Travel agents have largely become relics — reminders of the old guard before Orbitz, Hotels.com, and packages like Virgin Vacations came to be. Some have found a new niche, planning adventure itineraries or booking round-the-world flights for people who don’t want to suffer the online mess of doing so themselves. But technological advances (like the Kayak app on my iPhone) have proven a formidable opponent and services, like American Express Travel’s new Nextpedition, are turning even the most specialized agents nearly extinct.
Nextpedition utilizes foursquare-style badges (called "Travel Signs") to determine what kind of traveler you are and plugs into your social media outlets to tailor-make a travel itinerary just for you. It takes all of your wants and needs into consideration and with your “Travel Sign” in hand, you’re connected to an Amex Travel Specialist who’ll chat with you about budget and previous vacation destinations to formulate a fabulous trip fit just for you.
Travel Signs include everything from the Tasteblazer (for the food-obsessed) to the Poshaholic (shoppers anonymous, anyone?) and from the Hiplomat (an open-minded culture-lover) to the Detourist (if you hate fanny-packed sightseeing). Nextpedition also has three set budget levels to start with — three-stars (from $1,000), four-stars (from $1,500) and five-stars (from $2,000).
Once you’ve spoken to your Specialist, sit back, relax, and wait for a Travel Console to arrive at your door — the details of your itinerary will lie within. Your Console (a smartphone) will consist of a packing list, boarding pass, and a slowly revealed day-by-day itinerary that’s easily shared with friends on Facebook. (Because no vacation is complete without making your friends back home green with envy.)
Avid Daily Meal readers will be chomping at the bit to know what a Tasteblazer’s trip would include. While we can’t just go ahead and ruin the mystery of these custom itineraries, we do know that when American Express Travel tested Nextpedition before launching, they sent one lucky Tasteblazer from San Francisco to Vancouver on a tasting tour unlike any other with markets and hidden gems galore. The goal behind each itinerary is to send you farther and more in-depth into the places and interests you’re most passionate about.
My travel signs were almost tied with Tasteblazer and Blisstorian at 91% and 90% respectively, which seems eerily accurate. From here, I just connect my sign to my Facebook profile, chat with my Specialist, and daydream about where they’re going to send me.
(All photos courtesy of American Express Travel's Nextpedition)