I’m on a deserted street in the middle of the night.
I’m somewhere outside of Rome, a couple blocks south (or north?) of a train station where I caught the last train in from the airport in an echoing station.
My hotel should be up here. Or maybe it was a couple blocks the other way. Or maybe I’m not even on the right street.
I squint in the blackness, trying to find street signs tacked on the sides of buildings. But no signs mark the small side streets. I walk down four more blocks to the large, blinding intersection and stand on a corner, frowning at the light poles, searching for a sign of where I am.
All I want to find is my hotel. All I want is to curl up in a soft bed and sleep away the remaining few hours of the night. All I want is a little blue blinking light of GPS to show me where I am and lead me to my hotel.
I used this app a lot. It saved me many times. City specific offline maps which you need to download for each city. But the map shows public transit information like stations, points of interest, and bookmark favorite places.
(Apple App Store, $3.99)
This app can record GPS movements and store for later retrieval. It gives you detailed offline maps of entire countries, records your trips, bookmarks favorite spots so you can return to them (or track your path). Claimed to be smaller download size and faster than other offline maps.
(Android Google Play, $5.99)
This app works totally offline. It gives you turn by turn guidance, highly detailed offline maps, bookmarks your favorite places, displays surrounding points of interest (my favorite). It also shows hiking and bike paths. And it’ll give you navigation for biking the crazy streets of Paris or walking in Venice’s alleys.
(Apple App Store, Free)
This app gives you detailed, small download size offline maps. Plus, you get public transit information and nearby points of interest.
This app is my husband’s favorite when we travel. He’s in charge of navigation and likes how this offline map shows points of interest, bookmark favorite places, and shows thousands of user reviews for locations. It can be a little glitchy at times.
I had no idea the GPS worked without my data enabled. But it does. And it saved me quite a lot. Sometimes the map doesn’t show up very detailed. But it helps to get a bird’s eye view on where you are and see if you’re really walking in the correct direction.
(Google Play, Free)
This app has offline maps that are best for navigating the land in hiking or boating. You can bookmark favorite places and record tracks via GPS. The coolest part is you can check out your speed and altitude.
Offline, highly-detailed maps for all countries and cities. This app claims to never freeze while zooming. You can also do searching on the map, bookmark favorite places, and figure out where you are with GPS positioning.
This is the premium offline map app. It calls itself the “world’s most downloaded offline navigation app.” This is the app you spring for when you’re feeling flush. It has offline maps for 100+ countries, free map updates, route planning, points of interest, and bookmarks. If you spring for the premium version, you get turn by turn navigation and voice guidance, with very handy warnings of upcoming speed limit changes.
Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read, where she riffs on reading, traveling, and gives you quotes to strengthen your soul.
It’s hard to be organized constantly.
It’s hard when you’re at home. It’s more difficult when you’re on the road, trying to remember where exactly you put that super-important sticky note with the really-super-important booking confirmation number for your hotel.
Thankfully there’s an app for your troubles. I rounded up the top five travel apps I regularly use to stay organized, both on the road and at home.
Imagine if your brain could immediately access every website, memory or note you ever encountered. Imagine if you eliminated your wagging Post-It notes, your notebooks crammed with places to see, scribbled recommendations passed along by friends, or the couple last night at the table next to you.
Imagine if you could search those notes by a single word. Or organize them according to a simple yet effective filing system.
Welcome to Evernote: a virtual library of your must-sees and must-dos nicely organized in one place.
Install the app on your phone that automatically syncs to the website. Should something indescribable happen to your phone, panic not. Your entire precious database is secure and easily accessible via the Internet.
Save pages from the web, forward special emails, input notes, capture thoughts and pictures, record voice memos and share all your goodies with friends with a click of the button.
Evernote is my favorite. He keeps my mind organized and clutter-free while planning my greatest adventures.
I used this bad boy to plan multi-city trips, plot our route through Europe, and dream up new adventures. I also use it daily to record recommendations on what to see and where to stay on my next trip.
It serves as my highly organized personal assistant who even prods me to complete my daily to-do list. So I can never forget to check into a flight again.
Call it your personal CYA plan. Call it your never-forget-a-document-again plan. Call it your ultimate back-up plan. Call it your storage in the cloud.
Call it what you want, but Dropbox is vital to life on the road. You can access your whole library of files from your smartphone or the slow computer at the Internet cafe down the street. Back up your photos from your iPhone into Dropbox for a complete database of hundreds of sunsets you’ve seen around the world.
Or keep writing, page by page, at the novel you’ve been dreaming of while clacking over train tracks in Siberia. It even saves former drafts of the same document so you can pull that sentence from five drafts ago back to life.
Dropbox holds your music, photos, videos, and files while you explore the world. It’s all organized by folders and as many sub-folders as your little heart desires. And if you drop your phone or computer in a lake or off a helicopter, no big deal. Your virtual world is still safe.
Finally, an app that organizes all your convoluted, brilliantly messy flight plans into a nice, neat pile that actually makes sense. And that others — like your grandparents — can understand. It’s a master itinerary, with all your plans, in one place.
My favorite part is the notifications that kindly tell you of gate changes at the airport. (It’s unbelievably empowering to arrive at the airport already knowing your new gate when the airport’s computers haven’t updated yet.) And it reminds you of when to check in for flights.
It’s easy to use. Simply forward your confirmation emails for flights, car rentals, transportation, hotels to firstname.lastname@example.org. The app automatically organizes your plans. When you step off the plane, it gives you directions to your hotel from your current location.
The TripIt Pro version ($4.09/mo) gives you a slew of other helpful, awesome features like syncing plans with your calendar, real-time flight alerts, and finding out when a better seat is available. I use the free version, but have had a couple chances to try out the Pro thanks to TripIt’s generosity in allowing users to limited-time access.
TripAdvisor lets you see how other travelers rate attractions, hotels, and more. But you already knew that.
The better part of TripAdvisor is their maps and City Guides. You can see a map of the city’s transportation system, star favorite places, and navigate your way back to the hostel, even if it’s your first night in the new city.
Use the “point me there” feature to get oriented in the correct direction — very useful if you’re like me, twirling on a sidewalk, trying to figure out which direction is correct. Or ask the app to give you directions to your destination.
My favorite part is reading other travelers’ advice and recommendations. You can quickly get a flavor for the highly touristy areas of a city, so you can skim through them on your way to the meatier, juicier aspects where the locals live.
Best part? It works completely offline.
A database of hundreds of spots offering free WiFi around the world.
This app has gotten me out of a pickle once or twice while trying to decipher transit maps in Dublin and when exactly the next bus comes when no timetable is posted.
It’s not always perfect, but it sure helps when you need WiFi and no Starbucks’ free WiFi is in sight.
While frequent flyer miles can help alleviate the costs of flights to a destination in a game-changing way, the travel that happens once in a destination can really add up too. This is particularly true in an affluent place like Europe.
But, as a continent that has a fabulous infrastructure for public transit, it should come as no surprise that even those with their own personal cars find a way to contribute to the public’s transit needs.
Indeed, carpooling is yet another task that the internet is revolutionizing in some way. Europe has a number of websites that exist to connect passengers to carpooling hosts, much as Couchsurfing.com or Airbnb.com do for travelers’ accommodation needs or Uber and Lyft do for local transportation needs
Unlike the short, local jaunts that Uber and Lyft accommodate however, these carpooling sites help you connect with drivers going long distances. For instance we’ve gotten rides for 150 miles or more such as Salzburg to Vienna or Berlin to Hamburg. Or even London to Paris in one case.
How it works:
Signing up for many of these sites requires registering a text number. If you do not have a phone that works internationally, we usually communicate with someone back home to use their text number and have them send us the code to complete registration.
Once registered, you have the ability to connect with drivers who have posted the routes they intend to do along with the payment required. Unlike Couchsurfing, the guest pays the “host”. It’s more like AirBnB in that way. However, we have always found the prices to be cheaper than the other public transit options, not to mention the trip is almost always quicker than these options as well.
Car-pooling sites you for Europe travel, by region:
UK carpooling sites:
German carpooling sites:
1.) Mitfahrgelegenheit.de -(the German version of carpooling.co.uk)
Non-region-specific carpooling sites:
1.) blablacar.com -(the site that seems to be most popular here in Europe.)
A few extra notes/challenges:
1.) As suggested above, some of these resources can be challenging without a phone. Even if you have a web-generated text number from apps like “TextMe” and “TextPlus”, sites like this do not seem to function properly with web-generated text numbers. (This is true for resources like Uber and Lyft too.) So even if you have a travel-friendly phone alternative like those mentioned here, not all of them will cooperate with these resources. Specifically ones relying on web-generated numbers.
2.) Even though Europe has a pretty decent coverage when it comes to these car-pooling sites, some regions of Europe are still lacking. For instance we’ve had trouble finding carpooling options to the Balkans.
3.) This car-sharing strategy is virtually impossible if you are a person who doesn’t like to pack light, because drivers often try to fill every seat in their car. Do not assume you are the only passenger taking advantage of any given car-share. If you have more than one or two pieces of luggage, include that in your correspondence with your driver ahead of time.
4.) Sometimes you can suggest the meet-up location and sometimes the driver will suggest a spot that works for them. You may have to do a little traditional public-transiting in order to catch your ride.
Of course, another reason I love using carpooling resources is because, like all the other people-to-people resources, it connects you with locals and other travelers.
I mean, in some ways it gives me the thing I love about hitch-hiking without the exhaustion and uncertainty. When people connect with locals, and locals connect with travelers, there’s a host/guest mentality that’s naturally built in and it produces conversations you simply wouldn’t have in the service-provider/consumer environment of traditional public transit.
We’ve had so many fascinating conversations with drivers and most times the hours spent driving just fly by. Next time you are in Europe, remember this carpooling option for your semi-long-distance journeys.
I just spend the last 3 and a half days trying to get from Rapid City to Bangkok. Due to the Polar Vortex (or whatever they’re calling it this year), massive storms blew through RC and Denver, dropping off a foot of snow and plummeting the temperatures. Flights were canceled, delayed and connections were missed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or venting. Matter of fact, I’m not upset about it – it’s just an experience that is fresh in my mind.
Then, while browsing through photos my photos from this summer, I came across the one above – of the Google Cardboard contraption. If you don’t know that that is – basically it’s a Oculus Rift headset built from a piece of cardboard, 2 lenses and your smartphone. Don’t know what an Oculus Rift is? It’s an advanced virtual reality headset that creates stereoscopic (3-D) images, extends beyond your field of vision (you can’t see the edges of the screen) and has sensors so everything moves as you move your head around. Do a search on YouTube – it’s amazing and hilarious to watch people wearing it react to their virtual environment (like these). This is the VR we were promised when we were kids.
That’s when it hit me – is this the future of travel? Soon it will be difficult to differentiate between real and virtual environments. Imagine being able to go anywhere and everywhere in seconds. Being able to intereact with people anywhere on the globe – and not being limited to a little Skype window. Co-existing in an environment – being able to look into each other’s eyes – key off of each other’s body language. Sharing the experience of seeing incredible wonders. Avoiding long, uncomfortable flights (not to mention the reduction in carbon footprint).
Yeah, it’s far from perfect. Much of the fun and experience of travel is just getting to where you’re going. Learning to deal with the issues you encounter and remaining flexible to overcome them. Plus, I can’t imagine breaking bread with people would be nearly as enjoyable in a digital environment. Unless they figure out some way to replicate smell, taste and texture. It would be like exploring the world via Google Images or YouTube, but totally immersive.
I’ll be clear – I believe I’d prefer “real” travel. Then again, much of my travel is driven by either adventure oriented (seeing if I’m capable of a journey) or breaking bread with friends. I’m less drawn to monuments, sites and structures. I can imagine using it to replace the other travel I do – business trips, collaboration, brainstorming.
I’m excited for where this technology will go – what it will enable. I don’t believe it would be a replacement for “real” experiences. It would leave more time for the travel that we enjoy most. More time to get lost and meander. More time to explore.
What do you think? Is this growing technology going to become a part of your travel experience, or is it blasphemy?
Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.
My last couple of articles have been a bit higher-level (How lessons I learned while traveling have helped me through family tragedy and Becoming a better person via the kindness of strangers). Today, though, I’ve decided to post something much more tactical – the places I’ve enjoyed working over the past couple of weeks while in Austin, TX.
I’m riding my motorcycle across the western United States, in order to catch up with friends and interview them for my upcoming podcast. That means balancing a lot of work with a lot of fun. Austin seemed like the perfect starting point, since I’m considering moving down here. It was also a central place to meet up with my dear friend Stephen Blahut, so that we could decompress and brainstorm on our upcoming creative projects.
While I was here – I started looking for places to work. Coffee shops are always easy to find and Yelp reviews help – but I couldn’t find the info I was looking for: Internet speed, access policies, likelihood of finding a table, power outlet options, …); so I decided to start compiling it myself. In the process, it’s made me aware of the specialties of each place. Bennu is great for late-night work because they’re open 24/7. Hot Mama is a great place to record podcasts and to upload videos. Vintage Heart is a great place to come download a bunch of media. Cenote is just plain cool.
Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list – hell, it doesn’t even cover a fraction of Austin. If you’re caught on the east side, though and are looking for a place to work, here’s the places I can recommend. Got a favorite spot? Leave a comment and recommend it.
(Note: I’m not affiliated in any way with these shops – just appreciate what they offer.)
Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.
I have to admit that I am not a techno-junkie. I resist the pull of technology assiduously, but even I am forced to admit that there are some really fantastic new “toys” out there that make travel easier and provide possibilities for the independent traveler that didn’t exist in the era of paper maps.
Mtrip provides travel guides for 28 major cities including customizable itineraries, your own points of interest and ratings, create postcards to share via FB or email. Features include off line maps and navigation, up to date travel guides and the ability to keep a trip journal in the app.
Tourpal allows you to purchase individual tours of places in the cities you’re going. Walking tours, museum tours, river tours and more, in multiple languages. They can be purchased one at a time, for far less than an in person tour, and you’ve got the freedom to do it “your way.”
I recently discovered TripIt and I’m in love. It lets me email my confirmations and travel plans and the app creates a personalized itinerary, keeping all of my trip details in one place. I can add my own photos and maps and share my itinerary with friends and family.
Struggling through language barriers is one of the hardest parts of traveling. Stuck on the border of Myanmar, trying to secure dinner and lodging for our exhausted tribe, a local lady rocked our travel world by pulling out her ipad, firing up Google Translate and asking, “You look lost, how can I help you?” There’s no question that technology has changed how we travel, and there are debates about whether those changes are a benefit or a detriment over all. Debates aside, there are moments where it is an absolute godsend.
I’m a mom, so I have to throw in one for the kids. Bound Round is a fun travel app for kids. It will maximize their learning and engagement even before you take off. The passport feature makes a game of exploring a new place, and your kids can even keep their travel journal in the app. They can send virtual postcards to their friends with their own pictures and rate destinations for other kids.
So, what about you? What are your favourite apps for travel?
There’s something to be said for getting lost.
I rather like it, actually. Taking off with no destination, exploring a city by braille, and the serendipity that inevitably arises as a result are intoxicating. There are days in which the last thing I want is a map, or directions, or to “get there” in the most expeditious manner.
And then… there are the other days. The days when I’m lost and it’s maybe not comfortable, or fun, or safe. There’s that moment when you look around and think, “Well this is no good…” and you realize you’re in the wrong neighbourhood, it’s almost dark and you have no idea where you are.
My husband pointed me towards an article about new app called Kovert this week that is a savvy solution in that moment. It’s a GPS for your phone that gives directions via vibration in your pocket rather than voice or visual. One blast for port, two for starboard; that kind of thing. So now, you’re walking down the street, feeling your directions instead of with your nose in your phone display. Your mind and your eyes are free to take in your surroundings. You’re not painting a target on your ass with the double whammy of an expensive piece of equipment and the announcement that you’ve got no idea where you are since you’re clearly following it down the street.
I like this idea from two perspectives: 1. increasing safety and decreasing the presence of obvious high-theft items. 2. increasing presence in a place instead of face time with a device.
What are your thoughts? Any travel apps that enhance your experience?
It has occurred to me that the internet is, perhaps, the single greatest boon to the traveling world and, simultaneously, the biggest detriment.
On the one hand, the ability to keep in touch with the people who matter and are left behind, the ability to quickly search destination focused information, the ease of book tickets: plane, train, event or movie in just about any country in the world have made the travel experience so much “easier.” Travelers no longer need to feel like they are “alone” in the world or their experience. Blogs and online communities provide a thriving pool of fellow adventurers who “get it” and who are eager encouragers and a wealth of information for the newbie traveler who is nervously taking his first steps in the great big world. The old standard guidebooks are giving way to first hand, up to the minute information available online with a quick search that delivers a double handful of blogs by likeminded folks who’ve been where you want to go within the last month and are happy to share their favourites as well as their list of “don’t be bothered” for anywhere you want to go. It’s great, right?
Except when it’s not. The thing is, I don’t think most people even realize that it’s not. We’re all so irrevocably “plugged in” that we don’t even realize what we’re missing, but I promise you, we’re missing. Gone is the joy of authentically discovering something new without the pre-read experience of six other bloggers to frame your thought process on what you’re seeing. Gone is the need to hit the ground running and struggle through without “help.” Gone is the quiet within your own mind that comes from being alone in your own soul, without the tether to “everyone and everything.” Gone is the slow blossoming of deep thought and self discovery that comes with that quiet, and that intentional void. Our experiences are constantly compared and measured by those of others, so easily available online. We read our favourite blogs with longing, wishing our lives could be as cool and full of adventure as theirs, without realizing that they are also reading someone else’s blogs, comparing in some other way. The internet has become the ultimate tool for idolizing and one-upping one another in an endless comparison of “experiences.” Only what we’re doing is comparing our weaknesses (which we know all too well from the inside out) to someone else’s strengths (or our perception of them.)
Experiences can’t be compared. It’s like apples to dragon fruit.
It seems hypocritical for someone like me, a blogger, a writer, someone dependent on the internet and the online travel industry to even say such things out loud. I know. Part of me apologizes. But part of me also begs you to unplug, stop reading blogs, quit booking tickets and “experiences” online months in advance and lining out your itinerary like pool balls expertly aimed at velvet pockets. Part of me begs you to step into the void, with faith in the world and trust in your own ability and just go it alone in your own mind for a while. Take a book for company, and a journal to write in. Travel with someone you love or would like to know better. Leave the clamour of the online voices out of it. Those things that are “gone” as a result of our endless connectivity aren’t really gone. They’ve just been beaten out by the incessant beating of other peoples’ drums. You’ll find yourself, your own authentic thought process and experience right where you left them, patiently awaiting your return. I would go so far as to argue that until you’ve found a way to cut that cord and be in one world at a time, you haven’t yet seen the world, really seen it, through your own eyes.
What do you think? What are your experiences? Does the proliferation of travel material and tools online help, or hinder the experience of travel? Have you ever truly unplugged? What happened?
Are you looking for a place to plug in to the Internet and get work done while traveling? Singapore is the No. 1 city for budget travelers looking for Wi-Fi in accommodation, so says a study by Hostelbookers. The next cities following were Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Siem Reap and Seoul.
If you work over the Internet, the good news is that connectivity is getting better and better. On the flip side, it makes it harder to escape work and get away from people back home who try to contact you. Ah, technology is a double-edged sword.
On a related topic, how many of you travel with laptops, tablets or smartphones? Until very recently, I carried none of these and made do with Internet cafes and public computers in hostels. The nice thing was not having to carry as much stuff and worry about things getting stolen. The downside: I once lost almost all my photos of Laos due to a virus on an Internet cafe computer that infected my memory card. Yikes.
Engineers at UCLA are working on converting an iPhone into a small laboratory. Weighting less than 2 ounces, the iTube attaches to your phone and analyzes a food sample in about 20 minutes using a colorimetric assay test. The user grinds up a small sample of food with hot water and places it in the tube along with an extraction solvent. After several other testing liquids are added; the phone then captures an image of the sample using its built-in camera and a program app optically analyzes the image for allergen particles down to parts per million. It doesn’t just confirm the presence or absence of peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs or gluten; it also tells the amount within the sample.
As someone who suffers from severe food allergies; the possibility of such a gadget intrigues me. However I am still skeptical. When in doubt about the specific ingredients of a food, I simply opt not to eat it. True, this practice limits my culinary variety but I figure I can find thrills other ways.
How about you? If you suffer from food allergies would you consider the iTube a useful gadget for home or travel use?