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. This is an area in the Southwest where you can stand in four states at one time – New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. We will be visiting 4 National Parks and about 5 National Monuments so it is going to be a great adventure.
20 Most visited National Monuments
10 Most visited National Parks
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 but this year I will also be taking my new iPhone 3Gs and the countless apps which I have come to use quite extensively. (Yes there is actually an app for finding NPR Stations) Although I have not used all of the apps I am going to be listing, 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 guide books, my favorite 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 i-phone for 5.99- 7.99 which is less than the cost of their books. They do not have the Four Corners Guidebook for the i-phone so I reviewed the San Francisco Guidebook. While I would not use iPhone app as my main source for information, it would be good 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 to coordinate all of your information for any trip that you take. It stores all your confirmations, destinations etc. It 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 ala Travel Channel celebrities Anthony Bourdain, Samantha Brown and Adam Richman. If you love the Travel Channel, you will love this app.
One of the apps 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 make GPS systems obsolete soon.
I would never go on vacation without having most of my hotels reservations made in advance, but there have been some vacations when were travelling from one location to another and we had to spend one night on the road and we did not have reservations. 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 read about but have not yet used are:
Priceline Negotiator (Free) (www.priceline.com) is used just like its website where you can name your price. It also gives user reviews and gives directions from your current location. This is currently only available for the iPhone.
Hotelsbyme.com – (Free) is available on both the iPhone and Android (which is getting good reviews, BTW) and it works with Expedia and Hotels.com network. It gives the rates for locations nearest your current location so it is good for travel. A quick review, though, seemed to indicate that they only gave 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 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, Choice Hotels (Clarion, Comfort Inn etc) seems to have one of the best hotel chain apps. (http://tinyurl.com/deel9a)
And if you can never remember your room number, they have an app for that. It is called Room(Free) (http://www.nodconcept.com/iphone/app/travel/room.html) You type in your room number and it will save it. When you leave, you shake your phone and it disappears.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
I find this is often the most difficult part of the trip, deciding where to eat. Here are a few apps that might make it a little easier.
Urbanspoon (Free) (www.urbanspoon.com) is a quirky little app that searches for restaurants near your location using the phone’s GPS and it appears like a slot machine. You 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 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. If you want to see a video of how it works, it is available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQwUZe5Ms08
Yelp.com (Free) is fast becoming one of the best sites for local reviews for all types of events and businesses. I downloaded it and searched on 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. There is an app from NPR(http://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 review and video see http://www.articlesbase.com/videos/5min/63261190
ATM Hunter.com (Free) Use this to find the nearest ATM in a new location. For all smartphones including the Android
GateGuru (1.99) This app is great to help you find what restaurants, ATM’s, businesses are nearest to your gate. This is even more useful since most people are taking food onto their flights.
Flight Tracking – There are a number of flight tracking apps, Flight Status – Live 4.99, Flight Track – Live, 4.99, Flight Update – Live – 3.99, that will allow you to track all your flights up to one year with updates and other information.
TakeMeToMyCar – (Free) Have you ever lost your rental car in a parking lot because you forgot what it looked like. This app will track its location and when you start it, it will give your walking directions back to your car. It is also good for your own car and those senior moments in large parking garages.
Ibabelingo.com – (3.99) 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. This app has useful phrases which you can hear in 11 different languages.
WiFi Finder (Free) If you have an iPhone, you know that battery life is a problem so if you can find a WiFi spot to use, you can save some money and battery. http://www.jiwire.com/iphone is a good app for this.
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 zipcode. I have not used it but it is free so next time I am desperate and I can’t find a Starbucks (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 had the best time doing this article. 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 get some great suggestions. And when you are standing in line at the airport, ask some of people in line their favorites and 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 at MSBALOMA.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller Enjoy the view.