Travel Tech Q&A: Uptake's Lesley Kao

Lesley Kao, vice president of product management at Uptake, tells us what apps she finds useful on her iPhone while travelling, and one very simple technology wish.

Lesley Kao, vice president of product management at Uptake, tells us what apps she finds useful on her iPhone while travelling, and one very simple technology wish.

Lesley Kao
(Credit: Lesley Kao)

Online travel planner Uptake was founded in 2008, and, according to the company, has become the third most popular search and discovery travel site in the world, behind TripAdvisor and Yahoo Travel. Uptake has 1.8 million destination ideas, hotels, restaurants, activities and attractions in the US.

The company recently added Facebook connectivity, which lets users connect with family and friends for travel advice and recommendations.

What tech do you travel with and why?

These days, it's always my iPhone ... my all-in-one device for staying in touch, or for emergencies. I also make sure to download enough apps to keep myself entertained/busy during down periods. I'll take the laptop with me if I'm travelling for work or if I need to work, but otherwise, I try to pare down.

What's your favourite phone app for travelling and why?

I have a few ... the Kindle app, 'cause it's perfect for getting in another few chapters while you're moving from place to place or waiting around. Google Maps, 'cause sometimes, you really just need to figure out where you are. Instagram, 'cause I love grabbing a quick photo in the moment, being able to make it look beautiful quickly and then sharing it. And WhatsApp, 'cause it's great to be able to text people when I'm travelling internationally, and normal texting charges add up too quickly.

Most memorable travel story/experience

It would probably have to be my first extended trip, when some friends and I got the Euro-rail pass and backpacked through parts of Europe during college. It was my first international trip without my family, and it really opened my eyes to the fun and adventure of travelling and experiencing different cultures (and doing this on a student budget). You learn a lot about yourself and how well you adapt to different situations, and it was definitely that first experience that gave me my thirst for travel.

Personal travel advice/tip?

My best piece of advice is to be open to the entire travel experience. Sometimes travel can be draining, inconvenient or just completely foreign to what you know. And I think the best thing you can do is to try to embrace it. For instance, a couple of years ago I went to India, and because of time constraints, I spent literally five to six hours going 20-40mph through streets that were crowded with people, vehicles and animals to see the Taj Mahal. We were there for about 90 minutes before having to turn around and do the exact same thing to return. Was it relaxing? Definitely not. Would I plan better next time? Sure. But I'm so glad I went. To put it in context, how often do you have the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal?

How do you deal with jet lag?

I'm generally sleep deprived, so I often can't tell what is actually jet lag versus just being tired. That said, if I'm going on a long-haul trip, I usually try to get myself closer to the time zone while I'm on the plane, eg, try to nap or eat a bit closer to my destination's hours. This doesn't always work when you're on a stuffy, cramped plane, but I give it my best shot. Then, when I arrive, I do everything I can not to sleep or nap until the early evening — even if it means acting like a zombie for a day. I've found that if I fall asleep too early on that first day I'll pay for it for days on end.

What (if any) travel websites do you use?

I use TripAdvisor for hotel reviews, Kayak for flights and, obviously, Uptake to get recommendations from my friends and family for things to do :)

What was your biggest travel disaster?

I was travelling to London, and had filled up all the pages in my passport. When I arrived at immigration/customs, there wasn't enough room in my passport for the stamp so the official shook his head, told me to step aside and wait for 30 minutes while he discussed the issue with his supervisor. Not a disaster per se, as I was allowed to enter the country, but, for a moment, the prospect of having to turn around and fly for another 10 hours to go home was grim. All's well that ends well!

What is your dream travel tech to have on planes/in airports/at hotels? (Stuff they don't have yet but boy would it make life so much easier on the road)

To be honest, my dream is just having reliable connectivity. How many times have you been somewhere where they advertise Wi-Fi or internet service, and you simply can't get on? Or, if you are able to, it's after jumping through a bazillion hoops or calling the front desk. I'd love to be able to automatically be connected.

Name one thing you wish your iPod/phone/laptop could do that it doesn't do now?

If someone could figure out how to get rid of roaming fees and give me unlimited (or at least a full day's worth of) battery life, travelling would be much easier. As it stands now, you're always watching that battery signal, and always a bit paranoid about how much you're racking up in charges when you're on the road.

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