My appreciation for technology is no secret, I even wrote a post titled Thank Goodness for Technology upon first moving to London and becoming wholly reliant on Viber for all international texting and calling. Now that I’ve lived abroad for awhile and frequently venture to countries where I don’t speak the local language, I’ve become even more dependent on technologies built with travelers in mind.
It’s ridiculous how much I rely on my iPhone for navigation in London despite living here six months. Imagine how helpless I feel without a functioning cell phone or WiFi connection trying to find my way in a foreign city. Heaven forbid I have to use a PAPER MAP. Do they even make those anymore? Let me confirm your suspicions…they do. Still, I try to avoid using paper maps because nothing says “Hey pickpockets, I’m a lost tourist if you want my wallet!” like walking around with your nose in a map. Just saying.
Paper maps have their time and place (mostly as decorative wall art in my future home). However, if you want to play it tech-savvy here are my top travel tools:
I use SkyScanner to search for the best airfares based on the dates I want to travel. My favorite aspect of this tool is you don’t need a destination in mind, so it’s like a virtual travel agent.
Once you’ve booked your flights you need a place to sleep. I’m getting too old to handle the hostel scene and I’ve never been brave enough to try couch surfing, but I don’t always need to stay in a luxurious hotel when I travel. I just need a place that’s safe and comfortable to sleep and has an internet connection. Voilà- Air BnB! You can rent rooms, apartments, or even entire homes from local residents who want to earn extra income or have made Air BnB rentals their full time gig. Sort by location, price, amenities, and reviews to find a fun alternative to your typical Marriott or Hilton. The best advantage I’ve had from staying at Air BnB rentals is they’re away from the touristy part of town so you can experience life as the locals do.
Now you’ve got flights, accommodations, and possibly some activities reserved while you’re traveling and you have ten different emails with all your travel details. Enter TripIt, a tool that connects to your email and automatically collates all trip documents, reservation numbers, and dates into a virtual portfolio to keep you organized.
CityMapper is my default navigation tool in London. It has all the public transportation data updated in real-time and shows you the fastest route along with all other options at a glance. Currently it only supports London, Paris, New York City, and Berlin but they’re expanding to new cities…stay tuned.
Google Maps is a long time favorite of mine, but it became even more powerful when I learned how to cache maps to work offline. Simply type “ok map” in your view to cache the data for use offline when you don’t have a WiFi connection. Detailed instructions here. So cool!
TripAdvisor offline guides
I’m a fan of TripAdvisor for researching hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants in a new town. I became a bigger fan once I discovered their Offline City Guides. Just download them when you have an internet connection and they’re stored in your mobile device or tablet until you delete them. They even include an interactive map that shows the nearest to-do’s sorted by proximity or reviews to make you a more efficient tourist. Lifesaver!
Other lessons learned:
- If you’re wandering a new city and need a quick WiFi connection, pop into a McDonald’s.
- Search your mobile app store for the highest rated language or translation apps if you’re nervous about traveling to a city where you’re not fluent in the language. There’s so many options out there to assist.
- Take a photo of each relevant page in your travel guide so you’re not hauling around heavy books.
- Select accommodations that include internet in the booking price. You’ll appreciate having that lifeline for trip research and to stay connected with people back home.
I hope you can use some of these tools to improve your future travels. Let me know if you have other favorite technologies I’ve left out.