Noken Is a Five-Minute Solution For First-Time Travelers

Consider it a pocket-sized travel concierge

November 29, 2018 9:00 am

No matter where you go, traveling will always be an imperfect mishmash of overplanning and underpreparedness.

And going somewhere new? That adds a bit of traveler’s panic.

It’d help if you already had a guide on the ground when you landed. And now you do, right at your fingertips.

Enter Noken.

Just launched, Noken is a modern-day take on a travel concierge, with everything (reservations, food and activity suggestions, directions and team of human experts on chat) available on your smartphone.

Basically, once you know your travel dates, Noken will map out and book a (flexible) itinerary in about 5 minutes.  

Developed by Marc Escapa and Emily Brockway while at Harvard Business School and officially launched this month, Noken operates under the idea that “meeting a new country is like meeting a new person.”

So, introductions are everything.

Built with the first-time visitor to a country in mind, Noken is part guidebook and part concierge, with a little bit of bookkeeping thrown in.

Basically, once you now your travel dates, the site builds a flexible “travel blueprint” that allows you a fair amount of autonomy but also a structure to build around. And it adjusts for budgets, weather and preferences, while booking and holding on to all your reservations and travel info.

Everything Noken recommends is curated: When showing us the app, co-founder Brockway told us that her team conducts 500 hours of research on each country, and also sends researchers over for weeks at a time help build itineraries and offer suggestions (they also confer with an array of locals).

Overall, you’re left a nice mix of must-see landmarks, buzzy new restaurants and a few off-the-beaten-path surprises, all laid in a flexible itinerary and one that adjusts to your budgeting (yes, you can stay in luxury hotels and eat $2 meals, or vice versa).

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A blueprint for your first day in Reykjavik, Iceland, for instance, might start with an early breakfast (with recommended places to eat), a guided city walk (with offline directions and key route stops), a few museum suggestions (with admission prices, hours, directions and other “know before you go” tips), a booked dinner reservation and nightlife and Northern Lights viewing ideas.

While you need to do the original booking on your laptop, the Noken app is what’ll hold all your pertinent info (directions, train tickets, etc.) and become your de facto tour guide once you get going. It works offline, though if you’re connected you’ll be able to access Noken’s (human) assistants, who can reschedule reservations or offer additional travel tips.

The prices for your whole trip (sans flights) are what you’d find on a booking site like Expedia, plus an extra $5 per day per person — a price which gets you the guide, app and that on-demand chat help.

Plus, if you book through Noken, you’ll receive get a curated box of goodies, tailored to the country you’re visiting (e.g. Japan’s box may contain some local delicacies and, oddly, trash bags, since you’ll need to literally pack your own garbage … they are not a garbage can culture).

Cons? It’s really an app for first-time travelers to a country, to give them a self-guided but definitely curated schedule. Visitors more familiar with a city or country will probably have better luck planning on their own.

As well, it’s only offering assistance for travel to three countries at launch: Iceland, Japan and Portugal, though they expect up to 50 as the site scales (which it should quickly, given its very recent $2.5 million in funding).

Still, as someone who recently visited two of Noken’s three countries of choice and arrived with very little knowledge and no real itinerary, this app could have been a huge help in (gently) guiding my days and saving me from a lot of frantic Google searches and last-minute calls for reservations and train tickets.


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