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Tech Thursday: The Solar Plane Heading Across America

Think solar-powered airplanes are the talk of futurists? Not really. Solar Impulse, a company started by two innovative engineers, has been flying by the power of the sun since 2010, when it accomplished an incredible 26-hour flight without an ounce of fuel. Their plane, covered in solar panels across the length of its 208-foot wingspan, is now embarking on a new mission, criss-crossing America to raise awareness for sustainable energy.

The journey begins on May 1, with stops in San Francisco, Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York. But keep an eye out for open houses, where guests will be able to check out the plane in all its high-tech glory at various airports (the first is tentatively slated for next Saturday at Moffett Federal Airfield, in San Francisco).

As for the company’s next goal? A flight around the world, currently scheduled for 2015.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

 

Tech Thursday: NowCation and the Rise of the Destination Agnostic

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We’re noticing a funny trend around here. From GetGoing, the site that surprises you with one of two affordable vacation choices, to mystery vacation deals at numerous airlines and travel agencies, all fingers point to the rise of the Destination Agnostic: A traveler who cares not where she goes, so long as she goes somewhere without breaking a budget.

Into this trend falls NowCation, a site that offers "getaway deals" at rock-bottom prices—if you’re willing to leave the dates and destination up to the computer. Just plug in your departure city and the program gets to work, instantly suggesting where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. This morning, deals from New York’s JFK included ten nights in New Orleans (hotel and air included) for $802 and San Juan, Puerto Rico for four nights for $467 (also inclusive of hotel and air). Package deals like these offer the best value, but those who prefer to choose their own accommodations can purchase airfare alone.

The deals don’t always make sense—we’ve seen suggestions for vacations whose departure date was in the past, or for 2-day stints in Europe where you’d barely get settled in before checking out. But that’s what happens when you let an algorithm—not a human—tell you where to go.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Nowcation

Tech Thursday: Your Travel-Friendly Google Reader Replacement

Feedly

New reading apps and aggregators are in the spotlight this week, as Google Reader officially goes dark. And as it turns out, our favorite replacement for Google's popular RSS reader is a proving a great tool for travel planning, too: Feedly not only aggregates content from your favorite blogs, it also de-clutters the search process so that you can easily find the inspiration you’re looking for. (Think: #London #food.)

For users of the old Google Reader, Feedly will still deliver all the basic functions you’ve come to know and love (though we haven’t yet found a way to search for other people’s reading bundles). Google Reader subscriptions are automatically updated into your Feedly stream, to make the transition seamless. And to improve upon the old model, Feedly introduces magazine-style reading, with big, splashy images that feel far less daunting than a long list of headlines.

After a pilot run, our favorite travel features are without a doubt access to hotel deals. A reading list filled with special offers from Expedia, Orbitz, and each of the Starwood brands (Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, W, Westin, to name a few), is teasing us today with free champagne and breakfast in bed in Paris, or a free night’s stay in Hong Kong. And on other tabs, our London, Paris, and Rome lists offer the latest on museum exhibits, restaurant openings, and cultural events. What’s not to love?

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Feedly

Tech Thursday: Google’s New Field Trip App

Field Trip app

Want the Google results without the search? That's essentially the conceit behind Field Trip, the tech giant's latest app for iPhone and Android that helps you find the great things nearby. First, tell the app a little bit about your interests—are you an architecture buff? Do you search for deals wherever you go? Maybe it's just little-known historical trivia that adds color to your neighborhood walks. Either way, Field Trip will cast its net for the parameters you set—no matter how broad or specific.

The results are impressively curated, pulling from all our favorite local resources, from Eater to Thrillist to Remodelista—all blogs whose recommendations we’re happy to follow. Additionally, the app filters in special deals on offer through other apps, like Scoutmob, so that we could net 50% off an Italian restaurant 147 meters away. But our favorite feature was feeling like we had our own little guide in our pocket, telling us that The Godfather was filmed one block away or that T+L's building was a hugely popular Vaudeville venue in the early 20th-Century. Who knew?

Like most apps that rely on tracking your location, this one can drain your battery if you're not careful. But it won’t keep us from exploring our own city—or those that we visit—any time soon.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo by Nikki Ekstein

Tech Thursday: Free Airport Parking, Courtesy of FlightCar

FlightCar

Certain things can only work on the West Coast—take, for instance, FlightCar, a new San Francisco-based startup that lets you loan out your car while it's parked at the airport. The concept is a win-win in theory: travelers get their expensive parking tab subsidized by approved renters, who get a better deal (and maybe even a nicer car) in return.

The program has recently piloted at SFO, with expansion plans in the works. And so far, the selection of cars is promising, ranging from a 2005 BMW 3 Series to a 2008 Honda Accord on a trial search (both would cost $46 a day to rent—compared to $150 for similar models at Hertz or Enterprise).

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Tech Thursday: Brightbox Mobile Charging Services

Hotels have always found ways to draw in the locals—be it with rooftop cocktails or easily accessible bathrooms in the lobbies. Up next? Public charging stations that allow you to plug in your phone for some quick juice on the go courtesy of new company, Brightbox. The devices, shown above, are popping up in Sheraton and Andaz hotels, to name a few.

Of course, there are outlets available in most hotels' common areas, but Brightbox is a bit different since you don't need your own power cord and Brightbox lets you lock your phone in a secure box that emits a bright light once your device is fully powered. (Hence the name.) What you do while you wait is up to you. We won’t judge if you just end up back at the bar.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

 

Tech Thursday: TripAdvisor Takes a Stance Against Blackmail

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Long gone are the days of the anonymous critic. Nowadays, anyone with a Yelp account can wield enough power to make a business owner quiver. But you already knew that much. A surprising new development? The rising trend of blatant blackmail—guests demanding freebies and service perks to prevent a zero-star takedown. And it's gotten so out of control that one entrepreneur has even introduced Reviewer Card, where for $100, members get a black card embossed with the words "I Write Reviews," a not so subtle way of saying, "Upgrade me—or else."

The Internet has already lashed out against the ridiculous concept of the Reviewer Card, but at this point, hoteliers and restaurateurs need practical support, not a flurry of blog-based comments. Enter TripAdvisor, which recognizes that extortion—even if just on digital review sites—is more than just a nuisance. In fact, it's illegal in many places. Their new blackmail reporting tool allows hoteliers to report any threats or suspicious behavior before a poor review is posted, creating a flag for similar-sounding, low-scoring posts coming onto the system. If a match is detected, the review will never make it online, whereas before, business owners would have to monitor their published reviews to find questionable content. It's a big move that benefits both businesses and consumers—and the latest weapon in TripAdvisor's strong fraud detection arsenal. For the sake of restaurants, which are just as affected by the blackmail trend (if not more so), we only hope that Yelp follows suit.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

 

© Adrian Weinbrecht/cultura/Corbis

Tech Thursday: Pintrips Offers A New Way to Compare Flights

Pintrips

There’s no shame in admitting this: I’m a compulsive bargain hunter—never satisfied with paying full price without doing some browsing for a good deal. But I suspect many of us fall under the same umbrella, especially when it comes to airfare. Enter Pintrips, a new tool that helps you look at flight options side-by-side, monitoring them in real time for fluctuations in price. Unlike online booking sites, which let you sort by cost, Pintrips aggregates data to show you when your favorite itineraries—those “pinned” to your dashboard—drop or increase in price, and by how much, offering insight on the right moment to book. Plus, the tool lets you share itineraries with anyone you’d like (my husband and I are simultaneously keeping an eye on flights to Cape Town), and you can manage multiple trips at once, each neatly packaged in its own folder and with its own sharing preferences. The best part: It's free to use. (Though you wouldn't expect otherwise from a site that's all about saving, would you?)

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Image courtesy of Pintrips

Tech Thursday: Foursquare Launches Best of Lists

romantic cities

According to Foursquare, your feelings about Valentine’s Day may be totally dependent on where you live. As part of a new series of “Best of” lists, the social media company has crunched its data to find America’s most—and least—romantic cities, based on the number of check-ins to date-friendly spots. The results may not surprise you. Topping the list for most romantic is San Francisco, with its postcard-ready bay views and artisan patisseries, followed by New Orleans and New York City. But survey says: if you live in Trenton, NJ, or Akron, OH, don’t count on dazzling your date with a night on the town. For those living in America’s least romantic cities, we recommend homemade sweets and champagne cocktails.

Valentines or Galentines, we’re digging the new Foursquare feature—and with over 30 “Best of” lists for different US cities, it’s our new destination guide on the go. Browse the lists online before you fly, and save any hotspots to your profile: They’ll be waiting for you as soon as your plane touches down.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Tech Thursday: Mophie Juice Pack Helium for the iPhone 5

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We constantly obsess our iPhone accessories here at the T+L offices—deciding between that J.Crew chevron stripped case or the Otterbox may be Trip Doctor's debate of the century—but our eyes are officially turning to a third option. Mophie, the adventure-friendly brand whose juice pack cases add extra battery life (and heft) to your mobile devices, is launching a super-slim model—the first of its kind for the latest generation of iPhones. The Helium is expected to add 80% extra charge to your battery life (that's six hours of talk time, or seven hours of web browsing)—and it also features forward-facing speakers for enhanced sound. Pre-orders opened to the public yesterday, with devices shipping nationwide on February 19. For now, the slim gunmetal finish will do—but we'll take this opportunity to plea for some fresh designs on the Helium 2.0.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of mophie.

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