A recent family trip to Helsinki, Finland, found us taking advantage of the new apps that assist travellers when away from home.
The occasion was my brothers Stuart’s wedding to his Finnish fiancee Helianna. As there was a large number of us attending – I thought I would take advantage of airbnb to book our accommodation. This wasn’t the first time I had used this service. Rather than booking a traditional hotel, airbnb is an online portal which allows anyone with a spare room, house or apartment the opportunity to let it. This is handy for travellers as with the traditional mini-break you are only away for a couple of nights at a time. Having a house or an apartment to stay in can give more flexibility than a hotel, having kitchen facilities etc, and usually works out more economical overall, depending on where you stay.
For us we found an apartment in central Helsinki. The apartment was in the old industrial sector, and was eclectically furnished, featuring a curious blend of functional IKEA, antiques and modern art adorning the walls. The owner, Mikael was obviously well-travelled, and that whole-world influence was felt in the apartment.
My pre-arrival communication with Mikael, was all done by email and text, with detailed instructions concerning the apartment issued up front. The key was available for collection from the airport, meaning we didn’t meet the owner. All in all it worked for us, and our central location meant it was very handy as a base and a drop-in point for other family members staying in nearby hotels. It also made getting ready for the wedding fun, with a few of us together – my sister was certainly in demand as chief hair-stylist!
Getting around Helsinki itself was straightforward. There were several in our party all arriving at different times, and a myriad of different transport options were used, from trains and trams to the airport shuttle bus. When we had to travel out of town we used taxis. This is where my tech-savvy brothers showed the rest of us how city travel should be done, by using the uber app.
Instead of ringing a number, or flagging a taxi down, you use the uber app from yourphone to book a local uber taxi. Much like airbnb these are people using their own cars to provide a taxi service, often undercutting the local taxi firms quite considerably. The advantages are the payment is automatically taken up front via the app, as your payment details are preloaded. You can request a journey estimate in terms of time and cost before you book, and you can see exactly how far away the nearest uber taxi is from you in terms of time via the app. There is also the option to use a sliding scale to select what kind of vehicle you want to pay for – the more expensive you go the more impressive ride you get. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for an uber taxi, didn’t have to worry about paying as that was all done. It worked for us, but others in our party spoke of a few hair raising rides they experienced! Apparently it is not legal yet in Helsinki for uber to operate, and there are other cities where the local taxi firms are working to prevent them from operating, but the simplicity of booking and paying online and the price saving indicates that this is one service that won’t go away.
Both airbnb and uber operate a rating system so customers can rate the service they get.This works both ways – airbnb hosts get to rate their guests – so any bad behaviour and they can be disallowed from using the service. The same applies with uber, drivers can rate their ride. This form of self-regulation and transparency is the web’s most powerful tool as it is instant and immediate and provides protection for both parties.