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June 8, 2015

Five Essential Apps for Vacationers

Image courtesy of (samuiblue)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether it’s a bucket-list trip to Europe or a road trip to Yosemite, travel is easier in the digital age. Websites compile reviews of hotels, restaurants and attractions so you don’t have to suffer through terrible food or an uncomfortable room while away from home. GPS help you find your way around, and instant translators help you navigate through town – or through dinner – with relative ease. If you’re heading out of town this summer, here are the five apps you shouldn’t leave home without.

If you’ve planned a trip recently, you’ve likely discovered the mountain of paperwork that comes with making reservations. Confirmation emails from your flight, hotel, rental car, train tickets, dinner reservations and special events, all lost like little needles in the haystack of your email inbox. Tracking down your reservation number in a pinch can be a real hassle.

TripIt is a free travel itinerary organizer that puts all your travel details in one easy to view and access place. All you have to do is set up a free account and email your various confirmation messages to plans@tripit.com. TripIt compiles your reservations into one master itinerary, which you can access from any web-enabled device. Selectively share your travel details via email or social media to keep friends and family abreast of your plans. Upgrade to TripIt Pro for $49/year to get real-time flight alerts, “better seat” notifications, an alternate flight locator (to give you a leg up on your fellow travellers in the event of a last-minute flight cancellation), and a reward point tracker for all those airline miles you’re wracking up.

Before installing the Yelp app on my phone, travelling led me to eat at some shady places. It wasn’t intentional. I was hungry and wandering an unfamiliar locale, lured in to an establishment by the promise of tasty vittles, unenlightened as to their quality or freshness. Thank goodness those days are over.

Yelp offers travelers a local’s insight into restaurants everywhere so you can be (reasonably) assured that you won’t suffer through bad food or cranky service while on vacation. Users post reviews and give a star rating based on their experience. It’s hard to get bad food at a joint with four or more stars and hundreds of reviewers singing its praises. Simply enter a category of food in the app search function (or just choose “restaurants”) and a list of options in your geographical area will appear, like gastronomic magic.

While Yelp does offer hotel reviews, I’ve found Trip Advisor to be more comprehensive with regards to accommodations. There are detailed reviews from fellow travelers for hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and just about anywhere you may choose to lay your head. You can find recommendations based on type (i.e., family friendly, budget, romantic, etc.) or simply search by geographic area. Don’t ever again suffer through a bad night’s sleep while on vacation.

Once you know where you want to go, getting there is no sweat if you’ve got the Google Maps app installed on your smartphone. Turn-by-turn navigation is offered to your destination via car, public transportation or on foot. Public transit schedules in major cities are included with your trip plan when you choose the public transportation tab, and time you’ll spend waiting for the bus or train is included in travel time estimates. This is a great way to determine if you should wait for the bus or hoof it.

Most businesses can be found by name, without having to know a specific street address, and you can quickly find restaurants, bars, venues and attractions in the area – including those tagged as “local favorites” – by clicking on the area detail. Login with your Google account ID (likely the same as your Gmail account login) to save addresses that you’ll likely frequent on your trip, like your hotel or the airport.

Finally, if you’ve ever struggled to decipher the offerings on a foreign menu, only to discover that you inadvertently ordered cow tongue when you thought you were ordering meatloaf, Google Translate could save you from a number of travel headaches. It offers real-time translation of text or spoken words. You can manually type a word or phrase, write it with a stylus, or take a picture of written text (like from a menu or street sign) and the app will give you an instant translation. You can also have the app translate spoken words in real time, conversing naturally and having Google translate with either written text or audibly. It supports more than 90 languages, though the visual translate feature (where you can take a photo and get a translation) is only for English translations to/from French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Happy travels!


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Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.

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