Apps to pack.

I enjoyed my Italy trip immensely. On this trip I graduated to the realm of the connected-passenger, relying on technology to assist my travels. I thought I’d share some of the apps that I found useful (and a couple I didn’t). Also, note that I have an iPhone, so I can’t comment on the availability of the apps for other phone types.

International data plan: Before setting off, do take the time to research your wireless phone provider’s international plan options. Mine has a day-pass for $10/day which essentially extends the already generous cellular voice/data limits of my existing plan to use while connected in other covered countries. Free wifi is generally widely available in Europe, but I found it could be a bit spotty. I didn’t want to worry about data caps, and Italy and the U.K. are included in my provider’s per-day international plan, so I went with that. You may choose differently, but decide before you leave.

Airline apps: This trip I flew Norwegian Air Shuttle and easyJet. You’ll want your airlines’ apps on your phone, too. Online check-in may help you avoid some lines, and online boarding passes can make connections and terminal transfers a bit easier without having to find a kiosk or person to print out a paper boarding pass for you.

Lodging: I booked my lodging through Airbnb. The Airbnb app makes for easy communication with hosts for directions, check-in times, and handling any questions or problems that come up during your stay. If your hotel has an app, you may want to install it for the same reasons.

Itinerary management: Instead of printing out a dozen or so reservation details, I opted to use GoogleTrips to integrate them all together. Once installed, you can login and have it pull details from emails in your inbox relating to travel reservations, and it will organize them all neatly by trip, date, and destination. And you can have it download the itinerary for offline viewing. This puts times, flight numbers, locations, reservation codes, contact details in one easy to reach place.

Train schedules: Following a tip from Rick Steve’s Europe website, I installed the Deutsche Bahn’s app DB Navigator for online rail timetables. It was awesome. Though it is the German rail’s app, it includes very current schedules for all of Europe for online viewing. The Italian rail information was accurate and I used this app exclusively to plan my train travel. I didn’t use it to purchase tickets, just to figure out which train I wanted to catch. I highly recommend it.

Currency conversion: The Xe currency app works online, or offline if needed, using the last exchange rate it downloaded. Not necessary but nice to have if you don’t know how much that thing is really going to cost you.

Foreign language help: My English and Spanish get me by in most places, but I don’t know much Italian. So, I used the Google Translate app. It will translate individual words or phrases for you. But it can also use the camera on your phone and will translate entire paragraphs of text in an image for you. This was awesome for translating text from tour brochures. Plus it was just kind of fun to use.

I also recommend Duolingo for learning a new language. I always have it on my phone, to sharpen my Spanish, and I used it for a few weeks ahead of my recent trip to learn a bit of Italian. It definitely helped. They also make a flash card-based app called Tinycards that is a nice companion to the original Duolingo app. And they are both free.

What to see: I installed the Trip Advisor app, and downloaded ahead of time the info they have on Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra. I used it to look for ideas on new things to see and places to visit. Google Trips also has a “things to do” category, but I found Trip Advisor was the one I used more.

Finally, I recommend installing Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app. It has audio walking tour and museum audio tours for several destinations in Europe. You can download ahead of time the ones you want to listen to.

Entertainment: I always tote my kindle e-reader around, but I also downloaded some free audiobooks and videos using Hoopla and Overdrive apps. If your city library participates with them, you can checkout several titles for free each month. I loaded up a few for the plane and train rides.

I never leave home without my Geocaching app. If you want to see more than a few caches you’ll have to sign up for a premium membership, which I find very reasonable. You can download ahead of time collections of caches in different places that you are going to visit. I earned my Italy badge on this trip. Woohoo! I carry a real compass in my backpack, but an electronic version is handy, too.

I left my binoculars and big camera at home this trip. So I didn’t think I’d get much birding in, and that was correct. I could hear many birds, but I was hard-pressed to get a good look at most. Before I left, I paid $15 for a European birding field guide app called Collin’s Bird Guide, as the European bird species are different from those in North America. Turns out I didn’t use that app at all. It has beautiful content, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It didn’t have a function to guide me in identifying a bird by color, size, etc. Good old Google search did the trick; I’d search, for example, on “Italy large black and grey bird” and just scroll through pictures until I found the one I was looking for. A website called world-birds.com turned up often with helpful info.

Navigating: I prefer paper maps, but for electronic aid I just used Google Maps to plot walking directions ahead of time, or if I had a “where the heck am I” moment. I wasn’t worried about my data usage as my data plan has high limits. But if you are, you can look up a route and directions while on wifi and take a series of screen shots ahead of time for viewing later. There are a couple other map/navigation apps I’ve seen recommended, but I didn’t use them: navmii and CityMaps2Go. If you really are trying to limit your data usage while traveling, download these ahead of time to see how helpful they are and practice with them before you leave.

Check out these and other apps to make your trip more enjoyable.

What other apps would you recommend?

Perdinaliss.

If you hang around Central Texans long enough, you will learn that we are fond of bestowing our own pronunciation on the names of some of our favorite local places; confounding out-of-towners, I’m sure.

One of those place names is “Pedernales” – the name of a river, a series of water falls, and a state park.  Take note:  locals refer to it as “per-din-al-iss.”

Whether or not you can say it right, you must go see all three.   I took a day trip and visited Pedernales Falls State Park today.   I enjoyed visiting their bird blind, walking down to the Falls, scoping out birds while hiking, doing a little geocaching, and taking in the beautiful scenery on a gorgeous day.

IMG_2048

The falls from the scenic vantage point above:

pedfalls

 

Interstate caching. 

My meetings wrapped up atound 6 o’clock.  I had about an hour and a half til sunset.   So…. I set out for the woods before coming back to my hotel for an evening of email and work.   I’m close to the border of Connecticut and New York where I’m staying, so I managed to find geocaches in both states tonight.  

This is a placid pond I came across along one of the trails.   

 

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Salad fixins to-be.

I made it home last night at 11:45, so I was able to give Monte a birthday hug before it was over, after all.

We’re having a lovely Saturday, so far.  I love being home.

I enjoyed walking around the yard this morning to see what had changed in the last week.   Just 7 days ago monte planted some rows of lettuce seed.  As you can see in the shot above, by this morning they’ve formed little green lines of lettuce seedlings.

We took a walk through the park at the end of our street this morning and ended up looking for one geocache there that has eluded us several times.  We couldn’t find it again today.  (darnit!)  When we got home I looked it up again to read recent comments from people who had found it.   It bugged me so much that we decided to go back to try to find it again.  We also checked the magnetic declination (the difference between magnetic and true north) for our area and updated the GPS.  And this time we took our bikes.   We ended up finding it… FINALLY… and then went on to look for (and found) two others in another park nearby.  Whew.  What a relief.

Now we’re plotting how to spend the rest of St Patrick’s Day.

I hope you have a great one, too!

Planting a cache.

Shutterbug.

Geo-caching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game, where you look for hidden containers, or “geo-caches,” using GPS-enabled devices.  People can post the coordinates for caches they have hidden, for others to find.  And geo-cachers can share their stories of their finds online.

We enjoy geo-caching in the nearby parks and woodlands.  And we especially enjoy taking other people, especially kids, geo-caching with us when they visit.

On my last birthday, Monte bought me an ammo-case, which is the perfect thing to use for a geo-cache because it is durable and has a rubber gasket around the top, which makes it relatively weatherproof.

Today we took Fran, Rebecca and Aaron geo-caching in the greenbelt near our house, and I brought my own geo-cache to hide.  Inside my geocache is a disposable camera, so when people find and open the cache, they can take a picture of themselves, and leave the camera inside for the next people.  The shot above shows the cache, as we left it.

We found 4 out of 6 caches that we were looking for… not bad.  The kids, big and small, had fun.

After we got home I posted the coordinates of my new cache to geocaching.com.   Now I can monitor it online for log entries from people that have found it.

Check out geocaching.com for caches near you to look for and find.  Happy hunting!

Dec 27, 2010

I LOVE vacation!

We went for a bikeride this afternoon.  It was a sunny, crisp day.

We took a ride through nearby Yett Creek park and decided to go geocaching, since we had the GPS with us.  We found three caches (here’s a pic if you want to check them out) for which we had preloaded coordinates ahead of time.   I use the website geocaching.com to look up coordinates, and log the ones we find.

What a fun afternoon!