I’m not saying I’m jealous, but back in August, when Rich first bought his iPad, he was holding it in his lap all day, taking it to bed every night and occasionally getting into spats with it when it exhibited annoying behavior. But I didn’t get seriously worried until he started buying it gifts. “Look what I can get for it,” he’d say, showing me yet another app he’d bookmarked for his new darling. “Here’s one that has the schedules for every train in Europe. And it’s only $2.99!” I suppose I should be grateful that they don’t sell a diamond necklace app. (And if they do, for heaven’s sake don’t tell Rich about it.)
But I have to admit that Rich’s obsession with apps has paid off, as our iPad can now perform all sorts of clever tricks, such as doing currency conversions in the blink of a pixel and asking directions in 100 languages. And despite all this dazzling brainpower, we’re hardly overspending; except for iRail, which cost $2.99, all the apps on our top ten list are free.
1. For all around usefulness, it’s hard to beat Triposo, an interactive guide to 8000 locations: their history, culture, festivals, places to stay, language, health and safety issues, local time and more. The travel log feature lets you share stories and photos with family and friends throughout your journey.
2. Even with Triposo, travel research is never tidy, and we always wind up with tons of bookmarked sites and snippets of information we need to corral into retrievable form, and that’s where Evernote comes in. I find it clunky to use, and the graphics have all the warmth and charm of an old Soviet bunker, but it provides a solid, utilitarian structure for assembling information into a coherent system.
3. Many of our trips start with a map taped to the kitchen wall, but our mobile choice is the map app Galileo Offline. Its built-in GPS pinpoints your location, shows where you’ve been, determines the best route to your next destination and highlights designated stopping points – cafés, ATMs, etc. – along the way.
4. For us, with our upcoming railway journey through Central and Eastern Europe, transportation is all about trains, and iRail puts European railroad timetables at our fingertips. Rich has calculated a dozen different ways to get from here to there, and (with any luck) back again.
5. We greatly prefer colorful local places to McLuxury hotels (see A Flophouse for Nightcrawlers). So we’re excited to try the app that instantly connects us with AirBnB, the hot new system of private, informal rentals, from rooms to entire houses. Even if we do wind up at a few funky places (why does the Bates Motel spring to mind?), at least we’ll have some stories to tell.
6. Google Translate lets you type in a phrase and see the local equivalent spring onto the screen. And for places such as Bulgaria, where entering “Is this a good bar?” gives you “Дали това е добър бар,” there’s an audio button so you can listen to the correct pronunciation – if you can hear it over the chatter and clinking glasses of the place in question. The app even offers Esperanto, although I’m not sure how many Esperanto bars you’re likely to wander into.
7. If only we’d had XE Currency to check the exchange rate the last time we were in Milan, which was back before they converted to the euro. At the end of a particularly jovial evening, Rich lost track of the decimal places in the lira and left a tip larger than the bill. He was wondering why the waiters kept shaking his hand and begging him to come back soon. I’m not sure, but they may have been speaking Esperanto at the time.
8. Free Wi-Fi Finder helps you find a nearby, no-cost place to get online. This app is far from comprehensive – it fails to list tons of places I know of in Seville, for example – but it’s a useful start.
9. You can also search out wi-fi zones using Skype Wi-Fi. If there are connection fees, it will automatically deduct them from your regular Skype account. It’s very convenient, but before you settle in for an hour-long chat with mum, be sure you know how much you’re paying; some locations, such as airports, can be pricey.
10. Track My Tour lets you update family and friends about your trip using a real-time map with photos and comments. For more see my post Was Lost But Now I’m Found ... Or Maybe Not. I prefer providing you with updates via this blog, but Rich found a security purpose for this app (yes, in addition all those detailed in last week’s post!). We’ll make daily entries on Track My Tour, and a few friends have volunteered to monitor them; if we seem to be in hot water, they’ve promised to send in the cavalry.
But with any luck at all, we won’t need the cavalry, just enough connectivity to keep posting on this blog all summer. Meanwhile, if you learn of any other great travel apps, let me know! Rich and his iPad both will be celebrating birthdays this summer, and I’m looking for gift ideas.
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about packing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about the gear and gadgets we consider essential for civilized travel.
Next summer, Rich and I will walk out our door in Seville, stroll to the train station with our rolling luggage, and board a train to begin a journey that will last several months and cover thousands of miles. No reservations, just a Eurail pass and an iPad full of information about possible destinations. We'll wend our way by easy stages through Central and Eastern Europe, winding up in Transylvania and some of the more obscure Balkan countries, seeking offbeat side trips and adventures, passing through just about every type of terrain and climate Europe has to offer. So how are we packing for this? I'm glad you asked.
In the cult classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur and Ford take off into the universe carrying nothing but a towel and an electronic guide book, both of which come in extremely handy for them.
For our big trip next summer, Rich and I will be packing a towel and an iPad – which is strikingly like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy except that it doesn’t have “Don’t Panic” written across it in large, friendly letters (although I may add this along the way).
Like Arthur and Ford, we travel light. Rich always says: “The first rule of packing is to lay out all your clothes and all your money, then take half the clothes and twice the money.”
The second rule: choose the right suitcase. Not many people know this, but Rich has a luggage fetish. He adores shopping for suitcases, and even if we haven’t the remotest intention of purchasing one, he finds it almost physically painful to bypass a promising luggage shop anywhere in the world. In moments of extreme stress, I can always turn his thoughts to a more cheerful direction by casually remarking, “I saw a suitcase today that might interest you...”
When it comes to luggage, less is definitely more. We’ll constantly be hauling ours on and off trains and dragging it up and down stairs in hotels too old and quaint to boast an elevator. That’s why we’ve chosen ultra-light IT-0-1 suitcases from an Austrailian company called it luggage. It claims this is “officially the world’s lightest 2-wheeled case,” and I can attest it’s the lightest we’ve found. Mine (a slightly older model) is 54 x 34 x 19 cm (21 x 13 x 7.5 inches) and weighs a very modest 1.8 kilos (4 lbs.).
As to purses, I’ve gone from lightweight to none at all. In an effort to foil would-be pickpockets, I’ll be carrying my smaller necessities in a cunning black vest with 17 pockets, most of which are cleverly concealed on the inside. It’s amazing how much you can pack in one of these vests (Kindles! Water bottles!) if you don’t mind looking a trifle chubbier. My biggest problem is remembering what goes in which pocket. Luckily, Scottevest provides a diagram to get you started.
Rich bought Koyono’s Classic Genius Travel Coat. Although it comes with a mere 14 pockets, it does have a zip-out liner and lots of other cool features. Including its own video.
One pocket is specially designed to carry an iPad (or your Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and no doubt there is room in there somewhere for a towel or two. Rich has never been happier. Not only does he get to wheel around the latest in high-tech luggage, now he’s wearing it as well.
This post was written in response to the many questions we've been asked about how to pack for such a long and varied trip. Unlike some of our better-organized and more practical blogger friends, we haven't obtained free or discounted gear in return for promoting anything on this blog. We're just letting you know what products we consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about the garments, gear and gadgets we'll be packing!
This blog is a promotion-free zone!
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
I think of my blog as an ongoing conversation, so please join in and leave comments at the end of my posts.
Sign up below to get updates when I publish anything new.