In recent years, technology has irreversibly shaped the way we trot the globe. First it was GPS systems in our rental cars. Next came Kindles — which saved us from squeezing a million books into our carry-ons. And now we can upload boarding passes to our wristwatches. This kind of forward thinking continues to iron out the little wrinkles we experience each time we travel, and these days, most of these improvements stem from the handheld computers in our pockets.

Like Elon Musk said in a semi-recent interview with Joe Rogan, smartphones — the most ubiquitous form of modern-day technology — have become an extension of us. We use them in almost every facet of our lives, from education to entertainment to health and wellness, which has made using them second nature to most of us. When it comes to travel, we plan, pay, and even experience through our screens. And, for the most part, these devices have made voyaging around the world noticeably easier and more enjoyable.

This is a major departure from the standard held just a generation ago, when people relied almost exclusively on travel agents and brochures. Nowadays, we tailor trips exactly to our liking, and it can be done entirely online. Though smartphones make up a large portion of the technological travel pie, they’re not the only piece. In fact, there’s far more in the works this year alone. As you make your way through 2019, keep an eye out for these six innovative travel trends.

Photo by Uriel Soberanes

Virtual Reality (VR)

The mention of VR often perks explorers’ ears with its revolutionary power that brings users to destinations as vast and varied as remote beaches, mountaintops, concrete jungles, and everything in between. To engage, simply strap on a headset, and let the machinery do the rest. While the digital version isn’t the most ideal way to indulge in a new landscape or culture — it’s far from the real thing, after all — a VR simulation can be a great option if you’re looking to save money, as it can act as a quick “travel” fix. Or, if you’re torn as to where you should venture next, it can help you compare and contrast your options by allowing you to get up-close and personal with a destination without actually being there.

On the other side of the coin, look for travel organizations who are behind this alternate reality movement, specifically hotels and airlines. For example, Atlantis Dubai has enhanced their marketing efforts with VR, as they now offer virtual tours of their lavish accommodation, allowing potential guests to see the details of in-room amenities and on-site activities. These tours are supported by 360-degree technology on YouTube and can be experienced by anyone, not just those who own VR headsets. When comes in-flight entertainment, airlines such as Emirates and Alaska Airlines are beginning to integrate VR movies and other cinematic experiences. And if you happen to be in Tokyo, you can visit the world’s first “virtual airline”, which simulates the entire flying experience — everything from take-off to airplane food.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Translators

Often one of the toughest things about arriving in a foreign country is dealing with the language barrier. It can be a formidable obstacle, and though that sort of challenge presents the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, we all know the stress of situations that could be solved with a bit of local knowledge. This is where new-and-improved translators can come to the rescue — or, in less dramatic terms, can help us significantly.

Long-gone are the days of dragging around pocket dictionaries to help travelers get by in markets, restaurants, and hostels. In 2019, we’re spoiled with a nifty, self-learning piece of technology called Artificial Intelligence (AI) that knows not just the language you speak, but every language. Well, maybe not every language, but most translation apps know quite a few. Regardless, this tech can really help you out if you’re in a pinch. iTranslate Voice is fluid in around 40 dialects, while Google Translate and Microsoft Translator can each communicate in over 50, but there are plenty of others to choose from too. What’s more, these apps’ capabilities go further than simply voice recognition, too, as you can type and photograph any text you wish to translate, which can help in settings such as restaurants and subway stations.

Photo by Alex Knight

Chatbots and Travelbots

Yes, those are their real names. These talkative robots have been around for a few years now, sending you information about everything from clothing sales to weather alerts. For travel enthusiasts, chatbots come into play when you’re trying to narrow down an air or a train itinerary. These robotic representatives allow the consumer to directly message companies such as Skyscanner and Expedia through communication platforms like Skype and Facebook Messenger. The bots mimic human-to-human conversation, fielding detailed questions about your travel preferences and intentions, which can definitely help sort through the clutter and clunkiness of popular discount websites. Though chat- and travelbots are an innovation that may take some getting used to, their practicality and data-driven insights can come in handy when you’re navigating the seemingly countless options of where to go and how to get there.

Photo by Luke Chesser

Wearable Devices

Tried and tested in the world of athletics, wearable devices have recently infiltrated the travel sphere. They come in different shapes and sizes (think Apple Watch), and have varied purposes, but their functions are pretty straightforward. For example, Disney World now has its own MagicBand bracelet, which not only notifies visitors of wait-times, but also acts as a room key and can even be used to purchase food and merchandise. A positive aspect of wearables is their undeniable organizational benefit, as a single device like a smartwatch can keep track of boarding passes, call Ubers, and give directions complete with live updates. Even our luggage can be considered a wearable these days, as Lepow’s “HiSmart” bag boasts a built-in location tracker. Though wearables remain on the pricier side and are still very much in their infancy when it comes to travel-related products, as technology continues to play a larger role in this industry, you can expect to see more gadgets like these in your future.

IoT (Internet of Things)

The term “Internet of Things” may feel foreign and vague, but its meaning is simple. IoT is a centralized network where online information coexists. It can manifest in the form of something as big as a city database — where residents are updated about water supply, traffic updates, and urban security in real time — or as small as smartphones and tablets, which can control various “smart” appliances throughout your home. Can’t remember if you turned off your air conditioning? No problem. Just login to your respective app and tap a button. Forgot to lock the front door? Done. IoT is meant to consolidate all of those moving parts and make life a little easier.

For travelers, this means simplifying life on the road, as we all know how chaotic living out of a suitcase can get after a while. Hotels represent a thriving and burgeoning space for IoT — in-room tablets allow visitors to activate lights, speakers, and thermostats with the touch of a button. You can also access IoT via mobile apps such as Amazon Go, which lets users visit select retail outlets and avoid the hassle of long lines. Just grab what you need (all products in these select stores are individually tracked), and you’ll be sent a receipt after you leave. Pretty cool, huh? Check out if there are any applicable stores in your area, or in cities you plan on visiting this year!

Photo by Jens Johnsson

Social Media

This one may come as a no-brainer, but with the amount of time we spend on social media these days, it’s a technological advancement whose importance can’t be overstated. Your online presence leaves behind a trail of data, which, in turn, propels ads into your news feeds — from suggestions on new items to buy to unfamiliar lands to explore. Now, we should be aware of the downside of this. But, looking at the positives, a result of accumulating search history on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest is that we’re able to evade traditional travel companies who combine everything — flights, hotels, tours, etc. — into rigid packages for us to pick and choose from. In short, our online preferences clear the way for a more personalized travel experience. We now trust individual influencers and word-of-mouth testimonies rather than travel agents who read from brochures or anonymous comments on online message boards. We can create statuses, captions, and polls to ask for and give recommendations, and we can easily tailor our trips specifically to our tastes, which was unheard of only a few years ago. Social media has been a game-changer for the travel industry, and the good thing is, it’s not only helped create a greater dialogue between provider and consumer but between travelers.

Interested in how you can be more mindful of the technology you travel with? Click here!

Header image by Daniel Gzz
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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications.