Travelling Smartly with Mobile Apps [Tech Tuesday]
The other day, a presentation at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show was given on helpful applications for mobile devices while travelling. The talk, “Travel Smart with Technology”, was presented by Angel Castellanos (about whose presentation last year on packing I wrote) and accompanied by a digital visual presentation, demonstrating how to use the mobile device applications (herein referred to as “apps”). Castellanos set out to discuss “smart travel apps and how that can change the way you travel.” And, Castellanos pointed out, “smart travel and thoughtful travel is well worth the time and money.”
Before getting into apps, Castellanos first pointed out the usefulness of using a sim card while abroad. “Having a foreign sim card is useful for travelling abroad” as it provides the user with a local cell phone number, along with a data plan. This way, one can use their own phone, while not paying an arm and a leg for using a phone as one would overseas.
Castellanos then advised, if one is taking a cell phone, to put it on airplane mode and keep it that way for the rest of the trip. That way, for any app that uses data, one won’t be charged for international data charges. After putting it on airplane mode, then turn on one’s wifi, since that will be a useful way to use a lot of apps. In fact, that’s mostly how the phone will be used – by using wifi for apps.
For connecting with friends and family back home, one can enable wifi calling with iPhone. Also, one can use Facetime, which is good not only for video calls, but also audio calls – it’s also great for free wifi calling internationally. For some other connecting apps, Castellanos said “a couple of apps that we travellers should really have and download before we leave” which makes a whole lot easier for when we do leave is to have Skype, which “is really useful.” He also mentioned that WhatsApp and Viber “are the new kids on the block” and are good. He also further mentioned that Facetime and iMessage are useful for the iPhone.
Castellanos then showed a screen with over a dozen apps he recommends, of which he highlighted several of them, first pointing out XE Currency Converter and TripIt for itineraries. He also mentioned that there are airline apps to download tickets, which can also directly tell you if there’s a gate change that are useful. Castellanos also pointed out how things have been changing due to new apps, such as Lyft and uber. “Travel has changed so much that we forget that we can do travel on-demand” and one can simply request a pick-up at one’s location. “Uber allows you to have a personal driver at your beck and call at your fingertips.”
Castellenos then remarked on several Google apps. “All travellers should have a couple of Google apps”, particularly Google Maps, “especially since they have an offline feature.” Moreover, Castellanos pointed out, one can also take screenshots of maps. Further, Google Translate “is one of those revolutionary apps that has changed the way we travel.” With this app, you can save certain phrases or others even offline. Castellanos mentioned that he has five basic phrases he likes to know in any country – “Please”, “Thank you”, “Do you speak English?”, “Can I have a beer?”, and “Where is the bathroom?” With this app, one can easily use them. Castellanos mentioned that he though the Wordlens feature is really neat in the app.
With maps, one is not always going to have mobile data or wifi to be able to use at all times, so one category of travel apps Castellanos referenced was “offline mapping apps”. In addition to the regular Google maps, one can also use it offline. A couple others were Maps.Me, and Pocket Earth. From Maps.Me, one can download maps with transportation routes or without. Castellanos also mentioned Citimapper, but, he pointed out, it is “only good for big cities.”
In addition to the useful apps to be used while travelling, Castellanos mentioned the helpfulness of security of one’s apps by using virtual private networks (VPN). He strongly advised that “all travellers should use a VPN” and referenced an article he recently wrote on his website about this topic. He said there were several different options for apps, of which he likes to use TunnelBear on iPhone (“I like TunnelBear because it integrates with your iOS settings”); for Android users, he said that CyberGhost is good. Nevertheless, “all travellers who are using public networks should use VPN.”
In concerning securing one’s information, he also mentioned that one should be careful about which wifi networks one does banking. “I try to avoid using my banking app on public wifi”, he said. Also, he likes using ApplePay because not only does it save one the need to pull out one’s credit cards or cash, but also because the user can receive notifications. “I think that’s really valuable for travellers if you’re keeping track of your expenses”, especially if there’s a charge that isn’t supposed to be there.
Castellanos then went on to essentially recommend using one’s mobile device as a way to be THE thing one uses for pretty much everything. In addition to using it for payments, such as with ApplePay, instead of credit cards or cash, he also recommended it for taking pictures instead of, for instance, carrying around paper maps. He takes pictures of subway maps in order to cut down on what one is carrying. “Instead of carrying around a ton of papers, I like to take pictures of useful information”, such as maps, menus, and more. He definitely advises “taking pictures of important information so you can have it on your phone.” In addition to taking pictures of these important things, Castellanos said that “I also like to take pictures of the license plate, so I know which Peugeot is mine.” Also in line with his using his camera on his phone for taking useful pictures while on the trip, he said that “I like to take pictures of what I’ve packed so I know what I’ve packed.”
In line with speaking about photographing, Castellanos recommended that, “if you’re interested in enhancing your picture,” then SnapSeed is a great app for that. A couple of other apps he mentioned were FaceTune, which is useful for taking selfies, and WordSwag, which is useful for writing words on pictures. Castellanos did say that he is not a big taker of pictures, but “I’m an iPhone picture-taker”. He then mentioned that, for enhancing one’s pictures beyond apps, one can use olloclip.
Continuing his move beyond apps, he suggested that all electronics should be packed in carry-on; if you have a lot of electronics, wires, etc., it’s a red flag to the TSA. He suggested packing all of his electronics together in one bag. He likes to put them all together neat in an etools kit by Eagle Creek.
One further category of travelling with electronics that Castellanos mentioned was adapters for one’s electronics. While people get in trouble when they use a household item with single voltage, because one needs a transformer or converter. So, first, double-check if the hotel has a hair dryer in the room. If you find out that you don’t need a transformer or converter, then you can cut down the weight in one’s luggage by only bringing along an adapter. Most cameras, phones, and mobile devices, though, fortunately, are dual voltage, so one need not bring a converter or transformer for those.
Castellanos’ talk was very helpful, useful, and informative for the audience. Although Castellanos really didn’t give a fair balance to Android apps (or even mention mobile Windows apps), his highlighting of iOS apps was useful for those who use iOS devices.