Travel Maker

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Sipping a cup of coffee on the patio, Claire swiped through the iPhoto album on her smartphone. A low mist hung over the impeccably landscaped yard, but the Northern California sun was already warming the skin on her arms not covered by her gray "Dog Mom" tee. Thankfully, the girls were still asleep and her canine "son" was busy playing with a tennis ball inside, the occasional thump-thump of rubber on the kitchen tile followed by the click of the Bordoodle's nails. Tomorrow everyone would be back to work and school, but this idyllic lull was the perfect time to organize pictures from their vacation.

Here's one of Lily and Alexis in the taxi, buckled in and with their little heads leaning toward each other after we had left Charles de Gaulle Airport. They'd been so excited on the plane ride they hardly got any shut-eye, but fell asleep before the car left the lot, she remembered with a smile.

After marking the picture to print later, Claire continued scrolling through the camera roll. But every snap was full of memories and nearly all of it was album-worthy. She shouldn't have been surprised. Their whole vacation had been perfect, not least of all because it took almost zero effort to plan. Well, that wasn't exactly true. Ironically, she could take all the credit or none at all, depending on how you looked at it.

On this one their eyes are wide from excitement after realizing the Marriott Village d'ile-de-France resort we booked was right next to Disneyland Paris!

The one thing Claire hated more than packing for a trip was actually planning the darn thing. And sure, the few wonders of 2018 included countless websites, mobile apps, and even personal travel consultants available to ease the burden of finding the best deals, but there was still a heck of a lot of end-user involvement—not to mention time commitment and decision making—for her liking.

Here's Alexis with a triple scoop of Smurf-blue ice cream in front of the Louvre. I think we tried the selection at every single patisserie in metropolitan Paris, but that horrible color—and sickly sweet cotton candy flavor—was her favorite.

Claire had always been a self-starter. An MIT grad who'd spent three months after getting her PhD in software engineering "backpacking" (a rolling Samsonite counts if you slog it across five countries, right?) through Central America wrote a program to do the heavy lifting. Because nothing could ruin a well-earned vacation quicker than misreading the hotel name in the reviews and getting a one-star hole-in-the-wall instead of that five star resort or accidentally booking the non-refundable trip for the same weekend as your oldest kid's ballet recital.

The day trip to Chartres—my god, that's an incredible shot of the cathedral—is unforgettable, but the full body massage I got at the resort's spa afterward comes in a pretty close second.

"AIDEN on," Claire had said into her smartphone to activate the Artificial Intelligence Driven Engaged Navigator that fateful day two months ago. She was a sucker for a good acronym, but it didn't hurt it was also the name of a hot-as-hell architect from Manchester she once dated. When the screen opened, Claire had continued. "Trip parameters: four to seven days round-trip, international for Claire, Lily and Alexis. Minimize connections and maximize use of memberships including frequent flyer status and vacation club participation. Also sync work and school calendars for optimum use of holidays to reduce need for absences. Include cultural, educational, and recreational excursions, but nothing too adventurous."

The hamster wheel of death had spun as the system did its magic. But it really wasn't magic, was it? It was a slew of algorithms connecting databases to optimize information according to set parameters.

Claire would never forget how her high school English teacher had called her a troublemaker for toying around with her cell in class. She only did it when she was done early with her assignments, which was pretty much always. But those insults—no matter how inappropriate from a pedagogical standpoint—had been worth it. They'd motivated her to follow her dreams. And look where she was now! Troublemaker? More like travel maker!

She'd smirked at the terrible pun, pretty lame even by mom-joke standards. Thankfully, her developer skills were much more refined. When the phone in her hand had vibrated, AIDEN's screen changed to reveal a detailed itinerary filled with hyperlinks.

"There are no required visas, but Alexis' passport will need to be sent in for renewal by no later than May twelfth," the deep, male voice had said in a British accent. "Once you confirm the draft, I'll forward Prince Pumpkin Spice's latest vaccination certificate to the kennel to secure his booking."

"Draft accepted," Claire had quickly said, holding back both her surprise at how easy it really was and her embarrassment at the dog's official identity. That's what she got for letting a four-year-old name a pet, even if six years later everyone just called him Latte.

This is my favorite shot from the trip—a selfie of me and Lily in the elevator at the Haunted Mansion. Poor sprout was so freaked from the spooky sound effects, but by the time the ride was over, she wanted to go stand in line again for it. 

Marking it and exiting iPhoto, Claire locked her phone and lifted the half-empty coffee cup to her lips. The trip to France had been a resounding success, concluding the alpha testing on AIDEN. Tomorrow the beta launch to the public would begin. There were probably more bugs to work out, but her role in its creation was over.

She scrunched her nose as the cold coffee rolled over her tongue. Time to make a fresh cup. And it probably wouldn't kill her to empty the suitcases and throw in a load of laundry. Pretty much the one thing the AIDEN software couldn't do was unpack. Stepping into the kitchen, Claire smiled. Maybe that would be her next project.

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