each round trip from DFW to Heathrow!), the menu card from the flight and the typed letter and receipt that was mailed from our hotel because in those days, you had to call or mail to make hotel reservations. I like saving little things like that, and with everything being digital a little romance is lost.

Posted by
8248 posts

"These days, what annoys me more is when someone asks a question and most of the replies take issue with the asking rather than answer the query or better yet, just say nothing at all."

I completely agree with this. The asking of an elementary question on this forum that can be answered by google doesn't bother me at all. There are many times when google doesn't give the whole answer and asking experienced people gets a better result and may help someone to think of other things they need to know.

As an example I use the issue that crops up once a month or so on a Trip Advisor forum I frequent. The best way to book in park lodging at a US National Park is thru the official park concessionaire/s. The top of the list on a google search generally yields the name of 2 shonky 3rd-party providers who charge a 10% booking fee and have terrible cancellation policies. They are not the official providers. They try to shunt people off to gateway city lodging when Park lodging is full and the uninformed don't realize they can watch for cancellations and generally pick up what they need over a period of months.

So, yes, this is why it's good to ask knowledgeable people even when a person "could" google it.

The option, of course, is to cruise on down to the next question if you feel someone would be better served by google.

As to technology....I had a similar experience to Jules at the Rijksmuseum. I had downloaded the app at the hotel and purchased a ticket the morning I went and was flabbergasted at the huge line to purchase a ticket. There was free wifi and it seems like it would have paid for Rijksmuseum management to have a staffer walk down the line and suggest people download the app and purchase the ticket that way.

I'll admit that I'm still a paper back up person - train tickets? On my phone and a back up paper copy. Boarding Pass? ditto. Museum entry? same....

Will have to see how the Pass Sanitaire QR code on the app works if I do get to France this Fall!

...And I think I need to purchase a battery pack for this trip.

Posted by
1780 posts

LAB, I still have some franc, pound and lira coins on my desk. I'm old.

Posted by
1864 posts

I can’t even explain how technology has improved our travels because
there isn’t enough keystrokes available.

Barbara, this was my feeling when I started the post, but limited myself to the one example of ill-prepared tourists and how I use tech to not be them.

There are other simpler examples I considered such as digital books so I'm not carrying 2 or 3 books with me, or digital cameras that have saved me the expense of film and developing. I used to be so careful about what to take photos of but now I can happily snap away. Sometimes I'll take 7 or 8 of the same thing from slightly different angles or settings and then simply delete 6 of 7 later on.

Posted by
46 posts

phred,
I got a two pence coin as change on that trip and it has been in my little leather change purse from that day this.

Posted by
3768 posts

Theresa, I agree completely!

“Yet nearly equally, I enjoy at times being untethered to devices or not executing completely mapped-out plans and taking a serendipitous approach to the wandering and exploring; including asking for directions and relying on on-the-fly input from others. It can be frustrating, sure; but sometimes when time and space allows, it's so fun getting 'lost' when venturing somewhere new. I've got plenty of travel memories where all my wrong turns got me to the right place for unexpected and surprising discoveries.”

I love all of the technology options for the months ahead, planning the trip. But, when I arrive, other than having my phone out for some photos, I want to experience the trip without feeling tethered to a GPS, etc. When I’m back at my room for a break or at night, I am back on Wifi and have everything on TripIt, iCloud, etc.

Posted by
309 posts

I am a self-professed geek and definitely take advantage of the obvious uses of technology -- research, reservations, boarding passes, and such -- but I have used technology in other ways, too.

  • In 2015 we were in Turkey, somewhere between Konya and Cappadocia. I started getting texts from friends back in the US asking me if I was okay. I was totally confused. Sure, I was okay. I pulled up the New York Times on my phone, and found out that there had been a bombing in Ankara. Just a few years earlier, it would have been unimaginable to be able to access breaking news on a bus in the middle of nowhere. Pure magic.

  • I use apps like the The Photographers' Ephemeris to calculate when the lighting conditions will be best for photography. Back in the day, I used to have to download all kinds of tables from the US Naval Observatory, and then go through all sorts of machinations and calculations to figure out how the numbers in the tables lined up with the orientation of the building or whatever I wanted to photograph. Now, I just pull up a simple app, and enter a date and location. It shows me everything I need to know about where the sun, moon, and shadows will be.

  • I also always travel with MapsWithMe. I can wander all I want, and if I get truly lost I know that I can alway find out my current location and get my bearings. (I find it especially useful in Venice.)

  • I also appreciated having network connectivity in March 2020 when I was on a dahabiya on the Nile, somewhere between Esna and Edfu --- once again in the middle of nowhere --- and I got word that all the airports in Egypt were shutting down because of Covid. I was able to arrange a flight out of the country and make a plan to get to an airport as we continued to sail. Without the the technology, I don't know what I would have done.

Posted by
1268 posts

I appreciate Google maps helping me with mass transit choices with in cities..... visited a friend in New York city and planned the subway trip with out having to ask him.... of course, grad school in Boston pre disposes me to manage subways

Posted by
1033 posts

The new technology is a tremendous improvement but there are two things I miss:
1) Having to navigate using a big paper map. I use the online version, which is more efficient, but I sometimes feel that I do not get a great grasp of where I am. I know, I could get a printed map, but the convenience of the tech version is seductive.
2) The feeling of being cut off from my regular life. I am fortunate to have first traveled to Europe when long distance calls were the only way to touch base and they were too difficult to arrange and too expensive to use. Consequently, taking a trip meant you knew nothing about what was going on back home until you returned. Sure, I could artificially duplicate that experience, but I've too many grown up concerns to ditch the cell phone. Maybe it is a product of age, too.

Posted by
237 posts

Travel planning is still started with a variety of paper travel books from the library and Barnes and Nobles (I buy the book I want to take with me from the bookstore). Specific transportation, room and site seeing times and reservations are completed on the computer. Everything is backed up with screen shots and paper copies. I like the gigantic paper maps when renting a car. It gives me a better idea for alternative back roads for our daily explorations in rural areas of Italy and France. No need when we are taking public transportation. Our trips are a combination of paper and technology. For laughs, on early trips we didn’t make hotel reservations. I made a list of about 5 places to contact when we got off the train or used a calling card ( remember those?) to make a reservation the day before. It made every stop an adventure. Glad we don’t have to do this today. Good riddance to travelers checks also. ATM’s make getting money better and credit cards for paying for bigger expenses.

Posted by
5976 posts

Not everyone has the capacity or interest in learning the skills needed to take advantage of the new technology. Heck, I know people who did not know you could check-in for flights, online, or wanted me to show them how.

I think that technology like GPS, texting, Wallet, ApplePay, apps like CityMapper, etc., have been great for travel. But I still prefer paper maps and dictionaries. There is something lost in spontaneity if you plan everything down to the minute ahead of time from online information and only go to restaurants (for example) that you've already heard of and have read reviews by strangers.

Maybe another question for consideration is, what new travel technology people would like to see or think is coming soon?

Posted by
2043 posts

Allan, the camera is probably one of the best examples of technology really making a difference. Yes, we don’t have to use travel agents anymore, but we could. Not having to count your pictures, being dissapointed when an entire roll is over exposed, carrying all those rolls of film, the heavy camera around your neck. I have to admit, I had a digital camera, a few in fact, and now just use my phone. The pictures are good enough for me, especially since we can take multiple snaps. I can download the pictures directly to snapfish without any connections or apps, and make my book so easily. My scrapbooks have helped me through our travel drought.
Maria, I remember when I would visit my husband in the late ‘70s. In order to call home to the States we would have to go to the post office, give them the number, and wait around till the call went through. Sometimes it could take an hour or longer. You couldn’t talk long because the price was too high. No credit cards use back then, cash only. I couldn’t call from his apartment phone because of the price and you couldn’t use the phone till they called you back with the connection. I didn’t want to inconvience his family. My mother used to say, if there are no plane crashes in the news, I will assume you got there safely.

Posted by
1864 posts

Barbara, I'm using my 20 year old 35mm digital camera on my current trip. Since it's a local driving trip I thought I'd give it a chance; first time I've used it since 2014. I enjoy the zoom and the portrait face shots, for everything else I like my phone better. I also miss looking through a viewfinder. Honestly the bulk of the camera isn't a big deal, but it would be if I was packing for a flight.

Posted by
4978 posts

Money has been mentioned above. Technological advancements have been happening for thousands of years, and it’s not just electronic devices relying on microchips and WiFi. Automated Teller Machines have been around since the 1970’s, and even with widespread networks in place over the past 20 years, they are a travel game-changer.

Even with credit cards (and now, even paying thru an App or other means), I use cash a lot more on trips than I do at home. It used to be that going into a bank during opening hours, use of a human teller, and cashing traveler’s checks, was a time consuming process. I figured the bank was taking a huge cut, and giving a disadvantageous exchange rate for its service. Now an ATM is on just about every corner, and it’s fast. Fees are less now! You can pull out larger amounts at a time than just a few years ago, 24-7. Machines, whether trains or ATM’s, or even elevators in buildings, have made travel easier.

Posted by
1864 posts

Sometimes that technology used to plan ahead and create anticipation lets us down. In our research ahead of our trip we'd discovered a restaurant 30 minutes east of Jasper, AB in the middle of nowhere. But the menu made it worth the drive last night. We get there look at the menu and the item I was so looking forward to wasn't on it. I asked the waiter and he said the website is rarely updated and that item hasn't been available in a long time. He admitted the website rarely gets updated. This isn't the first time this has happened to us at a restaurant.

Posted by
4978 posts

Allan, that just reinforces the old (but relatively recent) adage, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Hope you got something good to eat, even if it wasn’t your intended dish.

Posted by
249 posts

We were forced to plan our 2 week trip around Brittany in August at the last minute. As a result we didn’t get a car with sat nav. We used our phone’s map feature and it worked great. We do all the stuff mentioned above but now we’ll save on our car rentals, too.