This is my favorite column of the year, when I get to write about travel, which you know is one of my great passions. I love to travel. And for me, almost anything counts as travel – from day hikes in Western Maryland to National Parks to Europe and beyond.
This year is our domestic vacation/National Park year, and we are headed to Four Corners, an area in the Southwest where you can stand in four states at once – New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. We will be visiting four National Parks and about five National Monuments over the course of the trip, so it is going to be a great adventure. (For a list of the 20 most-visited National Monuments, visit www.latimes.com/travel/la-tr-nationalmonuments-most-pg,0,4144182.photogallery; for a list of the 10 most-visited National Parks, go to www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/national-parks-47111101.)
potato chips - you can't stop with just one.
As with all of our domestic vacations, I will be taking my laptop to make sure I can find and listen to an NPR station (yes, there is actually an app for this), but this year I will also be taking my new iPhone 3Gs…and the countless apps which I have come to use quite extensively. Although I have not yet used all of the apps listed below, I have downloaded them for my trip. Many are free, but a few cost up to $2.99, and I will mention those facts.
- Although I plan on using my iPhone apps, I will still be using tried and true guidebooks, my favorites being the Lonely Planet series (www.lonelyplanet.com). They also have a free app which gives you a San Francisco Guide and a Mexican Spanish Audio Phrasebook. The app also allows you to download 50 of their guides to your iPhone for 5.99 – 7.99, which is less than the cost of their books. They do not have the Four Corners Guidebook for the iPhone, so I reviewed the San Francisco Guidebook. While I would not use an iPhone app as my main source for information, it would be useful for restaurants and walking tours. I would also consider spending the money to have one of the guides available on my phone.
- I am a planner and I like to have everything planned as much as possible, so I can enjoy vacation rather than doing all the work while I am there. I also like to have my information at my fingertips to avoid hassles. (I hate hassles, especially on vacation, and being organized helps me have a more relaxed vacation.) I started using Tripit.com, which is an online tool for coordinating all of your information for any trip that you take. It stores all of your confirmations, destinations, etc., and then offers suggestions based on your trip. It does have an app, so you can store that information on your phone and access it from anywhere.
- Another good general app is TravelChannel GO (free), which gives you wonderful information on how to explore an area like a local, a la Travel Channel celebrities Anthony Bourdain, Samantha Brown and Adam Richman. If you love the Travel Channel, you will love this app.
- One app I use all the time is Google Maps, which comes with all smartphones. I use it to find all locations, both locally and out of town. It is even better than a GPS, and I predict it will soon render GPS systems obsolete.
I would never go on vacation without having most of my hotels reservations made in advance, but there have been some occasions when, en route from one location to another, we’ve had to spend one night on the road without prior reservations. In those cases, I used either a AAA book (yes, I still belong to AAA) or a guidebook and called various locations. With an app, you can do all of that on your phone. Some of the apps which I have read about but not yet used include:
- Priceline Negotiator (www.priceline.com; free) is used just like its website, where you can name your price. It also offers user reviews and gives directions from your current location. This app is currently only available for the iPhone.
- Hotelsbyme.com (free) is available on both the iPhone and Android (which is getting good reviews, by the way) and it works with the Expedia and Hotels.com networks. It gives the rates for locations nearest your current location, so it is good for travel. A quick review, though, seemed to indicate that it only gives the current list rate, and it did not appear there was any way to check for discounts such as with AARP or AAA, so it still might be best to call for discount rates.
- If you prefer to stay in a specific hotel chain, all of them have apps, and you should Google those before you leave on a trip and download the app. According to HotelChatter.com (http://tinyurl.com/deel9a), Choice Hotels (Clarion, Comfort Inn, etc.) seems to have one of the best hotel chain apps.
- And if you can never remember your room number, they have an app for that, too. It is called Room (www.nodconcept.com/iphone/app/travel/room.html; free). You type in your room number, and it will save it. When you leave, simply shake your phone and it disappears.
Food, Glorious Food
I often find deciding where to eat the most difficult part of the trip. Here are a few apps that might make it a little easier:
- Urbanspoon (www.urbanspoon.com; free) is a quirky little app that searches for restaurants near your location using the phone’s GPS. It looks like a slot machine; shake it, and it spins and gives you a restaurant with information on price and type of food. If you are interested, you can see more, or, if you are not interested, you can shake it again. I found it a little annoying, but I used it in DC and found a good restaurant. It also gives reviews once you chose a particular location. There is a video on YouTube showing how it works (www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQwUZe5Ms08).
- Yelp.com (free) is fast becoming one of the best sites for local reviews of all types of events and businesses. I downloaded it and conducted a search for food in Moab, Utah, and it listed 10 places with reviews, price category, type of food and location.
Other Cool Apps
- As I mentioned earlier, I need to listen to NPR every day, no matter where I am in this country. NPR offers an app (www.npr.org/services/mobile/iphone.php) that will tell you the station with the strongest signal near your location. In addition, there is an even better app that allows you to listen to any NPR station from your iPhone. Public Radio Player (www.publicradioplayer.org; free) allows you to listen live via streaming audio to any NPR Station in the country, regardless of your location. I would not use this in place of my laptop in my hotel, but for walking or running it is great. Note that this really uses up the battery, so you will need to recharge regularly. According to their website, they are working on an app for the Android.
- iWant (free) is an app that helps you find not only restaurants (like Yelp and Urbanspoon) but movie times, banks, dry cleaners, pharmacies and other places. For a review and video, visit www.articlesbase.com/videos/5min/63261190.
- >Use ATMHunter.com (free) to find the nearest ATM in a new location. It is available for all smartphones, including the Android.
- GateGuru ($1.99) is great at airports to help you find what restaurants, ATMs and businesses are nearest to your gate. This is even more useful, since most people are taking food onto their flights.
- There are a number of flight-tracking apps, including Flight Status – Live ($4.99), Flight Track – Live ($4.99) and Flight Update – Live ($3.99) – that will allow you to track all your flights for up to one year with updates and other information.
- Have you ever lost your rental car in a parking lot because you forgot what it looked like? TakeMeToMyCar (free) will track its location and, when you start it, give you walking directions back to your car. It is also good for your own car, and those senior moments in large parking garages.
- As I mentioned last year when we were in Central Europe, I need to learn a few important phrases for those times when I need a bathroom and no one speaks English. Ibabelingo.com ($3.99) features useful phrases which you can hear in 11 different languages.
- If you have an iPhone, you know that battery life is a problem. WiFi Finder (www.jiwire.com/iphone; free) is a good app to help you find a WiFi spot to use, so you can save some money and battery life.
- Finally, as a long-distance runner, I know where every available restroom is within 100 miles of Baltimore. But on the road, it is not as easy. There is an app for that called SitorSquat (www.sitorsquat.com) which gives information on public bathrooms within a zip code. I have not used it, but it is free, so next time I am desperate and can’t find a Starbucks (yes, there is an app for that, also), I will try it.
Apps are like potato chips – you can’t stop with just one. I have downloaded about 25 apps for my travels. The best way to find apps for your type of phone is to Google travel apps for the iPhone or Android or Blackberry, and you will find some great suggestions. And when you are standing in line at the airport, ask other people in line about their favorites (you will find people love to talk about their favorite apps).
If you have any personal favorites, forward them to me and I will list them on the MSBA LOMA site and send out a Tweet @ MSBALOMA.
“One’s destination is never a place,” noted writer Henry Miller, “but a new way of seeing things.” Enjoy the view.