Forgetting To Turn Your Phone Off While Flying Is Pretty Common

Have you ever reached for your phone at the end of a flight to switch it back on and check your messages only to realize you never turned it off in the first place? If so, you’re in good company. Accidentally leaving your digital devices turned on while flying is quite common, according to a new study.

The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and the Consumer Electronics Association released a survey showing that close to 30 percent of travelers have forgotten to turn off their phone, ipad, laptop or other device before taking off.When they do actually remember to power down, many passengers don’t actually turn their electronics all the way off. Around 21 percent of fliers put their phones and tablets into “airplane mode” and five percent sometimes shut down their devices, while 59 percent of travelers did as the airlines asked and turned their electronics completely off.

APEX says that 99 percent of adult fliers travel with some sort of portable electronic device and many want to be able to use it during the whole flying process, including takeoff and landing. The group hopes the results of the survey will help persuade the Federal Aviation Administration to loosen the rules regarding use of electronics while flying.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Global X]

A Personal Lament To The Death Of Guidebooks

Death of guidebooks - Frommer's bookshelfIt was with a heavy heart that I read the news last week that Frommer’s guidebooks will cease to be printed. The guidebooks were purchased by Google last summer, and as of this year, the entire future list of titles will not be released. With the takeover of digital apps, social media, and user-generated content, we knew this was coming, but it still feels like the end of an era. It’s become fashionable for any traveler (especially for writers, including our own bloggers) to be dismissive of the printed guidebook, claiming they get all their tips “from locals on the road” or via social networks, possibly demurring to an occasional read of Lonely Planet. Let’s dispense with the tired traveler vs. tourist argument; we can all benefit from practical info for navigating a new place, and no matter how “local” you go, there’s nothing wrong with visiting the museums and attractions for which a destination is known. Even as an active member of the “new media,” I mourn the death of guidebooks like that of a friend.

The greatest gift of the digital age to the traveler is online trip planning. I’d never want to go back to the days of travel agents and phone reservations. I’ve spent hours on the Internet booking flights, reading hotel reviews and soliciting advice and recommendations from friends, but guidebooks have always been the heart of my pre-travel ritual. Each year, after we had narrowed down the destinations to a few (often places where American Airlines and Marriott coincided, back in the days where work travel generated a fair amount of status, miles and points for free vacations), my husband and I would spend a few hours at a bookstore, poring over the guidebooks for points of interest, relative costs of travel and local events that might happen during our travel dates. Back when I worked at Conde Nast Traveler magazine, my desk was next to the research department, making me feel like a kid in a candy store. Shelf after shelf of guidebooks, atlases and travelogues gave me a keen eye for what features are the most useful in a printed travel companion.In addition to having the most current information, I look for an efficient presentation (while I love travel photography, I don’t care for it in my guidebooks, taking up valuable real estate and showing me things I hope to see myself) with detailed maps, a short phrasebook and menu guide, as well as a point of view in a guidebook. I had always made fun of Rick Steves and his fanny-packed followers, but in Portugal, I discovered his “back door style” is really quite helpful for navigating crowded tourist attractions and distilling fun facts about a museum’s history (look elsewhere for nightlife advice, though). My respect for Mr. Steves solidified with his book “Travel As A Political Act,” particularly due to his advocacy for travel to Muslim countries and the importance of getting a passport. Time Out city guides offer a surprising depth of cultural sidebars in addition to nightlife listings. Occasionally, you might be lucky to stumble upon an indie series like the gorgeously-designed Love Guides to India or Herb Lester‘s guides to the “usual and unusual” in Europe and the U.S., but these were often only discovered once you reached your destination. Lonely Planet was usually a given, having the widest range of places and most annual updates, but my heart belonged to Arthur Frommer.

Frommer’s guides were never the hippest or most inventive, but I liked their no-nonsense and concise layout, stable of local writers and the personality that shown through the pages with “Overrated” tags and honest advice. I loved the history behind the Frommer’s brand, imagining how Arthur’s original “Europe on $5 a Day” changed the way Americans travel and opened up a world of travel daydreaming and practical trip planning. Writer Doug Mack recently published his own book, “Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day” using Frommer’s 1963 book as his only guide. Vintage guidebooks are priceless slices of the past, whether it’s a reissued Victorian guide, or a handbook for your trip to the USSR (the later is now one of my prized possessions). In 50 years, what will people learn about how we traveled to Asia from Facebook photo albums and TripAdvisor reviews?

Destination and books chosen, I relished my New York commute armed with guidebooks before the trip. While I hated to ever brandish a guidebook while traveling, I didn’t mind being seen with it on the subway, where people might see me and think, “There’s a girl who’s going places! Literally, to Chile!” I imagined a stranger might strike up a conversation, offering their tips for their aunt’s restaurant in Santiago or their best friend’s guesthouse in Valparaiso (I was evidently envisioning a live version of Twitter). Even now that I do float travel questions over social media, I first try to research via a custom Google search that limits results to my trusted sources, ranging from travel writer friends’ blogs to big media like New York Times’ travel section and, of course, Frommers.com.

During a trip, I’d carry a book in my purse during the day, but I only removed it for surreptitious glimpses of a map if seriously lost. While in a museum, I might allow myself the luxury of reading the book in full public view. In the evenings, I might peruse the book before dinner, not for restaurant recommendations, but for hints on what neighborhoods and streets might yield the most options. My husband has always loathed making reservations, even in our own city, preferring to rely on instinct, menu/curb appeal and highest density of locals. At the end of the night, I liked going back to read more about the places we’d seen, learning about the backstories of a city, and understanding the cultural importance of the names we saw on statues.

Once I moved abroad to Istanbul in 2010 and constantly clutched a smartphone, my guidebook usage slowed, but I never fully gave it up. English books were expensive and travel plans were made much more freely (weekend in Budapest on Friday? Why not, when it’s a two-hour flight?), but I still tried to cobble together some basic info before going to a new country – stuff like: how much to tip, the best way to get to the airport and the going cost of a bottle of local wine. Basically, stuff that could be found in a guidebook. In many eastern European countries, I found the excellent (and free) In Your Pocket guides, produced by expats and natives, with tips on everything from happy hours to hidden Soviet murals. The guides are available in various digital forms, but I always preferred to find a paper copy, easy to roll up in a purse and read cover-to-cover like a magazine. I experimented with various Kindle books and documents and apps to collect the many links and tips I found before a trip, but found a lot of limitations: poor maps, advice from inexperienced travelers, lack of context and real “meaty” content. Especially when I was stuck with a lack of Wi-Fi, a dead battery or a setting where it would be unwise to flash any form of technology, I’d yearn for an old-fashioned book.

After I return home, I can’t say exactly what happens to my guidebooks. I don’t revisit places often, so I tend to pass on books to other travelers, leave them in airplane seat pockets, or recycle them when I have to purge books. I always liked the idea of keeping them on my bookshelf, a visual reminder of where we’d been, like passport stamps in your living room, but my shelf space can’t keep up with my wanderlust. Many travelers like a printed book so they can make notes and annotations in the margins, but I consider a book a sacred space to be left pristine, though my books are accessorized with receipts, ticket stubs and bar napkins. I keep these artifacts in duty-free bags and hotel envelopes, possibly for a scrapbook I will never make, or for future generations to marvel at the fact that we once paid for hotel Wi-Fi.

Now that we’ve reached the end of an era, what’s to come in the next? Now that anyone with an Internet connection can tap into a local network, or crowdsource restaurant recommendations, is Mr. Frommer and his ilk destined to become a relic of travel, like steamer trunks and airplane ashtrays? I’d say that until apps and social media can overcome the limitations of user-generated content, there’s a niche for printed guidebooks, but the choice of print over digital is more visceral. We need guidebooks as long as there are people who love browsing in bookstores, who appreciate a beautiful map, and who don’t give a damn about being a traveler or a tourist, as long as they are going somewhere.

[Photo credit: Gluten Free Mrs. D via Twitter]

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

Samsung HZ35W digital camera with GPS – first look

This really is a great summer for people in the market for a new digital camera. The new Samsung HZ35W is no exception. In this quick look, I’ll introduce you to this newest product from the Samsung lineup, with some extra focus on its travel friendly features.

Inside the HZ35W is a 14.2 megapixel sensor, a 24mm wide angle 15x optical zoom and HD movie mode. What sets the HZ35W apart from the competition is its GPS receiver. Even though the camera is not the first to come with a GPS receiver for geo-tagging, it is the first (that I know of) with a built in street-level map database, powered by Navteq (the same company that provides maps for many popular GPS navigation units).

Because of the 15x optical zoom, the camera is by no means compact – it stops short of being bulky, but this isn’t a camera for your back pocket. Controls are simple and well laid out – you get a selector knob on top, along with a switch for the GPS receiver, power button, zoom lever and shutter control. On the rear is a D-Pad and buttons for quick movie mode, menu, play and erase.

On the side of the camera is a metal door to protect the USB and HDMI connectors. And these connectors bring me to the biggest disappointment of the Samsung HZ35W – the camera once again uses a proprietary connector for all its functions. The power/usb cable is short and bulky, and no HDMI or AV cable is included.

Worst of all – even though the HD video port is labeled “HDMI”, you still need to invest extra in a special HDMI Mini-Type D cable. To make matters even worse – nobody seems to sell these cables (yet). Honestly, I absolutely hate the proprietary connectors and I wish they’d just settle for Mini or MicroUSB and the same MiniHDMI connectors used by almost every other brand.

Thankfully, the connector issue is pretty much the only downside I’ve been able to find so far. The camera speed is excellent, and despite the long lens, it starts up very fast. The display is stunning, thanks to Samsungs own AMOLED display technology.

As I mentioned earlier – the Samsung HZ35W is the first I know of with a full map database loaded on the device. It makes tagging and referencing photos quite a lot of fun. Loading maps on the camera takes about 20 minutes, and the ability to carefully read instructions (an ability I lack).

And finally in this quick look, I’ll leave you with two photos that show the zoom lens at work:

I’ll post a full review next week, after I’ve been able to take the camera for a real test over the next couple of days.

Panasonic Lumix GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera review

In this review, we’ll introduce the fourth Micro Four Thirds camera to earn some coverage here on Gadling. As a quick reminder – Micro Four Thirds digital cameras offer the same image sensor quality found on large(r) digital SLR cameras, but in a much smaller body. This size and weight reduction obviously makes these cameras perfect for travel, especially if you want to lighten your load, without sacrificing image quality or features.

The basics inside the Panasonic Lumix GF1 are what you’d expect from a camera in this (price) range. 12.1 megapixels, 1280 x 720 HD video, live view and a built in flash.
In the version being reviewed here today, we used the GF1 with the Panasonic H-H020 20mm F1.7 pancake lens. The design of the GF1 is very much in line with all other Panasonic cameras – and I’ve been a longtime fan of their Lumix lineup, so I was instantly attracted to the GF1. Controls are fairly basic – the usual mode selector dial is on top, along with a very handy shoot mode switch (for single, continuous and timed photos). Many other cameras hide those options under the menu, so quick access like this is quite welcome.

On the rear is the D-Pad menu/option selector, buttons for the display, delete, play, Autofocus lock, quick menu and a fast auto/manual focus selector.

Startup time of the camera is very quick – in part because of a “real” power slider switch. From power on till first photo can be just under 2 seconds making the camera perfect for those spur of the moment things you’d like to photograph.

Because this is a Micro Four Thirds camera, the GF1 can be used with some other Micro Four Thirds lenses, though Panasonic did inform me that not all lenses will work – in some cases, the lens may not auto focus. In my test, I used the 14-42 lens from an Olympus E-P1 which worked perfectly – in fact, it performed better on the GF1 than on the E-P1, mainly because the E-P1 has a notoriously slow focus, something the GF1 does not suffer from.

The GF1 features a built in pop-up flash. The flash is manually operated (so no auto pop-up). Think of this flash as handy to have around, just don’t expect it to light up a large room as it is pretty weak. Still, it beats having to carry around a separate flash. Of course, there is a flash shoe on top of the camera.

The flash shoe can also be used for an optional ($155) viewfinder, which uses a small connector port just under the shoe.

Image quality from the GF1 is very, very good – the camera is fast, and the 20mm lens was much more fun to work with than I had expected. There are a few things lacking though – there is no in-camera image stabilization, and movies are recorded in mono.

On the side of the camera is a miniHDMI port (for HD video and images), a dual USB/AV port and a remote control jack. The camera can not be charged over USB, so you’ll need to carry the included charger along with you. Battery life is quite excellent – rated for up to 380 photos per charge.

All in all, I found the GF1 to be a worthy competitor to the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2. The pop-up flash is a handy feature to have, and the auto focus performance is certainly better. But the lack of image stabilization and stereo audio puts it a few steps behind.

PROS: Fast focus, easy to use menu structure, good battery life, excellent photo quality
CONS: No image stabilization, mono video audio

As reviewed, the Panasonic Lumix GF1 retails for $899 – with the 20mm lens. This is exactly the same price as the Olympus E-P2 with a similar pancake lens (the E-P2 lacks a pop-up flash).