Tech Help for Travel
One thing that can be said for smartphones is that a world of essential information is immediately in your hands. Over the past few years, I have found some mobile apps that have really helped during my travels. There are so many out there, but I have narrowed down a variety of my favorites.
Mobile Passport Control
I tried this out on a recent international trip, and it worked like a charm. After you download the app, you scan your passport and can add family members as well. Within four hours of landing at your destination, you are able to fill in the required information about your flight and trip. Going through customs, we were led to a different line where I would say we saved at least 30 - 40 minutes.
The MyTSA app also gives lots of helpful information that travelers might like to know, such as: crowd-sourced wait times at TSA checkpoints, delays and airport weather, what items you can bring through sercurity, how busy the airport is at certain times using historical data, and having a handy guide at your fingertips when you need it.
Having TSA's PreCheck program is convenient and will save you time going through security (no need to take off your shoes, jacket or take out your electronics).
For travel, I find Trip Advisor to be the most reliable and objective review app. You can search for just about anything you may need for your trip. I don't take the word of every review but more use Trip Advisor as a consensus app. I look beyoned the best few and the worst reviews, and I can usually find a fair testament of the restaurant, property, or attraction.
Between Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline, and Booking, the information and pricing is relatively close between one app and the other. What I like about Booking is that there seems to be more information about the property, great photographs, around the area information, and they are easy to work with if you need to change a reservation.
Kayak used to be my go to flight booking app. Recently I stumbled upon Hopper, which was extremely handy to finding the best fares for the days you want to travel. You can set up notifications that will let you know when to purchase or when to wait for a better price.
Sometimes I just daydream about where I want to go next and Airbnb is fun for that as well as booking a stay in a house rather than a hotel. I have used Airbnb over a dozen times and though I like it very much, I have had some issues where the place does not look nearly as nice as the pictures. To this point, I do take the time to read the reviews to see if I can find out any more information.
One of the ways I use Google Maps is to create a map with a pin of all the places I want to visit during a trip for easy reference. I can pin my hotel, special restaurants I want to go to, museums, and more. This way I can generally have an idea of how far and realistic certain stops will be. Of course, works great to get directions.
With the free Duolingo app you can learn a new language in a fun way at your own pace. Each lesson takes about five minutes, which is perfect for the downtime you have when traveling. This is not an app that will make you fluent. If that is your goal, you’ll definitely need to supplement your studies with something else. Duolingo will teach you a ton of useful vocabulary. Before your visit, learn a few simple phrases that may assist in engaging with the locals.
CalConvert is a handy advanced calculator that has many useful functions (27+), especially for travelling. It is also perfect for cooking, solving equations, and calculating currency conversion rates. The app itself contains conversions for over 150 types of currency and works completely offline. The basic app is free, but if you want to remove the ads, it will cost you $6.99.
Over one billion people use WhatsApp, sending over 65 billion messages per day. Messages can only be sent to contacts who also have WhatsApp installed. Users also have the option of sharing their location with those they're chatting with. Messages are completely private and users can literally "send a million messages a day" and not be charged (except for whatever data fees apply according to your carrier's plan). The app shares user data with its parent company Facebook unless you opt out when you first download the app.
Uber (or Lyft)
Uber has been expanding quickly across the globe and is currently available in 200 different cities. You probably have used Uber, and over the years it has become more prevalent in other countries. Uber even gives you a fare quote according to your location and destination before you even decide to call a car, so you can see exactly what the cost will be without any surprises.