I did an impromptu trip to Washington DC this past weekend to see a spectacular production of Follies, and I was struck by how differently I managed logistics compared to doing a similar trip just 10 years ago.
Instead of shopping for a hotel room, I used AirBnB to find an inexpensive place to stay (and made a new friend). Instead of picking up a Metro map, I relied on the DCMate iPhone app to navigate DC public transit and estimate arrival/departure trip times. Instead of a Metro farecard, I used a contactless SmarTrip card (like Clipper in the Bay Area), which I’m going to hold onto for my next trip. Instead of picking up exhibit maps at the Smithsonian museums, most of them now have mobile-friendly online exhibition guides. I had planned a trip to the historic Civil War battlefields near Manassas (which ultimately didn’t happen because the incompetent United Airlines had aircraft maintenance problems and moved me to an earlier flight), and rather than rent a car I was all set with Zipcar to grab one for a couple of hours. (Having our lab’s Verizon Mifi unit really helped—I was like a walking access point.) And if I’d had another half-day to bike around DC, rather than renting a bike from a bike shop I could’ve used Capitol Bikeshare—borrow and return bikes by the hour at hundreds of bikestations, which you can find using an iPhone app.
The only thing that worked poorly was United, which cancelled both my outgoing and my return flights due to “aircraft maintenance issues” (apparently they were unable to resolve those issues even at two of their hub airports). At least they’re advance enough to have SMS notification of these problems.