When you’re traveling, there are lots of moving parts before your journey, during your trip, and after you arrive. Dealing with logistics of packing (and unpacking) your suitcases, making sure you have proper documentation and/or vaccinations, preparing your carry-on with necessary reading, snacks, and water for the road, and more, are a lot to handle, but it’s what’s required.
That’s where handy travel tools and apps come into play to reduce stress and let you focus on enjoying your travels. I recently talked to the founder of TravelTag, a luggage tracking app for iOS and Android. TravelTag uses Bluetooth devices called Beacons to track your checked bags. The Beacons broadcast their unique identifier to nearby tablets, smartphones or smartwatches, which enables them to perform an action (track your bag) when in close proximity to it. You’ll be able to track your bag through the Beacon and on a free TravelTag app for iOS or Android.
Read the full interview with Nirmal Parihk, President and CEO of Digital Wavefront and Inventor of TravelTag, to learn more about TravelTag and Nirmal’s own perspectives on travel.
What inspired the idea to launch TravelTag?
Nirmal Parihk : I make 4-5 trips each year involving airline travel. Back in early 2015, we were experimenting with Beacon technology and the various possibilities and applications. That’s when, during one of my trips, I found myself waiting at the baggage carousel when the thought suddenly occurred to me. Why not develop an App that alerts you when your bags arrived on the carousel? Then, I wouldn’t have to be tethered to the carousel. I could move around freely avoiding the large cluster of strangers, carry on a conversation, perhaps get a coffee, take a restroom break, etc. And, a few months later, we had an App for it!
Nirmal: Well, we thought of several blue-sky ideas for Apps using the new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacon technology. The possibilities were quite exciting and nearly endless – retail, restaurants, airlines, banking, museums, colleges, universities etc. We had a grandiose vision at first, but decided to tone down a bit and act responsibly within the constraints of our own resources. Then, this idea of tracking bags struck me. We went through several versions tweaking the UI, getting better with each iteration at working with the technology. We finally released our MVP in October 2015. And, since we’re all about delivering a better user experience, we went back to the drawing board in January and redesigned everything about the App from the ground up. We just released the new version of TravelTag for iOS on March 23, 2016, and TravelTag for Android on March 17, 2016.
How do you think TravelTag will change how we travel?
Nirmal: What I like about TravelTag is that it’s simple enough that anyone can use it, and it solves a universal pain point – no matter what your airline or your destination. If you’ve checked in a bag, or two, you’re headed straight to the baggage carousel upon arrival. And, this is where you have to endure an “unknown” amount of wait time. Sometimes it’s 18 minutes, sometimes 80 minutes. For most people, it’s somewhere in-between. You never know. And, for that amount of time, you are stuck at the baggage carousel going through anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. What a riot! And, why are we putting ourselves through this?
What has the feedback on TravelTag been so far? How has it helped travelers?
Nirmal: People who have used it absolutely love it! We’ve been delivering freedom from baggage carousels from Seattle to Singapore in more than a dozen countries. They’ve been able to transform this last-mile travel experience thanks to TravelTag. There are even use cases, which we had not designed for. For example, @MeshyMind of @FarandFamiliar recently used it to check on her bags while traveling by bus on the roads of Uruguay! We got a surprise kick out of that use case.
Share your worst luggage loss experience so far. What happened and what was most frustrating about it?
Nirmal: That happened on a recent trip to India. My flight was switched at the last minute from Boston, so I knew I was in for a surprise when I arrived in Bombay (Mumbai). But, I was hopeful and perhaps wishful. I arrived at like 1:35 am, headed to the baggage carousel, waited almost 50 minutes, only to learn that my bags had not arrived. Then, I had to go find the airline agent and fill out some paperwork to report them before I could head home. What a nightmare! And, to make things worse, I was there for a wedding. So, I had to go shopping the very next day. The only silver lining was that the airline covered that!
Tell us about your travels. What was your most interesting trip to date?
Nirmal: I don’t travel much for work, so those trips are short and uneventful – just the way they should be. The most interesting and memorable (recent) trip would have to be Summer 2014 road trip traveling through Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. We spent a few days in each city taking in the culture, enjoying all the tourist attractions, and taking in local cuisines. It was a blast!
Where is the most interesting airport you’ve been? Why? Tell us what was unique about it.
Nirmal: The Bombay (BOM) airport recently inaugurated a new terminal (Terminal 2) for international arrivals. I had the opportunity to arrive 2 weeks after the opening and I must say it was the BEST experience after 16 years of flying back and forth! It is an architectural delight, showcases a lot cultural art with murals that almost come alive, sporting warm colors, Bollywood scenes and superstars, and – clean bathrooms. This would be a universal complaint about bathrooms in India. Ask anyone. So, hello, T2!!
As a traveler, what do you personally love to explore when abroad and experiencing a new culture? Is it new food, history, meeting locals, or more?
Nirmal: Absolutely! I like to immerse myself as much as I can to take in everything – the weather, food, culture, history, etc. I must admit, I am a bit conscious at the same time. Everyone has a different threshold. I am not sure where I fall on that scale, but I certainly try.
Where do you see the travel industry heading from a technology standpoint? Do you see shift where everyone is connected and using apps to navigate?
Nirmal: Technology is unfolding before our eyes and is changing the world! Travel will be no different. I predict that within a few years (or perhaps sooner) we will have a suite of connected Apps – across the agency, airline, rental car, hotels, luggage tracking, tourist attractions, local cuisines, arts scene, bus schedules, etc. – to bring you a unified experience. As a traveler, your experience will be seamless – although under the hood there may be several (trusted) Apps. One of the things we aspire to do with TravelTag is to help automate the lost baggage reporting process. Passengers will be able to report their lost or misplaced bags inside the App, get a confirmation (code) from the airline and be on their way – without ever having to find an airline agent and filling out mounds of paperwork! Another idea born out of a frustrating personal travel experience.