I’m old enough to remember the days when you’d fly into a foreign city with a wallet full of traveller’s cheques, and hope like hell you sign them accurately enough for the bank teller to believe you were the rightful owner. In my bag was, surely, a paper guidebook. When it was time to call home, I’d whip out an international calling card with an arcane series of codes required to get a call to connect.
Thank heavens technology has come along to smooth the way. Google Maps replaces those folded-up sheets from the tourist office, while a few taps on your mobile can swap PayPal cash for train tickets across Europe. Nice. It’s the wafer-thin end of a technological wedge that is transforming every aspect of how we travel.
And when it comes to travel tech there is no buzzier buzzword right now than AI. But, a word of caution — trust the language models at your own risk. While they can be a useful tool for research and inspiration, they’re not always as accurate as needed. I certainly wouldn’t rely on one to curate the perfect trip for me, but where they are proving handy is to mine the data from real-life — and more reliable — operators.
Take Kayak.com, for instance, which is integrating with ChatGPT to allow real-language questions to mine the database of flights and prices.
“By simply typing in natural language queries, like “where can I fly to from NYC for under $500 in April?”, users will receive personalised recommendations based on their search criteria and KAYAK’s historical travel data,” explains Kayak.com in a recent blog post. Right now, it’s about smoothing the edges of the travel experience, rather than handing the reins over to a generative AI model.
Another tech innovation that could see travellers breathe a sigh of relief comes from start-up Fairlyne, which is trying to remove a common pain point: ticket resales. Airlines have long been notorious for banning the resale of air tickets or changing the passenger name once issued.
Fairlyne is hoping to change that, allowing travellers to re-sell tickets they can no longer use. Fairlyne has already successfully teamed up with French train operator OUIGO to allow passengers to resell non-flexible bookings and hopes to soon roll out the service to airlines. Watch this space.
Need mobile data while on the road? Data roaming costs are exorbitant, and getting a foreign SIM card set up is a hassle nobody needs on arrival. The answer? The growing range of e-SIM products, that use in-app technology to allow your phone, with your own SIM, to work seamlessly on foreign mobile networks. And aside from ease of use, the cost of data is typically cheaper than purchasing a local mobile data package. Airalo is your go-to here, with data roaming plans in more than 200 countries. The app is free, but does require a fairly high-end smartphone.
With your data sorted, you’ll step aboard and roll the dice on what could be a sure-fire way to ruin your holiday: will your luggage go missing?
Say hello then to the growing ecosystem of luggage trackers, that combine Bluetooth and GPS technology to help you find your bags when the airline can’t. Apple AirTags have garnered most of the limelight for keeping tabs on luggage (and myriad other items), but it’s not the only tech in town. The eufy Security tag is almost half the price and works just as well when tracking down that errant luggage. But, both eufy and the AirTags are locked into the iOS ecosystem. If you’re an Android user, rather look to the Tile Pro or Chipolo One Point.
Or, simply don’t bother with luggage in the first place.
Japan Airlines (JAL) is trialling anew approach to travel, by urging customers to simply leave their clothes at home. With their Any Wear Anywhere service, JAL will allow travellers to rent a full set of clothes for up to two weeks. Your threads, available in a range of styles and sizes, can be booked in advance and will be delivered to your hotel. When it’s time to fly home, simply leave them at reception and leave the laundry to someone else. Now that’s an innovation I can get behind.