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Monday, February 2, 2015

The Interface and the Face-to-Face

Technology has had an immense impact on the tourism industry as a whole, providing travelers with unlimited options, resources and information. It has shown us places that were once unvisitable with real-time views of our destinations through cameras and satellites, aided us in translation and broken down language barriers, and even given us forums to write about the pro’s and con’s of our destinations- including the culture, cuisine and accommodations. The hidden gems of cities are exposed through photographs on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Technology has played an incredible role in connecting humans on a global scale. With just a few clicks or taps, we can virtually connect with people around the world.

Here are just a few of the benefits that travelers can take advantage of to maximize their time, money and satisfy their inner explorer while on their trip:

You can plan ahead extensively, or plan as-you-go:

Depending on if you are the kind of traveler who needs to have every part of your itinerary planned in advance, or if you are a more flexible type who likes to act on a whim when you see or hear of something you want to do, technology allows both types to travel with ease.

For the more structured type, hotel rooms, dinner reservations, tours and excursions can be booked in advance as to not have to worry about a shortage of accommodations or not catching a seat at the show you wanted to see. Many tourist-friendly hotels and restaurants will have websites that allow the traveler to handle all of this virtually, without having to deal with language barriers and other communication issues that happen over the phone or in person.  Some websites, like Tripomatic, will not only assist you in building your itinerary, but will also stay with you and keep you on schedule while away. Essentially, the traveler chooses their destination, specifies the dates that they will be there, and this program aides them in choosing things to do/ places to stay/ where to eat- all on a schedule. As you are traveling, the program alerts the traveler when it is time to move on to their next activity, and even tells them how to get there. You can also share the planning with other people on your trip, and it will sync with their smartphones as well.

For the more impulsive traveler, technology allows them the flexibility to do last-minute research to search and find a bed in a part of town that they stumbled upon, or help them to find a local eatery that specializes in that food they have been craving all afternoon. Websites like Yelp and Tripadvisor provide forums where people who have “been there, done that” can give honest, raw reviews of restaurants and make note of the highlights of their meal, post pictures of their hotel rooms, rate the service they received from a car service. Available both domestically and abroad, these tools can assist the whimsy traveler to make great decisions about what comes next on their itinerary.

You can find great deals:

Technology has given us the ability to take advantage of “last-minute deals” through a variety of websites. Often, when a hotel has just a few rooms left, or a tour company has a couple of seats remaining on their bus, rather than let them go unused, they will offer discounts. Most booking websites, like Travelocity, even have a “deals section” where explorers can look for short-notice flights, too.

You can find travel companions:

Traveling solo is not for everyone. While some people may embrace the opportunity, others might fear the idea of being in a new place by themselves. If you happen to have a free afternoon or a day with nothing planned, or even a week in a new palce, solo travelers can use technology to connect them with a travel buddy- sites like TravBuddy are designed for just that. Users can login with an account, enter their location and their interest in finding a companion, and the site provides a space for travelers to connect and eventually meet up to share an experience of exploration. It is a very organized way to find travelers and locals who are in the same place at the same time as you.

Find alternative accommodations:

Travelers looking for accommodations who don’t want to stay in a standard hotel have options, thanks to services like AirBnB. When traveling to a new place, there is something magical about learning about the destination through the eyes of the people who already live there- so why not stay in their home or apartment? AirBnB provides locals with a place to list their extra bedroom or rental home for travelers to reserve for their time in a new city. Available internationally, travelers can search and find spaces to stay- providing them access to the people who already live there- the most valuable resource when traveling. Locals can post photos and details about their space, and travelers can reserve them online.

Now, with all of the amazing benefits that technology provides us, we can’t forget that human connection is half of the experience to be gained in travel. Travelers should use caution when turning to technology while traveling- and like all things, find a balance between the virtual conveniences and the real-time options available.

Certainly, half of the beauty of travel is to see new places and experience new cultures- but isn’t the other half about connecting with people of that place and experiencing the world through their eyes and their experiences? Missing out on that human connection affords the traveler only half of the potential experience they could have while on their journey. The lessons in personal growth and exploration come as a result of human interaction while taking in the culture and the beauty of one’s physical surroundings. In relying too heavily on technology to do the work for us, we can overlook the importance of these face-to-face interactions that the virtual world has replaced.

Think back to the travels of your own- how many of the memories that you cherish are interactions that you had with people? Those moments of embarrassment because you used the wrong words, or those moments of gratitude when a stranger helped you to find something on the map. Sure, you might never have caught the other person’s name, or even remember what city you were in when it happened- but those face-to-face and human-to-human encounters are such a valuable part of the journey. Those are the stories worth sharing when you return from your trip.

Travelers should also be aware of how the instantaneous nature of the internet and associated technology has seeped into our normal expectations- that everything around us function at this speed, too. Instant gratification is a part of who we are as a society, but it is so important to remember that perceptions of time and pace of life vary so greatly from culture to culture, and from country to country.

Technology can lead us down new and exciting paths when used appropriately, and is best used as a supplement to local resources, rather than as the only resource.

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