Apps Might Revolutionize Foreign Travel

Ideas and Issues

application-voyage-live-trekker-screenshot4Mexico City   Looking at three different websites, Mexico City was either the 5th, 10th, or 18th largest city in the world, but wherever we place it on the lists of huge, global population hubs, it’s big, but on Christmas Day the streets are virtually deserted, almost everything is closed that can manage to be closed, and even the Zocalo was relatively sparsely populated. Diligent research by one of our tribe had found a restaurant open in a neighborhood not terribly far away from our guesthouse, if we could get there by 5 PM before it closed at 6 PM. Not thinking far enough ahead we stepped out on the street 40 minutes early, and then it hit us: how do we get there?

We walked to the busiest street nearby. We talked to a woman who had been waiting at the corner ahead of us for some time. We waved at the four-lanes of almost empty traffic at every passing car and the few pink-and-white cabs speeding by already filled with people. Finally, we swallowed hard and hit the Uber-app.

I’m not an Uber-fan. I think they are ripping off their drivers. I think they are pushing regular cabbies out of their livelihoods. I think they are political and lobbying bullies and mavericks who flaunt the law and snub local authorities.

But, what are you going to do in a giant city, a long way from a Metro stop, on Christmas Day? The Uber-driver was there within 3 minutes. It cost about three dollars US. Walking around the neighborhood after we had eaten, we strolled through a park, rubbernecking as we went along. We found a cabstand with three cabs waiting, so no Uber for us. The cabbie wanted to charge us double the normal fare. Seven minutes later Uber picked us up wordlessly, the fare already paid via the app, a hearty thanks and Feliz Navidad without debating the tip, and we had turned the drama of travel in a big city on a holiday into banality.

And, that’s not all. Somehow several of our gang had iPhones. Apple is only slightly behind the Uber renegades on my list, but they were able to get free access to certain functions in Mexico City, including Google Maps. Everywhere we walked, Google told us where to turn and how to get there. Better than that they puzzled out the Metro stops back and forth from our neighborhood to the Zocalo with no worries. One of our crew described this feature as a life-changer, and for travelers that’s hard to debate. Google Maps isn’t everywhere, but everywhere it is, how can you beat actually knowing where you are going so that you are only lost when you want to be?

Thinking about all of this and what the future might hold, I read about something almost as good, a French app called Live Trekker. It’s fans say they tap the app when they set off on foot and it draws a red line along every street you walk and through the parks and museums you visit, and later gives you a map accessible on your computer which allows you to zoom back in and see the physical landscape of where you have been to relive the experience. Wow!

Now if I can just find one of my kids and get them to put that on my phone and show me how it works, I’m set! There’s a revolution in travel coming right to my fingertips, if I can wise up enough to use the smartphone.