START YOUR SUMMER TRAVEL PLANNING WITH AI: DO'S AND DON'TS

Rilee Smith loves a good book. And so when the travel blogger visits a new city, she typically checks out the local library.

Now, after taking a class on ChatGPT, she's able to personalize trips like never before.

By telling the generative AI tool she wanted a travel guide to Boston to be focused on libraries, museums and bookstores, even the restaurants it suggested — like the Map Room Lounge at the Boston Public Library — had a bookish theme.

"It puts everything through that lens, which allows you to narrow in and get a tip that is so tailor-made to you in a way that you don't get if you just do general research on the internet," Smith said. 

For the first time ever, we're approaching a summer in which these bespoke trips could be the norm thanks to widespread availability of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Claude, Copilot and Gemini. (For more on generative AI tools, along with all the latest AI news, tips and explainers, see CNET's AI Atlas guide.) 

While just 6% of us used gen AI to make trip plans in 2023, nearly 40% are interested in trying it out in 2024, according to data from travel site Expedia.

Since the technology first burst onto the scene in November 2022 in the form of ChatGPT, gen AI tools have helped expand our creative horizons by writing poetry in an instant, bringing the visuals we have inside our heads to life in a matter of seconds and translating languages in real time. As we increasingly ask gen AI to do more for us, it's no wonder travel planning, which often includes at least some dull research, is emerging as another use case.

Gen AI is helpful for coming up with travel ideas, narrowing down destinations, sketching out plans and staying within budget. It can also save a lot of time spent in researching flights, hotels and restaurants. But even though gen AI can be a tremendous digital travel agent, it's best used primarily as a starting point given limitations like its training data — unless it integrates results from the open internet, it only knows so much up to a certain point in time — and its propensity for hallucinations, or to simply make things up.

How do I use AI to plan a trip?

In addition to mainstream gen AI tools, travel platforms like Booking.com, Expedia, Kayak, Tripadvisor and CNET's sister site Guide.com have their own AI-powered bots accessible via apps and/or microsites that pull in data like pricing and reviews from their databases to help you plan your trip.

"It's so early, and these tools … there's a new one every couple of days, and I think one has to be a bit experimental there and see what works for your own use case," said Matthias Keller, chief scientist at Kayak.

If you're curious about using gen AI to make summer travel plans, you've come to the right place. What follows is a list of do's and don'ts when it comes to tapping into the power of gen AI.

You should use AI to…

Quickly gather information

While traditional search can require multiple queries to source information about an upcoming trip, generative AI allows users to ask for everything all at once.

So, for example, if you're traveling to a city in a country you've never visited before, you can ask all of your questions about transportation, currency and language. You can even do it for multiple places at once.

"It's really great at just getting tons of information for you in one portal," Smith said.

Google's new search experience, AI Overviews, taps into Gemini's multistep reasoning to do more advanced research on your behalf. Google teased a trip-planning component at Google's I/O developer event last week. It's expected to be available later this year.

Narrow down options

If you don't have a specific destination in mind, generative AI is useful to help figure out where to go.

By telling a chatbot, "I want to go somewhere warm," and/or, "I want to go sit on a beach," it can provide inspiration and then help you narrow down options based on factors like budget, dates and availability.

"From an inspiration, ideation perspective, I think these trip planners [like Booking.com's AI Trip Planner] are really, really good," said Ben Harrell, managing director of the US at Booking.com.

It's also helpful in narrowing down options if you're having trouble deciding between multiple locations.

A related tip: Perhaps like human interaction itself, the more you put into a conversation with a chatbot, the more you'll get out of it. And when it comes to vacation-related queries, details matter. So once you've chosen a location, you should share details about yourself and your travel companions, as well as what you want to do — and any other preferences like nonstop flights or vegetarian meals.

"The quality of the result is naturally going to be very different if you say, 'I want to go to South America,' versus saying, 'I want to go to Brazil. I want to go into the jungle. I'm really into high-end dining' and all that," Keller noted.

Build itineraries

Make the most of your time away by asking generative AI to build your itinerary. You can ask to include specific sites, as well as for suggestions. Once again, the more detailed you are, the better the results are likely to be. Tools like Tripadvisor's AI Trip Builder ask travelers for their destination, dates, companions and potential activities to generate day-by-day itineraries that can be edited and saved.

Google suggests a query like, "plan me a three-day trip to Philadelphia that's all about history," to provide suggestions for attractions and dining, as well as potential flights and hotels.

Personalize your trip

Arguably one of the best uses for generative AI in travel is personalization. And if there is something you're passionate about, like art or food, or if you're simply looking for family-friendly travel tips, gen AI is a great tool. 

Let's say you're planning a trip to Spain and want to see the work of architect Antoni Gaudi.

"You could say, 'I have a day in Barcelona. My priorities are seeing as much as of Gaudi's architecture as possible and eating some delicious tapas. Please design a full-day itinerary based on those two priorities,'" Smith said.

You can also ask gen AI to assume the role of an art historian who specializes in Gaudi when pulling together plans.

"It gives you a different lens than just, 'Here's some things that you should go and do,'" Smith added.

Supplement your own knowledge of a place

Even if you're returning to a familiar destination, gen AI can help you discover new sites and maybe even some hidden gems.

When Harrell returned to Amsterdam with his family, he asked an AI tool for suggestions.

"It proposed really almost all the things that I had planned to do and a couple of others as well," he said. "And I went, 'Oh, that's actually a really good idea. I'd forgotten about that or didn't know about that.'"

Save money

If you're traveling on a budget, gen AI tools are useful for combing through listings to find the best deals for your trip.

They can also suggest alternate destinations with better prices or different travel dates if you have your heart set on a particular place.

Figure out the best time to go

If your dates are flexible, gen AI tools can help you figure out the best time to travel. That includes both when it's cheapest to go to a specific destination, as well as simply the optimal time to visit, which can pull in details like weather and special events, like, say, the best time to see cherry blossoms in Japan.

Streamline reading reviews

With gen AI, you don't have to read a bunch of individual reviews. Instead, tools like Tripadvisor's will summarize hotel reviews in terms of location, atmosphere and room quality.

Make custom GPTs

More tech-savvy travelers (and subscribers to ChatGPT Plus) can even make their own custom GPTs. These apps allow anyone to create a tailored version of the chatbot for a specific purpose.

In the ChatGPT app store, you can access GPTs from the likes of Kayak and tap into all of its travel data as you make your plans. (Google recently announced its own version of this personalizable chatbot experience called Gems, which will roll out over the coming months.)

"I started using that from the get-go to really see what it could do and it's really pretty amazing," Smith said.

So, for example, if you wanted to go to Europe on a budget in June, it will suggest options based on your parameters.

You can also plug in your itinerary details to your custom GPT, including flight and hotel confirmations and then use it like "a little travel agent in your pocket," Smith said.

So, for example, you could ask, "Based on the hotel I'm staying at tonight, what are four Italian restaurants nearby that are worth checking out? Or what time do I have to check out of my hotel on Thursday?'" she added.

But gen AI isn't perfect.

You should not use AI as...

Your only source of information

While gen AI is a great resource for coming up with ideas and saving time, you should never use gen AI alone.

Before you even book your trip, double-check all-important details with verified sources. (Chatbot functionality is typically limited to inspiration and research, so you'll still likely have to book your own flights, hotels and rental cars.)

"I wouldn't have taken the full list of activities that the AI trip planner recommended to me and just said, 'OK, that's exactly what I'm going to do. Great,'" Harrell said.

Instead, you still have to invest some time in research to ensure its suggestions are valid and to avoid any potential disappointments.

In a study of AI-generated itineraries, SEO firm SEO Travel found 24% recommended going to at least one restaurant or attraction that was no longer open. The study found gen AI also recommended fictional places, as well as pricey hotels and restaurants that are generally out of reach for most travelers.

"I think the risk with AI trip planner tools is they are all still very new and growing and progressing sort of like GPS in the very early days," Harrell said. "It behooves us to check and verify and make sure we're comfortable and we're getting the right experience that we expect."

A source of up-to-date information

You must also never rely on gen AI for up-to-date information or information about the future. That's because of those aforementioned knowledge cutoffs, which means models' training data includes information only up to a certain point in time. 

OpenAI's latest model, GPT-4o, was trained on data that's relevant up to October 2023. GPT-4 and GPT-4 Turbo were trained up to December 2023. Google Gemini's knowledge cutoff is "early 2023." Perplexity AI, a gen AI chatbot built on ChatGPT-3.5, connects to the internet to pull and cite information from sites like Reddit and X, which CNET's Imad Kahn says gives it an advantage over some competitors. (OpenAI recently announced its own partnership with Reddit to pull in real-time data from the platform.)

"I still don't think that ChatGPT is going to know when the next Taylor Swift concert is," Keller said. "All this information is just not there. And so you may get some information back, but it may then be a hallucination."

That's also true for opening hours for restaurants and attractions and holiday closures.

SEO Travel found over half (52%) of AI-generated itineraries suggested visiting an attraction or restaurant outside of its operating hours, such as the Museo del Prado at 9:30 a.m. (it opens at 10 a.m.) and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at 8:30 p.m. (it closes at 7 p.m.).

"It doesn't have that real-time access to information in the way that Google [search] does," Smith said. "So I will use it to find places, but my tip would always be to check those dates and opening hours against the actual travel time of your trip."

Another weakness: weather and maps. It's best to use alternate sources for these details as well.

Gen AI tools aren't up to date about safety and security either because in part they aren't aware of current events. And so you can ask about overall safety considerations in a given location, but you should double-check with other reliable sources.

Now if only AI could do the actual traveling part for us so we could enjoy our vacations that much sooner — and with even less stress.

Editors' note: CNET used an AI engine to help create several dozen stories, which are labeled accordingly. The note you're reading is attached to articles that deal substantively with the topic of AI but are created entirely by our expert editors and writers. For more, see our AI policy.

2024-05-23T12:04:34Z dg43tfdfdgfd