Doing Travel with Tech

To quote Mr Billy Joel “the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”

Frequently the coverage of new technology tools lament how ‘the good old days’ when people relied on . Well I won’t be looking back to the ‘good old days’ when it comes to my travel plans. My recent trip to Ottawa was the first I did with my full range of technology tools. (iPhone, Laptop, MiFi)

All the reservations notifications and trip details get emailed to my Tripit account which builds a personal itinerary which I can share with friends and family. I then load that on to my iPhone so I’m not printing out all those emails anymore.

While the least new thing, there is no more arriving at the airport 2-3 hrs ahead. While you still need to check your bags, the use of web check in and e-boarding passes makes the experience much less painful. Had a minor issue with the satellite TV on the first leg of my trip. Exchanged messages with @westjet via twitter before I even finished the flight there. While Twitter is a useful tool for customer service I think the culture of Westjet really works with the idea and that’s a little cool. As an example of that culture – see this thank you from the ramp crew in Calgary.

You arrive at the destination airport and you get your checked bags. Then you pull up your hotel address in Google maps and get driving, walking or public transit directions. In the case of public transit in Ottawa OC Transpo has a mobile Web site that provide a trip planner which gives pretty detailed travel directions. Only downside was the text wasn’t really re-sized for the iPhone screensize.

One thing that is customized for the iPhone is that the Museum of Civilization has moved its audio guide onto the iPhone with a free app. You can now download and listen to a guided tour as you view the museum. It is a well done production and even if you aren’t going to be there you get a great feel of what they have. The Museum also offers free Wifi.

Back to Twitter and Google Maps for local recommendations. Local Search does and okay jobs of locating ‘coffee shops’ but for details you need to go to the ‘locals’. The key was to find a way to reach enough people to get an answer. In Victoria the #yyj hastag is in common use, the closest I could get was #ottawa for the capital. It did lead to some local grocery stores and a great coffee house. Alternatively Yelp is still a good source of local reviews but its not always clear that the list there is complete in any given category.

To help things out the Ottawa Airport has free WiFi and the first place I’ve see with USB ports to charge your electronics at the seats in the departure area. The airport is also reachable on twitter at @FlyYOW .

A bit of a knock on the local guys for Victoria Airport not providing free WiFi. I won’t book a hotel without free net access but at least now I have the MiFi and the iPhone for WiFi challenged locations. Both YYC and YOW provide open WiFi for my trip where YYJ didn’t and AIF and parking Victoria got a good chunk of my money.


The Nation’s Capital

Spent a week of holidays holidays touring Ottawa. I think I’ve visited there 3 times in my life, mostly as a bored teenager, and lived there briefly – almost too young to remember. So this visit as an adult was significantly different from anytime I had been there before.

But, I can make a few comparisons from the 1980’s version of Ottawa. The most obvious is the massive improvement in the national museums around the capital. The Museum of Civilization, War Museum, National Gallery, and Aviation Museum were formerly located in older buildings that were not designed for the purpose of a museum. Now all of these are in purpose built space that provide enough room to really show what these institutions have and with the interactive and information tools that you expect from a major museum.

The large spaces for vehicles at the War Museum, the open colonnade that leads to the National Gallery, and the open gallery for the six houses of the First People’s exhibit at the Museum of Civilization are all examples of what purpose built space can do over the ‘make do’ kind of spaces that existed before.

Travel Tip:
Used the Museum Passport to get to most of the attractions in Ottawa, not a bad deal if you get to at least 4 of the 9 that are part of the package. ($30/person – $75 for a family of 5)

The Museum Passport includes:

  • Canada Agriculture Museum
  • Canada Aviation Museum
  • Canada Science and Technology Museum
  • Canadian Museum of Civilization
  • Canadian Museum of Nature
  • Canadian War Museum
  • Laurier House National Historic Site of Canada
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • Royal Canadian Mint
  • National Arts Centre

The addition of the big museums are going to be a big draw but there is still the obigitory trip to parliament hill. The tours there are free and tickets are given out first come first serve starting at 9AM each day.

Travel Tip:
Visits to Parliament are best on weekends or days when the House of Commons and Senate aren’t sitting. Those parts of the building are not availble for tours while in use.

I love the unique and free, so the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum is a winner on two counts. I really thought they did a great job with it. The vault with examples of currency from all over the world as well as just about every variation of money ever used in Canada was very interesting. They also do some good presentations on recognizing fake bills.

While the Royal Canadian Mint was an interesting tour, the Ottawa location only does specialty and commemorative work, if you want to see where the pennies come from you need to go to Winnipeg. The Mint was decked out in Olympic decorations to celebrate their work on the medals for the games in Vancouver.

While the big events of visiting a city and its sites can be easily listed. The real experience I got was the little things that happened at or between the ‘big’ things.

  • I saw a swordat the War Museum that matches the family sword that has been handed down to me.
  • I saw a section of the de Havilland Buffalo shot down in Syria in 1974 at the War Museum, then when I went to the Peace tower, the book of remembrance was open to that page
  • At the museum of Civilization, they had a display about Francis Rattenbury including examples of his work from Victoria – little irony there
  • Museum of Civilization had a mock up of Vancouver airport with some vintage CP Air memorabilia, recognized a photoshop-ed background as they show the airport runway that was built long after the airplanes they show on it.

Trip Photos at Flickr