Got any trips planned? Business junket? Family vacation? Around the world in 80 days-tour? Well if you’re traveling these days, you need not only to be aware of long lines, crazy security, ebola screenings, weather emergencies, and radar tower mishaps, but also of the great tools and resources available to travelers.
I am talking sweet mobile apps, resource-rich websites, wonderful journalists and bloggers, cool new hardware, and tips on everything from avoiding jetlag to finding the tastiest street food a block from your hotel. Travel, even for business, should be a fun adventure and an opportunity to see new places and experience new things and new people. To get the most from your trip, I advise you to turn to your old friend: technology! Whether you use the internet to map your journey, or a cool app to track your wandering technology can be your best friend, particularly when your destination is a place where you don’t speak the language.
So take advantage of your next travel opportunity; plan ahead, prepare well, watch your budget, stay someplace cool, and pick your activities for maximum fun.
Getting there is where it starts and ends – it should be as easy to do the booking as it is to execute the actual trip. This means that you will need everything from a great online tool to find airline tickets to an app that aggregates your trip information to the right memberships which allow for easy booking and seamless transitions. Here are a few ideas and resources which can make the entire process as pain-free as can be expected:
- First step is to book the flight. The sweetest interface of the travel search sites? Try Adioso, a clean intuitive interface, quality results and fast fast fast!
- Here’s what I recommend: start planning a few weeks ahead, punch in your flight requirements (city, dates, airline preferences) and then sit back and wait for the price-drop alerts to start rolling in. Kayak’s Yapta.com tracks fares and notifies you via e-mail or Tweet when the cost of your itinerary drops. Nice.
- Traveling to multiple cities overseas? If you search the travel sites, the prices for flights between, for instance, European cities can be steeeeep. WhichBudget.com is a flight search engine that scans the local, budget airlines not listed on sites like Kayak and Hipmunk.
Preparing Packing can be crazy troublesome as can preparing all of the particulars for the trip, but with some careful attention to detail and a few cool tools, you can prep like a pro.
- What to pack, what to pack… I don’t mean how many pair of socks or which sport coat; I mean wehat kind of suitcase do you travel with. Here’s a cool one! Bluesmart is a suitcase that comes with connectivity: an app let’s you lock and unlock it, weigh it, track its location, and be notified if you walk too far away leaving it behind. It also has a built in battery and charging system that lets you charge up your devises on the go!
- What’s the weather likely to be? Make sure your phone is packing a good weather app that allows you to see the local forecast for whatever city you’re in or the next one on your schedule. I really like Yahoo’s weather app – it’s a super simple interface, clean and usable and it displays beautifully curated photos of your location (from Flickr, of course).
- For those of us who are looking to save a few bucks, Seth Kugel write a great column on the NY Times: the Frugal Traveler gives great tips and recommendations for hotels, restaurants (and street food!), sights, and activities for those with limited cash. Of course I wouldn’t necessarily choose to stay in some of the sketchier hostelks that Mr. Kugel frequents, but plenty of savings can be found!
- One other tip? Traveling across multiple time zones and want to arrive with a little bit of your energy intact? Here’s a great piece on how NASA pilots avoid jet lag!
Where to stay This decision is essential, especially if you’re staying for an extended length of time. Wait, check that. It is essential even if staying for a short length of time! The neighborhood you choose will determine the overall ambience of your stay and the hotel you choose (or apartment you rent) can make a huge difference in the overall impression of the place you’re visiting.
- If you have never used Airbnb, I recommend checking it out.. now. I’ll wait. You back? See – isn’t that cool? Airbnb allows people to put their homes or spare rooms up for short-term rentals and everyone wins! Well, I suppose the hotel chains might argue with me on that one, but what could be better than renting a great flat in a great neighborhood in a great destination?
- You like that idea of staying in someone else’s home, but your budget is too tight even for that? Well Couchsurfing may be for you. This site hooks you up with locals all over the world who are willing to let you sleep on their sofa (or in the spare room) and experience life as a local. Super cheap and tons of street cred.
- How about a vacation where your lodging will cost you exactly nothing? There are lots of sites that allow you to find someone who wants to swap their home for yours, usually for short periods of time, but the grand-daddy of them is HomeExchange.com which started as a printed mailer and has been around since 1992. Your “partners” stay at your place and you get to stay at their’s and all you have to do is arrange a place to pick up the keys and leave a set of instructions.
- How about this: Monastery stays. Really? There are religious institutions all over the world where you can stay a few nights or a few months, often times living the cloistered life and working for your room and board. Not for everyone, but….
What to do there Outside of the endless meetings involved in the work portion of your trip, the time you can keep available for other activities should be maximized. Use that free afternoon or those evening hours to explore your surroundings, soak up local culture, eat as much of the food as you can, and drink like the locals. There are some wonderful resources for this, but the best advice I can give is to take your smartphone and pony up for a data plan. It’s all well and good to be able to make a phone call while you’re overseas, but the real value comes from being able to map directions, look up a restaurant, reserve a museum ticket, or translate whatever it is that lady in the butcher shop is trying to tell you.
- Wanna keep a cool log of everyplace you go and the routes you walked to get there? A cool app I use to track my wanderings is LiveTrekker. It shows your path on a map and allows you to add notes, photos, and videos of the interesting things you see along the way. Think of it as a journal for your meanderings…
- Another great column on the NY Times is the “36 hours” series. Travel writers share their suggestions for places to see, eat, and stay when you’re visiting a city for just a couple of days. It’s invaluable advice when trying to choose between going to the museum or out drinking!
- Speaking of 36 hours – check out this integration with Google maps that they just released!
- Finally, have you ever been in the České republice a nemohl najít někoho, kdo mluví anglicky? Install the Google Translate app on your phone and you can get great and useful translations right there, and communicate so well with the person in front of you!
Photo, Wikipedia: Travel panels on the Thomas Cook Building, Leicester, England
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