Traveling with wearables isn’t the vacation I was promised

Traveling is stressful. You’re constantly worried you forgot something at home, constantly annoyed you have to take off your shoes at the security checkpoint, and constantly afraid you’ll be late to boarding the aircraft and have to make the walk of shame through a full airplane of angry people. Not to mention the now-added anxiety of literally being dragged off a plane.

That’s why, while traveling recently, I was reminded of our own tips for holidaying with wearable technology. They’re all great in theory – we’ve been sold on the idea that wearables can be wonderful travel buddies – but sadly that future, the one we’ve seen on TV, is still just that – the future.

Frustration starts at the gate. Your boarding pass is your key document, but airport scanners around the world are still built for paper and smartphones, not for people’s wrists contorted in weird positions. It’s a problem of an infrastructure playing catch-up.

There are handful of apps that try to help you as you roam an airport. Elk is a currency app, while TripCase and App in the Air keep you posted on your travel plans. Then there’s a host of apps from airlines themselves. The problem is that rarely as they as smooth as they’re sold to be. For instance, the United app is really good about sending you gate information and letting you use a mobile boarding pass. Emirates, one of the most popular international airlines in the world, though? Much more difficult to get a hold of your mobile boarding pass and gate information. That’s not infrastructure, just a poorly made app.

Charged up: Travelling with wearables

Traveling is the time your wrist-based personal assistant should come into their own, pulling up all of our necessary flight information the moment it recognizes you’re in the airport and updating with relevant information as we go.

Once you’re on your flight, and free of data, wearables can have another role to play: keeping you calm and moving about. There are plenty of smartwatches and fitness trackers, just like the Gear Fit2 Pro, that will give you wellness reminders. These are essential on grueling, 14-hour flights – which I can tell you is as bad as it sounds. Reminders to stand and get some circulation back in your tired legs are essential, as are reminders to take a breath and meditate for a couple moments. My personal wish would be for algorithms to take the world clock information and figure out when you should sleep on the plane to minimize jet lag at your final destination.

Round round get around, you get around

Then there’s the matter of getting around while you’re on holiday. Why worry about exchanging currency when you could simply use NFC payments? There are several public transportation systems around the world that use contactless payments, from London to Singapore to a bunch of places in between, but contactless payment adoption in wearables have been slow. It’s only picked up this year with the introduction of services like Garmin and Fitbit Pay – good luck if you’re rocking a Fossil Android Wear device though. Apps like Uber and Lyft can get you a cab from your wrist, which is definitely neat, but those aren’t available everywhere – or are facing regulation hurdles.

Your wrist-based device has access to a lot of information. It naturally knows your whereabouts, and it also has access to your apps and accounts. We often dream of simply asking our AI assistants and getting a good recommendation, but this rarely works as well as we’d like.

Charged up: Traveling with wearables isn't the vacation I was promised

Instead, why can’t it automatically surface places you’ve expressed interest in in your pre-trip research as you’re walking around a new city? “You previously looked at reviews for this paella place in Barcelona, it’s not too far away – go check it out!” If Google’s going to take all my data, I want it to put it to better use, damn it.

Then there’s accommodation. All these promises of being able to use our smartwatch as a room key, but this hasn’t become as widely adopted as we’d hoped it would be by now. There’s a reason Disney has turned to the Magic Band as the ultimate key to its vacation properties; it’s so much simpler. Starwood Hotels does this, and has big plans for future wearable interactions, but it’s the only one doing it. Where’s Hilton and Marriott and everyone in between?

We’ve seen small glimpses of the potential of wearables to totally transform our traveling experiences, to make it easier than ever before to move from city to city and enjoy our holidays. But so far it just hasn’t live uo, the infrastructure surrounding it isn’t in place to do the things we’ve been promised for years. Wearables could make travel so much simpler, but it instead comes across as a mild nuisance.

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