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.
Many years ago, Rich and I were in northern India near the Pakistan border and wanted to take an overnight train that would get us to New Delhi at 7:00 in the morning.
We managed to get a private compartment; there was no bedding, of course, but we made ourselves reasonably comfortable during the chilly night by wrapping up in various sweaters and extra socks from our knapsacks. The bumpy ride was punctuated by many brief stops, and then, at 5:30 in the morning, the train lurched to a halt and stood still. Eventually, Rich rolled out of his bunk and wandered into the corridor to see what was happening. Two minutes later he came tearing back into the compartment shouting, “There’s a guy out here who says this is Delhi! Quick, grab our stuff!” We flung the extra sweaters and socks back into the bags, shoved our feet into shoes, tore down the corridor and jumped out onto the platform.
It was at that point that I began to wonder if we had been a trifle hasty. For one thing, there was no signage of any kind. Wouldn’t the train station of the nation’s capital be marked? We could be anywhere from Saharanpur to Gwalior for all we knew. Had some puckish wag in the train’s corridor decided to play a prank on us? Then there was the station itself. A single dim, fluorescent bulb cast a ghastly pallor over the platform without providing much illumination. Peering about in the gloom, I noticed what appeared to be dozens of sacks of potatoes scattered across the concrete, except that I could see the nearest one was breathing; this clued me in that they were actually people curled up sleeping under scraps of burlap. On the outer edges of the platform, a few men leaned against grimy walls, arms folded, scowling suspiciously. I knew just how they felt.
“You think this is really Delhi?” I said dubiously. But Rich had other things on his mind. “Did we get everything out of the compartment?” he asked. I was pretty sure we had, but he said, “I’d better go check.” Dropping his knapsack at my feet, he sprang back onto the train, striding off down the corridor and out of my sight.
That’s when the train began pulling out of the station.
I hate days that start like that. I never like being stranded in the dark, in an unknown city, surrounded by luggage and hostile-looking locals, before I’ve had coffee. As I was attempting to formulate a plan of action, Rich made a flying leap off the retreating train and landed on the platform beside me. “Nope, we got it all.” “Oh good,” I said. “For a moment there I was worried…”
I love wandering off into life’s little byways and detours, but there are times – such as 5:30 in the morning – when it is a comfort to know where you are. But that’s not always easy, even in these modern times. Seville, for instance, is famous for printing maps that are technically incorrect. Local cartographers take pride in giving you a more nuanced understanding of the city, so they’ll make a useful little alley appear three times its actual size to be sure you don’t overlook it, and leave off streets you’re unlikely to need. I’m forever seeing tourists huddled on street corners, clutching their maps, and wailing, “But it says right here…!” The information fed to your GPS is equally inaccurate, as the city has been reconfiguring traffic patterns at a rate that is apparently too rapid for satellite uploads to track. One friend of mine is always hotly berating her navigation system for leading her down one-way streets the wrong way. I can almost hear her long-suffering GPS wailing, “But it says right here…!”
Track My Tour lets you flag each major stop on your route, then add photos and comments.
So I was naturally skeptical at first when Rich told me about Track My Tour, a free app that uses GPS to create a real-time diary of your trip, complete with a map on which you can mark your progress and add your own comments and photos. But I soon became intrigued by the possibilities, and we decided to track our recent journey from Seville to London to San Francisco.
Luckily, you have complete discretion about who can see your site and what information you upload. If you don’t want the folks back home to know you took an overnight detour to Vegas or that you got off the train at the wrong station, you simply don’t enter that information. And not to keep you in suspense any longer, that creepy train station did turn out to be New Delhi. I’m only sorry we don’t have any Track My Tour uploads that would let you see it for yourself. But maybe some things are still best left to the imagination…
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 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 garments, gear, gadgets and supplies that find their way into our suitcases.
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.