Travel Tech

Yesterday I wrote about some products, and I thought I should also own up to the mobile apps I use while traveling (at least domestically, international is still a bloody headache).  It’s something I do a fair bit, and is a natural opportunity for mobile to make your life easier and more effective.

First, the natural functions of basic apps are helpful.  I put my flight details and a reminder into my calendar.  3 hours before the flight, unless it’s a connection, then 40 minutes to alert me to get to the gate (United used to have an option to automatically download it to your calendar, but that changed with the software switch on the integration with the proud bird).  I also put in reservations for cars and hotels. I keep track of the confirmation number that way and don’t have to carry around an extra piece of paper.  The camera is useful too, when I need to remember my parking space.  Easier than entering into the calendar!  And I have a password app (I use SplashID since I had it before on my Treo) where I store all my membership numbers for the loyalty programs. May as well get the benefits if you have to travel.  And Google Search gets used for lots of things.

A I mentioned yesterday, Navigon is GPS software that I’ve used many a time to get from place a to place B.  I try to avoid driving if at all possible (such a waste of time, give me a train any time), but when I need to in or to an unfamiliar destination, GPS is the go. These days Google Maps does a very good job too, but if you’re going somewhere with dodgy cell coverage, having maps local is nice (if battery abusive: keep a charger).  Google maps in particular is very useful for walking directions and times, too.

I use the iBart app to check train schedules to and from the airport.  There are lots of apps out there to facilitate using particular train systems, and I’d use Metro in other towns if I were using public transit, e.g. Boston or DC.  If you live in a particular location, check and see if there’s an app for your system.

On occasions, I use SuperShuttle (I try to be frugal when time allows), and their app lets you book the trip, check on your van, etc.  When needed, it’s quite useful.  TaxiMagic would be used sometimes if I had trouble getting a cab (I can recall one time in Philly where it would’ve been very handy).

When I do have to drive, CheapGas helps you find the prices of petrol near you and find a provider with the best deal. Other special purpose driving apps are RoadAhead (finding things at turnouts ahead; but it would require someone else in the car with you) and the AAA and Roadside apps, which can help you find accommodation or help you with car trouble.  Thankfully haven’t needed them, but nice to have.

At airports, I love GateGuru.  I try to get to the airport early (I’d rather be cooling my heels with a book or an app than sweating whether I’ll make it thru security on time), and if I have time to kill or need to grab a meal or a drink, GateGuru finds the opportunities nearby and has ratings.  Very helpful.

I’ve the SeatGuru app, but I tend to use the website, as it can be helpful for choosing the best seating position, particularly when you’ve got a choice and the extra considerations aren’t obvious (loud, limited recline, etc).

When I’m looking for a place to eat, Yelp can be very helpful (in fact, finding us the nice Twin Cities Grill in Minneapolis just last week).  You can indicate where you are and look for what’s around. Google Maps can do this too, but Yelp’s somehow a little better, optimized as it is for this purpose.  On occasion I’ll use or coordinate with UrbanSpoon.

Finally, a shoutout to United.  I’ve been sucked in for years (long story, started when they were the last option when I lived in Sydney), but whether you like the service or airline or not, their app is a great example of mobile support. You can review your flights, get your boarding pass, check flight status, get your mobile QR code boarding pass, and even book a flight. Really nice job of matching user need to functionality.

So, what apps have made your life easier when you travel?


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Travel Tech

I have, not surprisingly, had my eye tuned for new mobile uses, and have recently spied a couple of ones I had not noticed. These range from the predictable but cool to the novel (at least to me).

First, on a recent train trip, the conductor had an app where she could check seats. Having missed a connection, the hope was that there were seats available on the next train. Without a reservation, the procedure used to be that you’d just grab a seat and hope no one had it reserved. I this case, the seat was available after departure, but there was no way for me to know whether it would stay that way through the other stops. The conductor, however, whipped out a device, checked, and was able to confirm all the way to the destination. Very cool.

And today, in museums, I noticed tour groups that not only had the requisite signage, but were using technology in interesting ways beyond the canned audio tour. 

For one, I noticed a tour guide speaking quietly into a microphone, in a sacred place. I then noticed that there were a bunch of people with headsets coming from a device hung around their necks. They’d found a way to have the guide narrate the tour without disturbing others and without requiring the attendees to be right near by.

I noticed another group with what looked like mini-walkie-talkies hung around their necks. This would allow sending out messages but also two way communication. 

The latter two, at least, seemed to require custom hardware, but wouldn’t necessarily have to if everyone could get an app.  Regardless, however, we’re finding new ways to harness technology to allow us to Connect and Compute.  And that’s two of the four C’s of mobile. 

Rick Steves, the travel author (who we’ve found useful) has audio files you can download, as one form of Content, and you can download transportation maps for cities (as well as apps). Looking at Capture, I wonder about the ability to take pictures or thoughts and share with your tour group. 

Overall, the opportunities to enhance not only our productivity, but also our leisure are being improved through mobile. What’s next?

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