How Will NFC, Biometrics and Wearable Tech Affect Travel?

April 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If a group of people traveled twenty years into the future, from 1994 to today, and saw the amount of commercial technology available, they would be staggered at the sheer connectivity we enjoy. We have portable computers and tablets, sports bands that monitors our heartbeats, and mobile phones that we use for everything except for making calls. We may not be living in the age of the Jetsons, but we’re getting close.

And we’re continuing to advance, thanks to a group of people who specialize in “outcome-focused thinking,” or thinking that creates ideas without worrying of positive or negative consequences.

At Walt Disney World, biometric measurements a...

At Walt Disney World, biometric measurements are taken from the fingers of guests to ensure that the person’s ticket is used by the same person from day to day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This raises the question, where are we going next? According to Rob Girling, the co-founder of the Artefact Group and one of the more prominent outcome-focused thinkers, he sees technology moving towards three directions.

  • Near Field Communication (NFC): NFC will play a large role in the future of wearable technology. NFC, when partnered with wearable devices, will function as a form of identification, allowing the wearer to create checkpoints at restaurants, make payments and unlock certain secure areas.
  • Biometrics: In some ways, biometric data (iris pattern, thumbprint, heart beat) is almost like NFC technology. Biometric sensors can be placed in hotels or airports for security purposes, and will only respond to a specific individual’s biometric data. Think unlocking a door with your finger print or identifying yourself on a plane ride with an eye scan. We’re already seeing this with the iPhone 5′s thumbprint scanner.
  • Natural Language Processing: As impressive as NFC and biometrics sound on paper, natural language processing may be the most promising and useful advancement in technology. NLP will allow your device to actually follow through with a complicated task and execute a complex search query, such as finding the cheapest price for a car rental. Asking SIRI to set a reminder is simply the first step on the NLP ladder.

So what does this mean for the travel industry? In some ways, traveling will become a lot easier. Imagine wearing NFC tech that you can wave at a security checkpoint or can use to make payments with your phone.

Biometrics are already being used in some office security protocols, such as a thumbprint scanner for a computer, or even Dublin Airport in Ireland using an automated passport scanner for immigration checks.

And you can already use Siri or any number of Android personal assistants to find nearby restaurants, gas stations, and tourist attractions. How much longer before you say, “Siri, rent a car for me”?

Outcome-focused thinking is already making itself felt in the travel industry. The next 20 years will be interesting, and we’re looking forward to seeing what that time is going to bring.

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Is Common Sense In Travel Dead?

April 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

When you’re traveling or on vacation, you want to feel relaxed and at home. When you feel relaxed and at home, you let your guard down, and things can get stolen. When things get stolen, your vacation becomes a nightmare, and you’ve lost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

Don’t let your guard down when you’re on vacation.

MCL-ETYCB Single Suite Hotel Room

MCL-ETYCB Single Suite Hotel Room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say you are going down the hallway to get ice in the hotel and just leave your door ajar because you’ll be right back or you leave your Kindle or iPad on your chair to go to the restroom. But when you get back, you discover your tablet is gone and your room has been burglarized. You’ve been the victim of a robbery, all because you assumed you and your belongings were safe, just like at home. This is why it’s important to travel smart and keep your guard up. You’re not at home, which means you have to be on your guard.

A recent article in USA Today said that travelers and experts believe that common sense in traveling might be dead. We don’t necessarily think that common sense is out the door — unlike your iPad and wallet — but these stories of carelessness are becoming more prevalent as more and more people travel. We are traveling more than we ever did in the past and as you know, planes are packed with people.

Technology is making it easier to travel. Your smartphones and tablets willl let you go anywhere and do everything for you so you don’t really have to think. And when you don’t know the smarts of traveling, you are more likely to be the victim of scams. Keep in mind that you are in a different place and need to keep smart and use common sense to avoid getting out of touch with reality. There are an increasing number of stories of horrible accidents that travelers get themselves into because they were not thinking. One of the culprits is an over-reliance on technology, and the other is letting your guard down.

Remember that when you’re traveling, you’re not in the cyberworld, but in the real world. Keep your eyes open, listen carefully, and be aware of where you are. And don’t let your trip or vacation turn bad because of a simple mistake you made. Stay smart and bring your brain when traveling.

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Bring This, Not That: Baby Formula and Breast Milk

April 3, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

Mothers who are traveling with infants know the difficulty of trying to feed their babies with breast milk or baby formula. You need to have enough supply on hand before arriving at your final destination, which may seem like a problem, given the TSA’s restrictions on liquids.

However, breast milk and baby formula are two exemptions to the liquid restriction, which means this problem is not as big as you might have thought.

TSA Allowed Liquids

TSA Allowed Liquids (Photo credit: bosconet)

Officially, breast milk and formula are classified as liquid medication, which means you may bring more than three ounces as long as you present it for inspection through security. Frozen milk must be presented in a solid state during inspection (that is, it can’t be half-frozen or slushy). Your empty bottles and ice packs are also permitted as well.

Although you’re allowed to bring as much milk or formula as you wish, the TSA encourages you to only bring as much as you need to get to your destination. Aside from the extra time it will take to get through security, it also is going to add weight to your bag. If you take baby formula, keep in mind that you can get it elsewhere and don’t need to add all of that extra weight to your bag. Plus, you’re still only restricted to one carry-on bag and one personal bag, so if you’re bringing a cooler of milk or formula, that’s one of your allowed bags.

Whether you choose breast milk or baby formula comes down to your preference. But if you use baby formula, keep in mind that there are powdered formulas available. Just pick up a bottle of water near the gate, and you’re all set. You don’t have the extra weight in the bag, and you can pack a lot more powdered formula than regular formula.

The Bottom Line

If you know you will be bringing baby formula or breast milk on your next flight, separate these liquids from your other liquids and let the TSA agents know you have it. Remember that any item must be properly scanned and screened before entering the secure area of the airport. So again, make it easy on yourself and only bring as much as you need to get to your destination.

If you have other questions on what you can bring, you may refer to the TSA’s web page about baby formula and breast milk.

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New Technology Changing the Future of Airports

March 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Many airports are undergoing major technology changes and updates throughout the country, beyond just adding new electrical outlets and USB ports at different gates (although that’s very important). Airports are getting new looks and brand new technology that can make the time we spend waiting for our planes easier and more pleasurable.

According to a recent article on the (FTE) blog, the Bradley West Terminal at LAX is getting new digital technology, including screens and interactive devices, as well as adding outlets for almost every other chair. (We told you it was important). Users can even interact with digital screens via their own mobile phone or tablet. The retrofit took five years, and is using the latest technology to improve travelers’ gate experience (in fact, they won an award for “Best Experience at the Gate”.

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los ...

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The technology often changed faster than the installations were going in. Curtis Fentress Principal-in-Charge of Design at Fentress Architects told FTE, “We’ve been working on (the LAX) project for around five years and we’ve made changes on the fly throughout that time.”

Fentress is also working to create a “sense of place” for airports, something his firm did for the Denver International Airport in 1995. Now, architects around the world are all re-imagining their airports so the design and style will be appropriate for their particular cities, not just through appearance, but in functionality as well.

Fentress even told FTE to start watching for materials that can clean and repair themselves. “Things like self-repairing materials, self-cleaning glass and self-cleaning carpets are wonderful concepts and it’s true that all of them are being developed.”

The end result is that airports will no longer be a place we have to endure, avoid, or complain about. They’re becoming more functional and more pleasurable to spend time in. While airports will never be as comfortable as your home or office, they can at least be an enjoyable part of your travels.

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Security Check Now Starts Long Before You Fly

March 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

When you purchase tickets for a flight, you probably don’t pay much thought to how the information you’re providing — your name, date of birth, and address — is being used. In fact, most travelers don’t give airport security much thought until they’re in line at the TSA screening checkpoint. However, the Travel Security Administration has recently begun running increased security checks on travelers before they even arrive at the airport.

English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage.

English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basic security checks are nothing new. For years, the TSA has been running a program called Secure Flight. Before a traveler steps foot into the airport, their name, date of birth and address are compared with terrorist watch lists. However, through this new program, the TSA will be comparing traveler information against a wide array of government and private databases. That being said, it’s unclear exactly which specific databases the TSA will be accessing, however some speculate that it may include things like past travel itineraries, law enforcement records, property records and the like.

While this level of screening may seem intrusive, the TSA claims that this information will be used to streamline airport security screenings, with the ultimate goal of giving 25% of passengers lighter screenings within the year, allowing pre-approved passengers to keep their shoes and jackets on and go through a simplified screening process, not unlike their Pre-Check program. On the flip side, travelers that are flagged as “high-risk” may experience increased, and repeated, security screenings.

Unfortunately, travelers who are wrongly placed on the security watch list may run into endless problems while traveling. While those that have been wrongly labeled “high risk” can petition to have their name removed through the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, some civil liberties groups complain that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be removed.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you ok with the prospect of having increased security checks run on you before you enter the airport, in exchange for increased security and a simplified airport screening process? Share your thoughts in the comments section, or on our Facebook page.

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Big Travel Changes In 2013

March 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The travel industry has changed immensely in the last few years, thanks in large part to Millennials and their travel habits. Commonly referred to as ‘Gen Y’, this tech savvy generation has caused big changes within the travel industry over the last year. Here are three surprising changes we’ve seen take place.

Home-As-Lodging > Hotels

Airbnb sticker

Airbnb sticker (Photo credit: Effie.Y.)

Many savvy travelers are skipping chain hotels in favor of lodging through sites like Airbnb, Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO. These sites enable travelers to book anything from a spare room to an entire home in cities around the globe for significantly less than hotel room rates. This trend is especially appealing for group travelers who want to stay under one roof, budget travelers looking for cheap digs in a good location and solo travelers who wish to stay with a local. The home-as-lodging trend is so hot, that Airbnb is expected pass InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide and become the globe’s largest hotelier by the end of 2014.

Indie Travel Guides > Tours

Savvy travelers are forgoing the mainstream guides and booking tours through sites like Sidetour, Getyourguide and Canaryhop. Such sites hook travelers (and locals) up with unique city tours, classes and experiences in major cities around the world, making them a great way to get off the beaten path and meet locals.

Ridesharing > Taxis

Cabs can get expensive. Enter ridesharing programs like Lyft and UberX, which enable travelers to hitch a ride with a (fully-vetted) person in their personal vehicle. Ridesharing is significantly cheaper than taxi rides, and thanks to their apps, they’re also much more convenient to use in cities where it’s difficult to flag a cab. While the concept may seem a bit sketchy, many travelers report that the experience is actually much more positive than a traditional taxi experience.

With the travel industry changing so rapidly, we’re excited to see what changes are in store in the upcoming year.

Have you tried out any of these newer services while traveling? If so, we’d love to hear your experiences. Share your thoughts with us in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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How Do American Airlines’ New Planes Compare to JetBlue’s?

March 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

First class is officially getting an upgrade. American Airlines recently released its new transcontinental fleet at JFK airport. Perhaps the most impressive is the new Airbus A321, which will run from JFK to LAX and SFO (Los Angeles and San Francisco). This particular plane is positioned to be American Airlines’ answer to JetBlue’s new premium product, the aptly named ‘Mint’, which will also run from JFK to LAX or SFO. There are many similarities between these new planes, so how do they compare?

To start, American Airlines’ A321 is the first plane to offer a three class cabin featuring first class, business class and coach. JetBlue, however, only offers two levels: coach and Mint. Both airlines will offer fully-lie flat seating. On American’s A321, lie-flat seating will be available in both first and business class. Additionally, AA will offer Main Cabin Extra seating for an additional fee, which offers six inches of additional legroom.

English: DFW American Airlines Departure

English: DFW American Airlines Departure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If sleeping on planes isn’t your thing, you’re in luck: both carriers offer extensive entertainment options via personal in-seat entertainment. American will offer a 9-inch HD-capable touchscreen with up to 120 movies, 180 TV shows, 350 audio selections and 30 games in addition to wifi via Gogo. JetBlue’s Mint service will offer 15 inch interactive video screens featuring up to 100 channels from DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio and access to Fly-Fi, which claims to be the industry’s first high-speed satellite-based Internet service.

When it comes to meal options, JetBlue appears to be the winner. While American Airlines will offer the ability to order entrees before your flight, JetBlue is kicking things up a notch: they’ve partnered with renowned New York restaurant Saxon + Parole to create a unique small-plates menu. Additionally, Mint passengers can enjoy full-bottle wine service.

While both flights will also offer complimentary amenity kits, Mint has taken theirs to the next level by partnering with Birchbox. Each kit will be filled with “editor-approved” beauty, grooming and lifestyle products and treats.

With amenities like these, long-haul transcontinental flights are looking more and more appealing. With first class amenities such as these, we wouldn’t mind a few extra hours spent in-flight…

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Bring This, Not That: Layers vs. Big Coats

March 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

How many times have you left home in a big coat and regretted it the minute you arrived at your destination? Even a trip to the mall in the winter can make a big coat seem like a bad idea when you have to lug it around, after only needing it to walk the 200 yards from your car.

When traveling during cold months, many travelers assume they need to bring their big coat to keep warm. It works, but there’s a better option: layer up and wear several light shirts and a fleece, rather than one shirt and a heavy coat. You have more flexibility with changing temperatures by wearing many layers, not to mention that you won’t have to haul that giant parka around with you.

Going Through a Climate Change

If you are traveling to a very cold location, like Finland in January, a big coat is probably a must. But if you can avoid bringing it to a place like St. Louis in March, why not? You may save room in your suitcase by wearing it onto the plane, but you still have to mess with it. Whether putting it in an overhead compartment, or carrying it around when you find out it’s not as cold as you thought, big coats take up a lot of space.

That being said, it may useful to wear that big coat, especially if you’re going to be outside a lot. But if you’re only dashing from cabs and cars to restaurants and offices, skip the coat and layer up.

If you are traveling from a cold climate to a hot one, layering is definitely recommended. You won’t want to carry that coat around in a warm climate and it is easier to add or subtract a few layers when needed. Plus you can pack them away when you don’t need them.

Bottom Line: Focus on Common Use

Think about packing for your most common use, rather than your peak use. Look at what you will be doing the most during your trip, rather than the worst situation you’ll only face once. Will you be outside most of the time in single digit temperatures? Then a big coat is a must. Otherwise, we recommend sticking with layers, thick and thin shirts. Layers make it easier in a temperature change and offer variety in climate changes you aren’t used to.

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Clothing Tips for Smart Adventure Travelers

March 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Are you staring back-and-forth from your closet to your suitcase wondering what to pack for your next adventure travel? Our favorite travel writer and photographer (and contributor to the Travelpro blog), Mark Eveleigh, has some tips to think about when planning your outfits.

1. Pants and Shorts

Jeans are not recommended for adventure travel, because once they get wet, it’s game over. Instead of heavy denim that never dries, cargo pants are the way to go. They are light, dry quickly, and have pockets for storage.

If you’re traveling someplace warmer, tough bush-shorts are an excellent option. They have large pockets and are durable. You may even find cargo pants that unzip at the knee are ideal for places with temperature changes.

2. Shirts

Mark Eveleigh sporting his TPro Rolling Duffel in Chiapas

If there’s anyone who knows adventure travel, it’s this guy.

Any shirt is good as long as it’s durable and lightweight. You’ll want to stay with neutral colors, especially on safari, so you blend in with the brush. Shirts should be versatile enough to be worn outside during adventure excursions and to be worn when having drinks in the evening.

3. Bags

Eveleigh carries a kitbag, also called a duffle bag, where he stores most of his supplies. One of our colleagues also stated that a backpack could be just as useful, although Eveleigh has said he favors kitbags over backpacks. We wouldn’t recommend a vest with pockets because once they’re full, it’s heavy. And heavy isn’t good in heat.

4. Footwear

Cross country running shoes are ideal during adventure travel. Lightweight and compact, these shoes are perfect for an average trip. Also packing a pair of sandals or trekking shoes is a good idea for something to wear to dinner.

There are a lot more adventure travel packing tips at the Kitbaggers website. As long as you’re packing smart and taking only the things you need, you’ll have a good time.

Frequent Flier Miles Being Devalued

March 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve been thinking about signing up for an airline’s loyalty program, you may want to think again. Some airlines are devaluing their frequent flier mile programs, making free airline seats harder to earn.

Several years ago, airlines said they would never be so bold as to change their loyalty programs. They were afraid that if they changed the program, passengers would go elsewhere. You could earn large blocks of miles and obtain a free ticket fairly easily.

English: Different customer loyality cards (ai...

Different customer loyality cards (airlines, car rental companies, hotels etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, airlines have been consolidating, making less competition for booking airfare. Therefore, they have more flexibility in changing their loyalty programs, adding more blackout dates, increasing the cost of rewards, and decreasing the point value of flights.

Peter Greenberg said on his blog that not only are frequent flier miles becoming harder to redeem, but also that the points to every dollar ratio are decreasing. This means that depending on the airline, your points can be up to 25% less in value.

Why is this happening? Why are airlines making it harder to be loyal to them?

It’s because airlines are already flying at close to full capacity, and there are fewer seats available on the market, which means the airlines don’t need to work quite as hard to earn your patronage. And since people are already paying for seats, why give one away? Ultimately, this is one of their methods to stay profitable. And one of the things that is suffering is the frequent flier programs.

Maybe it’s time to rethink how to earn points without being confined to a loyalty program that could be changed in a few years. You could always earn points on a credit card, something that I do on a regular basis. The value of the points you earn on credit cards can exceed the airline benefits and you are not confined to one air carrier when you book your air travel.

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