Cruise Travel Apps Free To Use At Sea

travel appsWhen we review travel apps that actually do something, they often tap crowd-sourced information that is as rich (or not) as the number of users who have contributed their opinions or reviews. GPS-based travel apps take existing technology and manipulate it in one way or another to bring every thing from finding a friend on the road to creating a virtual journal of our travels, step by step. In the world of cruise travel, the number of apps available is limited compared to other modes of transportation but they are often highly specific, producing information not available elsewhere.

travel appsNorwegian Cruise Lines has a newly updated travel app that can be a helpful planning tool in advance of sailing with information about destinations, ships and special offers. Once on board Norwegian’s newest ships, even more helpful features are available.

The free download for iPhone, Android and Windows 7 features photo galleries and videos; ship information including deck plans and on-board amenities; stateroom descriptions, images and floor plans; 360-degree virtual ship tours and more.

On board Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Breakaway, passengers can log on, select an Internet package to buy then text and call others on the ship who are also connected, using time from their pre-paid plan. Free services include the ability to see previews of and book shore excursions, restaurants and other on-board products like spa services and shopping. Users can view their shipboard charge account as well as a list of daily activities at any time, also without using purchased Internet minutes.travel appsSailing some other cruise line? Cruise Ship Mate ($1.99), can be even more helpful in the planning stages of cruise travel as it has the ability to see all itineraries of all major cruise lines. Included among features that do not need an Internet connection to use are deck plans, cruise ship information and a packing list. Connected, users get cruise ship deck cam links and a chat feature that enables passengers on a specific ship and sailing date to communicate in advance of and during sailing.

A unique feature on the Cruise Ship Mate app is a Cruise Ship Tracker. This one allows users to see the exact location of any ship at any time, using technology similar to that of CruiseCal, the long running subscriber-based website that pinpoints where ships are and which ships will be in port at the same time you are.

But maybe you are not really into apps but have some favorite travel websites that you would like to access quickly on your Apple iPhone or iPad?

iPhone 5 users can create quick links to their most-visited websites using the “add to home screen” option, like I did for the Gadling site. On your favorite site, in Safari, just tap the “Share” button at the bottom of the screen, tap the icon labeled “Add to Home Screen,” tap the “Add” button then launch the website from your Home screen by tapping its icon.

Looking for other helpful travel apps? Check this video for apps that tell us everything from what is going on at any given destination to where restrooms are located.


[Image credit – Chris Owen]

Travel Credit Cards Promise Savings, But At What Cost?

travel credit cardsTravel Credit cards that offer a sign-up bonus or cash back, or accumulate points that can be translated into savings on travel are surely worth a look. If just changing from one card to another will bring free flights, hotel stays, car rentals or funds to buy gear, why would any budget-minded traveler not do that? Often, we have to look beyond the headline to get to the real story.

Cardhub is back this week with an updated list of the Best Travel Credit Cards for 2013 featuring the best deals, selected from more than 1,000 different offers. Hoping to “help consumers save as summer vacation planning gets into full swing,” Cardhub told Gadling in an email this week that “the right credit card can save consumers hundreds of dollars on summer travel.”

That claim looks to be valid too. Switching to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for example, will bring a 40,000-point reward bonus.

Thinking along the lines of airline points, that’s about what it takes for a round-trip ticket to Europe from North America. True, but airline points are not what we get with this offer. Those 40,000 points are redeemable for $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program or a $400 statement credit. To get that, cardholders are required to spend $3000 during the first three months the card is open.Still, the most conservative result, $400 credit on the account, is a nice payday for doing very little work. But if transferring a balance from an existing account, there is a $150 charge, which eats away at the gain. Traveling with the card brings some advantages though. Chase charges no foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad and there is no annual fee for the first year ($95 after that).

Some other factors to consider include the effect of trying to get this card on your credit score, even if declined. Planning on a major purchase in the near future, like a home mortgage? Real estate expert Anthony Gilbert lists applying for new credit cards and closing old ones as two of the six top things not to do before applying for a mortgage in a RealFX article.

“Too many credit inquiries over a relatively short period of time, are never a good thing for your credit score,” says Gilbert, adding “when you close any credit card, you may easily, yet innocently raise your “debt to credit limit ratio” – which can preclude a mortgage approval, or cause you to pay a higher interest rate.”

Speaking of credit score, you’ll need a pretty good one for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The people at CreditKarma say the average score accepted by Chase is 730, considered excellent by those who track such things.

That’s not to say credit card savings are not out there. The $0 fraud liability guarantees, the lowest possible currency conversion rates and complimentary rental car insurance coverage offered by many cards can add up fast.


[Photo credit – Flickr user theMaykazine]

Your Kickstarter Vacation. My Money. No.

When we ran out of money, we were on a beach in Corfu. My boyfriend trawled the construction sites until he found a job hauling cement. I checked in at restaurants and hotels, but failed to turn anything up. I gave up after about a week; there was no work to be had. I spent the days reading on the beach. My boyfriend would come back to our campsite in the shell of an unfinished holiday cottage with his hands raw. We would buy bread and cheese and olives with the cash he’d been paid on that day. This went on for about two weeks, and when the gypsies started giving us food we knew it was over.

We swallowed our pride, called our parents and asked them to wire us money so we could get off the island and go somewhere that we could find work. We ended up farming in Israel where we got housing and three squares and a paltry salary that we saved because there was little to spend it on and beer was very cheap.

Today, there’s a better way than sucking it up and calling Mom and Dad. You can avoid the dirt and damage of manual labor. You need an Internet connection, maybe a blog and nerve. You’ll need to offer up something as incentive – a $5 donation receives a postcard from your exotic locale, a $10 donation gets a download code for a copy of your, as of yet unwritten, essay about your travels, a $25 donation gets a print of a photo you took that you think is pretty good – come on, it’s totally National Geographic quality, right? Plus, anyone who donates get this pleasure, no, let’s be realistic, honor, of supporting your travels. Open a Kickstarter fund for your travels and ask total strangers to pay for them. You’re doing them a favor, really.

My parents did not react with the gratitude I was hoping for when I called from my crash pad on a London sofa, broke again, to ask for airfare and spending money. The roommates in the London flat where I awaited the arrival of wired funds weren’t thrilled either. They were gracious, they knew I was on hard times, but they weren’t so into my before its time “Occupy the Living Room” movement. Nobody saw the benefit in their role of making it possible for me continue my travels abroad, no matter how many postcards and photos and essay length letters I sent home, or how many dishes I washed, or how many rounds I pitched in for when it was my turn to buy.When did it become acceptable to ask total strangers for money so we can go on vacation? When did we start assuming that of course people will back our vanity travel publishing project, after all, we are just that special? This couple from Arizona thinks you should give them money to cross China.

“…we received a quote for the total cost of entering China twice to complete our proposed route. The expected cost is over $20,000. We will continue to pay for all other travel related expenses; our Kickstarter project will only fund our ability to cross China.

This falls outside of our budget, but the ability to cross China will enable us to have a once in a lifetime driving experience along an ancient trade route. A journey worthy of being written into a book.”

Of course, funding their once in a lifetime trip makes more sense than funding my own, right? And they are not that unusual. Here’s a young man from Florida who wants you to pay for his documentary about his cycling trip around Iceland.

“What are my qualifications for making this documentary? I have a lot of experience getting things done. For example, here is a book I wrote called ‘Start Importing from China’ and here is a website I launched called Wiki Cancel. Second, I have a lot of travel experience, which makes me comfortable in foreign countries. Third, I am not afraid of trying things or approaching new people, which means you will see a lot of interesting things on the documentary.”

I, too, am unafraid of trying things, but instead of doing so myself, perhaps I should fund this group of guys who want to share their style of travel with us.

“…the backpacker’s life; the life that depends on the road and the bag, the warmth and affordability of hostels/BNBs, and the unique people who you meet and learn from along the way.”

Perhaps these four admittedly very appealing young men are unfamiliar with a company called Lonely Planet – the company that documented the backpacker’s life for decades. For about $17, I can get a book that tells me not about a random stranger’s travels, but how to plan my own.

I would like to remodel my kitchen, have my garden landscaped and buy a tiny studio apartment somewhere in Hawaii. These are things that would be great fun for me, and I could invite you over for a meal in my new kitchen, or perhaps you would like a photo of my garden. I could write a book about my part-time life in Hawaii and if you pay for my apartment, I will give you a code so you can download the manuscript for free. Is this not appealing to you? How are the pitches to fund my travel any different?

These Kickstarter plans seem like grand adventures for the travelers. God speed. May they travel safely, meet kind strangers, and never have to pack away a wet tent. But I am not paying for it, no way, no how. Here’s the thing: I, too, would like to travel the Silk Road. I too would like to ride a bicycle around an island nation. I would like to share stories of how my adventures transpire in an insightful and interesting manner. This fall, I hope to do a big camping trip with my husband around the American Southwest. To do this, we will work, save our money and then, go travel.

Perhaps I am making a mistake and I should be asking you to pay for it. But I cannot think of one good reason why you should.

[Image by bradleygee via Flickr]

Photo Of The Day: A Woman At Work

photo of the day

This Photo of the Day (POTD), titled “A woman at work in the vegetable market in downtown Colombo,” comes from Gadling Flickr pool member MyLifesATrip and was captured with an Apple iPhone 5.

Not normally the camera of choice for photos I find POTD-worthy, MyLifesATrip AKA Gadling contributor Jen Pollack Bianco said of the device, “the iPhone/iPod Touch has the potential to become the must-have travel gadget” in “iPhoneography: Make your iPhone travel pictures spectacular,” a 2011 story written before the improved iPhone 5 was being sold. “Its camera is so stealth and so versatile that you no longer have an excuse for your photos to be anything less than awesome, even if your vacation is a total bust.”

I have to agree. While investing in expensive camera gear may be a good idea for the very best, most professional looking shots, Bianco’s work here is proof that thousands need not be spent to capture an engaging image. Good food for budget thought when planning future travel gear purchases.

Want to be featured? Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

Tips for being featured: add a caption describing the image and (better yet) your personal experience when capturing it, details of the photography gear used and any tips you might have for others wanting to emulate your work.

Now, you can also submit photos through Instagram; just mention @GadlingTravel and use the hashtag #gadling when posting your images.

[Photo Credits Flickr user MyLifesATrip]

Save Money And (Maybe) Time With The Right Luggage, Packed Efficiently

luggage

I am one of the lucky ones: a traveler who has never experienced the inconvenience of lost or damaged luggage. I like knowing that but have never dared talk about it out loud, for fear of jinxing the luck or angering the luggage gods. Instead, when others tell their tale of woe concerning luggage mishaps or go on about inadequate reimbursement from airlines, I politely nod in sympathy. Still, I know that luck does not hold out forever. Wanting to go out on top, combined with a need for speed and a love for saving money, I tried a different approach on a trip to Amsterdam recently; I checked nothing and carried on all of my luggage.

“Back in the day, checking your bag on a trip only cost you 20 minutes of your time after a flight. Now you’re lucky if it only costs you $20,” says Adam Dachis from Lifehacker, a website with tips, tricks and downloads for getting things done.

My thoughts exactly – but as more air travelers try to beat the system by carrying on more, less space is available, making packing efficiently a must. Picking the right bag, rolling clothes and taking only what we actually need make for a good start. But getting your head in the game can score some of the best results.”Problems occur when you start thinking of everything you pack as “single use” items,” says Dachis in “How to Fit Two Weeks Worth of Luggage Under the Airplane Seat in Front of You,” urging us to realize that most clothing can easily be worn more than once, some many times.

Dachis recommends a flexible duffel-style bag that gives up little space to padding, protection or aesthetics. Been there, done that, not for me. Spending a lot of time in airports I had seen businessmen with stackable luggage. A medium sized bag that fits overhead and a smaller one that fits under the seat. These were the road warriors I needed to pay attention to. Many had rollerboard-style luggage with four wheels too. I liked that idea as well. These were my personal luggage idols. They had crossed the finish line with a huge luggage win.

In my case, the search was long and tedious to find the right luggage. After years of searching, trying and eventually adding failed bags to a spare bedroom we call “the luggage room,” I may have found a good fit.

TravelPro’s 21-inch Spinner Suiter combined from their Crew collection can easily go in overhead storage and holds plenty of clothes for a week. What Travelpro calls a “business brief,” from the same collection, has extra room for more clothing too and fits easily under an airline seat. On my trip to Amsterdam, home for a day then off to Venice, I don’t want to unpack and pack again. This looks to be the right tool for the job – for me. Everyone has different needs.

“You can’t have a perfect packing system,” admits Dachis, placing his greatest emphasis on efficiency. “Good preparation makes for better travel.”

I couldn’t agree more. The down side? I still have to wait for those I travel with to collect their checked luggage. So much for saving time.

Looking for more reasons to change your thinking about the luggage game? Watch this video:


[Photo credit – Canadian Pacific]