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.
I'm an American travel writer currently living in California.
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