Offering fully formed trips with a single search is an ambitious move, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Google.
Yesterday the company rolled out its smartphone-based Destinations on Google, "a mobile-first travel planning experience": In addition to its practical and easy-to-use Google Flights andGoogle Translate services, Google is aiming to plan your next vacation for you too by offering comprehensive trip plans that include flight and hotel suggestions, day trip ideas, road trip itineraries, suggested activities and attractions, and general travel guides. Here's how to use Destinations on Google.
First, don't download anything new. (Unless it's the Google app.)
To access Destinations on Google, all you do is type directly into your phone's Google search bar or your Google App.
To plan a trip, type in the place you want to visit, followed by "destinations."
Enter the state, country, or continent you're thinking of visiting plus the word "destinations." Think "Florida destinations" or "Iceland destinations." You can further filter your ideal trip by price, dates, number of travelers, and your interests available in that area, such as art, beaches, nature, and surfing.
Up pops a grid of wanderlust-inducing photos. Tap the city that interests you—average flight and hotel prices are listed helpfully below the image—and then the real magic happens: Under the heading Explore, Google provides potential itineraries, popular sights, and the estimated price of an seven-day trip, suggested for its "good value." (We love that.) Settled on your perfect locale? Toggle over to "Plan a Trip and take a look at the sliding Price Graph, which lets you select dates, flights, and hotels that work within your budget.
To see multi-city itineraries and cross-country road trips, type in a city or larger geographic area, followed by "vacation" or "travel."
This feature works a lot like typing "destinations," but the words "vacation" and "travel" trigger guides. They work for cities ("Miami vacation," etc.) and are particularly helpful if you want to explore Europe but not stay put in one country for very long. Or if you want to get a taste of both Paris and the South of France in one week.
Example: If you type "Ireland vacation" and scroll down to Destinations, Google spits out several suggested itineraries, including "6 Days in Dublin, Cork, Ring of Kerry, Killarney, and Galway." Click on the Transit info between each stop, and Google Maps will show directions for getting around by car, public transportation, walking, or biking.
Play around with it. It's addictive, and you might find yourself enthralled by a place you'd never considered.
The BT Test Drive:
I tried out Destinations on Google on my iPhone's Google app by typing in "Morocco destinations," a country I've always wanted to visit. Sweeping vistas of Marrakesh and Casablanca appeared, with flight and hotel prices beneath each. I hit the blue arrow button for "More destinations," and gorgeous photos of Agadir, Fes, and other towns joined the first two images. Visiting classic cities tends to be my travel style—not to mention that I'm dying to try a traditional hammam—so I tapped on the photo of Marrakesh to start planning my dream trip.
With that click, a wave of information hit me hard and fast:
First, there was a brief overview of the city's history and its attractions. Then, Google wanted to know, would I like to follow a suggested itinerary? "48 Hours in Old Marrakesh," perhaps? "Top Places in the New City," including strolling through gardens and visiting a "haggle-free crafts emporium" in Ville Nouvelle? "Romantic Marrakesh"? Oooh. Even Google knows I'm a sucker for romance. But wait, there was more: "Marrakesh for Art Lovers." "Marrakesh with Kids."
Directly under that were Points of Interest, including Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Majorelle botanical garden, Bahia Palace, and on and on.... I counted 38 total attractions. On the same page, Google also outlined "Top Sights" in the city, like the 1500s El Badi Palace, complete with star ratings. (El Badi received 3.9 stars out of 5.)
Below that, Google took the liberty of planning a seven-day trip for me later this month: one traveler, a week a three-star hotel, and a round-trip flight on KLM, all for $1,313. It was so oddly specific I was briefly deluded into thinking I was actually embarking on this trip.
Farther down, Google mentioned that peak travel to Marrakesh is July through September, with very hot summers and mild winters, so a March trip wouldn't be the worst idea. I used the sliding price bar graph to try to find an better deal that worked with my schedule. Even though the average price of a weeklong trip to Marrakesh with a three-star hotel is $1,530, I found one for $1,157 in mid-April, flying on British Airways.
Actually booking the the trip isn't quite as easy as the first click that sent me down an information rabbit hole. I was still kicked over to CheapFlights.com, Kayak.com, and Orbitz.com to find the inexpensive British Airways flight for myself, and booking one of the suggested hotels—in this case, the Red Hotel Marrakech, with two hammams—was least expensive on Hotels.com, for $53.
Is Destinations on Google going to immediately change how we book trips? Probably not. And the recommended attractions aren't exactly off the beaten track. But if you want inspiration and a general idea of what a trip might be like (and cost) all in one place, it's a great starting point.