SXSW: Seasoned travelers give tips on how to fill a passport in the age of tech

‪How are apps changing the future of travel? We’ll know as soon as the panelists tell us all about it.‬ ‪Pictured: Moderator Mitch Whitten with VisitFortWorth, Travel Personality Lee Abbamonte, Annie Fitzsimmons with National Geographic and Travel Writer Jonathan Thompson.‬

If you’ve seen the recent Trivago commercial, you know that the average person looks at seven websites before booking a hotel, but how many apps do they use during their travels, and how do they use them?

Travel personality Lee Abbamonte, National Geographic traveler and virtuoso Annie Fitzsimmons, travel writer Jonathan Thompson and Mitch Whitten, Visit Fort Worth’s vice president of marketing, gathered at Fort Worth Now to offer advice and tips and tricks for travelers based on their own experiences over the years.


Whitten opened the discussion by asking the panelists their favorite travel apps, among those mentioned were TripIt, Google Maps, Google Tanslate, Hotel Tonight, XE Currency Converter, Instagram, Roomer, Nearify and Grab.

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Abbamonte: “My absolute favorite app is called TripIt, it organizes your travel, taking all your information from your email and putting it in your schedule, keeping it all in one place.”

Fitzsimmons: “You can’t talk about travel and not talk about Instagram. I also tend to find niche apps from people who really know where I’m going.”

Thompson: “I think instagram is a really good travel tool. If I’m going to a place I go on instagram and look at whats been geotagged there and what events are there and look at what top bloggers have been saying. Grab is an app that will tell you what restaurants are in airport terminals and give you menus and let you order before you get there. Nearify tells you concerts, gigs and things in whatever place you’re in.”


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These world travelers are well known online and in print for the content they produce during their global adventures. They have large social followings and are expected to interact with their readers in a meaningful way through authentic and real content.

Abbamonte: “For me personally, it’s keeping it real, even though it’s a cliche thing to say. I think people respect realness more than anything else these days and I think people like to get to know people and feel like you can interact with them. The best thing about social media is being social.”

Fitzsimmons: “The point of online is to go offline. For me, everywhere I go around the world I’ll use social media to connect with people and ask where to go. I think part of authenticity is connecting with other people and being yourself, which is a lot harder than it sounds.”

Thompson: “Video is very important now. It’s a lot easier to digest in terms of content than words. My background is as a news reporter for 10 years before I became a travel writer, so I still have the three rules of news ingrained in my mind — inform, educate and entertain. I’m always thinking about information sharing.”

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Review sites can be hit or miss given that people tend to voice extreme opinions leaving out any gray area thoughts.

Abbamonte: “For me [looking at review sites is] something you might do but I don’t take that as gospel because you don’t know who the people are who are leaving the reviews. Take it with a grain of salt and take in a few different opinions. But I never do or don’t do something because of a review site.”

Fitzsimmons: “Sometimes reviews don’t work, but I never trust one source. I think all of us are suspicious. [Alternatively], Virtuoso is a network of 17,500 travel advisors around the world, and that has been a really big thing for people to find. I really believe in travel advisors who advise you on what to do with your most important asset — free time. People are using them across age brackets and time. It’s kind of cool, for instance, to see millenials using humans to help them travel.”

Thompson: “I do use Trip Advisor a lot and I agree that you need to read enough reviews to get a balanced picture. I use the rule of 20, with 20 you get a good balance and a good idea and I use that as background knowledge to make decisions. Twitter is [also] really useful, you just ask a question and put the right hashtags and people will find you and help you. Another good Instagram tip is to follow the tourist boards, people won’t promote what isn’t good.”


Aside from useful software, other technology has become a factor in the way people travel including the advent of virtual reality and increased use of cellular devices.

Fitzsimmons: “I think we aren’t sure where [virtual reality] be in 10 years. It’ll be good for hotels and things, but not for destinations because you want people to go.”

Abbamonte: If you’re on your phone the whole time you’re probably missing out on something. If you don’t put yourself out there and interact with real people you might like a place — my favorite places and experiences are always because of interactions with the people. I think virtual hotel room tours are really cool but I don’t think VR should ever be a substitute for doing a real thing. For me, I just worry where it’s going to take us and what’s next.


Getting into a country isn’t always smooth sailing though, and these tried and true travelers have had their share of difficulties.

Abbamonte: The most difficult visa for me was Angola. [That] West African country denied me six times because they have a very corrupt government and they don’t want anyone interfering with the scam. But, I would go back anywhere, even the places I didn’t love. For me, the toughest place to travel to is a warzone. I’ll say libia is the toughest place I’ve ever traveled to.”

Thompson: “Russia is still tough. It’s basic, but places that don’t speak english [are tough].”



Each traveller closed out the panel by announcing the place they are traveling to next in 2018.

Fitzsimmons: “Turkey.”

Abbamonte: “Russia for the World Cup.”

Thompson: “Western Australia.”