Over Christmas we took our first big holiday since we had kids – a short family break to New York. While the only tech I took with me was my mobile, and that was only ‘in case of emergency’, it proved to be a very useful travel tool, especially when our flight home was cancelled. Here’s why…

Connectivity: Free wifi was everywhere. Well, not quite, but between the airports, hotels, cafes and major sights it was rare not to have access when I wanted it. Without this my phone would have been little use. With it, my phone was so much more than a phone.

Getting around: I use google maps so much I can take it for granted, but it and the services built onit are incredibly useful. Gmaps offered the usual detailed maps, but also psuedo-3D rendering of buidlings, live train/bus times and streetview. AroundMe was useful for providing nearby listings of things like cafes, restuarants, linked to ratings/comments. AR apps, much as I like the idea, didn’t really work for me for navigation. Too many POIs for the UI to cope with at times when a 2D map worked better.

American museum of natural history explorer app

Enhanced experience: I like tech when it compliments an experience, rather than being a distraction. For example, the American museum of Natural History provide free wifi and a free museum Explorer app. This guides you around the museum by getting your current location and providing maps and directions to any exhibit you want to find. It could do more in terms of describing the exhibits, allowing commenting, etc., but I preferred that it didn’t lure me into to exploring stuff online, but just got us to the things we wanted to see.

One place AR did ‘pop up’ that I wasn’t expecting it was in the Lego store. They used marker-based AR and a booth to show you what you’re model of the space shuttle should look like once you’ve put it together and what it would look like if it could actually take off. Think the box should have had a warning that ‘liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen not included’ to avoid later disappointment!

Games: I’m not really a gamer, but having a few decent games helped pass the time on two six hour night flights with the kids. I even let them have a play 😉

Self-service travel: Last time I took a long haul flight, you had to be at the airport 3 hours before departure, most of which was spent waiting in line to check in. Self-service now means that we could check in, print boarding passes, chose our seats, meals and in flight movies from the comfort of our hotel.

In case of emergency

It was when our flight home was cancelled that tech proved it’s worth. Being able to check the live status of flights, booking new flights, getting the latest news from the media and airport authorities, being able to communicate through email, IM and Skype, using Twitter search as a self-building/updating FAQ built by people in a similar situation and those trying to help them. All of which meant much less hassle sorting out a return flight that got us home on Christmas day, just before the snow closed the airports in New York.

What I was just as happy about was that I found it remarkably easy to treat this technology as just a tool, using it when I needed to, but putting it down when I didn’t. That’s something I struggle with at work/home, so perhaps the cure to my addiction is more holidays!

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