From free cell phones to bullet trains, these cities know how to make your life easier.
What a trip.
Travel can be filled with headaches — getting stuck in traffic when you’re not sure where you’re going, paying for a costly guided tour — but the world’s highest-tech destinations have equally high-tech solutions for the challenges that tourists face.
Earlier this week, Business Insider and research firm 2thinknow named the world’s 25 highest-tech cities. No. 1 on the list was San Francisco; Tokyo, Hong Kong, Copenhagen, New York and Los Angeles also made the cut.
The cities were ranked on 10 factors related to technological advancement — including the number of patents filed per capita, startups, tech venture capitalists, ranking in other innovation datasets, and level of smartphone use.
For travelers, visiting these tech-savvy cities can mean streamlined experiences on the road, as Pavia Rosati, founder of digital travel magazine Fathom, notes: “Technology can have palpable impact when it’s impacting the infrastructure of a city.”
Here a few ways that tech-forward cities are making your journey a little more enjoyable.
1. Mobile apps: It’s no surprise that San Francisco ranked No. 1 on Business Insider’s list — after all, travel- and lifestyle-related companies like OpenTable, Yelp, Uber, and AirBnb are already based there. But San Fran might have gained the top spot thanks to its other innovative startups which are impacting the travel industry — forwarding-thinking apps like HotelTonight and LocusLabs.
HotelTonight is perfect for unexpected adventures: The app enables users to book last-minute hotels, often for significantly discounted rates. And LocusLabs, according to Skift, is “like enhanced Google Maps for airports” — the app will navigate you around 70 airports worldwide, and has integrated its map technology into the apps of airlines like Delta, American, and JetBlue.
2. Exiting the airport faster: Waiting in a taxi line city can take an hour or more, but in Hong Kong (ranked No. 22), the airport express train will whisk you to the city’s Central district in just 24 minutes, versus almost double that time by taxi. The train also costs a fraction of what a taxi would: $12.79 for the airport express, but almost $40 by car.
Hong Kong’s beloved metro system, called the MTR, makes getting around easy. From WiFi-enabled stations to sliding glass doors that only open when a train docks in front of you, it’s world-renowned. You pay for a ride using an Octopus Card. The card doubles as a prepaid debit card at retailers from coffee shops to convenience stores, saving you from carrying around the city’s heavy metal coins.
Other leading cities offer convenient airport-to-city train transportation, too. In New York (No. 2), you’ll spend 35 minutes on the AirTrain from JFK Airport to Penn Station. In London (No. 3), it’ll take you 15 minutes to Heathrow and half an hour to Gatwick Airport on the express trains. And, in Copenhagen (No. 23), you’ll make it from Kastrup Airport to the city center in just 13 minutes flat.
3. Getting around quickly: “Pain points of travel are schlepping — carrying heavy bags, getting from one place to another,” Rosati tells Moneyish. “A city with a very smart subway system, [which tells you] the train you want is coming in two minutes, the train you want is coming in 12 minutes — that, to me, really makes a difference in adding ease and comfort to the travel experience.”
In the world’s most high-tech cities, trains get you where you need to go faster. Shanghai, China (No. 17 on Business Insider’s list) boasts a 267-mph “Maglev” train that hovers above the surface using magnetic levitation while rocketing from the airport to a metro station on the city’s periphery. The ride costs $8 and takes just seven minutes to traverse 19 miles, according to Condé Nast Traveler.
In Japan, travelers can book a ticket on the 177-mph Nozomi Shinkansen, the bullet train that runs between Tokyo (No. 12 on the list) and the ancient capital of Kyoto, for $118 one-way. Throughout the journey, passengers will catch sight of majestic Mount Fuji through the right-hand windows.
4. Hotel amenities: Tablets controlling in-room functions like lights and air conditioning are a thing of the past, says Liz Weselby, editorial director of Hong Kong-based Luxe City Guides. “The iPad thing seems to have passed by” — but travelers still want tech-related perks.
At New York’s Yotel on the west side, guests retrieve their luggage from an automated system. The massive “Yobot” uses its robotic arm to stow your bags in one of 150 bins, and then returns them to you after you enter a pin code and your last name.
5. Cyber tour guides: In Hong Kong, Singapore (No. 8 on Business Insider’s countdown), and other cities, travelers can take a complimentary cell phone out with them for the duration of their stay, courtesy of their hotel. The phones, featuring software produced by a company called Handy, are available in tens of thousands of hotel rooms across Asia, according to CNet.
Handy phones save travelers money by enabling them to surf the Internet, make calls, and stay connected without racking up expensive roaming charges on their personal cell phones while abroad. “They’re loaded with content that you might find interesting,” Weselby says — and all of it comes free.
Weselby is also a fan of city guide apps like Detour, founded by former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, which provide users tours of cities like London, Barcelona, and New York. Detour is offering free tours from now through Labor Day, and some even feature well-known voices like chef Marcus Samuelsson, who takes users on a tour of New York’s Harlem neighborhood.
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