What 72 Hours in Spain Feels Like with a Travel Assistant

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Travelling just got significantly easier. How? Ask Google, Ayodeji Rotinwa posits

Being lost in a new city, at 12am fresh off a flight that was delayed for several hours, where you were stuck, sat, in an airport with cushionless steel chairs is not the introduction you want to start a trip with. I had just landed in Madrid. I tried ordering a taxi through one of the ride hailing services which had prompted me to go and wait somewhere. But there were no signs that I could see that would lead me there. My other option was the local taxis who only spoke Spanish. I panicked a little. How do I describe where I was going without getting lost?

Then I remembered I had just left Mallorca and an experiential Google event where I learned of the service’s several helpful features that make travelling easier. For languages, there is the Live Conversation feature for the Google Translate app. You speak English into it. And it responds in the language you selected. I was flustered, a bit nervous. I walked slowly to the taxi man, feeling a bit silly, brought out my phone and said where I was going and asked if he could take me there. He was gracious, staring at me with a smile but perhaps a little confused. Then the app reported what I had asked in Spanish. His face lit up in recognition. He grabbed my box and asked me to hop in.

In the car, relieved, I wondered how else I might have described my destination, in a way that understanding would be so instant. I thought about how languages are a bridge, how it connects us. How the visitor is honouring the local by learning or at least speaking to them in their language. (and how Google Translate helps you cheat a little bit by not carrying a translation dictionary around. The service now works in over 100 languages too, including a few Nigerian ones! ) It is hard to describe how the man’s eyes lit up when he ‘understood’ what I was saying through the Google Translate app, knowing fully well that I clearly don’t speak Spanish. And this experience coloured the tone for my trip.

Encouraged by the previous night’s outcome where I didn’t fall flat on my face, I set forth at dawn, to explore the city. I had learnt of Google Maps Live View feature, an augmented reality component, that made you navigate easier. All you had to do was raise your phone up and scan the surroundings (with a camera within the app) and then a huge blue and white sign – reminiscent of video games and sci-fi films – will tell you where to go. Wandering alone in a new city – especially the one where you don’t speak the language – I think requires courage. You might lay claim to be an adventurous, daring spirit but if you’re an overthinker like me, you know that several thousand things can go wrong. I set out anyway. I decided I was adventurous, with a daring spirit. I had Google Maps in my pocket after all. I covered – by my final count – about five miles of walking. I found the train station, navigated directions within to travel to a nearby suburb to see a contemporary art museum I had been following for two years.

I almost made several wrong turns but when I was unsure: raise phone, scan surrounding buildings, then the trusty blue, pointy arrow sign appears. Emboldened, I decided to seek out more landmarks in Madrid. Over the course of the afternoon I accurately found and experienced the Kings’ Palace, Retiro Park, Reina Sofia Museum, Sabatini Gardens.

To note, I had had some experience with this. While in Mallorca with the Google Team for the experiential event they had set us on a city challenge, discovering Mallorca via using their different products. A particularly difficult part of the challenge was finding souvenir shops. Not only finding them but creating a new list for same as well – which is a really handy way to record where you’ve been and share with other people as well! It was hard going, navigating to find the shops. So by the time I arrived in Madrid, I was prepared to learn from my mistakes. And there was lots to find!

Being a self-confessed foodie, restaurants were one of them. I stopped for lunch at a grungy speakeasy where I seamlessly ordered with Google Translate, and translated the menu with another nifty feature called Google Lens. All I had to do was point my camera at the menu and the words became English. This is probably the crown jewel of the Google features. A database of over a billion images you can use it to find information about a landmark or products for some design inspiration. For someone who’s currently furnishing, I found it to be endlessly useful. I wasn’t always pleased with the prices that flashed when I pointed my camera at a gorgeous cane chair, or a vase but I was glad at the very least, I was informed. I find that this particular tool going forward will be great for conversation.

Say you walk into an unfamiliar place and your friends are admiring something: a car, a painting, a tastefully designed coffee table but no one quite knows what these things are, or too shy to ask, you can coyly take a picture and be the know-it-all your squad needs. Although this means you might end up taking thousands of photos, in the app, and perhaps for your own records, but I find Google Photos, which I was already familiar with takes care of that. The best part of this app to me is how your photos can be with you via cloud anywhere across devices, all you need to do is just to log in. It saves the stress of losing photos when you change phones.

Soon, my trip would come to an end and I’d have to fly back to Nigeria. But surprisingly, the best part wasn’t the fact that I experienced a city in Europe – completely on my own – for the first time in my adult life. It was the second day of my trip when I was on a rock ledge overlooking the waves crashing into the rocks below, winds blowing in every direction, practicing mindfulness, being present. You can imagine that your phone takes up a whole lot of your time, even more so when travelling. Google now provides a Digital Wellbeing feature that helps you track the amount of time you spend on apps, and you can set a timer on this as well. Better still, with the ‘Flip to Shhh’ feature on, all you have to do is to flip your phone face down.

And for me to enjoy the stunning beauty of the Balearic Islands before me. With the wind whistling in my eyes, wrapping itself around my knees, a cup of green tea in my hand, my eyes closed. And peace.