For much of the northern hemisphere, summer is prime vacation season. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and the kids are out of school. But the resulting surge in travel can make it difficult to find airfare and hotel deals, nab rental cars for road trips, and plan a balanced itinerary that pleases everyone, especially if you’re traveling with friends or family. At least, not without a lot of research.
Once upon a time, we turned to travel agents to take care of every aspect of our vacations — many of us still do. Or we handle the planning process ourselves and spend hours on google reading endless articles and reviews. But now there’s a new resource travelers should be turning to for help planning personalized getaways: ChatGPT. It may take a few years before the technology can fully replace a travel agent — or your own researching skills — but we still recommend using it as a planning aid today.
Developed by OpenAI, this cutting-edge AI (artificial intelligence) model is now being tapped for all kinds of work, from drafting emails, analyzing complex data sets, and writing essays to generating code – all by using natural language prompts. It’s essentially a chatbot, but a really good one that converses with you like another human would. And recently, enterprising users have discovered another area in which the AI is making life easier — travel planning.
Personalized Recommendations Based on Interests
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all vacation. Different people have different interests and different ideas about what makes a great escape. If you’ve ever traveled in a group, you know how challenging it can be to come up with an itinerary that caters to everyone in your party. ChatGPT-4 (the number refers to the latest release) can generate personalized itineraries based on the prompts you provide. Whether you're an art aficionado, nature enthusiast, foodie, or history buff, ChatGPT-4 can create itineraries that align with your interests and those of your travel companions, helping everyone discover exciting attractions that will make your trip unforgettable.
One of ChatGPT's big features is that it can remember the conversation you're having with it. This means it can glean context from whatever you've asked it previously and then use that to inform its conversation with you. You're also able to ask for reworks and corrections, and it will refer back to things you’ve already discussed. It makes interacting with the AI feel like a genuine back-and-forth.
No Detail Left to Chance
Logistics is another area that often causes vacation-planning anxiety, especially during a busy travel season like summer. ChatGPT-4 can handle all of it for you, from suggesting hotels that fit your needs, preferences, and budget, to advising you on the best ways to get around any given destination. The AI considers any identifiers you want to give it — like the size of your group, each traveler type, their ages, and your desired level of activity — then provides recommendations or a comprehensive plan that covers all your needs. The results today are good, but it may take a few years before the quality is on par with what a real travel-planning expert or service can offer you.
Keep in mind, though, that the AI’s current data set covers only up to September of 2021. This means that hotels and restaurants, for example, that have opened since then won’t be included in its suggestions (nor will those suggestions take into account recent closures). It’s also worth noting that the more details and specifics you can provide the AI, the better its recommendations and itineraries will be. In AI speak, this is known as “prompt engineering.” At the end of the day, ChatGPT-4 relies on data sets and algorithms to serve up results based on the information you feed it, so it helps to be as granular as possible.
Safety Information at Your Fingertips
Safety is a big priority when planning a vacation, but finding information on the safety of destinations can sometimes be an overwhelming process. ChatGPT-4 can help travelers identify destinations with low crime rates, as well as safe tourist attractions, and resorts that are fully gated. It can also provide handy information on local customs, cultural norms, and emergency contact information, equipping you with the knowledge to navigate your destination safely and confidently.
Efficient Planning and Time Management
Another challenge of planning a trip is making the most out of a limited timeframe. ChatGPT-4 can help travelers make the most of their vacation by optimizing itineraries for efficiency. Like grouping attractions together based on their proximity to each other and analyzing travel time, traffic patterns, opening hours, lines, and more. You could probably do this yourself using Google Maps, but ChatGPT-4 does it in seconds, saving you valuable time and a lot of effort.
Travel plans can change in the blink of an eye due to unforeseen circumstances such as weather conditions, flight delays, or unexpected closures. Although ChatGPT-4’s data set does not reflect real time, it has started offering plug-ins to access real-time information and can provide alternative suggestions for you before and during your trip. The AI's flexibility means you'll never be left stranded without a plan, allowing you to pivot and salvage your vacation even if life throws you a curveball. Companies with apps, like Kayak and Expedia, have started using these plug-ins natively and we expect this trend to explode over the next 12 months.
Budget is certainly another important aspect in the vacation-planning process for most travelers, and an element that can significantly influence everything about your trip — from where you travel to where you stay and what you do. ChatGPT-4 can help you optimize your spending power by suggesting cost-effective solutions tailored to your parameters and preferences. From affordable dining and accommodation options to free attractions and local gems, the AI can provide valuable advice to help you get the most out of your travel budget.
We Asked and It Delivered
We decided to put ChatGPT-4 to the test and asked it to come up with some classic and common vacation itineraries. First was an upscale, three-day itinerary to Mexico City for a couple with two toddlers. First it created a theme for each day: arrival and exploration, cultural immersion, and shopping and entertainment. It suggested accommodations that were luxurious yet family-friendly, specifically the Four Seasons Mexico City and the St. Regis Mexico City. Both are conveniently located near popular attractions. Then it recommended we bring the kids along to Chapultec Park, the Mexico City Zoo, and the interactive Papalote Children’s Museum, to name a few. The AI also recommended upscale restaurants that cater to both adults and toddlers — a double win for traveling families.
We also asked it for suggestions on a three-day Iceland trip for a pair of college friends on a tight budget. Not only did the AI find us great hostels and guesthouses, but it also provided affordable options for navigating the country, including public transportation and group tours. As for attractions, it recommended the popular Skogafoss waterfall, Iceland’s Golden Circle route, and the geothermal waters at Reykjadalur hot springs. All three were low-hanging fruit, yet attractions we would have definitely hit on a first-time visit to Iceland.
Lastly, we inquired about a three-day itinerary in Marrakech. We got really specific here with our prompt-engineering, describing the travelers as a couple in their 60s with limited mobility and on a medium budget. ChatGPT4 recommended several comfortable mid-range accommodations, including well-appointed riads, in the heart of the city, followed by low-impact activities like a guided tour of Bahia Palace, a visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa square, and a leisurely stroll through the Marjorelle Garden. It also suggested authentic Moroccan restaurants and accessible transportation options.
When it comes to gathering suggestions, figuring out logistics, and cutting out most of the heavy research that goes into planning a trip, ChatGPT-4 shines. The more specific you can be in your questions, the better it can deliver on your needs. However, flexible travelers who prefer spontaneity when planning travel can also benefit. You can ask the AI a vague question, such as “Where can I go for a relaxing, remote escape tomorrow near Miami within a 100 mile range?” or “What are the best cities to visit for creative inspiration from the Impressionist era?” and you’ll likely get a range of popular and recommendations to help jumpstart the planning process.
But ChatGPT-4 still isn’t quite developed enough to replace your own Google searching or a travel agent. There are several drawbacks to ChatGPT-4’s travel-planning abilities, such as that lag in its data set. The real-time plug-ins are still being developed, and you currently have to be a premium member to use them.
There is also a question of how comprehensive the data set is and what is (and isn’t) in it. For example, the user-generated content on Twitter and Reddit is not in ChatGPT-4’s data set because both platforms consider their data to be proprietary. It is also unclear whether invaluable traveler reviews on sites like Google, Expedia, and Booking.com are in the data set.
Additionally, the AI often recommends the most obvious restaurants, hotels, and attractions unless you get more specific about your needs and preferences. We’re confident that over time the quality of the underlying data set and their machine learning algorithms will be more robust and so will ChatGPT’s responses. But there’s no denying that it greatly reduces the amount of time and effort one would normally spend browsing the internet to put together a winning trip or itinerary.
Check out ChatGPT for yourself here. Once you register, you'll be able to use GPT-3.5 for free. GPT-4 can be accessed via subscription for $20 per month. Another alternative to ChatGPT is Google's just launched natural language AI model called Bard. It's free, and their dataset is connected to the internet in real time. All you need to do is login with your gmail address.