“Whenever I would travel, I went on walking tours for the same reason that I eat my vegetables,” says Andrew Mason, the cofounder of local deals website Groupon. He’s only half-joking. I’m sitting with Mason in a café in San Francisco’s startup-packed SoMa district. “You’re in this place and you might not be there again, and you feel this moral responsibility to attempt to understand the destination, the history, and the culture. But more often than not, if you see something that makes you want to stop and explore, you can’t, because you’re on someone else’s schedule.”
In 2007, Mason traveled to Rome with his now-wife and downloaded an audio walking tour of the Colosseum onto an iPod. They each put in an earbud and wandered around the ruins. The actual content, Mason says, was just OK, but the overall experience gave him a charge: “We were free from being part of a herd, and we were learning about a place in a way that we could actually enjoy. After that, I always looked for audio tours when I traveled. And I saw how sparse and mediocre the entire ecosystem was.”
Fast-forward to February of this year, when Mason launched Detour, a location-aware audio tour company, in San Francisco. His staff of journalists, public radio producers, sound designers, and engineers unveiled a series of immersive tours that users download on their iPhones (Android versions coming soon) and walk at their own pace. One part podcast, one part itinerary, each Detour—as the audios are called—turns a focused, narrow lens onto a neighborhood. A good example: A member of San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission narrates the “Making Market Street” Detour that puts the city’s most famous thoroughfare in context.
AFAR’s mission has always been to help travelers have more fulfilling experiences, so we get giddy when we discover new tools to facilitate that goal. For our Travel Vanguard Issue, we cover the five trends defining the future of travel. From the evolution of mobile technology into something both useful and inspiring for travel, to hotels taking a page from the creative class, there’s a lot that will excite globally minded travelers like you. Tell me what you think on Twitter @jules_afar.
Editor in Chief
Photo courtesy of AFAR editorial team. This appeared in the June/July 2015 issue.