December 5, 2020

Travel Support (Websites, Apps and More)

A friend, who travels frequently around the world, asked which websites and apps Pat and I use when we travel. I sent him a detailed email which I then decided to expand into this blog post.

I preface all my travel talk by pointing out my phone carrier, T-Mobile, and the availability of roaming, particularly data, in over 125+ countries. Unlike ATT and Verizon, this is included in the cost of the service and has served us extremely well in most places around the world. However, with wifi calling, GPS, and off-line maps, we were able to successfully make our way around these countries.

Another important thing concerns money – exchange rates, credit cards and ATM/Debit cards. It is important to use credit cards that charge no foreign transaction fees. In addition, when you are asked if you want the transaction to be in U.S. dollars or the local currency, always pick the local currency – you usually get a better exchange rate. I don’t recommend getting foreign currencies from your bank prior to leaving. It is much better to find an ATM once you arrive. If you are lucky enough to have an ATM card that reimburses you for overseas ATM use, this is an added bonus.

Do you need trip insurance? Check the terms of your credit card you use for booking the trip. Often the card includes some type of trip insurance, such as trip cancellation/interruption and may also cover you for travel accident and evacuation insurance.

Here are the smartphone apps and websites we use:

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Private Internet Access (Android | iOS) I use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) at all times on my PC and on my Android phone. When traveling, I think this may be the most important app anyone can have as it encrypts your data between the device and the VPN server, so that it cannot be eavesdropped which prevents your hotel from seeing your data. Also the ISP or phone company cannot intercept your data.

There are many free VPN services available, but I recommend a paid service because they are always faster than the free ones.

I have been using Private Internet Access for many years.
 

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Citimapper (Android | iOS) is our go-to app when traveling in many of the bigger cities around the world. This app is wonderful for getting around in the cities they currently cover. We have used it in London, Singapore, Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Hamburg, Lyon, Tokyo, Copenhagen and Melbourne. Everyone we have introduced this app to find it most useful. It can also be used on your computer to do some pre-planning.
 

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We use Kayak (Android | iOS) to keep track of our trips by organizing flights, hotels, AirBnBs and tours. This is done by forwarding the confirmation email receipts to trips@kayak.com, where they are then organized into “Trips”. Once the trip has started, the app then sends text messages such as departing times, gate changes, baggage claim carousels, etc. It is easy to share this trip information with friends and family.

In addition, you can find and book flights, hotels and cars through them.
 

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Google Maps (Android | iOS) Because we generally have data turned on when roaming, this app always shows us where we are. If we are in an area with poor coverage, we can download an off-line portion of a map (of course, it does take some pre-planning).

Another thing I like is the ability to save locations we have visited (as shown in above).
 

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Expedia (Android | iOS) Planning for our upcoming trip to Peru I found Expedia another useful tool for finding hotels and activities/tours.
 

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Booking (Android | iOS) Until planning our Peru trip, this had been the only app and website I used. I will now use this, along with Expedia, when searching for accommodations.
 

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Viator (Android | iOS) Once we have decided on a destination, this is our first stop for finding activities/tours to fill out our trip. Viator consolidates tours from many providers and can save you time finding them. Many tour operators appear to list their offerings on multiple sites, including Viator, Expedia, TripAdvisor, and others.

We also use Tours By Locals. Tours by Locals often have a group rate, rather than a rate for each person, as Viator and most others do. This is not always true, but it’s worth looking at.

We usually look for private tours.
 

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Rome2Rio (Android | iOS) We discovered this application while in Portugal, last year, while trying to find a way to travel from Lisbon to Ronda, Spain. When you enter your locations and destination, the site returns several ways of traveling (air, bus, train, car and combinations). It provides an estimate of the cost in time and money for each option, and for some options can book your tickets. Good information gathered into one convenient place
 

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Currency Exchange (Android | iOS) It’s always handy to have an estimate of the current exchange rate, wherever you happen to be. When deciding whether you want to purchase something, it’s handy to know what it would cost in your own money. It’s also helpful to find out what is a great bargain that shouldn’t be passed up.
 

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AirBnB (Android | iOS) AirBnB is great for 2+ people, as hotels are not set up for families. We have used AirBnB around the U.S.A. and Europe. However, if you follow the news, AirBnBs are being outlawed in more and more cities and there are other problems. There have also been a surveillance problem in some rentals, although a search will tell you ways to check.

Note that it is against AirBnB policy for hosts to do this without disclosing it and AirBnB will refund your money and find you another place to stay.

Just be careful and thorough in your planning. There are other companies that are similar, and generally older, than AirBnB: VBRO and HomeAway. Also, Booking and Expedia are expanding into home/room rentals.
 

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Convert Units (Android | iOS) This app, and the corresponding one for iOS, are particularly useful when traveling outside the U.S.A., where distances are measured in meters/kilometers and weights are done in grams/kilograms.
 

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Priority Pass (Android | iOS) This service came as a credit card benefit, but people can join even without one of these cards. In many airports around the world, Priority Pass will get you into various airport lounges, in addition to some airport restaurants, with either a fixed amount off the bill, or a percentage of the total bill.

I have had several multiple-hours layovers in London, England, where I took advantage of multiple lounges on my way to Singapore. Some of have been crowded or the free food wasn’t so good, so I moved to another lounge in the same terminal. Anytime you have a layover at an airport for more than an hour, it is very nice to lounge in one of these lounges.
 

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Uber (Android | iOS) and Lyft (Android | iOS) These two apps are both ride-sharing apps. Both services make it possible to travel without carrying cash (you register a credit card or PayPal). They also provide an estimate of the charges when you book.

The more I look at these two companies, the less I’m inclined to continue using them. In addition to their problems with adequately checking the background of the drivers, the safety of the passengers, and lack of regulation, they appear not to be good for the local economy, (see article).
 

We have a long list of website addresses we often visit once a destination has been decided upon. Here is a list of some of those

 

If any of you have comments or recommendations for apps or websites you depend on when traveling, please let us know.

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