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AI Travel Planning Test #1: ChatGPT-4

Pont Alexander III

As part of my research into AI (artificial intelligence) travel tools, I asked ChatGPT-4 to suggest a one-day itinerary for two people visiting Paris for the first time. I made it slightly harder by making the visit in winter, and asking for three sit-down meals. It took me about an hour of back-and-forth (mostly consisting of my corrections) to get something nominally acceptable. Here are a few screenshots to give you an idea of how (badly) it went.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Aaaaaaand….we’re off to a great start! When it comes to travel writing, ChatGPT-4 is particularly useless, its content padded out with pseudo-recommendations like “make sure to capture some photos!” What’s missing is any actual advice people can use, like “Allow extra time for the long bottlenecks that often form when switching elevators on the second floor to go all the way to the top (and then again coming down), especially in high season”.

The Poilâne Bakery is indeed famous, but for their sourdough loaves, not their croissants. Excusable, except that this itinerary implies you can have breakfast at the bakery, which isn’t true. It’s just a place to make your purchase, then leave. 

Next I asked for specific timings and advice on making advance reservations. For some reason it wants you to spend two hours at the most crowded place in Paris first thing in the morning, before your breakfast. I’d start earlier, and swap the Eiffel Tower and breakfast on this schedule:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Notice it forgets you’ll need to account for the 20-25 minutes it will take to get from the Eiffel Tower to the bakery (an oversight in many itineraries). I haven’t broken the bad news about Poilâne yet, but we get the “helpful” advice that no reservations are needed (they never are in bakeries without seating).

Later on in the day we have another odd choice of timing, with lunch at 3:30pm. Parisians do eat later than most Americans, but most restaurants and bistros stop serving lunch by 2:30pm.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

On top of that, they recommend reserving a table at a very popular Parisian bistro, Le Comptoir du Relais*… which famously does NOT accept reservations. When you only have one day in Paris and hundreds of places to choose from, you should probably go to one that guarantees you’ll be seated immediately.

* Bizarrely, almost every single AI travel app and AI tool I used recommended Le Comptoir du Relais at some point. Odd.

Above, you’ll also notice ChatGPT-4’s first recommendation to visit Notre Dame Cathedral. This one warns that “parts may be closed” for renovations. In later iterations of this same itinerary in the same session, it states that the “façade and towers remain open to the public”. However, it has been completely, 100% closed to the public since 2019, and no one has ever predicted it will be re-opened before the end of 2024.

As for Sainte-Chapelle, even if you have a reservation you’ll still have to pass through the security check with everyone else (there are two separate lines at the start, but they funnel into one long line when you arrive at the metal detector).

Here’s what happened when I started questioning its suggestions (mostly I get apologies):

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Who wants to stand in line with other tourists for breakfast, raise your hand…

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

It then adjusts the itinerary with two other inappropriate recommendations: Du Pain et Des Idées for breakfast (in winter) and Chez Janou for lunch at 3:30pm.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Okay…Le Peloton Café (I corrected the spelling) is a fun place to stop for coffee and a homemade slice of cake, and I highly recommend the café owners’ Bike About Tours of Paris, but I’d suggest something more classically Parisian for a first visit to the city. But I’m going to leave that be for now and get back to the issue of the 3pm lunch recommendation at Chez Denise.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

“Café-cum-crêperie”? Pretty sure Breizh Café is just a crêpe restaurant, not a café, despite the name. But that doesn’t matter, because the one in the Marais doesn’t allow lunch reservations at 3pm.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Okay, Café de Flore serves food all day. I’ll leave that one alone for now and address the sightseeing issues…

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

I guess if you’re lucky to find an empty chair upstairs at Sainte Chapelle you could “relax”, but…

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Instead of adjusting the timing, ChatGPT-4 has replaced a visit to Sainte Chapelle — one of the city’s most illustrious flamboyant Gothic churches built in the 13th century by Louis IX (aka Saint Louis) to house Catholic relics such as Jesus’ Crown of Thorns — with a visit to an English bookshop opened in 1951 (named after Sylvia Beach’s original Shakespeare & Co bookshop on Rue de l’Odéon, closed during WWII). Unless a visitor specifically had that on their must-see list, it would be far from my first choice in a one-day itinerary for a first-time visit to Paris. But I’ll leave it unchallenged because there are other, more pressing issues:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Sacré-Coeur Basilica and Montmartre in general are worth a visit, however allotting one hour seems impractical.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Oh no…I should NOT have asked ChatGPT-4 for directions. This is where things get ugly:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

You can’t change to line 1 at the Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame station, so that’s a fail.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

RER C doesn’t go to Gare du Nord from Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame station. RER B does, but…so does line 4 metro! So why not just take line 4 directly from Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame to Château Rouge without changing in one of the biggest train stations in Europe? (I’m not even going to address the other issue of having tourists walk from Château Rouge to Sacré-Coeur…it’s not exactly the most scenic route; they’d be better off changing metros to get off at Abbesses station, or even Anvers).

But wait, it gets better…

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Didn’t we already remove Le Comptoir du Relais from the itinerary earlier in the session? (yes)

Ignoring that for the moment, the closest metro to that restaurant is Odéon (2 minutes walk), which you could reach by switching from line 2 at Barbès-Rochechouart to line 4, instead of taking line 12.

I decide to stop wasting time and make the suggestion to “start the day at 8am from the Hotel Aubusson in St-Germain-des-Prés”, thinking ChapGPT-4 would use the extra time to start with breakfast and schedule lunch at a more usual time. However, it decided to try and give Notre Dame (or at least one of its towers) a comeback, suggesting I start the day with a 90-minute visit to the Cathedral’s tower.

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

We’re back to timing issues:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Eric Kayser is a great bakery, but I can’t think of any Parisian who would walk all the way to Rue Monge from the Ile de la Cité for a simple breakfast that almost any decent café in the center of Paris could handle. We finally get the Saint Régis, on the Ile St-Louis. Fine, it has a nice view (to distract you from the faux-old decor). But I would have simply suggested they have breakfast at one of the famous Parisian cafés in St-Germain-des-Prés, conveniently close to their hotel.

Later in the itinerary, Sainte-Chapelle is back, suggested after a visit to Luxembourg Gardens. I already informed ChatGPT-4 earlier that Sainte-Chapelle isn’t open that late in winter. But even in the summer, the directions to get there will waste visitors both time and energy:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

Why send us to Cluny-La Sorbonne station from Odéon on line 10 when you can take line 4 from Odéon directly to Cité station, just two minutes on foot from Sainte-Chapelle?

Map of Paris with conflicting toutes between Luxembourg Gardens and Sainte-Chapelle.

We finally get the morning sorted out — with a more classic breakfast option — after an erroneous suggestion to visit the Musée d’Orsay at 8am:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

But the evening’s suggested itinerary brings up a new issue, which is pretty obvious without even looking at the map. I’m a bit annoyed by then, so I flat-out suggest a logical fix instead of seeing how ChatGPT-4 will adjust it:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's suggested Paris travel itinerary.

In case you’re not familiar with Paris, the Place Vendôme (and the Ritz’s Hemingway Bar) are in the western edge of the 1st arrondissement, and the Place des Vosges is on the eastern edge of the 4th arrondissement (about 20 minutes by metro). The hotel is in between, on the Left Bank. It makes zero sense to go back to Place Vendôme for drinks after dinner in the Marais (especially a Michelin-starred meal at L’Ambroisie, where you’ll likely be waddling back to your hotel to pass out afterward).

Map of Paris showing distance between two locations.

Just when I think I have the final itinerary (after removing a visit to a third museum in the afternoon, the Centre Pompidou), I realize it has been replaced with a visit to the Palais Garnier after closing hours:

I don’t have any more patience to see what ChatGPT-4 comes up with, so I simply suggest a visit to the Palais Royal Gardens and shops, finishing with this itinerary:

At some point, the visit to the Rue de la Paix shops and Place Vendôme from 7:30-8:30pm disappeared, with nothing replacing it. But those shops will largely be closed anyway by then, and it’s a good time to stop back at the hotel to change before dinner.

All that back-and-forth for an hour (I left a lot out for brevity) to get this basic, one-day itinerary that’s not ideal in my experience, but at least it’s doable:

8:00 AM – 9:00 AM: Breakfast at Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris)
9:30 AM – 11:30 AM: Musée d’Orsay (1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris)
11:45 AM – 12:45 PM: Walk along the Seine River
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM: Lunch at Le Procope (13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 75006 Paris)

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Visit the Louvre Museum (Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris)
5:15 PM – 6 PM: Explore the Palais Royal Gardens and shops (8 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris)

6:15 PM – 7:30 PM: Visit the Place Vendôme and drinks at Bar Hemingway, Ritz Paris (15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris)
(ChatGPT-4 left an hour empty here, which I’d fill with a trip to the hotel to change before dinner)
8:30 PM – 10:30 PM: Dinner at L’Ambroisie (9 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris)

11:00 PM – Midnight: Stroll around the illuminated Marais
Midnight – 12:30 AM: Return to Hotel Aubusson (33 Rue Dauphine, 75006 Paris)

Screenshot of yet another one of ChatGPT4's apologies...

After this experience, no way will I attempt a 5-day itinerary using ChatGPT-4. It’s faster if I do it by myself with Google Maps and a phone (to call for confirmation of opening hours/reservation possibilities, etc).

Everyone assures me it will get better as ChatGPT-4 “learns” from the feedback it receives from users like me. However, as I’m paying €22/month for my OpenAI.com subscription to use this tool, it seems like I’m the one who should be getting paid. 🙁

If you think I’m being harsh, even ChatGPT-4 makes it clear that creating travel itineraries isn’t one of its strong points:

Screenshot of ChatGPT4's self-defined skill set

In conclusion, after seeing what it suggested for Paris, I wouldn’t use ChatGPT-4 to help me plan a vacation in any destination. I still use the app all of the time, but only as a tool to help me do my job better, and only in circumstances where I don’t need to “trust” the accuracy of what it produces (for example, it’s great at suggesting article titles, but only because I know which one to pick to go with my article).

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  • Even without reading the results of your experiment, I would never use AI to create a travel itinerary. I read through half of what you shared with us and it’s so ridiculous!