Hand-held tour guide
The smartphone is fast becoming the ultimate travel accessory.
Most travellers have a mental checklist of items to be ticked off just before leaving on an overseas visit. Top of the list is usually the passport, followed closely by a credit or debit card. Now there’s a third must-have item on the list that guarantees the smooth success of an international jaunt – a smartphone.
These pint-sized supercomputers can do so much more than mere phone calls, with a library of applications designed to make travelling easier than ever.
The myriad applications available for smartphones prove their benefit even before the traveller sets foot outside the front door. Most airlines offer apps that handle everything from booking tickets to seat selection and checking in.
Finding the perfect hotel can be a time-consuming affair, but there are plenty of apps to make the process a breeze. Whether booking in advance or making a last-minute reservation to find the cheapest deal, apps such as TripAdvisor, Wotif and Expedia allow the traveller to research and book the best hotels.
Whether calculating the cost of a hotel room, or bargaining with a stall-owner at the night markets, making sense of overseas currencies can be a brain-melting affair, especially with jet-lag thrown into the mix.
While all smartphones include a calculator, it’s simpler to use a currency converting app to take the maths out of the equation.
The most popular is the free XE Currency app, a portable version of the xe.com website. Even the language barrier is less of a hurdle with the right app, as there are now several that function as personal voice translators.
Google Translate is one of the most powerful, with a voice recognition feature that wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Star Trek. The local simply speaks into the phone in their native language; if they’re speaking one of the 80 supported languages such as Spanish, French or Japanese, the app will automatically translate it to spoken English.
It works the other way too, converting spoken English into any of the 80 languages, but sadly can’t help with the look of disdain French waiters show when a customer can’t speak their language.
Most globetrotters agree that the most intimate way to explore a city is by foot, and there are now dozens of apps that act as personal tour guides. Using the phone’s GPS tracking, the tour app guides the listener through a selection of the area’s historical sites, automatically playing detailed holds the phone at eye level. The phone’s internal camera will display the view ahead, and the app then overlays the video with icons showing where each point of interest is. One of the most popular AR apps is GeoTravel, but the Lonely Planet city guides also include an AR feature.
Keeping in touch with loved ones at home via international mobile phone calls is a very expensive exercise, but once again today’s smartphones have an easy solution.
Apps such as Viber and Skype provide totally free voice calls and video conferencing via data.
Today’s smartphones don’t just take the hassle out of international travel; they also enrich the experience. Don’t leave home without one.
Pointing the way: A smartphone is the must-have item for negotiating foreign city streets.