One travel service to rule them all? If only.

I was working in London the past five weeks, and with that over, I’ve been travelling a bit across Europe. 

In this last six weeks, the realisation has dawned on me that 95% of the travel-related research and purchases I’ve made have been online. Local transport is one I just wasn’t comfortable purchasing online, and wanted the assurance of going to a station and buying that first ticket, getting any stupid questions out of the way with a person. Quickly. It’s fine buying a ticket, but essentially not knowing how to use it, and getting lost is not a prospect that’s fun.

Back to that 95%.

When I’m in a city 

  • Foursquare Explore [Lists, especially]
  • Google [Maps, Offline Maps, public transit directions, public transit line info, local reviews with Zagat ratings, local search]
  • TimeOut’s city guides [20 things to do, especially]
  • TripAdvisor
  • Individual sites to purchase events, etc

Before I get to a city

  • Carlson Wagonlit [travel agent of choice for work]
  • Qantas.com
  • Hipmunk
  • Orbitz
  • Skyscanner
  • TimeOut’s city guides [20 things to do, especially]

Foursquare vs Google Places

Foursquare Explore on its own is lame, to be honest. Mostly because the first result I’ve got every time I open the tab is for a special at Starbucks or some equally non-impressive venue. I’d like a way to ban that result please. Once you scroll through and find a venue, and see the related lists, that is when it becomes damn great! Being a vegetarian, and seeing cultivated lists for vegetarian places to eat rocks. 

What Foursquare Explore doesn’t have in some cases is an abundance of reviews, and a magic number. Google’s Local/Places information has that now with its Zagat acquisition. The amount of times seeing a high number won me over surprised me. It is a simple, clear indicator of how good a place is, and when there are so many choices, it’s very useful.

Seeing a familiar face pop up next to a place on Foursquare is pretty powerful too.

Tapping the Map button on Foursquare is also painful, because it doesn’t play nicely with Google’s Places pages anymore. Google Maps will open, there’ll be a bubble for the venue, you tap it, and then you get none of the Google Places information; just a bunch of coordinates. Whether this is due to OpenStreetMap or what, who knows, but it’s ridiculously annoying. I’ll look at a venue, then open Google Maps and have to type that address in. Thank lord the multitasking is awesome on Android now.

[Oh, yeah, I’ve been doing most of the When I’m in a city stuff on my phone, and all of the Before I get to a city stuff on my MackBook Air.]

Google Maps is the best thing ever, still. Offline maps work a treat, and the public transit directions/information they have in every city makes it way too easy to get around, and instantly feel like a local. I feel sorry for those that open up their gigantic paper maps and are constantly trying to get their bearings.

TimeOut and TripAdvisor

I really did have a perception that I could do this whole trip on Foursquare Explore and Google Maps.

TimeOut’s landing page for each city is somewhat useful, but the 20 great things to do in X posts have been a solid indicator of the types of things to do.

I thought TripAdvisor was so 2009. Boy was I wrong. TripAdvisor works a treat when you want a crapload of data on a particular venue. Foursquare’s tips and Google Places’ reviews fall down when they’re too local, and written in another language that you don’t want to bother translating. TripAdvisor’s reviews are mainly in English, updated rather frequently, and again, that single rating helps.

Back to that 95% again

Another realisation just now. The key influencers to even initiate all that research and purchasing, i.e. why I went to Paris, Berlin, and why I’m Barcelona now, has always been someone I know telling me.

Makes sense really. It’s so much easier in two minutes for someone to passionately rattle off what they like about a city, and relate it to what they know about me. Now, online services may know our interests and what not, but I don’t know if they’re at the next level yet, to help make those REALLY BIG decisions. 

I guess you could throw in Architecture, Cocktails, Walkability and Cool into something and get Paris, Berlin and Barcelona? 

Maybe it’s enough if there’s one service that once you type in ‘Barcelona’, could take care of the rest. That seems a while away too.

I can see why buying just a book/guide, and using it as your sole source of information is easier to many. 


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