Becky Hart | Dec 1, 2023
There's a big discussion right now about the quality of AI-generated travel guides being sold online. How do we know if the guides are written and tested by real people? Can they be trusted as a good source of advice? Is an AI travel itinerary even that helpful?
To answer some of those questions, I tested three AI travel sites to see what kind of itineraries they could create for a trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Here is my review.
I was in the position that many of us are in when we’re trying to plan a trip. I had an idea of what I wanted while simultaneously having very few specifics about my anticipated trip. Here’s what I knew about my Charleston, South Carolina, itinerary:
With those criteria in mind, I turned to three AI websites to see what they could come up with: PLAN by ixigo, Wanderplan, and ChatGPT.
Of the three I tried, PLAN by ixigo is my favorite. It balances asking a few specific questions with allowing you to submit an open-ended prompt, so the work isn’t 100% on you to make the perfect query. And if you aren’t into crafting prompts in the first place, it gives you a few leads to start with, making it even quicker and easier if you have a mental block.
I used the prompt feature, telling it “I want a relaxing couples vacation for one week in November.” What I got was three days of activities — one thing to do in the morning, afternoon, and evening — with recommendations for places to go, food to eat, or something chill to do, like walking through a particular historic neighborhood.
Each recommendation included a brief description and highlights of the site, a few reviews from people who had been there, and links to more information like Google Maps and directions. There was also a link to the destination’s website. I cross-referenced some of the information with other websites, and it all seemed to be correct and up to date.
My biggest criticism of PLAN is that, after playing around with it a bit more, the recommendations were all pretty generic. I got the same plantations, restaurants, and beaches to visit regardless of whether I told the AI I wanted a relaxing vacation or an action-packed one. Telling it I wanted an itinerary for one week apparently wasn’t clear enough; I kept getting three days' worth of activities. But when I specifically told it “seven days,” I finally got a full week-long itinerary.
What I liked best about PLAN, and why I can see myself using it again, is how well it curated detailed information about each recommended site. With addresses, opening hours, pictures, a simple list of what people did and didn’t like about their own visits, all in one place, it provided a really solid snapshot of that destination. And I didn’t have to jump around to multiple websites to find it all.
Wonderplan came highly recommended online, so I had high hopes for this AI trip planning site. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the actual functionality and information once it generated an itinerary.
Unlike some other AI sites, Wonderplan asks several pointed questions: where are you going, when, what’s your budget, who are you going with, what kinds of activities are you interested in? You choose your answers from a provided list of responses, and it generates an itinerary accordingly. You don’t offer it prompts, and there’s no true way to refine your query like you can on other AI sites.
At first glance, it looked promising. I liked that it gives you a quick summary of the destination, including the types of electrical outlets used, currency, and weather. If you’re researching an international destination, this basic info is helpful to have.
You then get a day-by-day itinerary with things to do and places to eat. There’s also a link to find a place to stay. Each day seemed rather full of activity, and I question whether it was realistic, even if I were looking for a go-go-go vacation rather than a relaxing one. Accompanying the results is a map with pin drops for each of the recommendations. I found that helpful since I’m not familiar with Charleston and it helps to know what sites are close to each other as you’re planning out a route.
After that, I found Wonderplan lacking. Clicking on the link for each recommended site took you to a Viator listing in another window, and the listing didn’t correspond with what you clicked on. For example, when I selected the entry on Wonderplan for the Gibbes Museum of Art, I was redirected to a Viator page where the top three results were for a sunset tour at the Grand Canyon, an e-bike tour in Ireland, and a cooking class on the Amalfi Coast. Similarly, clicking on the link to find a place to stay simply redirects you to Booking.com.
Overall, if you’re just looking for ideas and inspiration, you could do worse. But since it doesn’t actually give you any details about the places it mentions, you might as well just do your own Google search from the start.
Although ChatGPT isn’t specifically a trip-planning tool, it is perhaps the best-known AI, so I had to include it for comparison. The verdict: don’t bother. There are other tools out there that are much better suited for helping you plan a trip.
Unlike the other two AI tools I tested, I had to provide 100% of the prompt. To compare apples to apples, I provided the same information in my prompt that the others gathered in one way or another. I asked ChatGPT to “Plan a low-budget itinerary for a relaxing couples vacation for seven days in November in Charleston, South Carolina.”
It did well in that it created a week-long itinerary with some activities and plenty of downtime. What it did not do well with, however, was providing any kind of detailed information. Whereas the other platforms told you specific restaurants to try, ChatGPT’s response was simply “Have lunch at a nearby café.” There was no description of the attractions it suggested and no links to find out more. I wasn’t expecting ChatGPT to show me maps, but in the spirit of comparison … there are no maps.
Similar to Wonderplan, if you’re just trying to get the creative juices flowing, ChatGPT can give you some ideas. You’re going to have to do a lot more work, though, to decide if the places it recommends are actually somewhere you want to go.
There’s no reason not to. A good AI trip planner can be a great way to find ideas and inspiration. None of the tools were all that creative, and I’d already found many of the recommended sites through my own searches on Google and tourism websites. However, if you’re short on time and energy, or don’t want to comb through the entire internet for trip ideas, by all means, give AI a chance.
That being said, fact check what you find. PLAN by ixigo listed the sites’ opening hours on its sidebar. The few that I double-checked against the destination’s own website were accurate. You never know when a place will change hours or admissions fees, though. Plus, you never know when you’ll find something extra, like a special event, by digging a little deeper.
Would I rely on AI trip planners entirely? No. But I’m not going to avoid them, either. They’d make a great addition to anyone’s vacation planning toolkit.
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