I guess I sort of remember what it was like to travel before the internet. I definitely remember having to buy a phone card for long road trips, and carrying around a sheet of paper with important names and numbers on it. Once when I was about 19 I landed my mom, my sister and me in a weird industrial neighborhood in a rental car in Chicago. Folding paper maps have never been my jam.
I admit it -- I'm super happy to have a smart phone, and to be able to research destinations online. It's awesome. So as mon petit ami and I prepare for a spring adventure to Paris, I am reflecting on just how heavily I rely on the web for my travel plans. There’s some great stuff out there, for sure. I do a lot of research before I go anywhere. It helps me relax and alleviate anxieties I might have about going somewhere new. I thought it might be useful for me to divulge some of the travel planning tools I use.
Expedia – I like to use Expedia to search for hotels, whether I eventually book the hotel through them or not. Being able to sort by number of stars, reviews, location and nearby attractions is really useful. And once you click on a hotel to see what it’s about, you’ll have a quick link to Trip Advisor reviews as well. A few years ago when I was traveling in Ireland, I discovered that many tour companies and hotels take Trip Advisor reviews very seriously, so now it’s become one of my go-tos for customer feedback on travel related things.
Google Maps – For this Paris trip, I was trying to decide between two hotels in different parts of the city. I used Google Maps Street View to take virtual walks around both neighborhoods. After discovering some awesome cafes and charming detours to the Louvre, the decision was easy to make.
Transit System Apps – If you carry a smart phone and you’re traveling in the U.S., you can almost always use Directions in Google Maps to find the best subway, train, bus, biking or walking route from A to B. There are other apps too, many of which have been created by the transit agency. Just search your app store for the name of the transit system, and don’t forget to check the reviews before you install something!
If you're traveling in the U.S. your phone and data package should be sufficient wherever you are (but it never hurts to double check for roaming or other charges). Major cell phone companies have data and phone packages you can buy for your overseas travel and cancel when you return. If you have Verizon, check out their Global Services page. AT&T has World Packages. T Mobile and Sprint have international services assistance help online as well. If you want to use apps or send text messages on your trip, it might save you some money to plan for use before you go. Call your carrier if you have any questions about service or plans.
Food – Of course it’s easy to enough to get recommendations from friends about where to eat when you’re traveling, but there is some great information online too. Blogs can be a fantastic way to find about hot spots in the cities you visit. It’s super easy. Do a Google search for the name of the city, the word food or restaurant, and the word blog. You might land somewhere amazing like Chocolate & Zucchini. And if you’re vegan or vegetarian, check out Happy Cow to scope out potential eateries prior to departure.
Language - If you'd like to learn some phrases in another language, don't forget about Mango Languages, which is a free, interactive, online program for Denver Public Library customers. There's an app too, in case you want to cram in the airport. Translation apps for your smart phone could help with navigation or menus, although typing into a smart phone during a face-to-face conversation probably isn't ideal. I plan to try out iTranslate while I'm in France. I'm really afraid of foie gras, which is easy enough to spot on a menu. But what I don't know about French food is a lot. Just saying.
I realize this is a very short list. There are SO many resources online, and I hope you will share your favorites here!
My go-to site is TripAdvisor.com. They have wonderful discussion forums for just about any location in the world. They also have customer reviews of hotels, restaurants, and even attractions (museums, etc.).
Thank you Melanie! I've got an iPad and there is going to be an update to iTranslate for iPads soon. Thanks for the great travel info! Enjoy Paris!