Monday, May 18, 2015

How smartphones completely changed travel

About the Author
John is an aspiring tech journalist and futurologist. When not trying to predict the future, he's fixing websites, or drawing cartoon animals.
From booking tickets to using a washing machine in a foreign language

Who here remembers plane tickets? They were rectangular squares of card – usually with round edges – that you handed over at the check-in desk in exchange for your boarding card (which looked very similar). And before the Internet revolutionised travel, you usually had to buy one in order to fly. No longer; now booking a flight is a simple matter of logging on to your preferred website and getting a boarding pass emailed to you.

So far, so nostalgic. But what’s shocking is that the speed and convenience of booking flights online and printing out your boarding pass is, these days, verging on quaint. Many airlines have taken this one step further – by taking their services mobile. By downloading the airline’s app, you can check in, choose a seat, and download your boarding pass. And forget printing it out – the embedded QR code provided means that all you need to get through the security and boarding gates is your phone. 

This isn’t the only change that smartphones have wrought in our experience of travel. National travel in particular has never been simpler – if you want to go on a short weekend retreat, you can pull out your phone and book a train ticket in a matter of minutes. Want somewhere nice to stay? There’s an app for that – you can book a hotel or B&B from your smartphone as well, or even a yurt if you fancy some luxury camping. And who needs a guidebook? Most people carry all the information they could possibly need around in their pockets these days (well, unless there’s no signal or the wifi’s gone down). Whether you’re struggling to figure out how to work the washing machine where you’re staying, want a preview of the local nightlife or you just want to figure out where to grab dinner, mobile Internet has made it easy.

But this technology really comes into its own when you’re travelling further afield. For a start, the ability to store your in-flight reading on your phone or tablet makes it much easier to comply with the ever-stricter baggage allowance policies a lot of airlines employ. But once you’ve arrived, your smartphone can still be incredibly useful. Roaming used to be prohibitively expensive, but while using data abroad still isn’t cheap, there are plenty of packages you can get to make it possible. And it might just be worth it. Google maps means that the days of relying on unfamiliar maps and the kindness of strangers are at an end. If you run into trouble, finding your nearest local embassy or emergency service is just a few taps away – to say nothing of the potentially life-saving power of being able to look up the name of your obscure medical symptom on your phone as the local pharmacist stares at you in confusion.

Smartphones can make the day-to-day problems you might run into in anywhere you’re staying for more than a couple of days a lot less daunting, as well. Sometimes it can feel like nothing is familiar in a foreign country – everything is done differently to the way you’re used to. Shops might have opening hours that are strange to you. If you’re staying in a self-contained apartment or house, you might discover that there are different ideas about how to use a washing machine or an iron. A smartphone can help you navigate pretty much any of these sticky situations. Anything you need to do abroad, from booking a taxi to working out how to use a washing machine you haven’t come across before, is much easier if you have access to a smartphone.

Mobile technology has made life easier, more convenient and probably cheaper for many a keen traveller. How has your smartphone helped you out on holiday?

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