Two Great Travel Apps You Will Actually Use

travel apps
mikebaird/Flickr

New smartphone travel apps are released every day. Keeping up with which ones work can burn time better spent on planning, dreaming or, better yet, actually going some place. Many travelers are appaholics who just can’t get enough. They test, load and organize pertinent apps specifically for each trip. Others want an uncluttered home screen or just travel in a more unplugged way. They only want apps they will use frequently. Here are two of those.

Shall I go on that hike right now?
Dark Sky is a simple weather app that uses state-of-the-art weather forecasting to predict weather at the user’s location for the next 60 minutes. I ran across Dark Sky looking for a good radar application to track spring storms that pop up quickly and might be coming our way. The radar feature is simple and easy to use, but the near, live forecast feature makes this one an app travelers will use frequently.Too many apps?
Passbook, the feature, is an iPhone iOS 6 exclusive and not actually an app at all. This must-use travel feature keeps boarding passes, loyalty cards, retail coupons, movie tickets and more all in one app-like place. I keep this one on my home screen because it also retains boarding passes in history for easy “did I get my miles out of that?” checking later.

To grab all that data, Passbook taps apps from airlines, movie theaters, retail places and more. Another app that works with Passbook, Squarewallet, is making fumbling for cash or cards a thing of the past. By storing your card info then presenting it, along with a photo of you and your signature at an ever-increasing number of retail places, Squarewallet is simplifying paying and eliminating clutter on smartphone home screens.

No iPhone? No problem. There is indeed an app for that too. Passbook Viewer for Android will do the trick. Check this video for more about passbook:

Tagwhat Geotag App Like A Personal Tour Guide

geotag appGeotag apps are coming out of development at a frenzied pace these days as developers rush to use new technology in one way or another. Not long ago, we tested HipGeo, which takes tagged photos, as well as pin drops we make on the road, to block in a storyline of our adventures. Now Tagwhat, the app that hopes to be the mobile tour guide for the world, has upped its game, automatically dragging in digital content from the web.

Simply engaging the app at any given location pulls relevant wiki information about attractions and features of the area where users happen to be. The idea sounds relatively simple but the technology used to make it happen is rather complex. Testing the Tagwhat app, I brought up historic locations that I had never heard of before, along with in-depth information within a few miles of my home in Orlando. First thought: this is a great app for a quick weekend road trip.

But looking deeper into the Tagwhat application, developers have created two tools that enable their advanced geotagging functionality. Like a Pinterest button for location, the “Tag it” button is a Web browser “bookmarklet” that allows users to quickly select content on any Web page in a single click and direct it to any spot on a map.

The Tagwhat Publishing Dashboard lets users upload their own digital content to real-world places and manage what they have created. Content uploaded with the new publishing tools is added to Tagwhat’s database of more than 800,000 tags, or multimedia stories, globally.

“The web has billions of pages of Web content. But the problem was that there was no way to deliver the content to real-world settings, where the information would be most meaningful,” Dave Elchoness, founder and CEO of Tagwhat told Gadling. “Rather than typing in a search and hoping for the best, location-aware mobile devices now give us new way to search for and discover web content based on a user’s location and their interests.”

Indeed, the app has different “channels” to select, bringing a customized array of information, based on the users location. Users can choose from Wikipedia, Movies, Sports, Nature, Science and Tech, Offbeat, Events, Art, Heritage, Architecture, Food, Music and/or Books. Right now, I have all channels turned on but get only Wiki info. Later, as more users join and tag their information, Tagwhat promises to bring me deeper content, like being on a tour with a local who knows all the great spots. For example, say someone from Gadling tagged all the posts here. Gadling bloggers travel around the world to bring content about a variety of places, people and events. If I were in London with the Tagwhat app engaged, the content presented would include Gadling blogger Sean McLachlin’s post “Roman Cavalry Helmet To Be Star Attraction At Royal Academy Exhibition” and Jessica Festa’s “10 Stunning And Iconic Shots Of London” if I had selected the channels in Tagwhat where those posts appeared.

Say I did not care anything about those topics; with only “Sports” selected, I would see “Facts By The Numbers For The 2012 Olympic Games In London” and any sports related posts that had something to do with the London area.

On the move, the content changes to correspond with the user’s location too. I checked the content within a few miles of my home in Orlando then went for a drive. Arriving at the first location that I found interesting, a historic monument from the civil war, I checked again and a new list of attractions appeared, geared for where I was at that time.

Without sourcing any other content from the web other than wiki information, this app is a must-have for traveling to an unfamiliar destination. Tagwhat also adds value to a short trip in your own backyard.

This latest release of Tagwhat also has a push notifications feature that proactively notifies users about interesting stories nearby, even when the app is not open on their smartphone.


Tagwhat is available for iOS and Android.

Image courtesy Tagwhat

iPhone Travel Apps Ranked By Actual Usage

iphone travel appsiPhone Travel apps have been coming at us rapidly for quite some time now. Everyone seems to have their favorites, based on a variety of factors. Some iPhone travel apps are easy to use, quick to load and produce good results. Others, not so much. Knowing which one is most effective can be difficult but a new infographic takes a stab at sorting it all out.

Onavo is a data compression tech company that helps iPhone users get more from their data plan. How apps load and run is a topic they know all about. To feed this infographic, Onavo ranked travel search and booking apps by the percentage of U.S. iPhone users who activated them at least once during June 2012.

Onavo generated these infographic statistics using a sample of 100,000 U.S. iPhone users of their free iOS data-saving app that helps avoid overage fees.

“Acting as a proxy server, the Onavo Extend iOS version compresses data sent to your device from apps and websites, which means less bandwidth consumption,” reports Toonz.

[Flickr photo by mastrobiggo]

Is Instagram Helping Or Hurting Travel Photography?

sea lions It’s always fun to look at vibrant images of faraway destinations – a sun ray hitting the perfect piece of sand on a beach, an indigenous woman selling fruit at a weekend market or a mountain glowing 10 different shades. And, with all of the photography technology and apps we now have, it’s making it easier and easier for people to take flawless and exciting photos.

Do you ever wonder, however, if using these kinds of doctoring tools affects the ethics of photography? For example, is looking at a white sand beach that’s been photoshopped and filtered through Instagram really giving people an accurate view of a destination? Is heavily editing your photos, in a way, cheating? Travel photographers and travel editors from around the world weigh in on the subject.

One problem some are seeing with using instant-editing apps like Instagram and Camera+ is the photos can be somewhat misleading. It can give a sense you’re not getting a truthful depiction of a destination.”Sometimes images look a little too perfect. I like them to look a little more real,” says Mike Richard, editor of Vagabondish, a top-rated travel website.

For example, if you take a look at the photo above of Las Tijeretas on San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands, you’ll notice it looks completely different from the photo below. By using an Instagram filter on the top photo, the photographer has invoked an entirely different feeling of what the destination is like.

Lola Akinmade Akerström, whose work has appeared in publications like National Geographic, BBC and Forbes Traveler, agrees that travel photography should be about capturing a sense of place and culture as accurately as possible, instead of simply trying to take as many photos as you can in 10 minutes. For her, taking the viewer to a place as honestly as possible is “very different from fine art photography, which a lot of these filters and HDR effects cross into.”

She continues, “I personally won’t want to go somewhere where the sky is neon blue, the buildings appear more 3D than in reality, and people walk around looking like caricatures.”

Still, there are those travel photographers who are pro-Instagram, even using it themselves. Travel photographer Ken Kaminesky, who shoots commercial lifestyle images for stock photography, believes Instagram is all about having fun with your pictures. Additionally, because art is about perception, it’s all about how the photographer sees the shot, and how the viewers, in turn, perceive it.

“The photographer takes the pictures, not the camera,” he explains. “It still has a lot to do with your eye and how you compose things.”

sea lions Kaminesky also sees the benefit of using Instagram as a teaser for upcoming projects, showing his followers what they can look forward to with current and future assignments. For him and many other photographers, Instagram has many benefits in terms of social media sharing, helping to engage and excite their audience.

J.D. Andrews, editor of earthXplorer and travel photographer and videographer, sees the usefulness of Instagram, although believes it is more useful as a social media tool, more so than an article enhancer.

“When I’m shooting somewhere and I have the time, I always get the shots I need with my Canon, and then have fun with Instagram,” explains Andrews. “[If I were to use Instagram in an article], it would depend on the post. If it was about camera apps, sure. But most of the time, I only use Instagram for fun, ‘in the moment’ sharing.”

Kyle Marquardt, a commercial photographer and photo safari guide, agrees that Instagram is more for having fun than professional photos you would sell. Moreover, he believes the app allows people who would not usually be interested in photography to have fun with the endeavor. In fact, his mother, who had never used a camera before, bought an iPhone and became obsessed with Camera+. Now, she loves photography.

From the enthusiasm that apps like Instagram generate, photography becomes a more recognized medium. Many people will become interested in purchasing higher quality cameras, where they can learn what quality photos really look like.

“There is a lot more casual photography floating around now, and if a photographer puts work into a stunning, well-lit shot, then people are going to notice that gem amongst all the hastily executed and processed mobile photos,” says Marquardt.

How do you think Instagram is affecting travel photography?

The Best iPhone Travel App Lists

iPhone travel apps were of no use to me just six months ago. Despite spending much of my time traveling across the globe, I held out on getting an iPhone for what seemed as long as possible. Once I finally did cave and walked into the Apple store with my wallet in hand, my undoing turned out to be much more fun and efficient than I had imagined it would be. So why did I hold out?

I’ve been working online for quite some time now. My first online article was published in 2000. Life has been a series of HTML adjusting and Internet comment treading for me since then. Until fall 2011, I avoided the iPhone and all other smart phones like the plague. I was convinced, for some reason, that having access to my email and all other sorts of toys in my pocket would distract me. I was sure this kind of access would lead to no other conclusion than me being constantly “at work.” The result of not having an iPhone was actually the very thing I feared, I realize now in retrospect. Without portable and constant access to my inbox, I spent a large chunk of my free time tethered to my laptop, hoping to catch emails from editors and clients as they rolled in. It was with great satisfaction that I learned the true benefit of the iPhone: the ability to readily respond to emails without having to be attached at the hip to my MacBook.Instant and continual access to my emails was just the beginning. While sitting in the Apple store for over 3 hours, eager to leave with my new iPhone, time passed remarkably quickly. The representative I was buying the phone from seemed concerned. He brought me an ice cream sandwich from the back. He apologized that the initialization process through Sprint was taking so long; he said it’s not usually so bad. Little did I care; I had already downloaded several free apps while waiting for the paperwork to go through.

Admittedly, I spend a lot of time on my phone these days. I’m sure I’m in good company when I say it’s a great device to have around during times of restless boredom. Long lines don’t bother me so much anymore.

“Have it your way, long line. I have Instagram.”

But the iPhone has also been a remedy for many other now-retired daily pains beyond sheer boredom. When I went on tour prior to the iPhone, I actually printed off step-by-step directions from Google Maps. Embarrassing? Perhaps. Efficient? No way. I used to do things like ask strangers for directions, fruitlessly hunt down public restrooms and show up at restaurants that were already closed because I didn’t know their hours. I no longer carry any of these burdens.

Travel has been made easier because of the iPhone and its apps and everyone seems to know it. In fact, everyone seems to be blogging about it – including us. Rather than peruse a never-ending list of isolated iPhone apps that are good for travel, why not peruse a shorter list of roundups wherein the most useful iPhone travel apps are suggested?

Here are some lists I like, containing apps I have found useful in my own travel:

Top 20 iPhone Travel Apps from National Geographic
The Best iPhone Apps For Travel from Travel + Leisure
6 Great iPhone Travel Apps from PC Mag
Most Popular iPhone Travel Apps from Businessweek
Top 5 iPhone Apps For Traveling from Huffington Post
Best iPhone Travel Apps from Frommers
Top 25 iPhone Travel Apps from Main Street
The Best Travel Apps For iPhone from Lifehacker
80 Terrific Travel Apps For Summer Vacation from AppStorm
Best iPhone Apps For Traveling With Kids from Travel Mamas
7 Awesome Backpacking Travel iPhone Apps
10 Free Travel Apps from USA TODAY
11 Best Travel Apps from Aol Travel
The Best iPhone Apps For A Road Trip from Techlicious

10 Apps To Turn iPhone Into Your Best Travel Companion

And from Gadling:

10 Best Travel Apps For Frequent Fliers from Gadling
Travel Smarter 2012: User Your Mobile Apps Better from Gadling
6 Useful iPhone Apps for Road Trips from Gadling

Android Apps for International Traveling