What's a traveler without his or her favorite time-saving, make-my-life-easier tech take-alongs? We caught up with with Dave Dean, a corporate refugee turned world wanderer who writes about travel and technology for About.com, NomadicMatt and his own blog, toomanyadapters.com.
In a Q&A, Dave discusses the hot trends in travel technology, including wearables, real-time video streaming, can't-live-without apps, as well as gadgets that make life on the road a little more like home.
What's the hottest trend in travel tech right now?
Everyone is getting excited about wearables, although I haven't found any compelling examples for travelers yet. There's also a seemingly-endless stream of startups with apps offering some kind of 'social travel' experience, but again, none have become must-have travel companions with a broad user base. Real-time video streaming (eg. Periscope) is starting to show up in the travel space -- it's obviously dependent on having good connectivity, but I'd expect to see this continue to grow. Other than that, though, it's pretty much the same things it's been for a while -- easier and cheaper ways to stay connected overseas, extra battery life and more storage on mobile devices.
Are you seeing any interesting developments across hotel chains and airlines that involve technology as a way to make vacations or business travel more like home or just more convenient?
I tend to find the best developments coming from startups and third parties, rather than the hotel chains and airlines themselves. Apps like Lounge Buddy, for instance, let you know which lounges you already have access to in any given airport on your route, and which ones you can buy day passes for, along with reviews and tips. That said, some of the hotel chains are doing interesting things -- you can use your phone or Apple watch as your room key in Starwood hotels, as well as choose your room in advance and speed up the check-in / check-out process with hotel apps. I'd expect to see much more of this type of convenience in the next few years.
What are some of the best gadgets and gizmos for making life on the road better?
I'm always trying out some new gadget or other while traveling, but tend to find it's the simple things that are most useful. For instance, I have a portable battery with extra storage space built in, that lets me charge my phone during a long travel day and save photos or video to it if I'm running out of space. You can get the same things built into an iPhone case as well, for extra convenience. I always take a travel-sized power strip with me -- there are never enough power sockets in hotel rooms, and it lets me charge up to four devices simultaneously with one socket (and one plug adapter!). I've also recently started using a little adapter with 4 USB ports in, that includes detachable plugs for most countries. That way, I can charge (for instance) a phone, tablet and e-reader at the same time, from one wall socket.
Any useful recommendations for making airline travel less stressful and more comfortable?
An eye mask and noise-cancelling earphones or at least decent earplugs. I bought myself a good pair of noise-isolating earphones a couple of years ago, and they've transformed my travel days. I found that noisy passengers and the drone of the engine caused extra stress and made it hard to rest on flights. Now I just put on some relaxing music, pull down the eye mask and chill out. It makes even long-haul in economy class somewhat bearable!
ExpertFlyer recently surveyed more than 1,000 family travelers. We asked them to name their top "can't live without" travel apps, and TripAdvisor reigned supreme, followed by airline apps and Google maps. What's your take? What are your top picks?
Google Maps is great -- and with the addition of proper offline navigation later this year, it'll get even better for international travelers without mobile data. I'm always dubious about the accuracy of the information on TripAdvisor, but do occasionally use it to get food recommendations in more obscure cities. The forums are the most useful part, for me -- I'll often use those for tracking down obscure transport routes and prices, for instance. As far as airline apps go, I tend to use Skyscanner to look up prices and times, but I'll always make the booking on a computer -- entering personal information and credit card details is too frustrating otherwise!
I have many travel apps on my phone, but those I use the most include Tripit (for compiling my itinerary, even offline), Google Translate (great for menus and street signs), XE Currency (to always know the exchange rate), Google Maps (if I've got data) and Here Maps (for offline use).
Looking forward, what are some of the cool travel tech advances we might find in the next 3-5 years?
I expect we'll see the first wearables (probably smartwatches) that are genuinely valuable for travel. Cell companies are finally starting to get the message we all hate roaming charges, and the example set by T-Mobile in the US and Three in the UK will expand to other carriers. Speech translation in real-time is starting to show up now with Skype Translator, and will become more polished and usable in the next few years. Free public wi-fi will continue to get rolled out in cities all over the world, making it easier than ever to stay connected on the move.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.