How Siri can help you travel smarter in 2012

Even if you own the iPhone 4S, you may not know ‘Siri’. And if you don’t already have the 4S, you might only know about Siri, if you do at all, through hearsay, abundant resources online introducing you to Siri, or a phone belonging to someone else. You may, on the other hand, use Siri regularly and effectively and, in that case, you’re ready to optimize your Siri use for travel. Siri is, in a nutshell, a voice-driven, personal assistant software built into the 4S. Siri doesn’t know the useful answer you’re looking for to every question you ask and calling upon Siri doesn’t always save you time – it depends. But Siri can do most things a real-life personal assistant can do, and more. Some of Siri’s functions can and will help you to make your travel experiences less stressful, more efficient, and, I daresay, better. By simply pressing and holding down the home button on the 4S, Siri comes to attention. And if you get to know Siri well enough, Siri will help you to travel smarter in 2012.Navigation and safety
While traveling, you’re not always in a safe position to be fussing over your GPS, especially not if your GPS is built into your phone. Distracting yourself with GPS can lead to avoidable accidents, no matter what sort of vehicle you’re captaining. Siri is hooked up with Maps and can walk you through step-by-step directions, from beginning to end, all through voice command.

Time management
No matter how much preparation you do, wasting time while traveling is nearly inevitable. You will, pretty much invariably, find that you need something in an area you are unfamiliar with while traveling and, if you’re anything like me, waste time trying to find it. Unlike a lot of voice command systems, Siri doesn’t need you to use specific phrases. If you need to find the nearest gas station, Siri will quickly present a list of nearby gas stations when you simply say, “gas station.” This feature isn’t just for filling up, though. Siri will just as quickly aid you in locating the nearest restaurant, day care, bar, or whatever else you need to find. Siri takes this process a step further by offering you results sorted by ratings. Command Siri to find you the “Best Thai restaurant in Austin” and you’ll know what I mean.

Emergencies
“Call 911.” Say that to Siri and Siri will do just that. When in less dire need, Siri can easily pull up lists and reviews of nearby medical professionals, car mechanics, vets, or anyone else you may need to contact in an emergency situation.

Travel research
Siri can help you figure out where to go and how to get there. Phrases like these can possibly work well with Siri:

“Find me the closest train station”
“Call a taxi”
“Best bed and breakfast in Boston
“Best dive bar in Seattle
“Music festivals in 2012″

Traveling personal assistant
Siri is recognized, most generally speaking, as a robotic personal assistant. Relying on Siri to perform such tasks yields a decent job done. Having a personal assistant traveling with you can help ease the common stress associated with travel. Phrases like these can work with Siri:

“I am seeing a show on Friday night at 9 p.m.” Siri will put this in your calendar.
“Remind me at 10 a.m. to book my flight.” Siri will put this in your reminders.
“Wake me up at 7 a.m. to check out.” Siri will set this alarm for you.
“Add toothpaste, umbrella, and socks to my packing list.” Siri will add these items to a list in your notes.

More than anything, Siri seems to me like what Siri actually is: the iPhone’s first attempt at creating a little robot that any iPhone 4S owner can use to better manage traveling, and, of course, life in general.

From the Gadling Archives: Travel smarter in 1982

The following post was uncovered while we were researching our Travel Smarter 2012 series. Deep in our archives, we discovered this article, titled “Travel smarter in 1982,” which was published in the spring 1982 edition of “The Illustrated Gadling Quarterly.” We are republishing it here as a reminder that, though a great deal has changed in 30 years, travel is still pretty tubular. We have updated the post to include links and video when appropriate.

gadling travel smarter 1982 TWA

Travel Smarter 1982

After last year’s air traffic controllers’ strike, this year can only see improvements in the world of travel (unless, of course, stewardesses decided to start pouring less whiskey in our drinks). While the FAA is still hiring and training new air traffic controllers, Americans are returning to the road, now that gas prices are finally normalizing. And, we’re seeing some bitchin’ technology that will make life away from home more comfortable than ever before. It’s 1982 and time to travel smarter!Air Travel

Flying was a total nightmare last year. Flight schedules were dramatically affected by the air traffic controllers’ strike and the industry is still recovering. That said, there’s no need to avoid flying and it’s still a luxurious way to travel.

How else can you travel the globe in comfort while eating delicious meals and watching some of Hollywood’s brightest stars on shared screens? And, as if air travel wasn’t already convenient enough, we’re hearing rumors that a new company, Airfone Inc., is testing out air-to-ground telephone service that could become available on commercial flights as early as this year! Can you imagine calling your friends and family to tell them that you’re a mile above them? No longer will time on a plane be lost time for your business.

For those of you who aren’t fans of all of those cigarette smokers in the backs of airplanes, Muse Air, the first non-smoking airline in the United States, plans to launch this year after being delayed by last year’s strike. It will only operate in Texas (between Dallas and Houston), but its focus on comfort has us believing that it will soon be a major player in the industry.

Road Trips

gadling travel smarter 1982 dodge ariesWith the oil embargo (and its effects on gas prices) behind us, and some people still squeamish about flying because of the strike, America is ready to reignite its love affair with road trips. 1982 should see more Americans hitting the road as gas prices hold steady rather than spiking dramatically, as they have since 1978.

If you’re looking to replace your old gas-guzzler, Chrysler has recently introduced two new “compact cars” that get much better gas mileage than most older models on the road. The Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant are both affordable, fuel-efficient and, of course, sleek. For under $6,000, you and your family can hit the road with money left over for a motel room that has HBO!

Still, with gas prices at over $1 per gallon, people are choosing their road trips wisely. One place that we’re certain will attract visitors is…

Florida

Why will Florida be so popular? Because in 1982, the future is now in the Sunshine State! This year will see the opening of Disney’s EPCOT Center and the third launch of NASA’s new space shuttle program.

EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is a tourist attraction unlike anything that we’ve ever seen. It’s the 21st century…today!

Guests will be able to enjoy Future World, a look into, well, the future, and the World Showcase, which allows visitors to travel the globe without ever having to leave central Florida! Future World features exhibits such as the Universe of Energy sponsored by Exxon and The Land, brought to you by Kraft. Both attractions look at our environment and how humans, along with massive multinational corporations, keep the planet clean.

The World Showcase features pavilions from nine countries representing such exotic and hard-to-reach locales as Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom. One of the nine pavilions is dedicated to the “American Adventure,” which you can experience right here in America! We’re hearing whispers that they will add more countries in the future. Hopefully we’ll be done exploring the Canadian pavilion by then!

Meanwhile, not too far from Orlando, NASA has begun launching their new space shuttles from Kennedy Space Center. Just last year, the Space Shuttle Columbia completed the first two missions of the program. This March, it will launch again with two astronauts on board. Tourists from around the world are expected to converge at Cape Canaveral to watch as the shuttle leaves Earth to explore the great unknown. It’s quite a sight and should be on everyone’s must-see list. It’s your chance to see the beginnings of a space program that could have us colonizing Mars in 20 years!

Technology

One of the advantages of road trips has always been the ability to listen to music along the way. With the radio and cassettes, we have music, news and entertainment everywhere our cars can take us. But what happens when we choose to fly? While in-flight movies can help pass the time, sometimes we just want to listen to our rad tunes. That’s why we’re so excited about the Sony Walkman. The portable cassette player has been around for a few years, but thanks to some competition, the price is finally right for almost any traveler.

You can now find a Walkman for around $25 or $30 and are limited only by the number of cassettes that you want to carry in your luggage. That means that you can afford one for everyone in your family, which should finally put an end to all of that whining from the kids about how bored they are on the plane or in the backseat of the car.

Get going!

There’s a bodacious year of travel ahead of us and hopefully you can take advantage of our tips and suggestions. Head over to your local travel agent, have her find you the best fares and hotels and get out there! Or, load the family into your new car and get down to Florida for a look at the future.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a hot new destination, trust us on this bonus tip: the Falkland Islands are the place to be in 1982!

Top photo of TWA Boeing 767-200 via Flickr user Deanster1983.
Second photo of 1981 Dodge Aries via Flickr user aldenjewell.

Travel Smarter 2012: New approaches to sustainable travel

When most people think of ecotourism, they imagine off-grid rainforest lodges and volunteer work in impoverished communities.

While those can certainly be great experiences, they’re not the only way to travel sustainably. These days, the definition of ecotourism has broadened, and travelers are embracing a new consciousness around the way we travel, how we interact with places, and what kind of impact our visit has on our surroundings. The best thing is, this new type of conscious travel doesn’t have to be restrictive. In fact, it often leads to much more meaningful experiences. Consider the following approaches as a starting point.Slow down
Taking inspiration from the slow food and slow fashion movements, “slow travel” has evolved as a backlash to the manic pace that traditionally accompanies air travel and mile-a-minute sightseeing vacations. Slow travelers cherish the journey as much as the destination. They’ll choose leisurely modes of transport like trains, bicycles, and barges; stay in long-term vacation rentals instead of hotels; and structure itineraries that allow enough time to savor experiences. Not only is the slow travel mindset easier on the environment because it cuts out unsustainable forms of transport, but it can also be cost-effective since the emphasis is on quality of experiences rather than quantity. For resources on planning a slow travel vacation, check out the SlowTrav.com community.

Get local
Many travelers are tired of following the tourist path, preferring instead to experience new places as locals. Enter, the “local travel” movement, which focuses on connecting with local people, being sensitive to the local environment, respecting local culture and heritage, and spending money locally. The popularity of the local travel movement is evident in the explosive growth of home-stay listing service Airbnb, which experienced 500 percent growth in the last year and recently announced its 5 millionth night booked. Another website that can help facilitate local experiences is GuideHop, which allows city residents to host and post their own custom tours. Recent listings included a tour of Austin‘s urban farms and a bike ride along the San Francisco waterfront.

“Voluntour” smarter
The practice of voluntourism — which combines travel with volunteer work — has grown more and more popular in recent years. At the same time, it’s also become more and more controversial. Critics say that voluntourism often hurts communities more than it helps them, and that tourists who pay thousands of dollars to paint a school in a developing country are better off donating that money to a non-profit that can handle the task more effectively. Valid points — but the truth is volunteer travel can also be a tremendously positive and transformative experience, both for the individual and the community, when done smartly. New certification programs are in the works from groups like UK non-profit Tourism Concern, but nothing really beats personal research. Rather than limit yourself to the top Google search results for “volunteer abroad,” use your social networks to find friends who live or have lived in your target destination and ask them about well-respected organizations. In the U.S., you can also use Charity Navigator to see how non-profit groups stack up against each other.

Though ecotourism and sustainable travel can take on many forms, the first step to more conscious travel is awareness. Once you take care to explore the world while being kind to it, the rest will come naturally.

[flickr image via Stefano Lubiana Wines]

Travel Smarter 2012: The best gear for your 2012 travels

Bad gear is dead weight, you might as well toss it right into that bin with the stuff that the TSA says you can’t take on the plane. A bag that has cheap zippers, clothing that doesn’t dry quickly when you’ve washed it in the hotel room sink, refillable bottles that don’t stay shut and ooze shampoo all over the shirt you packed especially for that client meeting… Packing smart is just, well, it’s smart. After a year of gear, I’ve got some ideas about what works well for me, but also, I polled friends and readers for the smartest in new gear. And some of it? Wow, smart stuff.

Bits and Pieces

TSA sized squeeze bottles: Essential and clever, good qualities in a travel companion. You can get the last of your favorite shampoo out because they’re squeezable. And refillable.

Solid shampoo: Lush Cosmetics makes a whole line of shampoos that you’ll be able to take on the plane without grief. There’s a solid conditioner too. Admittedly not new, but smart, indeed.

Gadgets

Kindle Fire
:
Readers love these things, and now that Amazon has updated the Kindle to include wifi, it’s a whole lot more than just a portable library. Browse the web, send email, watch movies, it’s a complete entertainment system that weighs about the same as a single paperback book.Morhpie Juice Pack Air: It’s a case and an extended battery. That means you don’t have to dig around in your bag to find the extra battery when your trying to Instragram your dinner and the phone dies.

Ear buds: Last year I got a pair of Senneheisser ear buds, iPhone compatible, and they almost made me give up my bulky noise cancelling headphones. They sound great and because they’ve got three sizes of pads for the buds, I was able to get a fit that isolates a surprising amount of noise. I’m sorely tempted by the Sennheisser IE 60, but the 250.00 price tag keeps me from pulling the trigger.

Panasonic Lumix :20x optical zoom in a pocket camera, HD video, a sophisticated range of settings, and great image quality, even in low light. A fantastic travel camera, I can’t recommend this thing enough. Panasonic keeps improving it, every year, and it’s been worth the upgrades. Stellar.

Shoes and Clothes

Wool, wool, wool: SmartWool and Icebreaker both make incredibly versatile lines of clothing — skirts in a very light knit that wash well and look great, sweaters that are stylish enough to wear out but perform extremely well in the outdoors… it’s expensive stuff, but I have pieces in my wardrobe that are over ten years old and still look great.

Barefoot style shoes: I’m a skeptic, but well traveled outdoors fitness types say they swear by Skeletoes from Fila. “Hiked in the mud, went to the beach, then went to dinner…” Okay, a casual dinner, to be sure.

Born Stowaway Flats
: Enough padding for serious sightseeing, and dressy enough for making it through the fancy dinner you hadn’t quite packed for. These flats pack down to tiny, so you can absolutely find room in your bag.

Luggage

Gregory Alpaca Rolling Duffel: No contest, this is my favorite new bag, the best thing I’ve seen in luggage in recent history. A duffel that’s a roller bag that you can actually carry as a backpack, and yes, it comes in carry on size.

Tom Bihn’s Brain Bag: All of Tom Bihn’s bags share an obsessive attention to detail, from the tie ons to the hardware to the compartments perfectly designed to hold just that one thing. The Brain Bag is for your laptop — and all that other electronica your dragging around. Configure it the way it works best for you.

Mission Workshop Vandal Backpack
: Sometimes, you just want a cool, stylish pack for day outings. The Vandal pack is weatherproof, expandable, and yeah, it fits your 15 inch MacBook. Plus, it comes in green. Sharp.

Osprey Transporter 60
: Not everything has to be a backpack. Osprey’s Transporter line comes with a harness so you can carry it as a backpack if you absolutely have to, but it’s also a top notch duffel. Weekends, road trips, short hops… a great all purpose duffel.

[flickr image via brewbooks]

Travel Smarter 2012: New hotel alternatives

While booking a hotel was once the standard when traveling, there are now a range of unique alternatives for every budget and preference. In 2012, it’s now possible to stay in anything from an eco-friendly tree house to a tent with more amenities than a 5-star hotel. Here are some modern takes on the classic accommodation based on traveler personality:

Luxury travelers who want to get in touch with nature

Camping no longer means you need to sleep in a vinyl bag and use the nearest tree as your personal toilet. Glamping, which takes the camping philosophy of being immersed in nature but makes it more luxurious, allows even the most high-maintenance travelers to “rough it” for a bit. For example, you can stay in an extravagant yet eco-friendly safari tent in Algarve, Portugal, that is surrounded by countryside and mountains and includes amenities like hot water, electricity, a pool, an onsite spa, a wellness center, and a garden where guests can pick and enjoy their own fresh vegetables. To view other glamping properties, you can click here for a roundup from Australia, Argentina, and India, or visit GoGlamping.net.Outdoorsy traveler who doesn’t want to get too wild

On the other hand, there may be some travelers who want to experience nature, but in a setting not too far out in the wild. For them there is garden camping, which offers the experience of camping in someone’s backyard. For example, for about $9, travelers can stay in Driftshane‘s backyard in Cornwall, England. Amenities include sea views and a neatly terraced ambiance, farm-to-table meals, and the use of the shower for an additional charge. There are also many points of interest nearby, including sailing, rowing, and beaches at Helford River, Seal Sanctuary, Glendurgan Gardens, Trebah Gardens, and Bosvathick Riding Stables. There are also ample opportunities to visit great restaurants and bars. By staying in someone’s garden, you’re still immersing yourself in the beauty of nature while also keeping yourself close to civilization. You can view more garden camping properties by clicking here.

Travelers who want a modern take on vacation rentals and apartment sublets

While checking apartment and home rental listings used to mean browsing plain text to look for a basic room or house, Airbnb brings a modern twist to the idea. First of all, owners can list their properties for free, including vibrant photos, a wealth of information, and contact data. Moreover, travelers can browse through listings while being able to search by location, price, amenities, neighborhoods, or accommodation style. They may also read reviews, look at maps, and take virtual tours. The site also has a social connections feature, which allows travelers to see which of their Facebook friends uses the site. What I personally love about Airbnb is the range of unique accommodation options, from a private room in a London lighthouse to a houseboat under the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

For Earth-concerned eco-travelers

Ecotourism is a hot topic in the travel world, and accommodations are catching on to the trend. First, there is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which allows travelers to exchange working on an organic farm for room and board. Some possible experiences include harvesting grapes on a vineyard in Mendoza to beekeeping in Italy or ranch work in Poland. Moreover, hotels and hostels are also jumping on board, implementing green practices to try to help the environment while also keeping guests comfortable. For example, backpackers can enjoy the Gyreum Ecolodge in Sligo, Ireland, a partially underground hostel and Installation Incubator where travelers can come together to brainstorm new ideas. Green amenities like water heated by solar panels, a toilet linked to outside compost, and the use of a wind turbine to power geothermal heating are included, as well as comfortable beds, thick comforters, and hearty breakfasts.

For travelers who want a local experience

With travel becoming more and more social, doing a homestay is now easier than ever. One way to participate in one is to sign up to volunteer abroad with an organization like International Volunteer Headquarters or by using a forum like SE7EN. Moreover, social websites like Couchsurfing and Tripping allow users to offer their couches to travelers. What’s great about these options is that participants can read reviews on hosts and guests, and even interact before their trips begin to see if they feel comfortable staying with the person.

[flickr image via left-hand]