10 years ago, iPhones, Instagram and Uber didn’t exist. Maps were mostly shop-bought or crude internet print-outs. Sleeping in a stranger’s house was nowhere near mainstream. Today, rapid tech developments and the sharing economy are transforming the way we see the world – and nowhere is this more apparent than on a city trip.

Want to live like a local at the scroll of a smartphone? Need to book at the last minute but still expect a bargain? Anything’s possible. Here’s how city travel has evolved over the last decade.

A brightly lit Shanghai overpass at night
Navigate new roads with your trusty mapping app – or on-demand taxi driver © Fei Yang / Getty Images

It’s easier than ever to get around

10 years ago: paper maps and public transport
Today: a world of possibilities in your pocket

The Google Maps mobile app (launched in 2007) and its competitors – such as Apple Maps and Maps.Me – have revolutionised the modern travel experience and are particularly useful in labyrinthine urban settings. Whether faithfully followed like a step-by-step navigation system or begrudgingly referred to only when well and truly lost, travellers can now scope out a city with confidence.

Catching a ride has never been easier either. Bike-sharing schemes such as NYC’s Citi Bike, ParisVélib, Ofo and Mobike are expanding exponentially and the likes of Citymapper make wrapping your noggin around local transport systems a breeze. Then there’s Uber. Perhaps the most disruptive development in city travel yet (for better or worse), this game-changing app – along with Juno, Lyft, Grab and a plethora of other service providers – allows weary wanderers to call a cab on demand for a snip of the standard taxi fare.

What happens when you combine offline maps with expert city travel advice? Download Guides by Lonely Planet to find out!

A city view from a bedroom. Person lying on the bed is taking a photo of the view - and their feet
No turn-down service? No problem. More people are opting for a home away from home © PeopleImages / Getty Images

Living like a local is a priority

10 years ago: central hotels and B&Bs
Today: homely digs in unlikely locations

Gone are the days of sticking to the tourist centres. While the key sights will always be popular, visitors are venturing further from central hubs, fuelled by a desire to get under the skin of a city and – many dare to dream – blend in with the locals.

This shift has done wonders for certain lesser-known neighbourhoods, and can help ease overcrowding for residents (NYC has even actively encouraged the dispersion of visitors across the city’s five boroughs to lessen the load on Manhattan) – although as all city-dwellers know, new-found popularity can be a double-edged sword. The trend is enabled by peer-to-peer accommodation sites such as Airbnb, HouseTrip and VRBO. Haven’t tried them yet? Chances are you will – and reports suggest you won’t look back.

The exterior of a cafe. Inside, people work on their laptops and use their mobile phones.
Get to the centre of the action on a work trip – all you need is wifi © Peter Ptzchelinzew / Getty Images

Business travel, but different

10 years ago: biz travel reserved for suits, CEOs and sales reps
Today: have laptop, will travel

Tacking on a day or two of annual leave to a business trip is nothing new – and the ‘bleisure’ trend is blah compared to the one key development that is changing the way we work. Remote working is on the rise world over – and while that may often mean tapping away at your keyboard in your PJs with only the cat for company, it also represents an opportunity to work abroad.

If you’re in a full-time remote role or freelance, the possibilities are even greater. City-based co-working spaces such as WeWork and the Impact Hub Network have flourished everywhere from LA to London to Lisbon – although so-called digital nomads are often just as content in a cafe with decent wifi.

Three women laugh and eat ice cream on a street in Rome.
Share an ice cream – or an entire meal – with a local to get a taste of real city life © SolStock / Getty Images

Immersive experiences are more diverse than ever

10 years ago: standard hotspot tours
Today: bespoke adventures beckon

Private tango class in Buenos Aires? Easy. An insider’s guide to Budapest? No problem. Want a street art tour of Miami? Heck, you can even get a graffiti lesson. It’s safe to say city trippers are no longer satisfied with a cookie-cutter travel itinerary. Personalisation is key – and tech advancements have made it possible. Tailoring your trip is now a total breeze, with myriad independent tour guides and activities just a click away.

Foodies are particularly spoilt for choice: VizEat and Eatwith offer thousands of different dining experiences that allow you to connect with locals while sharing a delicious meal. Beats a multilingual menu and wipe-clean tablecloths any day…

A hand holds an iPhone to take a picture of some old, beautiful archways.
Documenting a trip in visual, digital form has become increasingly important for travellers © Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

We live in a more visual world

10 years ago: candid snaps and selfies
Today: fine-tuned pics and FOMO (fear of missing out)

These days millennials and social media lovers are more likely to book a trip based on Instagram than advice from a travel agent, inspired by striking visuals and perhaps just a tinge of envy. It’s not all about outdoing your friends and followers however – all that scrolling can be a genuinely useful part of the travel planning process, unveiling new and undiscovered places, from hotels and restaurants to entire nations.

The lean towards sharing like-worthy photos is potentially leading us to look at cities differently too. Urban architecture – think Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, Kyoto’s ornate temples and Cartagena’s colourful old town – lends itself particularly well to quirky perspectives, best explored on an Instagram meetup or expert photography tour.

Explore every day with Trips – a beautiful, simple and intuitive way to share travel experiences.

An aeroplane coming in to land over Osaka at dusk.
Airlines are becoming increasingly competitive when it comes to long-haul routes © Marser / Getty Images

Better, cheaper, faster

10 years ago: advance planning and higher prices
Today: last-minute bookings and low-cost carriers rule

Critics of hidden fees and no-frills travel might describe it as a race to the bottom, but the cheap flight phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down. Known for their budget-friendly city-hopping fares (Ryanair and JetBlue, we’re looking at you), some low-cost carriers are now expanding to provide long-haul flights for unbeatable prices. Eurowings whizz continental customers to Cape Town, Bangkok and beyond, and Norwegian fly between London and key US cities, with plans to add more.

More competition within the travel industry as a whole has led to cheaper prices, which, when paired with easy-to-use booking apps, inspire travellers to make more impulsive booking decisions. And cities make for the best last-minute trips – simply book a bargain flight and find a place to stay on hoteltonight.com, for example, then go wander.

Looking for something original? Let the Lonely Planet locals introduce you to up-and-coming neighbourhoods around the world with unique culinary and artistic subcultures.


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