I asked ChatGPT to help me plan a vacation. Here’s what happened next

Some people love travel planning.

But I am not one of those people.

So the idea that artificial intelligence chatbots, such as ChatGPT and Bing, can research travel destinations and create itineraries is intriguing.

But I’m skeptical too.

Do recommendations just scratch the surface — for example, suggesting that I see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Or can they recommend lesser-known restaurants and handle specific hotel requests too?

The answer is: yes and no — at least for ChatGPT.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t test Bing. When I tried to access it, I was put on a waiting list. The website said I could “get ahead in the line” if I set Microsoft defaults on my computer and scanned a QR code to install the Bing app. I did both. I’m still waiting.

ChatGPT was easier. I went to the developer’s website, clicked on the word “ChatGPT,” registered for an account — and started chatting.

‘Can you help me plan a beach trip?’

“Of course!” replied ChatGPT. But first, I needed to tell it about my interests, budget and how long I planned to be away.

I’m looking for a week-long beach trip in mid-March to spend time with my family, with no set budget, I typed.

“Sounds like a wonderful idea!” it replied, before recommending Hawaii, the Caribbean — specifically the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — Florida and Costa Rica, along with details about the weather and popular attractions for each.

Nice. But I live in Singapore, I said.

“I see!” it exclaimed. (ChatGPT loves exclamation points.) In that case, Bali, Indonesia; Langkawi, Malaysia; and Phuket and Krabi in Thailand were better choices.

ChatGPT is nothing if not apologetic.

Cost estimates for each hotel were more accurate. But ChatGPT couldn’t show photographs of the hotels or help book them — although it did provide ample instructions on how to do both.

By road or by rail?

Flights

ChatGPT can name airlines that connect cities, but it can’t give current flight information or help book flights.  

It wasn’t able to tell me the cheapest fare — or any fare — from London to New York this spring because it doesn’t “have access to real-time pricing information,” it said.

In fact, ChatGPT data ends at September 2021; it doesn’t “know” anything that’s happened since.

However, the bot could answer which month the London-to-New York route is usually the cheapest, which it said is “January and February, or during the shoulder season months of March and November.”

As for the best airline in the world, it said: “As an AI language model, I cannot have personal preferences or opinions.” But it went on to name the top five airlines named to Skytrax’s “World’s Top 100 Airlines” in 2021.

The list wasn’t correct.

The list provided by ChatGPT appears to be Skytrax’s airline ranking from 2019 instead.  

“Where should I eat?”

Specific questions

I had many more questions for ChatGPT, such as:

“How should I spend five days in South Africa?”
“Which chateaux accept visitors in Bordeaux?”
“If I only have one day in London, what should I do?”
“Which rides have the longest lines at Disney World?”

But before I could, my screen said “Access denied” alongside an “error code 1020” message.

This error may be caused by overloaded servers or by exceeding the daily limit, according to the tech website Stealth Optional. Either way, all of my previous chats were inaccessible, a huge negative for travelers in the middle of the planning process.

A new window didn’t fix the problem, but opening one in “incognito mode” did. Once in, I clicked on “Upgrade to Plus,” which showed that the free plan is available when demand is low, but for $20 per month, the “Plus plan” gives access to ChatGPT all the time, faster responses and priority to use new features.

With access again, I quickly asked about wait times on Disney World rides, a subject which I had spoken to luxury travel advisor Jonathan Alder of Jonathan’s Travels about last week. Alder lives close to the park and has lost count of how many times he’s visited, he said. Yet, only one of their answers — Epcot’s “Frozen Ever After” — overlapped.

ChatGPT mentioned that FastPass and Genie+ can reduce wait times at Disney World, which is partly right. The company phased out its “skip the line” virtual queue FastPass program when it introduced Genie+ in the fall of 2021.

The takeaway

ChatGPT is fast, chatty and feels like you’re interacting with a human. I found myself responding with unnecessary pleasantries — “Ok, sure” and “Thank you” — out of habit.

I could see how it could save travelers’ time, especially if they are looking for an overview or are at the early stages of planning.

But information will need to be current, of course — and bugs and error messages, which I faced several times in addition to the “1020” message mentioned above — will need to be fixed.

OpenAI states that the current ChatGPT version “is a free research preview.” It also says the system may “occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information” and that it’s “not intended to give advice.”

When I asked it about its travel planning abilities, it said it “can assist with many aspects of travel planning” but that it may not be able to “provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances.”

My verdict: Travel agents’ jobs are secure for the time being.

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These high school sweethearts have visited 112 countries. Here’s how they pay for it on a budget

Most people have a travel bucket list, perhaps with 10 to 15 countries.

For this couple, it’s all 195 — and they’re more than halfway there.

Hudson and Emily Crider have visited 112 countries, but their journey together began long before that. Both are from the “same small town” of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They met in fifth grade and started dating in high school, the couple said.

Speaking to CNBC via video from Chiang Mai, Thailand, the couple explained that their goal in college was to buy an RV and travel to all 50 states in the United States.

Hudson and Emily Crider in high school.

Hudson and Emily Crider

They began to save for that goal after getting married in 2012, but just a few years later, Hudson’s father died of a heart attack. “It was a reminder to us that we’re not guaranteed another day,” said Hudson, 32.

That motivated them to “sell everything and buy this old RV,” said Hudson. The couple left their jobs — Emily as a marketing manager in an agency, Hudson as a financial planner — in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area, said Emily, 31. Just two years later, they accomplished their goal of traveling to all 50 states.

So they set their sights higher.

Now, as the couple pursue their goal of traveling to every country in the world, they spend less than when they lived in D.C., said Emily. “The thing we found most helpful is eliminating expenses,” said Hudson. “We don’t have a house, car, kids and also make sure to budget.”

The couple have met people on the road who have children, or a home that they’re renting out to travel long term, said Emily. “We really believe there’s not a right or wrong way to travel,” she said.

Hudson and Emily Crider on a safari in Kenya, Africa.

Hudson and Emily Crider

The couple work remotely while on the road to support their travels, said Hudson. They teach English online, create content on YouTube and Instagram, and sell products like clip-on hand sanitizer holders on Amazon.

Although every traveler has different circumstances, being able to research and read reviews on the internet makes travel “the most open that it’s ever been,” said Hudson.

The couple’s own style of traveling helps them save on food, attractions and local culture in countries they visit, no matter how expensive.

Least to most expensive regions

The Criders have traveled to every continent except Antarctica, they said. The following is their ranking of the world’s major regions based on the cost of travel — from the least to most expensive:

  1. Asia
  2. South America
  3. Africa
  4. Middle East
  5. Australia
  6. Europe
  7. North America

Asia

Food is one of the categories of travel that “people plan the least for,” yet it’s the cost that is “easiest to add up,” the couple told CNBC. In Bali, Indonesia, they kept those costs low by eating street food like nasi goreng, spending as little as $1 per meal.

Trying street food is a “great way to taste local food and culture,” said Emily. Their favorite Asian cuisines include pad Thai and khao soi from Thailand and Vietnamese banh mi, she said.

The couple save on housing, their second biggest expense, by doing homestays with locals. In Bali, they stayed with the “sweetest family” for just $4 per night, said Emily.

Hudson trying an organ sandwich in Marrakech, Morocco.

Hudson and Emily Crider

The couple also use Couchsurfing.com, a site where travelers can find locals offering free housing. In Switzerland, they stayed with another couple who made them raclette, a traditional Swiss dish, and took them paragliding, said Emily.

Homestays are a great way to connect with local people, said Emily. “When you’re quickly going to a place and taking pictures of tourist sites, you don’t always get the full picture.”

South America

South America was the third cheapest for activities, at an average of $15.00 per experience, the couple told CNBC. Many activities were free, they added.

The couple research and budget for the main activities they want to do before visiting any country, they said.

Hudson and Emily Crider on a hike in Patagonia, South America.

Hudson and Emily Crider

They hiked through “amazing” places like Patagonia and Peru without booking a guide, said Hudson. With online resources, “it was so easy to find it ourselves,” he said.

The couple call this “do-it-yourself style travel,” where they find transportation and explore cities without having to book a tour, said Emily.

Africa

“Do-it-yourself” travel even extends to safaris, according to the couple.

In East Africa, Hudson and Emily rented a car and drove through the Serengeti on their own.

Hudson and Emily Crider camping during their self-drive safari in the Serengeti in Tanzania.

Hudson and Emily Crider

“It was more of an adventure than we signed up for, but it was a good way to save money,” said Emily.

Middle East

Transportation typically means metros, buses or tuk-tuks instead of taxis and Uber, the couple said.

Hudson and Emily Crider in Petra, Jordan.

Hudson and Emily Crider

But renting a car can also be worth it.

The couple spent the most on transportation in the Middle East, at an average of $14.00 per ride, they told CNBC.

“If anybody’s traveling to Jordan in particular, rent a car — it’s a great way to meet local people,” said Hudson.

Australia

The couple spent $85 on a harbor cruise in Sydney that went past the Sydney Opera House. “We prefer to spend a little less money on housing and food and more on experiences,” said Emily.

They spent the most on activities in Australia, with an average of $42.50 per experience. Transportation, however, was the second-least costly, at an average of $3 per ride.

The cruise was also an example of how the couple create content on the road, as they partnered with a company to promote the experience, said Hudson.

Europe

By saving a little bit in every category, the couple save a lot of money in the long run, they told CNBC. They did the same in Europe, which was the second-most expensive for housing, food and transportation.

It helps to spend less time staying in the more expensive areas, said Hudson. Compared with Paris, cities like Prague and Budapest are “equally beautiful” but have housing that is “half the cost,” he added.

Hudson and Emily Crider paragliding in Switzerland.

Hudson and Emily Crider

To get around, the couple used the Eurail unlimited pass to travel to as many places as they wanted within a booked time period, said Hudson. Budget airlines like Wow Air and Ryanair were also “amazing” options, he said.

“We would get a €12.00 flight and spend more on getting the Uber to the airport,” he quipped.

They used Google to find accommodations based on budget, then booked using Airbnb or Booking.com for the “best deals,” said Emily. They typically did a “really cheap hotel or motel” in Europe as it was often less expensive than a hostel, she added.

North America

Although New York consistently ranks as the most expensive city in the U.S., it is a popular destination for travelers who visit North America, said Hudson.

The couple got around by walking or riding on New York’s “amazing” subway system for $2.75 per trip, he said. They used Google Maps to access bus and metro times in almost every major city they visited, they said.

They also said they use blogs and Facebook groups to find suggestions for public transportation too.

More tips

Hudson and Emily try to strike a balance between “comfort and cost” when picking accommodations, they told CNBC.

That often leads to a choice between air conditioning and Wi-Fi, said Hudson. (They rarely compromise on the Wi-Fi.)

Reading an accommodation’s newest reviews gives a “current update of someone’s experience staying there,” said Emily.

“We don’t book places without reviews within the past four or five months.

A hostel room where the Criders stayed in Sydney, Australia.

Hudson and Emily Crider

Bonus points on credit cards also help to save money, said Emily. “Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards are our favorite because those can be transferred to a lot of different hotels and airlines,” she said.

The couple plan for future trips by using Google Flights to notify them if a flight price drops below a certain amount, said Emily. Instead of being fixed on one specific destination, pick five places you want to visit and set notifications for them, she recommended.

As for Hudson and Emily, they have set their sights on more places than that.

They are headed to West Africa next, they said.

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