My first trip to Norway, with AI as a guide

The assignment was clear: test how well artificial intelligence could plan a trip to Norway, a place I had never been. So I did none of my usual obsessive online research and instead asked three AI planners to create a four-day itinerary. Unfortunately none of them mentioned the saunas or the salmon.

However, two assistants were eager to learn more about me in order to tailor their initially general recommendations, which they had delivered in a matter of seconds. Vacaya personalized travel planning tool, presented me with a list of questions, while Mind tripa new AI travel assistant, invited me to take a quiz. (ChatGPT, the third assistant, didn’t ask anything.)

The questions from Vacay and Mindtrip were similar: Are you traveling alone? What is your budget? Do you prefer hotels or Airbnbs? Do you prefer to explore the outdoors or pursue a cultural experience?

Ultimately, my chat sessions produced what seemed like well-rounded itineraries, starting with one day in Oslo and continuing into the fjord region. Ultimately, I laid out a trip that would combine the assistants’ information and go beyond a predictable list of sites.

This time my virtual planners were much more advanced than the simple ChatGPT interface I used on a trip to Milan last year. Although it offered more detailed suggestions for Norway, I ultimately dropped ChatGPT in the trip planning stage after it crashed repeatedly.

Vacay’s premium service, which starts at $9.99 per month, included in-depth suggestions and booking links, while Mindtrip, which is currently free, provided photos, Google reviews and maps. During the trip itself, they all immediately provided information via text message and always asked if more specific details were needed. Unfortunately, only ChatGPT offered a phone app, whose information I found was out of date (the $20 per month premium version is more current).

I’m not the only one asking AI for help: About 70 percent of Americans use or plan to use AI for travel planning, according to to a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of personal finance app Moneylion, while 71 percent said using AI would likely be easier than planning trips themselves.

I decided to discover it myself in Norway.

After landing at Oslo airport, all three assistants directed me to the Flytoget Airport Express Trainwhich got me to the city in 20 minutes. I was glad my hotel was next to the central station.

Choosing accommodations was not easy. I was looking for a mid-range boutique hotel and the AI ​​assistants generated many options with little overlap. I went with Hotel America Lineon the recommendation of Vacay, which described it as “a vibrant and unique boutique hotel in the heart of Oslo.” The location was the main draw, but overall the hotel exceeded my expectations, combining comfort and style with the 20th-century charm of the building, which was once the headquarters of the Norwegian shipping company America Line.

For the one-day trip through Oslo, the assistants agreed and packed in the city’s main sights, including the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the royal palace, the Nobel Peace Center, Fort Akershus and the Munch Museum. I shared my location and asked each assistant to restructure the routes so that they would start at my hotel. But when I gave in to my own research instincts and pulled out Google Maps, I saw that the order they suggested didn’t make sense, so I mapped out my own path.

By the time I got to Frogner Park By midday I had already seen half the sights and after walking past more than 200 sculptures by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, I enjoyed sitting down and admiring his granite monolith of intertwined people.

For lunch, the assistants recommended chic restaurants in the bustling waterfront district of Aker Bridge. But I wanted a quick bite in a more relaxed atmosphere, so I ditched the AI ​​and walked to the end of the boardwalk, where I encountered the salmona cozy establishment where I started with salmon sashimi that melted in my mouth and ended with a perfectly grilled fillet. How had my assistants not mentioned this place?

Next on my list was the Nobel Peace Center, the Opera House, and the Munch Museum. The assistants hadn’t recommended booking tickets in advance, but thankfully I had, and in the meantime learned that the Peace Center was closed, a crucial piece of information that the AI ​​didn’t provide.

It was cold for mid-June, and as I walked along the harbor promenade toward the Munch Museum, I noticed small floating saunas that my assistants hadn’t added. I went back to the ChatGPT phone app for recommendations. Although I was eager to try a floating sauna, where people warmed themselves up and then dove straight into the icy waters of the Oslofjord, I took ChatGPT’s suggestion and booked the Salt Sauna, where I headed after spending a few hours at the Munch Museum, with its extensive display of the Norwegian artist’s works and breathtaking views of Oslo’s harbor.

At the Salt cultural complex, a large pyramid-shaped structure on the water, I was relieved that swimwear was a requirement. In Scandinavia, saunas are usually visited naked, and I had previously asked ChatGPT about the etiquette at Salt, but they didn’t give me a definitive answer. After sweating it out with about thirty strangers in Salt’s main sauna, I dipped into a cold-water tub and then tried the smaller sauna options, which were hotter and quieter. It was the perfect end to a long day.

Each of my assistants had different ideas about how to reach the fjord region. ChatGPT suggested a seven-hour train ride and then a two-hour fjord cruise, which sounded exhausting. Mindtrip suggested a short flight to Bergen, known as the “gateway to the fjords,” and a cruise the next day, which might be more efficient but would also mean missing one of the most scenic train rides in the world. Vacay also suggested a train ride.

After a conversation with the assistants I decided on a shorter train journey (six hours) which would deliver me Naeroyfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with lush valleys and thundering waterfalls. But to understand the logistics for transportation and accommodation, I needed up-to-date train schedules, which I could find on my own, and information about hotel availability, which none of the assistants had.

At this point, I was desperate for human guidance to navigate the region’s expensive and limited accommodations. This is where the photos and reviews on Mindtrip came in handy, helping me understand that I would be paying premium prices for the spectacular surroundings of a mediocre hotel.

The train ride from Oslo to Myrdal was breathtaking: rolling hills, mountain villages, fjords, waterfalls. But nothing prepared me for the majestic hour-long ride Flam Railway ride that followed. Vacay had described it as an “engineering marvel” with a breathtakingly steep descent as it passes picturesque villages, dramatic mountains, raging rivers and crashing waterfalls, complete with a dance performance featuring a mythological spirit known as a huldra.

The next morning I boarded a Naeroyfjord cruise, recommended by Vacay, on a 400-person electric ship. I was surprised by the tranquility of the fjord. Later I heard from a guide that I had been lucky to visit when there were no big cruise ships yet. It was hard to imagine an ocean liner maneuvering through the narrow, windswept fjord, but when I asked ChatGPT, it told me that 150 to 220 cruise ships drifted through the fjord every year, a detail I think the tour assistants had to ask travelers for. warn.

The cruise ended in the village of Gudvangen, where rain caused me to cancel a hike to a waterfall and try throwing axes into the waterfall instead. Viking village Njardarheim. The assistants had told me that buses left the city every four hours, a time frame that had worked with my original walking plan, but now I was stuck. Luckily I took note of the AI ​​disclaimers to check all information and found an alternative shuttle bus.

On the way to Bergen I decided to stop in the town of Voss, famous for extreme sports such as skydiving and spectacular nature. All the hotels suggested by AI were fully booked, but a Google search led me to the lakeside Elva Hotelwhich served delicious farm-to-table food. I suspect it didn’t make the AI ​​shortlist because it was new.

I ended my trip in Bergen, which despite being Norway’s second largest city, has a small-town charm with its colorful wooden houses and cobbled streets. With just half a day to explore, I followed Mindtrip’s short route, starting with a hearty lunch of fish and chips at the bustling waterside fish market and ending with a cable car ride to Mount Floyen for panoramic views of the city and the fjords. The AI ​​dinner suggestion at the Colonial was perfect: cozy atmosphere, live jazz and locally produced dishes.

None of the AI ​​programs were perfect, but they complemented each other, helping me streamline my travel decisions.

Overall, Mindtrip — with its polished, dynamic interface that allowed me to compare details with maps, links, and ratings — was my favorite. While it provided some good recommendations, Mindtrip needed more coaxing than Vacay, which offered a wider variety of suggestions in more detail. Unfortunately, Vacay doesn’t save chat history, which I discovered halfway through my planning after closing the website’s tab on my browser.

The biggest drawback was the absence of phone apps for Mindtrip and Vacay, leaving me relying on ChatGPT’s basic AI assistant when I needed on-the-spot guidance. Mindtrip, I have now heard, plans to launch an app in September.

Yet there were times when I desperately craved the human touch. Before traveling, I always contact friends and colleagues for recommendations. This time, as part of the AI ​​experiment, I contacted a Norwegian friend only after my trip, only to find out that we had both been in Oslo at the same time.

That’s one element of travel that I doubt AI will ever master: serendipity.

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