Hand-held tour guide

The smart­phone is fast be­com­ing the ul­ti­mate travel ac­ces­sory.

The Press - The Box - - TECHNOLOGY - Fair­fax

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.

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