In the old days of travel, my bag would be stuffed with magazines, a book, laptop, analog phone, beeper and god knows what else I had dragged with me. My carry-on bag always felt like it was filled with cinder blocks. By the time I reached my destination, my shoulder was bruised and sore. Travel was such a hassle, and after you got off the plane, renting a car and driving to your hotel was another debacle. Today, I can’t even imagine using a paper road map instead of receiving real-time directions from a GPS. (Although I am glad that I can still read a map without digital assistance when needed.)
Whether you are a jet setter, business flier or novice traveler, smartphones might be the best thing to happen to traveling dunces since the invention of the automobile. Take a look at some of my tips for using your smartphone to make your next trip that much easier.
Take Pictures to Remember
Never forget where you left your car again. Snap a picture and keep an album handy to record the location of your car in a crowded lot, your hotel room number, street signs, landmarks, or even a snapshot of that restaurant that your concierge was raving about. My business partner could have used this tip when she forgot which garage she left her car rental in…in Italy. It only took her four hours to visit three different parking garages until they were able to locate the vehicle.
This is by far one of my favorite apps. I’ve certainly made the mistake of heading to the airport and going through security, only to find that my flight was significantly delayed. The beauty of this app is that is has real-time push notifications, so if there is a delay, you know about it right away. It has beautiful zoomable live maps that make it easy to see the exact location of the flight and its progress as it heads to the destination. There are plenty of flight tracking apps available, but Flight Track is the best I’ve tried. Check out Flight View if you want to compare other apps available.
“Reed” Your Favorite Articles
One of our .NET programmers introduced me to Reeder. It’s easily my favorite reading app! It’s fast, easy-to-use, and can sync with your Google Reader, social accounts and Reddit. The one thing I love about this app is the fact that I can share articles quickly. For a review and photos of Reeder for iPad use, click here.
I recently went to SXSW with a co-worker. At one point, we found each other at other ends of the event, and describing where we were (“in the tent and by a lot of people”) wasn’t working. If you are using an iPhone, the Maps app has a great feature where you can click on “Current Location” and have the ability to Share Location with others. You can also try out Find My Friends (iOS 5) or Google Latitude (Android). CNET recently did a great review of the apps and how they work, but to put it simply, it will make finding people in a crowded room that much easier, and mean no more scanning the crowd to find someone.
Get An All-In-One Travel App
The Tripit app has completely changed the way I travel. The makers describe it well: “TripIt ‘automagically’ takes all your trip details and creates one truly helpful itinerary that’s there when and where you need it—on your iPhone or iPad, sync’d with your calendar, and online at tripit.com. When you receive a confirmation email from anywhere you book, simply forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. TripIt instantly recognizes reservations from 3,000+ booking sites, including cruises, restaurants, concerts and more. You can easily share trip plans with family or colleagues directly, or let Facebook and LinkedIn contacts know when and where you’re headed.” (From the App Store site.)
Pass the Time
I don’t need to tell you that Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Draw Something are highly addicting games and great time-wasters. Load a few games for playing when you’re on the plane, too tired to read, and have a neighbor who likes to over-share as much as he likes to crunch loudly on peanuts. If you are more into playing games that stimulate the brain, try a few of my favorites: Words with Friends or Chicktionary.
Yelp’s app is a godsend when you’re stuck in a city you’re unfamiliar with. Not only can you read reviews, sort by type of cuisine, and pre-screen prices, you can check hours and often menus, saving you from important dinner meetings at the Waffle Shack or the Pocket Burner forever.
While we’re talking about reviews, if you are a food snob, you need to try out Chefs Feed. Chefs Feed is a handy little app that helps you find restaurants owned and run by the best chefs within the city you are visiting. The app also has a list of favorite dishes, restaurant stats and live Twitter feed.
If I’m out of the city, I relish the opportunity to look at the stars without the interference of city light glare. Pocket Universe is one augmented reality app that makes star-watching a fun and educational experience. It takes input from your camera and coordinates and tells you exactly what stars you’re looking at. It also has great push notifications to inform you of significant planet changes that can be seen without a telescope.
Skip Carrying Reward Cards
Are you one of those people that have a rewards card for every store you shop at? It always seemed liked I was constantly digging through my wallet and purse to find my Marriott or AAA cards. Instead of carrying around dozens of rewards cards in my wallet, I preloaded these cards onto the CardStar app and have them ready for scanning. The great thing about this app is that you can receive notifications of store promos or discounts from the merchant. Plus, if you take the time to setup the Cloud backup feature, you never have to load up these cards again if you need to restore your phone.
This app is, in fact, magical. Taxi Magic is a free online taxi booking service that is directly integrated with taxi dispatch systems. You can book from your mobile phone or the Web with a few quick taps. It has a cool map with GPS tracking to watch the dispatched cab drive towards your location. You can even charge the ride to your credit card and expense the trip with an e-receipt right through your smartphone. I’ve used it several times and have never seen anything like it!
What apps and tricks do you use for traveling? I’d love to hear your tips.