I’m a big believer in pre-planning vacations. I’m all for flexibility and spontaneity, but no longer am I down with “let’s get in the car with overnight bags and drive.”
I like booking hotels before we get there. I like charts. I like my charts to have restaurant suggestions, tourist attraction prices and opening hours, flags on possible coupons (like using your CAA card) and addresses for where we’re going. I don’t suggest a chart for everyone, but it sure helps to plan things (like if a tourist attraction is open longer on a certain day or closed when you’re intending to go).
Here are some awesome travel apps (tested on a 3rd generation iPad) to help plan ahead, even if it’s for what to do in the next hour.
TripAdvisor – free for multiple devices
In some ways, I enjoyed using the TripAdvisor (iPad) app more than the site itself. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of being focused on a map and what’s close by to a selected location that makes the app so user-friendly and intuitive. I wouldn’t use it for mapping directions, but it’s great for locating things in a general area or “near me now”, a handy feature on the splash screen of the app. What’s most useful about TripAdvisor is seeing what loads of other people had to say, with the recently added feature of businesses being able to respond to snarky reviews.
GuidePal – free for multiple devices
The best part of the GuidePal app is that maps can be downloaded and used offline, so users aren’t bound to a wi-fi or data connection to make it work. Though international city selections are somewhat limited at the moment (Toronto was not an option when the app was tested), I actually found that GuidePal was great for cities like Vancouver and Montreal, listing locations that were totally new to me in my own neighbourhood.
Booking.com – free for iOS
If comparing hotel booking apps, I prefer Booking.com’s app to the one for Hotels.com since Booking.com will show you the whole total of your hotel stay as opposed to Hotels.com, which only gives you the nightly rate. Both will give customer reviews, but Booking.com gives an out-of-10-star review averaged from a displayed number of reviews (i.e. 8.9, score from 159 reviews). The Hotels.com app might be fancier with its user interface, but Booking.com just seems simpler to use. A travel tip to the frugal though: sometimes it’s cheaper when you check out the hotel’s website or call it directly and see if they can beat an external discounter’s rate.
Country, provincial or city-specific apps
There are lots of these around, and great ones too. For countries and large cities, try the Triposo iOS apps (or the World Guide if you have the space) and browse through the abundance of ideas for sightseeing, eating out, nightlife, hotels, tours, beaches, shows, family fun, shopping, sports, and outdoor activities. Exhausted by the options? That’s not even the whole list for the Australia app. It’s like having a comprehensive updatable travel guide with GPS-situated maps for almost everything you could possibly think of … right at your fingertips and ready to go. You can even use them offline, share travel logs that you create, and capitalize on the Smart Suggestions feature that takes location, time of day and weather into account for suggesting what to do. Some features will vary by Triposo app, but the neat thing is that you can get things like pronunciation and culture guides (like in the Triposo Philipppines app).
Fodor’s also provides mobile apps for iOS and Nokia devices. Their big sell is being able to connect directly with establishments for things like booking hotels, making restaurant reservations and buying tickets. You can download maps for offline use, pick up travel tips, check out subway maps and get written descriptions of neighbourhoods (at least in the Paris app). But for an overall feel, the Triposo apps just seem more exciting.
Tourism boards are also coming out with city-specific and province-specific apps. You may find use in apps like Visit Vancouver (iPad only) and See Toronto (multiple devices) and Discover Ontario (multiple devices). Especially for foodies, it’s amazing what you can find when looking up apps for a city, like Taste of Montreal (National Geographic, iPad only).
For basic ideas and inspiration, try the National Geographic Fotopedia apps which are like gorgeous interactive coffee table books when used on the iPad (third generation with Retina display especially!). They’re currently available for Morocco, Japan, France, Paris, Burma, and North Korea (maybe have your inspiration go more South on that one). Otherwise, themes for National Parks, Wild Friends and Heritage may get kids (young or at heart) to choose an interesting destination.
There’s a myriad of apps on the market, and especially when they’re free, make use of them! It’s always a great way to get kids involved in planning their own vacations and learning a little about geography, history, scheduling and logistics. See? You can wrap education into anything.
Happy summer, happy trails, and happy exploring!