If you recall our last travel-tech post, we were talking about the big technological innovations that could totally stand travel on its head, things like electric-powered planes and Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which could send you from Boston to Washington in roughly the amount of time it takes you to discover that unicorn-flavored Frappuccinos are sold out.
It’s cool and all, but what about today? What’s out there that you can grab onto right now that will make your travel easier, more fun, or more exciting?
For the most part, you don’t have to look any further than the palm of your hand. The greatest amount of travel-related innovation is taking place using the smartphone as a platform. It makes sense; that was the inspiration behind Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, after all, so we’re definitely on board. (Spoiler alert: In a few short weeks we’ll have even more to talk about on that front, so don’t go anywhere.)
Knowing that, let’s re-ask the question: What’s going on with your smartphone that can take your travel experiences to the next level? Here are some of our favorites.
As the Millennials say, well, duh. But wait a second: Google Earth is new and different, and way better, from a traveler’s standpoint. In addition to the mind-blowing world views that we’ve come to expect from Google Earth, the app has added two crazy, game-changing features: 3-D and storytelling.
The latter might be the most amazing. Storytelling from a map app? Only a company with the resources like Google could pull it off. Google Earth (currently available only via the Chrome browser, but soon to be expanded to smartphones) has partnered with organizations like Mission Blue and the Jane Goodall Institute to create amazing stories powered by the 3-D mapping technologies of Google Earth. Want to explore Kenya, climb mountains, or swim with sharks? It’s there on Google Earth – and it’s so darn easy. It might be the most powerful wanderlust-spawning tool ever created.
As the pre-teens say, well, duh. But again we wait a second: Snapchat is fun, and not entirely commercialized or plowed into the ground by the Facebook/Instagram machine, and thanks to some recent innovations, it’s a really cool tool for travelers. Snapchat’s city-based stories are an incredibly human way to see a destination (to me, it’s sort of the photographic equivalent of Airbnb’s Trips), and the app’s latest wrinkle is its ability to add 3-D graphics to just about any scene or setting. The company calls them “World Lenses,” and, yeah, they’re a little hokey, but that’s part of the joy of Snapchat. If you’ve only thought of Snapchat as a disappearing-photo, face-swapping one-trick pony, give it another chance. You’ll like what you find.
Clear and Dufl
These two companies/apps have been around for a while, but with all the noise in the travel-tech space, you can be forgiven if you haven’t heard much about them. Some of that silence is due in part to the fact that Clear and Dufl provide answers to very specific travel pain points. Clear uses retinal and fingerprint-recognition techniques to verify identity with near 100 percent accuracy, making it easier for you to get through airport security, while Dufl keeps, cleans and ships a suitcase full of your clothing – and now, sports equipment and business-related items (like trade-show displays) as well.
Of course, all this convenience comes at a cost; Clear (which is currently available at 21 of the nation’s largest airports, with LAX coming on line soon) requires 179 of your dollars every year, plus $50 more for each family member, and a stop at one of its enrollment locations. Dufl costs $9.99 a month to store your stuff plus another $99 to ship it to your destination. That’s more than twice the cost of a bag fee, but what’s the price of convenience – especially when you can buy new items from retailers like Amazon and Nordstrom and have them shipped to your Dufl?
If you’re really bored, play the “Airbnb of …” game. What’s the Airbnb of food? It might be The Infatuation. What’s the Airbnb of hotel rooms? Overnight (if it’s not Airbnb). And what’s the Airbnb of rental cars? That would be Turo. Turo hooks you up with a cool vehicle that’s not part of some homogenous rental-car fleet because it’s owned by a real person. It’s not as ubiquitous as Airbnb, and the fact that you’re driving someone else’s car means you can’t engage in standard acts of rental-car abuse (you know what we’re talking about), but if you promise not to spill your unicorn-flavored Frappuccino all over the upholstery you can have a driving experience that’s bespoke and curated and cheaper than your average rental car.
What’s your favorite new travel app? Let us know; send us an email (email@example.com) or leave a comment. Thanks!