Current Location: Skagway, Alaska
The Memorial Day weekend is just behind us, and a summer of fun travel adventures is ahead. Three years ago, the Rocket Yard featured a series of tips for those embarking on adventures, and starting today I’ll bring an updated set of ideas to help ease your days away from home.
In the first installment of this series, I’ll provide a list of apps you might want to pick up from the iOS or Mac App Stores before you pack your bags and lock the door…
When you’re heading somewhere — whether halfway around the world or just a few hours away from your home — there are a number of apps that can help to make your travels safer, less stressful, and more convenient.
At the top level are those apps created by transportation providers such as airlines, train systems, cruise lines, ferry operators, and so on. Most of the major US airlines like American, Delta, Southwest, and United, as well as international lines like Lufthansa, British Airways, and Emirates have their own apps. The apps can help you in trip planning by letting you view schedules and fares, in booking by letting you purchase your tickets online, and in checking in for flights ahead of time.
For rail travel at home and abroad, Amtrak, Great Britain’s National Rail, Deutsch Bahn, and France’s SNCF apps provide schedules, trip status, and loyalty program assistance. Taking a scenic railroad like the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad? Check before traveling, as many of these railroads offer apps that give you the story behind scenic and historical opportunities along the route, keyed to mileposts along the track
Most major cruise lines have their own apps as well; these are less about booking travel, more targeted towards what to do while you’re aboard a ship. Apps from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America, and Disney (among others) provide passengers with a way to keep up with the whirlwind of activities aboard and ashore, with some even offering a way to text other passengers and book restaurants.
It doesn’t matter when or where I’m traveling, I always book my lodging in advance; it just makes me more secure knowing that I have a reservation at my destination for the day. However, for last-minute bookings for business travel or those spur-of-the-moment trips, it helps to have an app or two for some of your favorite hotel chains.
I’m a big fan of the Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors loyalty programs, so their apps are useful for both booking rooms and keeping track of program points. Many other chains, including IHG (Holiday Inn and other chains) and Best Western also have apps.
Those apps are very useful if you like one or two hotel chains, but what if you prefer to look for the best bargains or boutique hotels? I’ve enjoyed Booking.com’s app for years. Enter your destination, and you get a list of hotels ranging from the ultra-swanky to not-that-great, all with reviews and ratings from the best critics around — those who have stayed at the hotels. TripAdvisor is similar, but expands coverage to just about everything dealing with travel including restaurants and car rentals
Use TripAdvisor to find lodging and you also receive offers for discounts on activities at your destination. Whether it’s a bungee-jumping adventure, a bike rental, or a pub crawl, these activities are perfect for fun and learning more about the places you’re visiting.
Maps and Navigation
You already have at least one good app for finding your way to and around your destinations; Apple’s Maps app. Depending on where you’ll be driving or walking, you might want to also load Google Maps and consider downloading maps for off-network use. For cities with a lot of traffic (and what major city doesn’t have traffic issues?), Waze’s crowdsourced hints and tips can direct you around construction and accidents better than the competitors.
If you’re a fan of geocaching or would like to learn more about this fun “treasure hunting” pastime and the places you’re visiting, make sure you have a geocaching app loaded. The original Geocaching app has been perfected over the years, and another favorite is Cachly. In both cases, you can create offline lists and maps of caches to find for off-network fun.
Fun and Games
Traveling is a lot of fun, but it also has its share of boring downtime at airports and hotels. Checking your email or social media feeds can kill some time while you’re just sitting around, but remember to load up games that can keep you or the kiddos occupied.
Since you may not have access to the Internet on either a cellular or Wi-Fi network, make sure that the games you choose have offline modes. One of my favorite time-wasters is Hasbro/Electronic Arts Scrabble. It does not require a network connection (although some of Scrabble’s features are not available offline), and can burn up a lot of time while you’re waiting or even enjoying beach time.
If you read our recent Network and Security Series, you know that two of the articles dealt with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). VPNs are very useful during travel for two reasons; first, they can give you access to your favorite streaming video sources while you’re out of the country, and second, their encryption capabilities make for safe web browsing and computer use when you’re on a public network.
Some VPN providers offer in-app subscription packages by the month, so you can use the VPN service for travel and then shut if off if you spend the rest of your time on a trusted home network. Be sure to check out our recent comparison of some top VPN providers.