Travel Smarter 2012: Use your mobile apps better

It should come as no surprise that owning a smartphone in 2012 is a traveler’s perfect tool to better explore, organize and record their travels. And by now, there are literally thousands of app roundups out there to help lead you to the good ones. But this isn’t another one of those roundups. Instead, today Gadling is taking a closer look at how to use your existing apps – the ones you already have in 2012 – to travel smarter.

Consider the issues you typically face on the road. You’re hungry, or lost. Perhaps you’re simply trying to communicate with someone in a foreign language. The truth is you don’t always need to spend $1.99 on the newest “travel app” to do these things. Sometimes the best app is the one you already have on your smartphone.

Based on hundreds of hours on the road, both here in the U.S. and abroad, testing various mobile apps, we’ve compiled the following travel tips to help you get the most out of the apps on your smartphone. Are you a travel app pro? Click through for our tips.Use Your Camera to Save Important Information
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’re probably already aware of the huge boom in mobile travel photography apps and tips in recent months. And certainly smartphones (iPhones in particular) have proven themselves as clear winners for traveling photographers.

But are you using your phone’s camera to its full potential? Truth is, your smartphone’s camera makes a great storage and communication tool. Don’t want to carry around your map with directions to dinner? Take a photo. How about a snapshot of the street where your hotel is at so you can show the taxi driver? Voila. Have a food allergy? Take a photo of the food to show at the restaurant.

Get a Recommendation from a Local
Many travel apps claim to help you find cool things to do in new places you’re visiting. Problem is, they don’t deliver. The secret is that locals in your destination don’t use them. The trick to getting good recommendations is to use what the locals use, and right now those two apps are Foursquare and Yelp.

If you’re not already using Foursquare, it’s quietly become the new killer travel app. Most people think of Foursquare as “that service that lets you check in to bars to try and look cool.” But with a series of great recent updates, including an ability to share and make lists and the new explore feature, Foursquare is now a powerful tool to help you find good stuff to eat, see and do in unknown places. Check out their Foursquare Cities account for some great user-created tips in cities like Berlin, Milan, Sydney, London and more.

Yelp is another app many of us know from our daily wanderings in our hometown. Ever tried it on the road? Open the app and click on “Nearby” on the bottom menu, then “Hot New Businesses” to find out what local users are talking about right now.

Store Your Travel Research on Your Phone
Now that the vast majority of travel research happens on the web, there’s no reason for all that research to get stuck on your computer when you leave for the airport. Take it with you – use your smartphone to collect it all in one place.

Many people already use mobile reading apps like Instapaper (for iOS) or Read it Later (for Android) to collect long articles for offline storage – why not create a folder of great articles for your trip? Don’t forget to install the app’s “bookmarklets” on your web browser for easy adding. Another great free source of info is Wikitravel – try uploading the whole destination guide for the city you’re visiting to your Instapaper or Read It Later app for easy offline reading. Evernote is another great document storage app you may already have that lets you store everything from web links to photos to audio recordings.

Make Cheaper Phone Calls and Pay Less for Wi-Fi
If you’ve ever placed a phone call from abroad using your cell phone, you probably remember the sticker shock that came with it when you got the bill back. That’s where Skype’s suite of mobile apps can be a real lifesaver. Use your mobile phone over a Wi-Fi connection to make phone calls (and send texts) while abroad to any phone number. Did you know Skype also has an app that lets you pay-by-the-minute for Wi-Fi at over 1 Million locations worldwide? Skip the $8 daily Wi-Fi rate at the airport and login using your existing Skype credit.

[flickr image via Cristiano Betta]

A brief history of Telluride and its surrounding ghost towns

telluride ghost townsTelluride. The name alone conjures a variety of associations, from the debaucherous (Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues”) to the elite (Tom Cruise is the other inevitable mention). But this isolated little town in Southwestern Colorado’s craggy San Juan range has a truly wild past and a lot to offer. It’s not the only mining-town-turned-ski-resort in the Rockies, but I think it’s the most well-preserved, photogenic, and in touch with its history. Apparently I’m not alone, because the town core (all three blocks of it) was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1964.

Located in a remote box canyon (waterfall included) at 8,750 feet, Telluride and its “down valley” population totals just over 2,000 people. I’ve lived in Telluride off-and-on since 2005, and there’s something to be said about a place where dogs outnumber residents, and you can’t leave home without running into people you know. Longtime residents burn out on the small town thing, but I still get a kick out of it after years of city living.

Today the former brothels of “Popcorn Alley” are ski shanties, but they’re still painted eye-catching, Crayola-bright colors, and the old ice house is a much-loved French country restaurant. Early fall is a great time to visit because the weather is usually mild, the aspens are turning, and there’s the acclaimed Telluride Film Fest, brutal Imogene Pass Run (Sept. 10) and Blues & Brews Festival (Sept. 16-18) to look forward to. The summer hordes are gone, but the deathly quiet of the October/early-November off-season hasn’t begun.

According to the Telluride Historical Museum, the town was established in 1878. It was originally called Columbia, and had a reputation as a rough-and-tumble mining town following the opening of the Sheridan Mine in the mid-1870’s. The mine proved to be rich in gold, silver, zinc, lead, copper, and iron, and with the 1890 arrival of the Rio Grande Southern railroad, Telluride grew into a full-fledged boomtown of 5,000. Immigrants–primarily from Scandinavia, Italy, France, Germany, Cornwall, and China–arrived in droves to seek their fortunes. Many succumbed to disease or occupational mishaps; the tombstones in the beautiful Lone Tree Cemetery on the east end of town bear homage to lots of Svens, Lars’, and Giovannis.

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[Photo credit: Flickr user hubs]

telluride ghost townsThe mining resulted in 350 miles of tunnels that run beneath the mountains at the east end of the valley; you can see remnants of mine shafts and flumes throughout the region. If paddling is your thing, you’ll see gold dredges runnning on the San Miguel, San Juan, and Dolores Rivers.

Telluride’s wealth attracted the attention of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, who famously robbed the town’s San Miguel National Bank in 1889 (trivia: I used to live in an upstairs apartment in that very building). But in 1893, the silver crash burst the money bubble, and almost overnight Telluride’s population plummeted. By the end of World War II, only 600 people remained.

Telluride is a part of the 223-mile San Juan Scenic Highway, which connects to the historic towns of Durango, Ouray, and Silverton. There’s only one paved road in and out of Telluride, and that’s Hwy. 145. The only other options are two high, extremely rugged mountain passes (which require 4WD and experienced drivers). There are also a handful of ghost towns in the area. Some, like Alta (11,800 feet) make for a great, not too-strenuous hike; you’ll see the trailhead four miles south on Hwy 145. There are a number of buildings still standing, and two miles up the road lie the turquoise Alta Lakes.
telluride ghost towns
If you want to check out the ghost town of Tomboy, it’s five miles up Imogene Pass (13,114 feet). Don’t underestimate just how tough it is if you’re hiking; you’ll gain 2,650 feet in altitude; otherwise it’s an hour’s drive. The trail begins on the north end of Oak Street; hang a right onto Tomboy Road. Unless you’re physically fit and acclimated to the altitude, the best way to see these ghost towns is by 4WD tour with an outfitter like Telluride Outside. Another bit of trivia: every July, the “Lunar Cup” ski race is held on a slope up on Imogene Pass, clothing optional.

How to get there
Telluride is a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver, but it also boasts the world’s second highest commercial airport (9,078 feet) with daily non-stop connections from Denver and Phoenix. It’s closed in sketchy weather (if you’re flight phobic, just say “hell, no”), and it’s often easier and usually cheaper to fly into Montrose Regional Airport, 70 miles away. From there, take Telluride Express airport shuttle; you don’t need a car in town. Go to VisitTelluride.com for all trip-planning details. For more information on the region’s numerous ghost towns, click here.

When to go
Telluride is beautiful any time of year, but avoid mid-April through mid-May and October through before Thanksgiving, as those are off-season and most businesses are closed. Spring is also mud season, and that’s no fun. Late spring, summer, and early fall mean gorgeous foliage, and more temperate weather, but be aware it can snow as late as early July. August is monsoon season, so expect brief, daily thunderstorms. July and winter are the most reliably sunny times; that said, Telluride averages 300 days of sunshine a year. If you want to explore either pass, you’ll need to visit in summer.
telluride ghost towns
Telluride tips
The air is thin up there. Drink lots of water, and then drink some more. Go easy on the alcohol, too. Take aspirin if you’re suffering altitude-related symptoms like headache or insomnia, and go easy for a couple of days until you acclimate. Wear broad-spectrum, high SPF sunblock, and reapply often on any exposed skin or under t-shirts. Wear a hat and sunglasses, as well.

[Photo credits: Tomboy, Flickr user Rob Lee; Mahr building, Laurel Miller; winter, Flickr user rtadlock]

Check in (virtually) to check out later at Radisson Edwardian hotels

social media dayLondon hotel group Radisson Edwardian has just launched its new ‘Check In, Check Out Later’ promotion in honor of Social Media Day today. The feature, which will be available until July 31, gives digital-savvy guests the opportunity to extend their checkout by up to two hours by ‘checking in’ to one of Radisson Edwardian’s twelve London hotels or Manchester hotel location-based social media service Foursquare.

Once checked in, guests just need to show their smartphone at the front desk to enjoy all the benefits of a late checkout. For Foursquare, the late-check-in will be promoted using a ‘Foursquare special offer’ which customers can see when they check-in on Foursquare.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to enrich the hotel experience for our guests and this was a great opportunity to once again connect an online interaction with an offline benefit. Checking in on Facebook or Foursquare has been popular with our guests, so rewarding them with a couple of extra hours in bed seemed like a nice way to say thanks,” Amy Clarke, e-commerce manager for Radisson Edwardian, said.

As we noted yesterday, the increased attention of hotels to the consumer power of social media is encouraging – and it also benefits us, the traveler.

The hotel has also experimented with other social applications, including Quick Response (QR) codes to restaurant menus in 11 of its London hotels. The QR codes direct diners to an online video hosted on the hotel’s website to show the ‘dish of the month’ being prepared by one of the hotel’s executive chefs. The video gives tips and advice on how the dish is prepared and the ingredients used. Honestly, we’re not sure how exciting this is to the average user – we’d probably prefer to talk to our dining guests rather than watch a phone video. But still, the hotel’s level of commitment to social media and engaging guests is impressive. Let’s see if the rest of the service during a stay matches up.

The Ritz-Carlton Checks In To Foursquare

foursquare ritz-carltonAs global hotel companies go, we’re always pleasantly surprised by luxury brand Ritz-Carlton‘s rapid acceptance of and moves towards innovation in the social media space. At the corporate level, they’ve been quick to adapt to and utilize sites like Twitter (@RitzCarlton), and, at the property level, often engaged on social media sites in a way that their luxury competitors are not.
Now, the brand has launched a new initiative with Foursquare, the location-based social networking service that allows users to “check in” at locations around the globe.

Dubbed the World Concierge, Ritz-Carlton’s entree into the Foursquare market is the first time a luxury hotel brand has extended their exclusive services to a mobile public audience. Tips will be populated regularly by concierges from all 75 Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world contributing, with the knowledge-base growing and evolving every week.

There is not a mention to be found about the soup of the day at a particular hotel; instead, the ladies and gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton have taken their knowledge and expertise beyond the four walls of the hotels in which they reside, providing insight into cities such as Toronto, Miami, Berlin and Dubai to name a few.

The result: hundreds of tips and insights about local destinations and landmarks all over the world.

“Guests of The Ritz-Carlton have always enjoyed the expertise of concierges who are the best in the business. Their local knowledge, VIP access and incomparable contacts make them an invaluable resource for travelers”, said Chris Gabaldon, chief sales and marketing officer for The Ritz-Carlton Company.

Foursquare users are able to find local information by visiting the profile of The Ritz-Carlton or by checking in to numerous locations of interest around the world. To receive tips as they go live you can follow The Ritz-Carlton on Foursquare. If you’re not already following the brand, you may see the tips as part of of other area recommendations.

They’re not the first brand to partner with the location-based service. Starwood is also engaged in the FourSquare space, offering loyalty points to users who “follow” the brand and “check in” virtually when they literally “check in” to the hotel with a confirmed registration. Hyatt has had similar success at the concierge level with their proven @HyattConcierge Twitter handle, which supplements the property-level concierge staff by serving as a social media funnel for guest requests across all brand properties.

We’re curious to see if other brands follow suit, emulating one of the established players, or, like Four Seasons, continue to develop individual property personas across channels like Twitter or Facebook.

Starwood makes checking in a social affair

Starwood and foursquareStarwood Preferred Guest, the rewards program for such brands as Sheraton and Westin, just took “checking in” from the front desk to the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. The hotel company is launching a new program with social media company foursquare to increase member benefits.

According to foursquare’s blog, this partnership is “the first truly global loyalty integration of its kind,” an appropriate statement for a corporate blog, of course. Here’s the upside for you: when you check in (on foursquare) while checking in (at a Starwood), you can pick up more points, get free nights and win contests.

In the past, foursquare has worked with Heineken, American Express and others, but this appears to be its first foray into travel, a natural fit for a company that has built its business around location.