Google today announced Trips, a new app that serves as a trip planner and travel guide for anyone who is exploring a new place. The free app, which is available on Android and iOS, will organize your plane tickets and hotel reservations, offer editorial guides to more than 200 cities, and make personalized recommendations based on your Google history. Best of all, it works offline: you can download everything to your phone before you leave, including maps and walking directions — sparing you from having to use an expensive international data plan.
Trips is the culmination of more than two years of work on improving Google’s travel products, said Richard Holden, a vice president of product management at the company, in an interview. In recent months Google introduced Destinations, a travel-planning feature inside mobile search, and revamped its hotel and flight search features.
"We really need to help consumers when they're actually at their destination"
Now the company is introducing an app that it hopes will become the default way for travelers to organize trip information ahead of their travels and get around town once they have arrived. "We’re doing a great job on the planning stages, but we really need to help consumers when they’re actually at their destination," Holden said.
The app will compete with offerings like TripIt, the travel-planning app from business-expense company Concur. But Trips is much less geared toward business travel than TripIt, which offers a $49-a-year premium service that tracks your reward points and alerts you when a better seat becomes available on your flight. What Trips lacks in pro-travel features, it makes up for with useful city guides that leverage a wide range of Google services (and editorial talent).
Trips requires you to log in with your Google account. (You can switch back and forth between a personal and work Google account if you have them; for best results start with the account where your flight and hotel information is delivered.) Once you’ve signed in, Google will show you a list of your upcoming and previously completed trips.
Organize your flight, hotel, and rental car information
Tap into a future trip and you’ll find a colorful grid of options to explore. Reservations organizes your flights, hotel information, and any rental car reservations you may have made. "Need to Know" has useful information about getting from the airport to the center of the city, the local currency, and what to do in case of an emergency.
The heart of the app is Things to Do, which builds custom itineraries based on how long you’ll be in town, popular destinations, and anything that you’ve previously starred or saved on a Google service. You can select a general itinerary like "72 hours in London" or drill deeper into guides that focus on shopping, museums, or other activities. And each guide can be edited to include other destinations you’d like to visit.
If you’ve got your cellular connection active, Trips will pull in real-time information about which destinations are open or closed. It will also make adjustments based on time of day and weather — if it starts raining, for example, the app will recommend indoor activities. And if you want an I’m Feeling Lucky-style recommendation for your day, tap the big red "magic wand" button and Google will offer you a random highlight from the city.
I wish Trips had been around this summer
I took a vacation in Italy this summer, and I wish Trips had been around when I did. My flight and hotel information was scattered across emails, Evernote documents, and Trello cards; my list of sights to see sprawled from Google Docs to Gogobot and back. The outrageous data rates that AT&T charges for international travel — $120 for 800MB — meant I spent most of my time with my cellular connection shut off. Trips was designed to address these problems and more.
In my early testing of Trips, I noticed a handful of strange inconsistencies — the app offered me a tab of LGBT-friendly places in Lisbon, Portugal, for example, but not New York City. And I wish the app pulled in information from both my corporate and personal Google accounts — I often have relevant travel documents in both places. In the meantime, you can forward those documents to your personal account. And if Google doesn't detect your trip automatically from your email, you can always create a new trip manually inside the app.
If you have privacy concerns about Google tracking your every step around the world, Trips is likely not the app for you. But if you’re comfortable with the trade-offs, I suspect you’ll find Trips to be a tremendously useful travel companion. In an era where print travel guides are still selling for $15 a pop, Trips is a good, free place to start. After a rocky year making consumer products for Google and its parent company, Trips feels like a return to form. In time it may prove to be the most useful consumer tool the company has introduced since Google Photos.