Business trip coming up? Plans for Spring Break? Family vacation? Here are 5 INDISPENSABLE tools for your computer and/or mobile device to optimize and de-stress your travel experience. Each of these resources serves a very different purpose, yet is highly acclaimed for its particular functionality. Other tools are certainly available, but these are my top picks:
- Although Yelp is best known for its restaurant reviews, this only accounts for 20% of Yelp’s functionality. Find reviews for spas, convenience stores, ATMs and pretty much anything else you’re looking for!
- An augmented reality mode combines camera and GPS functionality to reproduce your environment in 360 degrees, with pushpins and location notices overlaid. Simply point your device in any direction to find out what’s worth seeing in your area.
- Alternative views include a list interface and a pushpin map. Yelp integrates with GPS, making locations easy to find. What’s more, star ratings, price range and a note of whether a catalogued location is currently open can all be accessed at a single touch without leaving the map view. Expect a smooth UI experience in general.
- User reviews, including pictures of products and/or menu items, make the perusing process fun, interactive and aesthetically pleasing.
- Yelp still needs better searchability and filter options. Also, location reviews can only be drafted on-site, but not published.
- Yelp has recently faced legal allegations and critical media reports for its policies regarding company membership, which allegedly gives bigger businesses an advantage by removing negative reviews of companies who pay, promoting the critical reviews of companies who refuse, and posting ads for member companies at the top of directly competing non-members pages. (How many of these claims are true remains to be seen.) Does a little negative publicity have to ruin Yelp for the rest of us? You decide!
- Tripit users may forward confirmation emails for hotel bookings, flight bookings and event tickets to email@example.com. The site will automatically put this information into your calendar and create a travel itinerary.
- Each trip folder is organized with tabs for flight statuses, seating charts and local area maps. Hotel check-in and check-out times, driving instructions, flight gates and times, and other pertinent pieces of travel data are stored within the app as well.
- Gmail users have an additional option to request emails and local info related to their destination. Or for a $49 annual fee, users can receive additional features, such as flight delay alerts and alternative flight options.
- There is no option for editing itineraries from the app side, or to view comments posted in the webpage.
- Though the free Tripit service is highly functional, the app is a bit heavy-handed in its prompts for users to upgrade to Pro. Particularly considering how expensive the added service is, these recurrent prompts may become a nuisance over time.
- Zipcar is a mobile device-based rental car service that charges a reasonable hourly or daily rate for the use of its vehicles, which include Minis and Mustang convertibles. The mobile app shows members the location of available, registered Zipcars parked nearby via a GPS map. A membership “Zipcard” unlocks the vehicle, the key is found waiting in the ignition, and a gas card located in the glove box can be used for all fuel transactions. Payment (via credit) is made only for the time that the car is actually in use.
- You don’t use a car 24 hours a day. So why should you pay to own one outright? Nearly half of Zipcar users report that they became members due to gas prices and the high cost of buying a new car. For travelers, Zipcar may prove the most convenient travel option, depending on what city you’re in.
- National coverage is still fairly limited unless you’re visiting a major city.
- There have been reports of Zipcar gas cards being declined, as well as other minor problems, mostly related to parking. Fortunately, these are usually cleared up quickly via the Zipcar helpline.
- Travelocity (which may know for their “Roaming Gnome” commercials) helps users find great deals on flights, hotels and car rentals.
- Experience Finder provides creative ways to come up with travel innovations based on a chosen theme.
- Who says tourism has to be selfish? Travelocity’s “Travel for Good Program” supports environmentally friendly hotels and offers tourists resources for engaging in “Voluntourism.”
- The Travelocity site suffers from a poorly designed user interface that inhibits users from finding full access to travel resources.
- The app is riddled with so many bugs, bad reviews and shortcomings that they needn’t all be listed here. Perhaps Travelocity should have focused its attention on improving its website instead—once the company improves its apps user friendliness, it has the potential to become an industry leader.
- Lemon Wallet digitizes and organizes credit, debit, membership and loyalty cards. The app is also equipped with a barcode scanning function.
- The app is surprisingly quick and simple to set up: Just snap close-up pictures of your cards, front and back, and virtual clones of your cards will be added to your PIN-protected virtual wallet, where you can leave and forget them—until you need a particular card and realize your phone is all you have with you.
- Lemon Wallet also allows you to snap pictures of receipts for later tabulation of tax forms and spending reports.
- Has difficulty scanning rewards cards of unusual sizes and shapes.
- Only sorts cards into categories of “credit,” “debit” and “other.” It would be handy to have more organizational options, particularly for those with numerous cards to catalog.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Dopplr, Seat Guru, Hotels.com, Priceline, Gas Buddy and even Facebook (in conjunction with TripAdvisor) provide excellent tools for traveling. Those listed were simply a few of my favorites, but if you have a favorite app or travel tool, feel free to share it in the comment section below. Happy travels!
>>Click here for a comparison of Hotels.com, Priceline and Travelocity.