Best free stuff, 2013 edition: The techno traveler
The Techno Traveler
Whether you’re traveling for business or vacationing with your family, it’s essential to keep tabs on flight times, rental car pickups, and hotel reservations. In the past, staying organized meant printing out a handful of pages before you hit the road. Now you can use a few smartphone apps and online services to keep your trip stress-free.
Once your travel details are on the books, keep all of your information organized with Worldmate, which is available on the Web and as an app for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Send reservations with major hotels, airlines, and car rental brands to firstname.lastname@example.org, and then use Worldmate to organize your itinerary and travel confirmation numbers. You can even get turn-by-turn directions. The app also features a “personal travel assistant” that alerts you to impending flights, as well as the day’s weather at your destination.
Speaking of personal assistants, you should give Google Now a whirl if you already have an Android device running Android 4.1 or newer—the feature is baked into your gadget. The search giant’s digital personal assistant gives you “just in time” information drawn from services such as Calendar, Gmail, and Google search.
Google Now, which is also available for iOS, can alert you when a scheduled flight is nearing—it even pulls up your digital boarding pass and offers information about the flight’s status and the weather at your destination. If you have reservations scheduled, Google Now on a GPS-enabled device can alert you to traffic conditions en route to the appointment, even recommending departure times for a prompt arrival. Event and reservation reminders, hotel directions, details about local attractions, and seamless currency conversion—Google Now has almost everything a die-hard traveler could want.
If your trip includes a few hours in an unfamiliar airport, download iFly Airport Guide for Android or iOS to get maps of more than 700 airports worldwide. The app also has in-terminal GPS navigation to help you find your gate or that all-important Starbucks outlet, along with information about terminal amenities, parking rates, Wi-Fi availability, and much more. Practically the only thing missing is flight-status info, which is available in the premium version of the app.
So you’ve landed at your destination, picked up your rental car, and checked into your hotel. Now what? Download Where, a GPS-based app dedicated to helping you find local restaurants, bars, entertainment, and shopping. The app, which is available for Android and iOS, also offers deals from local businesses, and has a social element to save and share locations, and to get recommendations from friends.
Also try Google Field Trip, available for iOS and Android. Sort of an amalgam of Where and Google Now, Field Trip notifies you when you wander near a place of interest, whether it be an attraction, an interesting shop or restaurant, a piece of hyper-local history, or any other intriguing landmark. Field Trip’s database draws from a wide variety of services including Arcadia and Zagat, and it excels at pointing you to neighborhood highlights that you would otherwise almost certainly miss.
Finally, no trip is complete without a way to find local Wi-Fi hotspots. Enter JiWire’s Wi-Fi Finder. This iPhone app draws on a database of more than 550,000 free and paid Wi-Fi locations in 144 countries. Wi-Fi Finder lets you filter searches for hotspots by price (free or paid), specific Internet providers (such as AT&T or Boingo), or specific business types (such as bar or café). When the app finds a Wi-Fi connection that meets your criteria, you can ask to be notified or have the app connect your device to the network automatically. You can also set up Wi-Fi Finder for offline use, just in case you need to find a wireless hotspot in an otherwise dead data zone.