#CheckIn: Hotels Cater To The Social Media Obsessed

Some people just can’t break away from their networks when they travel — and hotels are catching on. The social media-obsessed can update their statuses (complete with pictures of themselves) at Facebook kiosks set up around the Ushuaia Ibiza Beach Hotel, and at the Sol Wave House in Majorca, a special web application only available on the hotel’s Wi-Fi network allows guests to share pictures and message with one another.

But even if you aren’t looking to go to Spain, there are plenty of tools to help you connect with fellow travelers and tap into discounts and deals. Friends of Friends Travel is a free social network that helps people share everything from hotel rooms to martinis with friends and friends of friends. And travelers — even the ones who want to put their smartphones down — should be on the lookout for hotels that encourage guests to “like” and tag them. The Radisson Edwardian chain offers guests the option of a late check out if they check-in on Facebook Places or Foursquare, and chains like Caesars gift loyalty points when users share Twitter and Instagram posts. All these marketing ploys may seem gimmicky, but what’s a tweet or two when it can lead to a more enriching travel experience?

An App For Apps Makes Travel Easier, Maybe Too Easy

Apps
Joe Lanman/Flickr

In the world of travel apps, we’ve seen geo-based, crowd-sourced and sharing technology that has opened up a lot of possibilities for travelers. We can automatically create a travel log with one, find a hotel on the fly with another and map our way through unknown lands with ease. The result? A home screen full of apps that demand to be sorted, modified and updated to be useful. But now, in a new generation that leverages a bit of artificial intelligence, app developers have a plan to make that easier. Gaining a mind of its own, your smartphone can do much more than we ask of it.

Tempo is a calendar app that uses learning algorithms to figure out what information you’re looking for, if not anticipate your needs. It’s a first generation of artificial intelligence applied to smartphones that considers all information sources available to present relevant information.

“After you grant Tempo access to your email and calendars, the app searches for all the tidbits of schedule-related information you have stored in your accounts, gathering it together and presenting it cleanly inside individual calendar events,” notes a Wired article.Going to a meeting across town? Given authorization, Tempo will take that calendar note to “meet client for lunch” and add access to recent email, relevant documents for the meeting, provide parking information at the location, information about the restaurant and check you in on Facebook or Foursquare, automatically.

Right now, we would need to open multiple apps to make that happen. In the future, we may just be along for the ride.

10 Tips For International Business Travel

International business travel is a different animal when compared to a quick domestic trip. Flying for extended periods of time alone presents its own unique challenges for those who have not done it before. Still, international business travel does not have to be the grueling sort of ordeal that first-timers anticipate by following a few simple guidelines.

For our purposes here, we assume a) you do not have a huge corporate travel department taking care of the details for you, b) you care how much elements of the trip cost and c) can accept a seat in coach.

  • Booking airfare- Book air far in advance for the best seat selection. Keep on top of fares by registering flights with AirFareWatchdog (before buying) and Yapta (after). If the price goes down later, a refund or credit for future travel may be possible. Also, reduce travel stress by insisting on a minimum of 2 hours between connections, especially on the return flight to the U.S. If the arrival airport is not your final destination, you’ll need time to recheck luggage and go through security screening again.
  • Periodically check reservations- Once flights are booked and seats assigned, return to the airline website to get a feel for how flights are filling up. You may wish to pay more closer to travel day for an aisle seat. SeatGuru can help with this. Also, be sure reservations have frequent flyer numbers on them to get credit for long flights. Be extra safe by saving boarding passes as proof later that you were on the flight.
  • Know what documentation is required- In addition to a valid U.S passport that expires a minimum of 6 months after your international travel, you may need to satisfy other entry requirements. The U.S Department of State‘s Smart Traveler Program offers all the information needed to enter and experience any given country in the world. Registering travel plans with Smart Traveler brings travel alerts and background information in advance of travel too.
  • Explore communication options in advance- Molding options on a cellphone plan to fit where your destination can make using your cellphone abroad a viable option. On extended trips a new sim card to match your destination might work best, but simply customizing options can work well too. Adding an international data plan, for example, will let you use smartphone apps that can be invaluable navigating foreign soil. Another option is to “Cheat On Your Cellphone Service With Tep Wireless.”
  • Fly in a day in advance of important meetings- Have some plans in place but have International business travelthe flexibility to spend the first day overseas adjusting to the time difference and getting used to new surroundings. If everything goes well, you may be able to hit the ground running. If a few parts of your travel plan don’t come off as anticipated, all is not lost, just a bit behind schedule.
  • Start focusing on getting plenty of rest and eating right several days before the flight- Unless you’re headed to Canada from New York, most international travel translates to some long flights. Sure, maybe we can’t “bank” sleep but starting a long flight with a full tank of rest is always a good idea. Also see: “How To Deal With Jetlag.”
  • Consider the allowed personal carry-on item your “flight bag”- and have everything that might be needed during the flight in it. Having at hand, under the seat in front of you, is huge and a must-do for all international flights. Also, finish packing (at least preliminarily) a week in advance. That offers the opportunity to be sure critical items are packed and allows time to source those items not packed first time around.
  • Enjoy the experience that international flights can offer in and of itself- Flight attendants or other passengers have wonderful stories to tell that can add a richness to our travels. Engage the world with smartphone apps like HipGeo and FourSquare to share your experience and record your journey step by step. Bringing along the new app TagWhat is almost like having a personal travel guide along for the ride.
  • Know a little of the language- While you’re apt to kick yourself for not knowing more once on the ground, basic words and phrasing is a must. Questions like “How much?” and “Can you help me?” go a long way, along with: “Please,” “Excuse me” and “Thank You.” A smartphone app for translating languages is a good idea.
  • Money matters- Like language, have a good idea of how the local currency converts to dollars, not that you can do anything about that but just so you will have an idea of value and maybe not pay the equivalent of $10 for a Coke. Onanda’s Currency app for iPhone is a good one to have handy. Use a credit card that will work internationally (not all will) and does not charge an extra fee for doing so. Be sure to notify card companies when you will out of the country too, otherwise they may shut you down, thinking your card has been stolen.

There are plenty of other tips for international business travel, including Gadling’s International Travel Tips In 100 Words Or Less, but these have helped me quite a bit and some were hard lessons to learn.

One more: do not forget a power converter. I spent the good part of a day in Venice on my first international business trip, looking for a device that would allow me to stick my U.S. plug into the odd-sized electrical outlets in our hotel. Since the only Italian words I knew were from working at the Olive Garden decades ago, I walked around the city with a hand written note from the hotel desk clerk to help. I assume that note said, “This man wants a power converter,” but it might have said, “Laugh at this silly American,” because most people I presented it to did.

[Flickr image via || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL ||]

Geotagging Brings Mobile Tour Guide To The World

geotaggingGeotagging has brought us a wide array of travel apps, some better than others. Foursquare, HipGeo, the mobile version of Facebook and more allow us to record where we go and share that information with others. Tagwhat is another one. The Tagwhat difference: a new way of organizing information by using the context of location and interests.

Tagwhat promotes their app as a “mobile tour guide” that makes the user a local expert, wherever they go.

“People are curious about the world around them, especially when they visit new places,” says Tagwhat on its website. “While you can’t always hire a tour guide to share the hidden stories on your journey, we believe you can do even better.”

The free Tagwhat app finds and organizes content from the web and social networks to provide the user with information specific to their exact location, basically matching up the user’s location with all known information about it. Drawing from Wikipedia, FourSquare, Facebook and Twitter, Tagwhat brings stories, videos and photos about the places around you.

To get this content, Tagwhat leverages crowdsourcing, publisher partnerships, open sources like Wikipedia, and proprietary algorithms that analyze Tagwhat stories to identify related content.

Along the lines of HipGeo, Tagwhat lets users make a personal travel journal of the places they have been. Different (and better?) than HipGeo, Tagwhat allows the addition of multimedia stories about those places, all from iPhone and Android mobile devices.


Photo via Tagwhat

Journaling App Works Like Magic, Given The Chance

journaling appHipGeo is a convenient journaling app that enables travelers to keep track of what they saw and where they saw it. Users then share their travels and use what other people share to enhance their own travel experiences. In a new release, HipGeo instantly transforms all those elements into virtual journals that can then be automatically shared a variety of ways.

“If Tumblr and Foursquare had a baby, it would look like the new HipGeo,” HipGeo’s Rich Rygg told CNET when we first reported on HipGeo back in January.

The latest release enhances social network and private sharing experiences by grouping together disparate mobile photos, videos and text into a location and storytelling stream, automatically.

We put HipGeo to the test on a recent trip through Scotland, Ireland and Wales and found the new version so easy to use it was difficult. In areas where we had no cell signal, we thought the new version of HipGeo was not working at all. But at those locations, HipGeo stores information, much like a digital camera, then uploads it later.Called “background mode,” when out of your home country with data services turned off to avoid charges, or when Wi-Fi is not available, HipGeo automatically saves entries. Later, when back home or when a signal is available, HipGeo posts those entries automatically.

When the trip is over, users can go back and fill in photos, journal details and more when a location has no information listed. HipGeo tracks everywhere users go, automatically. Adding media to the stream is up to the traveler.

Intrigued? A good way to get started with HipGeo is to post photos from a recent vacation or adventure then watch as HipGeo works its magic.

Note to HipGeo: in the next release, train the app to pick my best photos, automatically record descriptive phrasing I might say while at the location and send a text link to my friends who are not traveling, just to rub it in.

[Image- Chris Owen]