When I think back to my travel experiences before all the nifty tools we take for granted now, it amazes me how much these tools have changed the travel experience and made it so much easier.
How things have changed!
Just the contrast of my experiences travelling to Thailand my first a second times (15 years apart), there was a huge difference in convenience: being able to use google maps instead of a paper map; having a translation app instead of carrying around a phrasebook; booking hotels online as we went along, instead of being tied to a more set itinerary due to advanced reservations; checking reviews on the go as opposed to buying travel guidebooks ahead of time.
Here are just a few of the tech tools I currently use (or have used) to facilitate my travels
Connectivity: It all starts with having a connection. Having all your itinerary saved in the cloud, or having google maps loaded on your phone doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have internet access. Depending on the country and type of trip I am taking, one of the first things I do may be to get a local SIM card (with data) for my phone. Usually these are available right at the airport, and even if it might be a few bucks more expensive than you can get in town, it’s handy to just grab it right away instead of having to hunt around for a store to buy it from. Any time I have bought the local SIM, it always works out cheaper than using my home carrier’s world roaming plan which is $10/day. If I know I will always be in areas with free Wifi, and won’t need to use my phone while on the move (such as an all-inclusive beach vacation), I skip the local SIM, put my phone on airplane mode and switch on Wifi only to save the roaming fees.
Equipment: Oh, the eternal question: what to bring and what to leave behind? For me on a typical trip, this includes my smartphone, e-reader (I love my Kobo, and have tried almost every model that they have released over the years), probably also a tablet (I’m partial to Samsung), and yes, I confess, especially on a longer trip, I bring my laptop with me (also currently a Samsung). If I have to look up anything of substance (such as booking hotels while on the go), I really much prefer to have the laptop. If I’m going to be gone for multiple weeks, I won’t have to patience to manage all my email just on my smart phone, so the laptop, for me, is necessary. If I’m really trying to minimize what I bring (which I confess, is not my strong suit), I will force myself to make a choice of either the tablet or the laptop (but the phone and the e-book always come along) This may vary depending on who I’m travelling with and how connected/equipped they tend to be themselves. I often find myself in the position as the “provider of the tech” when travelling with friends who are less inclined to bring their gadgets along.
For Advice, Guidance and Bookings: While I still cherish my collection of books by Lonely Planet, Frommers, Fodors, Rough Guides, and Blue Guides, and I used to bring these along with me during my travels, these books now just reside quietly on my bookshelves at home as a fond reminder of past trips. I do still buy the occasional book to learn about destinations and get inspired in my planning process for future travels, but these days, I buy them for my Kobo e-reader. There is an endless supply of websites out there to help inform the travel-planning process. In addition to destination-specific sites developed by local tourist boards of wherever I may be visiting, TripAdvisor sits at the top of my list of informative sites to for reading reviews, getting advice, learning about essential experiences, and even booking activities. Dedicated booking sites I have used and found handy include Agoda, Hotels.com, and Booking.com. Of course, there are tons of great independent writers and bloggers out there with valuable information as well. My searches for these sources always start simply with Google.
For Navigating and Getting Around: This is one of the aspects that truly amazes me when I think back to how I used to try to get around in the days before smartphones. No more paper maps, no more awkward conversations asking for directions in a country where I don’t speak the language, very few wrong turns or being taken on the long route by a taxi to drive up the fare. Google Maps is essential for walking, biking, or driving. Rideshare apps such as Uber, Lyft, or Grab (I have happily used all three) make getting around so much easier; they help in overcoming language barriers, make it easier to follow the route you are being driven on, make paying (and tipping) easier, and make it so much easier to keep track of what you have spent on transportation (which is handy if you are splitting costs with friends).
Translation: No more dragging around phasebooks and butchering languages with my spotty pronunciation (one day I’ll write the story of my 16-year-old self repeating “beef milk” over and over from my Greek phrasebook to puzzled looks of a shopkeeper in Athens). My go-to tools in this area are currently the Google Translate app and Google Lens, though there are a number of great options out there that work similarly. There are some really exciting developments coming up in the area of translation, and pretty soon, we’ll have a real Babel Fish that we can stick in our ears and instantly understand anything we hear. I’m keeping an eye on the Ambassador Translator to see if it’s worth picking one up before my next international trip (if anyone has tried, it drop me a line and tell me what you think of it).
Communications: From staying in touch with loved-ones at home, making reservations, calling to advise your bank that you are indeed travelling and that was you just trying to book a flight and could they please unfreeze your card (or calling your credit card to have a fraudulent charge removed), having a way to make calls and send messages is a lifeline. How long ago it seems thinking back to the times when we had to find a landline and go through the international operator to make an expensive collect call. Honestly, I much prefer the text method these days, so I don’t have to worry about calculating time zones to avoid accidentally waking someone up by calling at the wrong time, but I’m happy that some apps provide both options. Currently downloaded on my device I have Whatsapp, Skype, Telegram, and FB Messenger. Of course, there’s also email… there’s always email.
What other elements make up part of your travel technology toolkit? Stop by the Travel Variety Community Facebook Group and share your recommendations!
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article where I will cover my favourite tech options for safety and security, and organizing important travel documents for easy access while globetrotting..