The fact that New Zealand is tucked away in the corner of the world means we have to travel further and donate a fair chunk of our holiday time to flying time, which is inevitable. But thankfully these days, travel gadgets are handy to help you save time spent on getting information at your destinations.
Time spent waiting in transit at LAX or the bus that was supposed to arrive half an hour ago in Buenos Aires, could be certainly put to better use.
With the world increasingly becoming one big global village, it is now available at your fingertips in a range of sizes and colours to suit. The most notable of these is the brainchild of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs. He revolutionised the world with the release of the iPhone in 2007 and then went a step further with the release of Apple’s app store in 2008.
These software applications, known as ‘apps’, now number in the hundreds of thousands and cover every aspect of life, with a dedicated ‘Travel’ category. Using a multitude of these apps, you can now transform your piece of metal and plastic into an indispensable travelling companion.
Other manufacturers such as Blackberry and Nokia are joining the apps bandwagon. Although an entire book might be more appropriate to talk about travel apps, here is a list of general apps that will ensure you arrive at places well informed. The apps listed below are the ones I have tested with the iPhone. These could be available on other members of the Apple family – iPad and iPod Touch and on other mobile devices as well.
1) Travel planner apps: Web based travel agencies have now entered the mobile domain thereby allowing travellers to plan their itineraries on the go. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Travelocity allow users to view deals, book trips and manage their itineraries. Dedicated travel planner apps such as Worldmate and Tripit allow you to manage your entire journey including flight, hotel and rental bookings even enabling to sync your meetings with your calendar – your personal assistant on the go!
2) Airport and airline apps: A number of airlines offer their own app, which lets you access your flight details at the least. Some even allow you to book, check-in and track flight status. Air New Zealand’s app called the mPass allows you to check the most up to date details of all your flight bookings and serves as an electronic boarding pass (Domestic only and no check-in bags). If you are a Koru member, you can scan your way into the Lounge.
3) Maps and Destination guide apps: Although the inbuilt maps application is sometimes useful, it is painfully slow even on wi-fi and mobile networks. An alternative is to download maps which you can use offline. This will help you save dough and face, especially when all you had to do was follow those “really easy directions” your friend gave you. Using a free app called MapQuest, you can save maps and routes on the website and access them from your phone. Notable apps include those from Frommer's, Zagat and Lonely Planet. Also check-out the London and Paris subway apps which ensure you master the art of navigation through the concrete jungles.
4) Language apps: You might not get the accent down pat, but you could surely order Peking Duck in the side streets of Beijing, wait a minute, in Mandarin! If the cat got your tongue, you can even trigger an audio recording for more than 600 common phrases in 17 different languages, for everyday situations using Lonely Planet’s Phrasebook app. Along with the destination guides, which have become synonymous with Travel, the Lonely Planet guides are invaluable resources in all formats.
5) Social media and messaging apps: Social media slaves can rest assured that those anxious minutes of lost time in tweeting can now be recouped courtesy Twitter and Facebook apps. Besides allowing you to update what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it allows you to let mum know you are safe. Ping! And WhatsApp allow you to send free text messages while Skype allows you to make phone calls on the cheap, saving you on long-distance calling rates. You will need a Wi-Fi or network connection to save on global roaming costs.
6) Miscellaneous Apps: Apps for currency conversion, packing/to-do lists, airport info, world time, wi-fi hotspot finders (the in-built wi-fi finder doesn’t work if you switch to airplane mode), pedometers and alarm clock apps are useful to have. One of the more quirky apps I found is the ‘Anti-Mosquito Free’ which supposedly drives away mozzies by emitting low frequency waves. Word of advice - Don’t ditch the insect repellent!
Beware: Most apps require a network connection or internet connection (through a wi-fi) to function. Global roaming charges can sting users and can cost anywhere between $5-20/MB. To avoid the standoff with your telecom provider, turn data roaming off on your phone. Increasing use of mobile devices has led to wi-fi hotspots in most tourist friendly destinations. Airports, libraries and coffee shops.
Web-based booking avenues such as Air New Zealand’s Grabaseat and HoT’s, ‘makemytrip’ have successfully proven that we are increasingly looking online to book our next trip and a great deal. Travel operator specific apps will cater to a wider range of travellers and those who are increasingly flexible with their travel plans. Besides this, the apps are sold trough iTunes, which provides worldwide exposure and will drive destination and tourism operators to consider the mobile platform as an indispensible marketing and sales tool.