Travel apps make it easier to roam – without accruing those pricey roaming charges.
Travel journalist Jen Leo, who writes the “Web Buzz” column for the Los Angeles Times, shared a variety of practical apps at the Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show at the Santa Clara Convention Center Feb. 17.
The two-day show included booths from tourist boards as far away as Namibia (next on my list!). Speakers included actor and former teenage heartthrob Andrew McCarthy, culinary experts, Patricia Schultze of “1,000 Places” fame and Rick Steves, the European tour-touter. Nobody can make Italy sound like a must-do better than Steves.
Leo’s presentation impressed me – her anecdotes illustrated just how apps can lighten your load.
For example, she related how she used TripDoc, by Delicous Baby’s Debbie Dubrow and her husband, to keep members of her family to an itinerary at a reunion in Hawaii.
First, she made sure that everyone downloaded the $2.99 app. Then, she researched restaurants and sites friends recommended – stuff that often gets filed on stray pieces of paper.
Once Leo typed them into the program, she could conduct research and craft an itinerary, which she sent around to her relatives.
“Once we were in Hawaii, everyone had an itinerary with references and map pins to tell them where to go,” Leo said. “I just said, ‘OK, now it’s time to go to the candy store,’ for example, and they all drove there.”
Another planning guide, WorldMate, serves as an all-around hotel booking app. It will email your itinerary to friends or colleagues and do local searches for places to stay or visit. There’s also an “Under the Radar” section that points out hot deals, according to Leo. The basic app is free, but the upgraded Gold version costs $9.99.
While you will find markdowns on WorldMate, another app, Hotel Tonight, offers deeper discounts.
The only catch is that the company’s pretty serious about the “tonight” part. Leo said she appreciates this app for its “spontaneous factor,” but it takes a special traveler to fly to London without a hotel reservation. If that appeals to you, you might also like the fact that it has cute hotel categories, like “Hip,” “Solid,” “Luxe” and “Charming.”
Even cheaper is Airbnb, “very, very big for vacation rental,” Leo said. “I’ve done plenty of daydreaming about it.”
VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner, vrbo.com) provides another alternative vacation rental option: owners renting out their homes. The advantages are more room and less cost.
Hipmunk is also free, although it’s been around for a while. Its search engine finds flights according to a cool “agony” filter, based on how many stops the flight involves. There’s also a hotel site that rates places to sleep.
If you want to keep cellphones costs down, WhatsApp Messenger is a 99-cent cross-platform app. It’s good for texting relatives and friends in different countries.
Leo mentioned a few airport and city apps that might help if you’re a frequent traveler. For example:
• Airport Chatter, which lists venues and things to do nearby during layovers.
• The BestParking app, which allows one to comparison shop before leaving home.
• GateGuru, which details when and from which gate your flight is leaving.
• Taxi Magic, which allows you to call a taxi anywhere.
Two other practical apps include City Maps 2Go, iPhone and iPad software that doesn’t accrue roaming charges, and MetrO, which lets you download subway maps from around the world.