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]

Skype offering free WiFi access in 50 airports this holiday season

Skype is offering free WiFi in select airports for the holidaysVideo conferencing service Skype is giving the gift of free airport WiFi this holiday season, offering travelers in the U.S. the opportunity to place video or voice calls to friends and family while on the go.

Starting tomorrow, December 21st, and running through Tuesday, December 27th, Mac, PC, and iOS (iPhone, iPad, etc.) users will gain access to third-party WiFi hotspots in 50 different airports across the country. Skype users only need to login to the service and then check their wireless network connection to see if they are on a supported hotspot. Or better yet, you can check to see if an airport you’ll be traveling through over the holidays is covered in the promotion by using the handy-dandy interactive map that you’ll find by clicking here.

Skype seems to have most of the major airports in the U.S. covered with this free giveaway, including Chicago‘s O’Hare and Midway, Atlanta‘s Hartsfield-Jackson, New York‘s JFK and LaGaurdia, and Denver International. A good portion of holiday traffic is likely to go through those airports alone, but there are a number of others, both large and small, that are part of the Free Skype program as well.

This might be a handy service to have if your flight gets canceled or delayed this holiday season and you want to reach out to friends or family to let the know. Additionally, when the inevitable holiday blizzard hits, and you find yourself stranded, you can still feel a part of the festivities, even if you have to settle for an airport hotdog while the rest of the family dines on Christmas ham.


5 challenges of long-term travel and how to cope

privacy Does the thought of quitting your 9-5 job, packing a bag, and booking a one-way ticket to travel the world sound appealing? While in many ways it is, there are also a lot of challenges that go along with long-term travel. Learning how to deal with these hardships can be a big help in making an around the world trip, career break, or extended vacation a lot more enjoyable.

Challenge 1: Lack of privacy

Unless you’re extremely wealthy, chances are you’re going to be traveling on a tight budget if you plan on being away from home for more than a few weeks. Most likely, you will be staying in shared accommodations like hostels or volunteer homes and sleeping on people’s couches, leaving you with very little privacy.

So, what should you do? Many times hostels rent out single rooms that can allow you some alone time on a budget. While you’ll still pay more than for a shared dorm, it can be worth the splurge once in awhile. You can also try looking for sublet listings in the area or searching Airbnb for cheap rooms for short and long-term rent.Challenge 2: You feel homesick

While you may believe that traveling will keep you too distracted to miss home, think again. Chances are, at some point you’re going to crave something from the life you once lived, whether it be the people, the food, an activity you used to do, or just being able to lounge in your bathrobe while eating cereal from the box.

When traveling, I usually carry around photos of my friends and family back home, not only for myself but to show locals who are curious about my life in New York. It’s also a good idea to purchase an affordable calling plan, such as Skype or PennyTalk, to make calls when you feel like you need to hear someone’s voice. I’ve also found that keeping a blog, or at least an active Facebook page, helps because friends and family can follow my trip and comment, which makes me feel more connected to them.

If it’s a food you miss, going to the more touristy areas and trying to find the Western-style restaurants can help you find what you’re looking for. While in Ghana, I missed pizza so much that I actually took a 3 hour bus ride to get some, no joke. While I enjoyed trying local cuisine in Africa and getting to know the culture, I was at the point where I would have literally run through fire if I knew there was a McDonalds or Pizza Hut waiting on the other side.

Whatever it is you miss, try to recreate it. But always remember how lucky you are to be having an experience abroad and to not let homesickness keep you from missing out on unique experiences.

Challenge 3: You miss your normal diet and fitness routine

This is my biggest challenge when traveling for a long time. At home I’m very regimented in my workout routine and there are certain healthy food staples that I eat on a regular basis. Depending where you are this can be challenging, but not impossible.

Your first stop should be a local market or supermarket where you can find an array of unprocessed foods. While they might not have exactly what you’re looking for they may have something similar. For example, in Ghana I really missed apples, which weren’t always available. I started eating mangoes to subside my cravings and realized I actually liked them more than apples. Also, try to book accommodations with kitchens so that you can prepare your own meals and choose your own ingredients.

While you may not want to waste precious time at a local gym or late nights out partying are making it difficult to wake up, change the way you look at exercise. Don’t think of what you’re doing as a fitness routine but as a way to see a city from a new perspective. Bike from one town to another, go jogging through a picturesque park, swim at a local beach, or take a unique fitness class that you might not take at home and look at it as a cultural experience. Another tip: limit your use of transportation and try walking and biking. Not only will you save money and reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll burn calories.

Challenge 4: Quick relationships become the norm

Regularly traveling from city to city and always meeting new people can be a lot of fun…until you have to say goodbye. However, goodbyes become the norm when you are globetrotting, and it can be difficult to part ways with so many great people.

With this, one important thing is to change your outlook on the situation. While it isn’t fun, you’ve got to think about how lucky you are to have gotten to experience a new place with such interesting people. Take a lot of photos, make memories together, and at the end of it all exchange contact information. With all of the technology and social media platforms we now have, keeping in touch with people all over the world is easy. I can’t even count how many times I’ve actually planned other trips with or gone to visit people I met while backpacking. So, don’t be discouraged. And at the very least, you’ve made a new pen-pal.

Challenge 5: The actual traveling part of traveling gets exhausting

While getting to roam around the globe and see different places is fun, the actual means of getting to these places can get old. Sitting on long train rides, waiting in line to get through security at the airport, and stuffing yourself into a crammed bus are hard enough, but when you’re doing it regularly it can become downright draining.

Since teleporting is not yet an option (but probably will be soon at the rate we’re going), the only thing to do is to schedule vacations away from your vacation. Take a week (or longer) off from moving around and stay put in one town. While many people want to see as many different cities as possible, sometimes it’s better to see less places for more time to really get to know the culture.

Skype celebrates seven years – gives away 400 free landline minutes!

Hard to believe that Skype has already been around for seven years, and as part of their birthday celebration, they are giving away 400 free landline minutes to a variety of countries.

There is some fine print worth paying attention to, because after that first free month, they’ll start billing you monthly. Still, even once they start charging your card, you’ll be paying around $4/month for those minutes which is not a bad deal at all.

Now Skype is available on Android, this could be a great way to make perfectly cheap calls abroad when you are traveling (hint: Skype has been hacked to work over 3G when in the US). Head on over to their birthday site, pick a country, and enjoy your free talktime.

Skype for Android arrives in the marketplace – WiFi calling only when in the U.S.

Unless you were using a Verizon Wireless device, you’ve not had the chance to use Skype on your Android phone. Thankfully, that changed this morning when Skype released their app to the world, including those of us not on Verizon.

The Skype app allows for free Skype to Skype calls, as well as paid calls to mobile and landline phones. The new Skype client for Android works on 3G and WiFi outside the U.S. and WiFi only within the U.S.

The application itself is free, and you get a free EUR0.09 credit, worth one call to a phone anywhere in the world.

The application itself is well made – it can sync with your existing contacts and stays active in your notification drop-down, ready to alert you to incoming calls or messages.

Inside the app, you can change your profile, set your status and purchase Skype add-ons. Search for “Skype” in the Android marketplace to find the app.

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