Top Digital Tools for Summer Travelers
Make your trip as painless as possible.
When the weather warms, wanderlust ensues. While most of us want to get out of the office, just strapping oneself into a flying tube isn't exactly fun anymore (was it ever fun?). So to make your trip as painless as possible, you need to plan ahead. Fortunately, there are some excellent digital tools to help you find a flight to Helsinki, book a hotel room in Athens, or get on the bus in Berlin.
Expedia and Kayak will deliver a bewildering array of options for air travel, but there's one service that delivers flights you might not find anywhere: Google Flights. In booking a trip with multiple destinations and multiple layovers -- such as Oslo, Helsinki, and Berlin -- I discovered some fares here that the others missed. It's a no-frills Web-based search engine, like its progenitor, but Google Flights is quick and easy.
When you're doing multiple destinations, for example, it's smart enough to change all the flight connections automatically when you change one mid-trip destination. One downside: It doesn't currently have fares for Turkish Airlines, which is often one of the best economical options for traveling to Europe.
This spring has brought more horror stories of travelers arriving at their destinations only to find there's no room at the inn. Many were victims of scam sites that take your money and supposedly book your room, but in actuality have no affiliation with the hotelier. My recommendation is to stick with the big, reputable apps like Booking.com. Its main claim to fame is that it only uses reviews from people who've actually stayed in the hotels they're opining about (planted "reviews" are a notorious problem on some sites).
I've also had excellent results in four different countries in Europe using Hotels.com. Traveler's trip: I usually cross check the hotel listing on these sites against reviews on TripAdvisor. I've found some interesting warnings, such as finding out that while a particular inexpensive hotel in Athens had a great view of the Acropolis, it was also situated on a square with musicians who play late into the night (bring earplugs).
Not every trip needs to be planned weeks in advance. Sometimes, you just need to get away -- now. For immediate air travel there's Adioso. You plug in your home town, leave the destination city set to "anywhere," select the dates, and then you'll see trips all over the world with price tags attached. One example was a next-day round trip airfare from New York City to Paris for $805, which was at least $300 cheaper than typical fares.
For an instant deal on a room, there's HotelTonight app for Android and iOS users. It's a quick and reliable source for same-day deals, and if you really want to go cheap, look for additional price drops after 3 pm on the day you want to stay.
I like to do research before I leave so that I have a sense of the sites I want to visit. There are city guides for smartphones from a wide variety of sources, but the two I keep returning to are those from Pocket Guide and TripAdvisor. The latter does an excellent job tying in maps with consumer reviews. TripAdvisor has all the major tourist attractions and museums, with descriptions for most, and it's handy to get a sense of nearby places to eat when you decide you've walked far enough.
Pocket Guide's specialty is audio walking tours. You can listen to the tour guide direct you to significant sights along the way, or simply check out a suggested itinerary and then design your own tour based on the original route.
Using taxi cabs or expensive services like Uber can put a serious ding in your travel budget. It's often faster, safer, and more economical to use public transportation. HopStop now covers scores of cities around the world, from Akron to Amsterdam. Plug in a starting point and destination, and HopStop will serve up bus, subway, and walking instructions.
I also use Google's Street View before I arrive in a new city. It's an excellent way to find out what's around the corner from your hotel, for example -- why pay mini bar fees if there's a local wine and snack shop just a block away? Street View's panoramic pictures of buildings and sites from the road can also give you a better sense of how far a particular attraction is from your hotel; a museum may look like it's within walking distance on a map but Street View can reveal that it's more of a hike than you originally thought.
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