My experience is that there isn’t a ton of difference between the various online travel agencies as far as finding hotels and flights. It happens sometimes, but it’s rare to look up a flight on Priceline and then find the price is wildly different on Expedia. For hotels, pick one site — one that allows you to collect points or status, ideally, and stick with it.
In general, I favor Google products because I value speed, and they tend to be pretty reliable. Google Flights is extremely useful for finding different routes for itineraries, and I’ll literally spend hours on it when I’m planning a longer trip. One nice feature is that it will warn you if it thinks a price hike on a flight is imminent, say within the next several hours. ITA Software is a flight search tool that’s more complicated then 95 percent of the population needs, but is useful if you want very particular parameters on your flights (length of stopovers, routing through specific cities, etc.).
In my travels, I often find that the aphorism “less is more” holds true as it relates to technology. I don’t have a super nice camera; I use an old Canon 20D. I have a newish laptop that I enjoy using at home, but when I travel for an extended period of time, I bring an older MacBook from 2010.
There are a few reasons I do this: First, it works totally fine for word processing and web browsing, which are what I spend most of my time doing. More important, it’s not a big deal if it is lost or stolen. (They can go for under $ 200 on eBay.) Lastly, it has a built-in Ethernet jack, which the new laptop doesn’t have and which comes in handy surprisingly often. I’ve used it during recent trips to Ethiopia and China when wireless internet was unavailable.
Credit Scott McIntyre for The New York Times
What could be better?
One thing I’d like is more accurate reporting on flight status and delays. That has more to do with the airlines than the tools, but I find that aspect of travel tools to be woefully inadequate.
Planning a trip itinerary can be challenging, especially in a country you’ve never visited. What’s your process?
No one source of information is perfect. Firsthand information is best — personal experience, or friends or family — but that’s not always possible. The internet becomes the well you draw from pretty frequently, but there are risks to taking reviews written by strangers (or paid shills) as gospel.
What that means, ironically, is that you end up having to spend even more time online — to get an aggregate sense of what’s true and what’s not. I’ll use TripAdvisor, Twitter, Lonely Planet forums, FlyerTalk, Reddit — you name it, I’ll read it. The trick then becomes discerning which intel is solid.
What tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily nonwork life?
My brother, Loren, got me a nice pair of noise-isolating earphones from Etymotic. Those are invaluable during travel.
And I have more of a wish list than anything else because I don’t have a ton of money to spend on tech. I’d like a photography drone — I played with one a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. There’s a quadcopter from Contixo I’ve got my eye on that has an HD camera and built-in GPS (important for the thing not getting lost) and was going for less than $ 300. I’d also like a Nintendo Switch, the latest portable console from Nintendo, which seems like a great way to kill some time on a long train ride or flight. I like video games — maybe more than I’d care to admit.
I’ve had the same Tumi carry-on luggage for the last decade, and it has been incredibly reliable. (That’s one thing not to skimp on — your luggage. Get yourself one high-quality bag.) But there are some new “smart luggage” products out there, like Bluesmart, that look interesting to me. They have GPS, will lock automatically and even weigh themselves.
What are the most important gadgets that everyone should pack when traveling?
If you do any amount of traveling, you need a portable battery to charge your phone. This is pretty nonnegotiable. You can go as big as you want with it, but I like a compact tubular (“lipstick”) size from companies like Poweradd or Anker.
Speaking of which, look into what ride-share and taxi-hailing apps are available in your country. Uber is the 800-pound gorilla, but it doesn’t exist in, say, Barcelona — you’ll have to use the app mytaxi. And while Uber exists in Egypt, Careem (based in Dubai) is another viable option.
If you’re going to a place where drinking water is questionable, take a Lifestraw. A good travel pillow. A Kindle or an e-reader is useful, too. Buy a bunch of adapter plugs, which are cheap, but you most likely don’t need to bother with an actual voltage adapter, which is heavy and expensive.
The last essential is — ready? A paper clip. I don’t leave the country without one. If you have an iPhone, you’ll need it to swap out SIM cards. Sometimes low-tech or no-tech ends up being the most valuable thing in your toolbox.