Can Smartphone Travel Apps Really Replace a Tour Guide?

by brian on February 28, 2012

Today’s guest post is from Tia of National Geographic’s

I may not be the most tech savvy person around and sometimes take an almost zealous pride in resisting change – took me awhile to box up my collection of audio tapes , and even longer to replace my trusty old film camera with an endlessly upgrading higher-pixel digital camera. I feel that post-processing photographs makes you a good graphic designer and not a good photographer. I feel that my 6 year old Godson should be as fascinated by his pop-up books as he is with his mom’s iPad. You can therefore imagine how my travel plans would’ve looked like, and how much weight in my backpack would’ve been dedicated to tomes and printed words about the place that I’m traveling to.

My box of audio tapes now occupies 5 Compact discs. My digital SLR holds over a 1000 images and backs up data beautifully. My Godson prefers interacting with larger-than-life numbers and flying alphabets, than he does with Angry Birds. Though I draw the line at retouching people’s visages (What’s flawlessness got to do with beauty anyhow?), I love creating surrealistic images through Photoshop. Resisting change is I guess, like resisting new experiences….So, I finally smartened up and started ‘devicing’ my plans.

On a recent trip to Italy, while sitting in a Piazza, I came across a gratuitous Wi-Fi zone which allowed me to install a bundle of travel apps on my smart phone. And Triposo was one such serendipitous discovery, which I still swear by. It became a constant companion and I would go so far as to say that it’s now my unfailing travel buddy.

Mind you, I still had my handy guidebook with me (old habits die hard), but on cross referencing, I realized that certain sections of information seemed outdated – Restaurants closing shop, stores changing locations, changed phone numbers, changed operating hours. Triposo seemed to overcome this problem by aggregating real-time data through various trusted resources – including Wikipedia, Wikitravel, Open Streetmaps and ChefMoz Dining Guide. Triposo is the brain child of three ex-Googlers, who realized the need for an all-in-one travel app that is free, simple and extremely intuitive.

My favorite feature was the offline map. With its inbuilt GPS tracking and key points of interest, I was no longer afraid of getting lost in a new city. And like a homing pigeon, I inevitably found my way back to the hotel, without asking anyone for directions.

Another section I loved diving deep into was ‘City at a glance’. It is heavily loaded with sub sections that offer rich historical information, great local perspective, overviews on safety, cultural relevance, transport options and a fantastic phrasebook. It is molto buono!

The app also offers recommendations on sights to see and places to eat at. Accommodation options can be filtered by type, price, popularity, distance or simply, alphabetically. A new feature added recently, is the ‘My city’ section which lets you bookmark places of interest, and share your ‘check ins’ via Facebook.

What works for Triposo is its extremely simple, colorful and easy to navigate UI. Though its more popular counterparts such as Timeout and Lonely Planet offer similar features, I personally like Triposo’s layout and ease-of use. The only downside to its offline application is its hefty data download requirement for more popular cities. You need to preload the data for cities that you are planning to visit. So make sure you have a generous memory card nestled snugly on your smart device.

I probably may not say ciao to my guidebook, but I find myself increasingly turning to smart travel apps for their portability, GPS features, smart pricing (in this case, free!), bookmarking capabilities, and real-time information.

Welcome to the lighter side of travel.

Tia Jones loves all things Travel and Technology. She’s a blogger who contributes articles on Travel Tips, Technology and Grand Canyon Vacations for National Geographic’s Feel free to follow Tia on Twitter @GrandCanyonNGVC and like Grand Canyon National Geographic Visitor Center on Facebook.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina February 29, 2012 at 7:16 PM

Triposo sounds like an awesome app. It kind of makes me wish we were bringing our phones to Europe…But at the same time, I think it will be neat to do it the old fashioned way as well :)


brian March 4, 2012 at 7:53 PM

Leaving the tech behind can make the experience better. Just depends on how you want to do it. But apps like this are making it harder to be completely unplugged because it does provide great functionality.


Fly Girl March 1, 2012 at 5:48 PM

I too am slow to embrace a lot of technology but this post really intrigued me. I actually stopped buying guidebooks years ago when travel websites became popular so maybe I will consider this ap as well.


brian March 4, 2012 at 7:54 PM

I tried to take guidebooks… but they are too damn heavy! Seriously. As long as you have an Internet connection you have all the info you need and the info is more up to date than a book written 6 months ago.


Nick Smith April 16, 2012 at 8:59 AM

Very interesting article. Although I believe apps will go a long way to replacing tour guides, they will never offer the personal touch/insight that a real person will give you.


brian May 28, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Very true Nick. The human will always beat the smartphone in terms of nuances and being able to anticipate a question or follow up with additional information. The smartphone + app may be cheaper, but what are you missing out on?


Chris Kemp April 19, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Hello there,
The question is “Can Smartphone Travel Apps Really Replace a Tour Guide?”
I think yes, because the guides are never be gives you all information about the place. That is time consuming for you, you ask guide then he answered you if he knows. But think if the guide replaces the smartphone Travel Apps ,then our time is saved. The guide wants money for guidence but this apps doesn’t have money if you have subscibed internet connection. Conclussion is the Smartphone Travel Apps is the best compare to the guide.


brian May 28, 2012 at 11:01 AM

The app might not have the latest information. True that the human might not have the latest either, but the human can answer the question later on to give you an answer. Whatever information is programmed into the app is what you’ll get. Nothing less and certainly nothing more.


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