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Artificial intelligence

How to use AI to plan your next vacation

AI tools can be useful for everything from booking flights to translating menus.

person in their office with arms behind head looks into the distance at fragments of a beach scene with a sun and palm trees
Stephanie Arnett/MIT Technology Review

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Planning a vacation should, in theory, be fun. But drawing up a list of activities for a trip can also be time consuming and stressful, particularly if you don’t know where to begin.

Luckily, tech companies have been competing to create tools that can help you to do just that. Travel has become one of the most popular use cases for AI that Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI like to point to in demos, and firms like Tripadvisor, Expedia, and have started to launch AI-powered vacation-planning products too. While AI agents that can manage the entire process of planning and booking your vacation are still some way off, the current generation of AI tools are still pretty handy at helping you with various tasks, like creating itineraries or brushing up on your language skills. 

AI models are prone to making stuff up, which means you should always double-check their suggestions yourself. But they can still be a really useful resource. Read on for some ideas on how AI tools can help make planning your time away that little bit easier—leaving you with more time to enjoy yourself.

Narrow down potential locations for your break

First things first: You have to choose where to travel to. The beauty of large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT is that they’re trained on vast swathes of the internet, meaning they can digest information that would take a human hours to research and quickly condense it into simple paragraphs.

This makes them great tools to help draw you up a list of places you’d be interested in going. The more specific you can be in your prompt, the better—for example, telling the chatbot you’d like suggestions for destinations with warm climates, child-friendly beaches, and busy nightlife (such as Mexico, Thailand, Ibiza, and Australia) will return more relevant countries than vague prompts. 

However, given AI models’ propensity for making things up—known as hallucinating—it’s worth checking that its information on proposed locations and potential activities is actually accurate.

How to use it: Fire up your LLM of choice—ChatGPT, Gemini, or Copilot are just some of the available models—and ask it to suggest locations for a holiday. Include important details like the temperatures, locations, length of trip, and activities you’re interested in. This could look something like: “Suggest a list of locations for two people going on a two-week vacation. The locations should be hot throughout July and August, based in a city but with easy access to a beach.”

Pick places to visit while you’re there 

Once you’re on your vacation, you can use tools like ChatGPT or Google’s Gemini to draw up itineraries for day trips. For example, you could use a prompt like “Give me an itinerary for a day driving from Florence around the countryside in Chianti. Include some medieval villages and a winery, and finish with dinner at a restaurant with a good view.” As always with LLMs, the more specific you can be, the better. And to be on the safe side, you ought to cross-reference the final itinerary against Google Maps to check that the order of the suggestions makes sense. 

Beyond LLMs, there are also tailored tools available that can help you to work out the kinds of conditions you might encounter, including weather and traffic. If you’re planning a city break, you might want to check out Immersive View, a feature for Google Maps that Google launched last year. It uses AI and computer vision to create a 3D model depicting how a certain location in a supported city will look at a specific time of day up to four days in the future. Because it’s able to draw from weather forecasts and traffic data, it could help you predict whether a rooftop bar will still be bathed in sunshine tomorrow evening, or if you’d be better off picking a different route for a drive at the weekend.

How to use it: Check to see if your city is on this list. Then open up Google Maps, navigate to an area you’re interested in, and select Immersive View. You’ll be presented with an interactive map with the option to change the date and time of day you’d like to check.

Checking flights and accommodations

Once you’ve decided where to go, booking flights and a place to stay is the next thing to tackle. Many travel booking sites have integrated AI chatbots into their websites, the vast majority of which are powered by ChatGPT. But unless you’re particularly wedded to using a specific site, it could be worth looking at the bigger picture.

Looking up flights on multiple browser tabs can be cumbersome, but Google’s Gemini has a solution. The model integrates with Google Flights and Google Hotels, pulling in real-time information from Google’s partner companies in a way that makes it easy to compare times and, crucially, prices.

This is a quick and easy way to search for flights and accommodations within your personal budget. For example, I instructed Gemini to show me flights for a round trip from London to Paris for under £200. It’s a great starting point to get a rough idea of how much you’re likely to spend, and how long it’ll take you to get there.

How to use it: Once you’ve opened up Gemini (you may need to sign in to a Google account to do this), open up Settings and go to Extensions to check that Google Flights & Hotels is enabled. Then return to the Gemini main page and enter your query, specifying where you’re flying from and to, the length of your stay, and any cost requirements you may wish to share.

If you’re a spreadsheet fan, you can ask Gemini to export the plan to Sheets, which you can then share with friends and family. 

Practice your language skills

You’ve probably heard that the best way to get better at another language is to practice speaking it. However, tutors can be expensive, and you may not know anyone else who speaks the tongue you’re trying to brush up on.

Back in September last year, OpenAI updated ChatGPT to allow users to speak to it. You can try it out for yourself using the ChatGPT app for Android or iOS. I opened up the voice chat option and read it some basic phrases in French that it successfully translated into English (“Do you speak English?” “Can you help me?” and “Where is the museum?”) in spite of my poor pronunciation. It was also good at offering up alternative phrases when I asked it for less formal examples, such as swapping bonjour (hello) for salut, which translates as “hi.” And it allowed me to hold basic conversations with the disembodied AI voice.  

How to use it: Download the ChatGPT app and press the headphone icon to the right of the search bar. This will trigger a voice conversation with the AI model.

Translate on the go

Google has integrated its powerful translation technology into camera software, allowing you to simply point your phone camera toward an unfamiliar phrase and see it translated into English. This is particularly useful for deciphering menus, road signs, and shop names while you’re out and about. 

How to use it: Download the Google Translate app and select Camera.

Write online reviews (and social media captions)

Positive reviews are a great way for small businesses to set themselves apart from their competition on the internet. But writing them can be time consuming, so why not get AI to help you out?

How to use it: Telling a chatbot like Gemini, Copilot, or ChatGPT what you enjoyed about a particular restaurant, guided tour, or destination can take some of the hard work out of writing a quick summary. The more specific you can be, the better. Prompt the model with something like: “Write a positive review for the Old Tavern in Mykonos, Greece, that mentions its delicious calamari.” While you’re unlikely to want to copy and paste the chatbot’s response in its entirety, it can help you with the structure and phrasing of your own review. 

Similarly, if you’re someone who struggles to come up with captions for Instagram posts about your travels, asking the same LLMs to help you can be a good way to get over writer’s block.

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