MIT's Tours site simplifies multi-city trip planning

Using machine learning, data visualization, and digital mapping, the search engine helps users save time and money when planning travel with multiple stops.

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A team of engineers from MIT's Senseable City Lab in Singapore recently launched Tours, a digital travel planning tool that enables users to create affordable multi-stop trips.

The platform functions like a search engine, allowing users to coordinate a trip using 25 filters including weather, visa requirements, things to do, safety levels, and pricing, according to a press release. 

"The purpose of the tool is to help travelers discover, plan and book inexpensive globe-hopping adventures in just a few clicks," said Tours project lead Mohit Shah. 

SEE: How to stay cybersecure while traveling for business: 6 tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

When users toggle to other flight search engines through Google Flights or major airlines, the default setting is usually on single flights. Tours is optimized for easy multi-stop trip planning, in which users can customize a tour using a drag and drop interface. With this interface, users can change the order of cities or number of days in each city, Shah said. 

"Our original search engine inspired users with single destination trips, helping them save money on short getaways," Shah said. "We wanted to create something for people to help them plan their long vacations where they travel to multiple places." 

Shah outlined the following steps for how to specifically use the site: 

  • Choose your departure date and airport. 
  • Choose the continent, region or country you'd like to explore. 
  • Tell Tours how many places you'd like to visit during your adventure. 
  • Click "search" and within seconds Tours will show you the least expensive flight itineraries, which you can customize. 
  • Click "book" to book all your flight tickets at once. 

Image: MIT

Image: MIT

Tech behind the tool 

To create the optimal travel plans, the tool uses data visualization, digital mapping, and machine learning to generate itineraries that contain both the top destinations and the lowest prices, Shah said. 

"For example, there are over 100 million ways to do a four-city trip to Europe, it is not humanly possible to research each and every one," Shah said. "We evaluate destinations based on various factors such as popularity, connectivity, variety along with the preferences set by the user such as weather conditions, safety levels, things to do and so on. We then find the cheapest flight path to connect the destinations with your origin." 

All of the flights can be booked on one ticket by comparing fares from a variety of different agents, which are provided by Kayak and, Shah added.

"The tool is great for anyone looking for an inexpensive way to explore the best places in a country, region or continent," Shah said. "We think it will be most useful for digital nomads, retirees or backpackers who just want to travel from one city to another without breaking the bank."

Tours could also be helpful for working professionals who travel often for work, especially if they need to visit multiple sites in one trip. With workers increasingly turning to digital support when planning trips, according to a Travelport report, Tours could prove to be a helpful solution.  

The site can be accessed via desktop or mobile device. 

For more, check out Traveling for the holidays? Avoid these 5 tech mistakes on TechRepublic.  

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Image: Lauren Wood