Traveling has changed quite a bit over the last decade thanks to fast paced changes in Technology. The competition we see in the travel industry combined with new innovations in travel related products have made traveling a walk in the park.
After having visited 65 countries across 6 continents I realize how much tech has played a role in the planning and management of our travel experience. More than we like to admit. It is a no brainer that Tech has already become pervasive in our everyday life. And in travel it is even more so. Even if you don’t want to use Tech you are forced to adapt to the times as almost everyone use tools and services like Smart phones, Whatsapp and Google Maps.
Here is a list of technology tools and services that will greatly enhance your next adventure.
Research your travel
There are literally thousands of travel blogs (including this blog) that offers ton of useful information about a destination you wish to visit. If you are looking for more professional content then you can go to sites like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Matador Network, Rick Steves, Travel Planet and Wiki Travel. I am not suggesting you do thorough research before you reach your destination. There is always something mystery about a place you want to visit. You can do to topical level research about a place such as currency used, location, language, culture etc. I even want to know in advance how to get from the airport to the city center, where to get a sim card etc.
If you want indepth information about a place then Wikipedia is the way to go. It is a fantastic source of in-depth historical information and quick factoids. Sometimes it can help corroborate your facts with what you learn from the tour guide. For instance a your guide once told me that Halong Bay in Vietnam has over 3,000 karsts (little hills on the ocean) but Wikipedia mentions only 1,600 of those limestone karsts.
Book with confidence
Once you decide on a vacation/bacpkacking destination how do you go about booking the flight tickets. Where can you get the best flight deals. Here is how I go about booking the flight tickets.
I recommend that you check the leading flight search sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights as a start. In 2011, Google bought ITA, a travel service that provides flight information to sites such as Expedia, Kayak and Priceline. So Google is the ultimate source for flight tickets. It shows you the best price for a range of dates. You have many filters to screen your best date/price. Like the below screen shows me all the best possible prices for the months of December and January for the travel from Rochester, NY to Medellin, Colombia.
The advantage of using Skyscanner is that it shows you all possible ways to get to the destination. They have the best / cheapest / Fastest as options. You can apply various filters to narrow down your ideal dates/price. Say you want to travel from Chennai to Medellin that usually includes two to three stopover. Google flights will show you the single continuous journey where you don’t need to disembark at the layover stop. This option is faster but can be expensive. But there might be a later flight at a layover stop that can make a difference in price. You might need to disembark and then check-in again for this later flight. But you get a much better deal in terms of price.
Signing up for mailing list from the airlines and/or following the airline Twitter account allows you to get the best travel offers. For instance Air Asia runs Super Sale that allows one to book cheap flight tickets in advance.
Stay where you belong
Generally backpackers choose Hostels as it allows them the opportunity to meet like minded travelers. Plus hostels are cheap and centrally located. On the other end of the spectrum, luxury travelers who don’t mind splurging money on their travels prefer staying in expensive hotels and resorts.
Thanks to new sharing economy that we have alternative options to staying other than in noisy hostels and pricey hotels. But there are other alternate options that are in between in terms of price and helps you socialize with both locals and fellow tourists.
Airbnb lies somewhere between a sharing situation like a hostel, and a hotel where you have complete solace. You still have the opportunity to meet interesting people while staying at accommodation listed on Airbnb. Generally most places on Airbnb have reviews from other fellow travelers, which can help you make the right choice in terms of comfort, location and price.
CouchSurfing is a global community of 10 million people that connects travelers with local hosts, and guests stay with locals for free. This provides the opportunity for cultural exchange between guests and hosts, and has truly revolutionized the world of travel.
Traveling across China in 2013 presented the perfect opportunity for cultural exchange through Couchsurfing in Shanghai and Beijing, and it was truly a great experience. I still keep in touch with the folks I met during this travel.
However a note of caution. It is advisable for single female travelers to stay with other female hosts and get a good confidence level through interactions prior to their stay.
Use Tech to get around
So you reached your target destination and you are a little helpless in getting around the city. Don’t panic. Here you have a few tools to help you out. Google Maps is not only great for orientation and get to your intended destination, but also to get recommendations on restaurants, cafes, hotels, and top of that get live bus and train schedules. You can track your direction in your Maps app as your navigate in real time. You can download offline maps as I described before. It can help you to get on and off a certain stop near your destination.
Another great app to download is Maps.me. The data that comes for Map.s me is retrieved from an open source community. In my experience maps.me offline map downloads faster than Google Maps.
If you are into adventure activities like hiking, biking and trekking I would recommend downloading the AllTrails app. It has tons of user recommended hiking trails and the difficulty level. I recently hiked the path from Garni temple to Geghard Monastery using the AllTrails app.
If you want safe private transportation then use any taxi sharing services like Uber, Lift or Taxify for cheap and safe way to get around the city. Most cities have travel apps that will recommend you all the popular landmarks you can check off from your list.
Should I carry a drone?
Gone are the days where travelers use to carry selfie sticks and Go Pro cameras. Welcome to Drone world. Drones are a lot more fun than carrying a selfie stick. Most modern drones come with Follow Me option which makes the drones literally follow you and film you as you move around.
There are some questions surrounding the legality of bringing and using drones inside a country. I think it is always better to check the local laws before you bring your drone inside the country. Most countries are fine with amateur level basic drones for personal use.
Drones are officially banned in these 15 countries. So if you plan to visit one of these countries don’t take your drone with them. By the way most airlines don’t accept drone batteries in checked-in luggage. So it is better to place them in a carry-on bag.
Top Apps to download on your phone to enhance your travel
So to sum up here is a list of apps that are must needed on your smart phone to enhance your travel experience.
- Google Maps
- Whatsapp / FB Messenger
- Google Translate
- Google Flights (mobile version only)
- Some podcast app
- XE Currency
- YR Weather
- BlaBla cars