Planning a getaway no longer requires your full attention. If you have a smart home device like Google Home or Amazon Echo, you can initiate the travel-planning process while you’re doing laundry or making dinner.
Neither Google Assistant nor Amazon’s Alexa — the voice-activated virtual assistants for these devices — can yet compete with a human travel agent, but they can do some light lifting. A simple command can get you information on flights, attractions, dinner reservations and more.
Let’s explore what they can do if, say, you’re planning to fly to Paris, with a weekend stop-off in New York along the way.
What virtual assistants can do
Depending on the service you need, virtual assistants may not be able to accomplish it right out of the box. Some of Alexa’s functions require you to “enable skills” (voice-powered capabilities), which may involve giving the virtual assistant permission to link accounts or work with other apps. With Google Assistant, you may be required to download apps for certain commands to work.
Technical hiccups are also not uncommon, as the technology is fairly new and frequently updated.
“I’m looking forward to all of these travel apps getting to the place where they’re more robust and functional, because it depends on which one you use and sometimes it’s just spotty,” says Jon Bailey, founder of 2 Dads With Baggage, a family travel blog.
Still, some functions work well for Bailey, who uses Alexa with several Amazon Echo devices while multitasking.
“If the kids need something, I can go help them and continue whatever that function is rather than leaving my laptop and having to wait to go back to the screen,” he says.
Get information on flights, hotels
Google Assistant lets you track flight prices and look up information on previously booked flights. When asked to find flights to Paris, for instance, Google Assistant will offer the starting cost of a few upcoming flights from your location and request dates. You can also ask about flight prices with specific airlines.
Google Assistant and Alexa both work with the travel search engine Kayak, which offers prices on flights and hotels, and destination ideas based on where you can afford to fly within budget. Just ask them.
Sample commands: “Hey, Google, how much are flights to Paris?” “Alexa, ask Kayak where can I go for $500.”
Reserve ground transportation
Get your ground transportation squared away with Alexa. Before leaving, you can reserve a car for your destination. Alexa’s Avis and Expedia skills allow voice-powered car rentals when you have a linked account and saved payment information.
You can also catch a ride to the airport with the Uber or Lyft skill, depending on your preference.
Sample command: “Alexa, ask Lyft for a ride.”
Suggest activities at your destination
You can search for “free” things to do, “cheap” things to do, or “popular attractions” at your destination. Google Assistant, for example, might point you to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and the Tuileries Gardens for free things to do in Paris.
Sample command: “OK, Google, find me free things to do in Paris.”
Make a checklist
There’s plenty to remember when you’re planning a trip. Alexa lets you create several lists via voice, which means you can have a shopping list, a packing list and others.
Lists automatically show up in your Alexa app. You can also sync lists with apps like Any.do, AnyList and Cozi.
Sample commands: “Alexa, add sunglasses to my packing list.” “Alexa, add travel-size toothpaste to my shopping list.”
Make reservations in the U.S.
Let’s say that before getting to Paris, you want to kick off the vacation with dinner and a show in New York City. You’re in the mood for something French.
If you’re traveling to a destination in the states, you can make a dinner reservation with Alexa or Google Assistant via OpenTable with a linked account.
The assistant will ask how many people the reservation is for, as well as the date and the time.
Sample commands: “Alexa, ask OpenTable to make a reservation.” “OK, Google, make a reservation at Balthazar in New York City.”
Teach you common words and phrases
If you’re traveling to a non-English-speaking country, your virtual assistant can help you learn common words and phrases such as “thank you” in French.
Google Assistant can even slow down and repeat it as many times as you need.
Sample commands: “Alexa, ask Translated how do you say ‘how are you?’ in French.” “Hey, Google, how do you say ‘where is the museum’ in French?”
Virtual assistants can perform more straightforward functions as well. They can inform you about:
- The value of the dollar at your destination
- The weekly weather forecast
- Your flight’s status on the day of travel
For trips that will require a lot of planning or potential logistical problems, you or your travel agent will probably still have to do much of the heavy lifting yourselves. But for research, preparation and general information, virtual assistants can be helpful — and new functions are being added all the time.