With the right apps, information abroad is at your fingertips
SOMEtravellers like to plan every minute of their trip before departure. Others are happy to fill in the gaps when they arrive, and that’s where mobile devices can really prove their worth.
As soon as they touch down, travellers can turn to a variety of applications to find a city’s best attractions and enjoy insider tips.
Some of the best apps come from Time Out (timeout.com); for decades, this company has been publishing guides compiled by hip locals to the activities, attractions, bars, entertainment and nightlife in some of the world’s most exciting cities.
Time Out’s free apps offer information based on a user’s location, a city’s top attractions, editor’s picks, and random ideas for those who j ust want to be inspired. The only downside is that at the moment less than a dozen cities are featured, including Sydney, London, New York and Buenos Aires.
Limited content does not appear to be a problem for Vienna-based TripWolf (tripwolf. com), which combines information in established travel guides with recommendations and reviews from thousands of likeminded travellers.
TripWolf claims to now cover more than 50,000 destinations, with users searching for information by country, region and city, and then downloading the desired guide directly to their iPhone. The company offers a free app, but it contains limited functionality, so to take full advantage you need to pay for a premium version.
The most sophisticated app for the switched-on traveller, however, was recently unveiled by travel experiences specialist Viator (viator.com), a company launched in Sydney but now based in San Francisco.
The Viator app is free and offers 9000 activities and tours in more than 750 destinations across 150 countries.
The company’s in-house experts select each of the operators featured and claim to regularly review them for quality, value and service. Users can also tap into 260,000 photos and reviews by the company’s clients who have experienced the product.
The site has a number of ways of serving up options.
It can, for example, display family-friendly activities or identify only those tours that pick you up from your hotel lobby. But, unlike most rival apps, it does more than simply generate great ideas. You can book tours, with real-time availability, daily deals, last-minute discounts, and 24/7 customer service and support.
Prices can be displayed in five currencies ( including the Australian dollar) and when a booking is made you receive an e-voucher, which you simply show to the tour operator.
You can then view your book- ings at any time and make amendments, including cancellations.
Viator has also developed a version for the iPad that focuses less on giving travellers the ability to book tours on the go, and more on providing inspiration, with attractions, user reviews and photos for the world’s top 100 cities.
The one drawback to using Viator’s iPhone app is that you need to be online. As with any app that relies on a web connection, that means you need to be careful unless you want to return home to nasty roaming charges.
Viator claims that isn’t an issue with its app because the vast majority of services it offers are low-data interactions. Time Out has avoided the problem altogether by making its guides available offline, and TripWolf has done the same for much of its core content.
To avoid getting badly stung by roaming fees, switched-on travellers should always consider minimising the number of times a mobile device is used overseas to access maps and, whenever possible, you should disable the phone’s GPS ( location services), both of which can suck up data.
Before leaving home, you should also switch off any ‘‘fetch’’ or ‘‘push’’ settings for your email, calendar or contacts.
It’s also a good idea to keep your phone in flight mode until you need data roaming. And download an app such as Free Wi-Fi Finder, which will help you locate free Wi-Fi spots across the world. David Carroll’s column on new travel technology appears monthly in Travel & Indulgence.