Before traveling to a new destination I always try to find a book about the place so that I can learn something about its history, culture and environment to make my visit less superficial. A trip to Turkey was preceded by “A Fez of the Heart”, a vacation in Australia with “A Fatal Shore”, and while canoeing on the Missouri I found myself traveling with Lewis and Clark through the pages of “Undaunted Courage”.
But reading takes time and it’s a challenge finding the right book for a location. It’s also almost impossible to read a book and explore your surroundings simultaneously. Wouldn’t it be better if you had your own personal guide? Not just a person that you hired by the hour, but something that could help you explore a location in depth, but at your own pace.
That’s the idea behind a new app called “Detour“.
My wife and I and a group of friends gave Detour a try on a recent visit to Austin. We downloaded the app and walked to the starting point for the tour – in this case it was about Austin in the 1880s and a series of murders during that period. Using the phone’s bluetooth capability, our phones quickly synced so that we could all hear the same audio narration. Then we put in our ear buds and began walking as the narrator – an actress portraying a woman from that period – began to describe Austin at the time of the gruesome killings.
The tour guided us through side streets, alleys and along the river as the narrator chronicled the events that unfolded in these locations almost 140 years ago. At one point, we were directed to walk into a store that displayed an original newspaper from the night of the first murder. Later the narrator led us into the Austin Historical Society where a librarian provided us with the original police blotters for the crimes. And, along the way, we saw parts of the city that we would never have visited otherwise.
The Detour team has produced a very refined and engaging experience. Both from the quality of the audio narration, music and sound effects to the technology itself. These “location-aware audio walks” use your phone’s GPS to deliver the audio relevant for your location on the tour. If you want to stop and look in a window, the tour pauses until you begin moving again. The combination creates an altogether immersive way to travel; bringing new insights to your surroundings.
The tour we enjoyed in Austin is the first outside of six that have been released in San Francisco. But Detour will be expanding into other cities.
Location-aware stories present so many possibilities. How about location-aware audio tours for those long drives in your car? Or, listening to a geologist describe the land rolling by below when you are stuck in a window seat on a plane? Or listening to a narrative about the flora and fauna of your surroundings on a long bicycle ride. What about easily enabling local communities to create their own tours similar to Story Corps? After all, every place has a story.
It will be interesting to see where it goes; however, it’s clear that travel is about to get much more compelling.