Tag Archives: Travel

ESSENTIAL APPS AND GADGETS I USE WHEN I TRAVEL

 

iPhone

The smartphone is the epicenter of my travel apps and gadgets. From getting directions to making reservations, the smartphone does all the work. Of course this comes at a price. I subscribe to Globe’s roaming fee. There is a cheaper way though, albeit inconvenient and you will need as second phone. You can buy a local SIM card and transfer your Globe SIM card to another smartphone. This way you can get the full use of your iPhone with the local data plan and at the same time not lose any important call that may come to your Globe phone.

A second way to get around the problem of having data roaming is to buy a Mobile Wifi. I have a Huawei which allows many devices to be connected to its wifi. This way, if you travel as a group, you save a lot in data charges. The challenge of course is the group splits into two or gets lost in a crowd. A second problem is some countries, like Canada, do not allow prepaid SIM to be used for data plans for Mobile Wifi. The solution there, of course, is to make one of your phones a hotspot and share that with the rest of the group.

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I used Maps of the iPhone for direction. And if I use a car that has CarPlay installed, Maps is a very convenient app to use as it is Siri-enabled. It gives suggestions of locations to go – restaurants, shops, etc. It also has a “Significant Locations” service that learns significant place to me based on my location. This is convenient because I do not have to re-enter places I go in a city. Lane information also is given by Maps to make sure you do not miss exits.

The one drawback Maps has it that it cannot share directions with others, unlike Google Maps. Sharing directions is useful when you have two cars or you are a passenger and you just want to direct the driver where to go without having to dictate to him the address. I also use Waze, but for this recent trip to North America, I thought Apple apps would be more accurate. I do not know that for a fact, it is just an impression.

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Of course, because of the App Store, almost anything you need would be available in the store. You need find a Walmart Store closest to you, there is an app for that. You want to know the best Parking to where you are going, there is an app to that. It will even tell you. These are opportunistic apps, I call them as you call on them only when needed. The same goes for Viber, Skype, and, of course, Facetime. These are VOIP services that almost comes along naturally with your smartphone.

iPad Pro

I usually leave this in the hotel when I travel. I used to bring around a Macbook Pro. Ever since I gave mine away to my son and started using the iPad Pro, I have found increasingly less need to carry a laptop in my travels.

Primarily I use the iPad to answer emails and respond to chats. I find the. Small real estate of the iPhone too small to do these tasks except if they are urgent and requires immediate response. My other use of the iPad is to edit photos and share them in Facebook or other social media.

The iPad is also the gadget I use for writing my blogs. The Smart Keyboard obviously is easier to use than the screen keyboard of the iPhone. The iOS 11 drag and drop utility is also very powerful when I share photos and files between apps. In the remote possibility I need to edit photos,

The split view on the iPad is especially useful when I write my blogs with the Photo app. With the photos on one side of the screen and Day One 2.0 on the other side, I can write and drag down photos I want included in my journal. The floating apps also maximise the real estate of the iPad Pro. This especially convenient when I want to search for information in Safari while I am writing on one app with another app in the split view.

TripAdvisor

I do a lot of reviews of restaurants, hotels, and interesting place in TripAdvisor. I use the app primarily when searching for good places to eat.

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The app has a filter so you can choose the restaurants by cuisine, rating, cost, and even neighbourhood for certain cities. There are several main categories: “Cheap Eats,” “Best Restaurants,” “Cuisine,” “Breakfast”, etc. If you are like me that looks for local cuisines that locals go to, your best bet is always the “Cheap Eats” category. You then go to “Best Restaurants” and if the same restaurant listed in “Cheap Eats” is also listed as one of the best restaurants, then I would choose that restaurant.

I find it useful to read the “Terrible” ratings to check whether the rating (up to 5 “stars”) is justifiable. Remarks on the restaurant can be on the food, or the the service. One can discern if the remarks are consistent with the other “Terrible” remarks and if they are, then maybe it is not a good choice.

To double check TripAdvisor’s ratings, I use CultureTrip app. CultureTrip has professional curators of specific interests in food and travel. For example the app can point to “Most Romantic Restaurants,” or “Best Restaurants with a View.” If the choice I make in TripAdvisor cross checks with CultureTrip, then most likely I will choose that restaurant.

I also check the restaurant’s website and browse their menu. Again, you can cross check what is being said in the website versus the remarks made in TripAdvisor or other apps like Foursquare or Yelp (discussed later).

Finally I check the restaurant’s location. You want to choose one where it will be easy to go to from the last location you intend to go. It is also useful to check whether parking will be available. Normally if it is for dinner, I take public transportation and I avoid driving.

 

OpenTable

While TripAdvisor has some reservation capability for restaurants, it is geared more for hotels. Their link to restaurants for reservation is not as extensive as OpenTable.

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This app manages your reservation efficiently. It helps you find a table, and tell you the times when the tables would be available. You can enter the number of persons as well and of course you contact details. The app then send you a confirmation and later on, a reminder, of your reservation.

The app allows you to modify or even cancel your reservation. With modification, though, you cannot do it as hour before your reservation. You would need to call the restaurant by then.

Yelp

This app has similar functions like TripAdvisor or OpenTable. However I find Yelp more useful in finding shops other than restaurants. I used it to find barber shops.  It can tell you the location and the opening times as well as the telephone number of these shops. You can input “cheap luggage” in the search window and click “open now,”  choose the location or neighbourhood, and it will show you the shops associated with that search pretty accurately.

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Yelp has categories for plumbers, electricians, and all other crafts, but it is a very helpful app when traveling. When you need to find a shop for your luggage, or have your shoes repaired, Yelp does the job.The comments are also very useful as they can tell you from real people how you would expect the place and service of the shop you intend to visit. It even has pictures giving you an idea of whether that is the shop you want.

Tripit Pro

Tripit puts together the details and timeline of your trip. You create a trip in the app and soon as you get email confirmations of your flights and hotel bookings, the emails are automatically retrieved by Tripit and recorded in the app. Tripit send you SMS for flight information like gate assignments, flight delays, and directions to your hotel, among others. The app even provides you alternative flights should you experience a delay or cancelation.

One important service of Tripit is that you can share the trip details with others. This is very convenient if you are traveling ina group or you want your office to know your travel schedule in case they need to make changes from back home.

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The app also can connect your you iCal calendar and this subscription will show all your trip details there. Tripit is useful also when you go through immigration. Normal questions like “when is your next flight,” or “which hotel are you staying,” or even “who is traveling with you?” can be answered by showing the app to the immigration officer.

GroupMe

GroupMe is a chat app that allows you to post messages, pictures, documents, or show your location.  This app useful when traveling in a group. Group announcements can be made here, as well as sharing interesting photos. One facility GroupMe has is polling. Have you ever had the problem of deciding what restaurant to go to when you are in a group? If you have a very democratic way of choosing restaurants, the polling utility in GroupMe can be very useful.

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These are just the essential apps I use. Of course I use other apps occasionally but I find that these gadgets and apps are enough to make one’s travel convenient and even safe. One piece of advice though, it is best to make all hotel or AirBnB arrangements before you leave and prepay them if possible. With so many variables that can change in a day’s travel, the last thing you want to happen to you is to sleep in an airport or bus station because your reservations went awry.

Finally make sure you have your personal information in your smartphone. There are apps that can keep your passport details or even scan your passport which is even better. Tripit can keep this information plus all the reservation details in your smartphone.

A really final reminder – an old school one – keep hard copies in the remote chance you lose your smartphone!

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

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The family recently went on a short break in Vietnam. From Ha Long Bay we stayed overnight in Hanoi before flying back to Manila. Prior to going to Ha Long Bay, we stayed in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. On our return to Hanoi, we decided to try the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a hotel with rich history dating back to even before the Vietnam War. Located in the border between the old town and the French quarter, the Metropole is an easy walk to many places. There are a number of good restaurants not only within the hotel, but around the hotel as well. It is also a short walk to the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or the Sword Lake. I did a run here and it is approximately 2 kilometres around the lake.

The hotel opened in 1901 and since then famous people like Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham (The Gentleman in the Parlour), Graham Greene (The Quiet American), Jane Fonda and more recently George W. Bush had stayed here. But is is Joan Baez’s recording of “Where are You Now, My Son” that seems to stand out in the hotel’s history for me. In this 21-minute recording, the sound of the bombing by American planes in the Christmas of 1972, can be heard in the background. The hotel has a bomb shelter of its own. And Joan was supposed to have hid in the basement during the US bombings. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to visit the shelter.

Checking in was quick as it was done in the top floor – the club floor. They had a number of amenities for its club floor guests like a chocolate buffet in the afternoon and the usual cocktail hour from 5:30 PM. Although there was a pianist during the cocktail hour, it’s what I call technically great playing, yet the pianist needed more soul. I also had the chance to sit out the late night jazz music which turned out to be a disappointment because the musicians talked among themselves longer than they played! And the performance? So-so. Anyway, more on this in another post.

The room we had on the 6th floor was spacious and the detached bathtub was a great touch. Internet was okay but I would have been more impressed if they had the sound system to allow an iPhone or iPod to connect. I think hotels of this level should already cater to interests of travellers who love to bring their music with them (streamed on external hard drives). The hotel’s gym has a good number of equipment; the only disadvantage is you need to go through the patio to reach it. This means if it rains, you’ll need an umbrella.

As expected, the service was excellent. We got prompt responses, and almost everyone spoke good English.

We didn’t stay long enough to have more to say. But the short stay has convinced to come back to this great hotel.