A travel itinerary can become unmanageable rather quickly, especially if the trip involves multiple destinations, flights, train tickets or rental cars. Google’s read-your-mind predictive service, Google Now, can be an incredible tool for managing these details by serving up the right itinerary information just when you need it.
Google Now, available on Android devices running Jelly Bean or higher, churns out context-based cards by pulling information from your Google account. If you've got the right stuff in that account (think: Gmail, search history), Google Now will be your travel buddy.
For example, on the day of a hotel check-in, Google Now will display a card with the hotel’s name, photo, and links to call or see a map. Flight check-ins also get a reminder card, complete with a boarding pass for airlines that support this. Google Now will also try to save you the hassle of being late by suggesting a time to head to the airport based upon traffic conditions.
Setting up your cards
Google Now can be accessed several different ways. If you are running the Google Now launcher, get to it by swiping once to the right from your home screen, tapping the search bar or swiping up from the home button at the bottom of the screen. On most other phones, swiping up from the bottom edge of the screen pulls up Google Now. Other devices may require launching the Google search app.
In order to make Google Now your faithful travel companion, you'll need to enable the correct settings. In Google Now, scroll to the bottom and click the three dots on the bottom right of the screen, which takes you to the Settings. Then, be sure Personal Results is enabled.
While this is probably a given, be sure you are using the Gmail account connected to your Android device in order to make the magic happen. Google will look for boarding passes, hotel confirmations, and other date and time sensitive emails. Developers are able to configure their emails with the right code to ensure Google Now finds the information and adds it into a card. If your flight and hotel confirmations are going to another mail account, you might want to forward them.
Google knows where you're going
I have found Google Now most helpful when leaving one destination and heading to another. Instead of scouring my email for the hotel information or train itinerary, Google now offered it all up instantly. During a recent visit to Canada, Google Now served up an exchange rate card. In non-English speaking countries you may see a Google Translate-powered card.
The weather cards also take on extra utility, as they will not only display the current conditions for where you are, but the weather for the next destination. The cards will be stacked on top of one another; just select the one you want to see to get a quick look at the weather. Touch once more on the card to get a detailed forecast.
Need a place to eat?
Google Now is also a helpful travel assistant in suggesting places to visit, restaurants to eat at, or finding events to check out. For example, the Nearby Events card pulls in local happenings that may be worth attending.
This part of the service is a little hit-and-miss, as Google has not yet built up the quantity of reviews or social data as Yelp or other competing services. Yet having it all in the same application makes it very convenient, and I found myself turning it to it often while traveling.
Nearby Attractions is another one I found myself using, as it put the contact information for popular venues just one tap away. Photo spots shows some of the more photogenic sites with images submitted to the Google-owned Panoramio service.
Google Now is likely to get better over time, as the company has enabled methods for developers to make their services Google Now-friendly. I could imagine being able to check out of a hotel, order a cab, pay for light rail and show a boarding pass all from Google Now.
Certainly it means giving Google a lot of personal data, but the utility is very high and makes the sometimes chaotic nature of travel far more pleasant.