Friday, June 8, 2012

What Apps Are In Your Mobile Travel Folder...?

SmartPhones, tablets, and near constant access to the vast knowledge stored on the Internet has changed our lives in countless ways over the past several years. Every aspect of travel-- discovery; planning; logistics; communication-- has been profoundly touched by the emergence of Apps and online resources.

Everyone who owns an Android or iOS device and travels no doubt has several Apps at their beckon call. My iOS travel folder has about a dozen apps stashed away ranging from great planning and deal tools to the best way I know to communicate in a foreign language when all else fails.

As a wrap up to my recent series of posts regarding my recent escape, I thought I would share the Apps on my iPhone and iPad. I would really enjoy hearing about your must have Android and/or iOS Apps in this article's comment section.

Planning: My long term "go to" airline and hotel App is Kayak (Kayak Pro iPhone; Kayak Pro iPad). This App still returns some of the best, most comprehensive, results I have ever found. Once I have a destination in mind, Kayak is normally my first stop.

Still lately a dorky little "Hipmunk" has captured my traveler's imagination (iPhone; iPad). Offering many of the same search services as Kayak, Hipmunk adds a different kind of user interface and at least one notable twist on the traditional search experience. Hipmunk attempts to algorithmically determine an "Agony Index," combining cost, flight time, layovers, time of day, and other factors to rank flights from "least to most agonizing." I find this to be a useful metric and the grid like results graph is a wonderful way to visualize your upcoming trip.

There are of course easy means of reviewing results using more traditional metrics such as cost, departure time and length, but the Agony Index puts the "hip" in Hipmonk. (Besides watching the animation while the service does its search is cheesy but surprisingly captivating. Hotel searches display on a user friendly map and are color coded with TripAdvisor ratings, very slick. The Apps are free and I highly recommend you add this tool to your travel folder.

If you are looking at hotels and more, no travel planning portfolio is complete without TripAdvisor (iPhone; iPad). This iconic name in internet travel offers a wealth of information and review data spanning a wide range of services and countries. Like all internet review sites, you will find some commentary on a property to be overly zealous (both irrationally positive and negative). If  you throw out the third standard deviations on the review bell curve and concentrate on the mean and read a good cross section of commentary you will be better positioned to make a good travel decision.

On The Road: I have extolled the value of TripIt in an earlier post. There is a free (ad driven) version as well as ad free offerings for both the iPhone and iPad  iPad (Free); iPad (No Ads); iPhone (Free); iPhone (No Ads)). It is hard to imagine a better organization tool, but if you have found something which rivals TripIt's functionality, please sure your thoughts in the Comment Section located nearby!

If you travel specific airlines frequently, or Southwest even occasionally since this airline doesn't allow its flight and cost information to be aggregated through third party services such as Orbitz, Expedia, or data driven sites such as Hipmunk and Kayak, you should download the airline specific App(s) if they exist. In addition to Southwest Airlines, I fly American and Delta with enough frequency to add their specific apps to my iOS travel folder. 

Mobile map wars are a very hot topic these days. It is widely speculated that Apple is going to announce it own map service in the next few weeks. This would be a quantum shift from Apple's reliance on Google Maps. Google in turn has provided a peremptory "glimpse" into its future mobile mapping agenda in the past few days. Today, Google Maps is a much better experience on Android devices. Included are turn by turn voice functionality and a more intuitive overall interface. 

At this writing, I find a good mapping service very valuable especially when traveling internationally. This is precisely where built in iOS Apps (and yes, Google Maps on Android in many cases), fall short. Ideally, I want voice turn by turn so I can concentrate on driving/traveling while away and the ability to download maps using inexpensive wi-fi at a hotel or public location and not spend what can be large sums of international data roaming downloading tiles from Google Maps on my mobile platform. (These issues either aren't material while in the US or are already resolved using built in Apps.)

While traveling internationally, I rely on GlobalNav. This App isn't free, but at $3.99 it may save you from making a wrong turn (or two) in a country where making a mistake can prove frustrating and perhaps costly. The current version does allow pre-downloading of map data and voice turn by turn guides. The software and maps aren't nearly as good as Google's offering, but they do have map data in international areas that surprisingly Google doesn't offer (in addition to the two key features mentioned). 

I am hopeful that Apple and Google continue to push each other in the online mapping arena. There are too many eyeballs and advertising dollars at stake for this slug fest not to continue. (Not to mention Apple's open hostility towards Google and what they consider professional betrayal of iOS in Android.) For the time being, it pays to have some International "friendly" map in your travel arsenal unless you planning on leaving the country for a direct visit to an all inclusive resort and have no plans on venturing further.

In Country: Speaking of venturing away, if you are heading to a location where your language skills may be wanting, be sure to add  Google Translate to your mobile travel folder! This free app offers two way translation in more than sixty (60) languages. If you believe as I do that attempting to communicate in the native language is appreciated by locals and adds to the adventure, you will find this App indispensable. Foreign language isn't my strong suit and even after years of high school and college Spanish (and a few years of  French in the distant past), I am far from fluent and I find myself reaching for this tool often. If I were to travel to other areas, Google Translate would be my best bet. Highly recommended.

We truly live in a connected world. When traveling in your home country most of us have generous, if no longer, "unlimited," data plans. All bets are off when roaming abroad! In fact, nothing can ruin your day more than returning home to a heart attack inducing bill for out of country data usage! There are many ways to minimize this issue. The first step is to be sure that you turn data roaming OFF while traveling.  (iOS users can find this setting under General | Network. Android has a similar setting.) Resisting the urge to snap ten quick pics and send them to grandma upon landing also helps. You should also turn OFF location services and any automatic update feeds you may have running in the background. I will make a comprehensive list of ways to manage this travel challenge but for this post, the best means of staying connected without breaking the bank is to use free wi fi while on the road. Depending on where your travels take you, finding free wi fi may be nearly as easy as turning the next corner or as elusive as discovering a four leaf clover under a double rainbow. Well not surprisingly, there are Apps to help out! This Free Wi-Fi App by JiWire allows you to search for wi fi spots around the world. Add it to your Travel Folder today and you can stay in touch with your virtual world without racking up megabytes of expensive roaming data. 

Observant readers will notice there is an empty slot in my Travel Folder. I am interested to hear what your "must have" travel apps are and add something new for my next adventure. Please sure your travel app treasures in the Comment Section below. Together we can help each other have better, more stress free, adventures which open the mind and soul to the world around us.....

Enjoy! If you find this post of interest, please share through Google+, Twitter and Facebook! We welcome your comments (which you can provide via the comment form below).

Earlier Posts In This Series on Travel:

Lessons From The Road (Part 1); Let TripIt Be Your Guide....
Lessons From The Road.... Online Deals Are Not Always Such A Deal.....
Expedia And The Rental Car....

I currently participate in Associate Programs and certain item links included within this post may tie to these affiliate programs. By using these links, you help support Music Row Tech, We appreciate your support.

I currently hold a Long Position in $APPL;  $GOOG

Companies: Apple; Google; Hipmunk; Kayak; TripAdvisor; Delta Airlines; Southwest Airlines; American Airlines; 

This commentary is not meant as an endorsement of any company or to provide financial advice.  If the author has any financial interest in any company mentioned at the time of this article’s posting, it will be explicitly noted. I welcome feedback and comments. 

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