Travel App Upgrades Add Value, Reduce Frustration

Taking the skeptical point of view on travel apps can be dangerous. But with so many apps from a variety of sources doing their rendition of the technology du jour, it is easy to dismiss the lot of them as more of the same. Sometimes though, tiny updates to existing apps can make them a valuable addition to our soft travel gear.

Travel Plans In One Place, Now With Ground Options
Subscribers to TripIt, the intelligent travel plan organizer, now have access to a new feature that might make the service more valuable. Already, TripIt users create a trip by defining a travel window period of time in which it occurs. Filling in the details can be as easy as forwarding an email copy of airline, hotel and/or rental car reservations to, which reads and understands your plans with a high degree of accuracy.

Now, new TripIt feature Groundlink enables users to add ground transportation, coordinated with existing travel plans, from a smartphone. The app has a Track Your Ride feature that Glympse users will feel comfortable with. Groundlink users will pick their drop-off point from a map generated by Groundlink using nearby venues, addresses, ride history or airports. Already armed with up-to-date details of user flight plans, Groundlink will monitor user travels and advise ground transportation services if it looks like their ride might be delayed. Right now, Groundlink is offering 20 percent off rides booked via the TripIt Mobile App.

Connectivity Worldwide Now With Easy Payment
Boingo, worldwide connectivity company with over 600,000 hotspots worldwide, announced recently that iOS users can now use their secure iTunes account to buy a Boingo subscription. Making the app easier to use than ever, users can activate the new plan on multiple iOS devices, allowing customers to quickly connect to unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi without entering account information.

Behind The Scenes Update For A Better Experience
Airbnb is an online service that allows “hosts” to rent unoccupied living space and other short-term lodging to guests. Testing the service here at Gadling has had mixed results. In the article “Important Warning For Anyone Using Airbnb,” Gadling’s Kyle Ellison warned, “if you plan on renting out a room or serving as a host, be sure you’re aware of the local laws, lest you receive a knock on the door that isn’t from a paying guest,” after discovering that many localities do not allow subletting. In “Airbnb Reconsidered,” Gadling writer Alex Robertson Textor highlights some communication problems inherent with the service that can be problematic.

In response to these concerns and others, Airbnb released a new update reported in techcrunch aimed not at users but at those who host them. One new feature will allow hosts to better communicate with potential users by pre-approving, denying, or requesting more information from guests. The hope is that the new features will increase the speed with which bookings can happen. Another feature will give hosts improved ability to update calendar listings, ensuring that the most current inventory can be seen by users.

Not Just Your Air, What You See Below
Delta Airlines, like most other carriers, has an app that will check you in, track your frequent flier program miles and more. Nothing really exciting there. But Delta’s Glass Bottom Jet is a unique app for iPad that brings users a bird’s-eye view of locations they are flying over. Users can explore the area with photos, landmarks and Wikipedia pages and tell you which Facebook friends you’re flying over. Check this video for more on Delta’s Glass Bottom Jet:

[Photo credit – Flickr user kamshots]

Seven Dead In Mexican Resort Town Of Cancun

News of Mexico rebounding from a string of drug-related violence still looks bleak; on Sunday, six people were strangled and one was decapitated in the southern Mexican tourist resort of Cancun.

Police found the bodies of the five men and two women in a shack in the outskirts of town. They believe the slain are independent drug dealers without any links to a specific cartel. The news comes just a month after two men opened fire in a bar in Cancun, killing six and injuring five others. More than 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2007.

Set on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Cancun is a favored beach destination for spring breakers (and, of course, those who want to skip the parties, too). Although violence has erupted in several Mexican cities over the past few years, there are still plenty of safe areas to visit. In fact, our own McLean Robbins just visited Cabo San Lucas, and Kyle Ellison seems to have no reservations about recommending Baja as a hotspot for adventure travel this year.

[Photo credit: Getty Images]

Blogger Kyle Ellison

Introducing another new blogger at Gadling, Kyle Ellison…

Where was your photo taken: Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. My wife and I kayaked around the backside of the island to Monkey Beach and found a wild monkey drinking an orange soda it had stolen from a Japanese tourist. As he chased the monkey around the sand in a questionable effort to retrieve his soda, another woman began screaming because a baby monkey had climbed into her kayak and was crawling all over her torso. The entire scene was pretty hectic.

Where do you live now: Lake Tahoe, California, an outdoor playground with far too many distractions.

Scariest airline flown: Definitely an Amaszonas flight in Bolivia. The plane only sat 8 people and it was so small my head hit the ceiling while I was in my seat. The pilot was sitting directly in front of me, and we had to navigate through the Andes in a dense fog. It was my first time looking out the window of an airplane and looking up at the mountains. When we finally landed, the runway was a narrow grass strip that was covered with grazing livestock.

Favorite city/country/place: If I could find a country that was an exact blend of New Zealand, Turkey, Laos, Uruguay, South Korea, Hawaii, and Ireland, then I would move there and never leave again.

Most remote corner of the globe visited: Probably inside of a cave 60 feet underwater while scuba diving in southern Vietnam. The Vietnamese are infamous for eating anything and everything, and upon spotting some clams inside of the cave the dive instructor crushed them open with a rock and we shared an impromptu meal. Eating underwater is more difficult than you might think.

Favorite guidebook series: I’ve historically been a Lonely Planet guy, but for the last couple of years I’ve opted to travel sans guide book. Local newspapers and postcards clue me in on what I should see, and the rest is impromptu.

Worst hotel experience: Being stuck inside of a hostel in Quito, Ecuador in the middle of a political coup. Military helicopters were landing on the hillside next to us as gunfire sounded in the streets. An expat American war veteran who was staying in the hostel estimated we’d last 4 days before we ran out of food.

How did you get interested in travel writing? After I graduated from college I had grand illusions of paying my way around the world by writing for surfing magazines. Logically the next step was I moved to New Zealand, bought a surfboard, lived in a van, and never got anything published. But at least it got me writing.

Other jobs: I’m currently a boat captain in Lake Tahoe, but I’ve also been a sea kayak guide in Alaska, a bartender in Greece, a scuba guide in Hawaii, an oyster chef in Florida, the head of a non-profit in Cambodia, and a DJ in a Spanish nightclub. I also teach tennis.

You are a contestant on the Price is Right. What vacation do you
hope is in the showcase showdown? What’s included? What’s the price?
A two week stay at a water bungalow in Bora Bora where my two biggest decisions are when to go diving and when to get a massage. The price? Making your wife happy with a trip you’ve promised her but have no idea how to pay for: Priceless.

Ten great markets around the world

All too often, the first stop on our tourist itineraries is at the local museum, mosque or castle. But an arguably better place to start your visit is at the market. A visit to a local market is the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs, try out the local cuisine and get a taste of authentic culture on your next trip. Here’s ten of our favorite markets from around the world. Take a look.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand
Swap the shopping cart for a dugout canoe, and the store aisle for a muddy canal, and suddenly you’ve found yourself bartering for fresh cut pineapple from a floating vendor at Bangkok’s Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. A longtime tourist draw, the market has skyrocketed in popularity, and on busy days the canals can get packed to the point of “canoe gridlock”. Well-prepared shoppers will bring small bills to avoid having to make change, and an adequate form of sun protection to survive the open-air journey.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

The granddaddy of its genre, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is the world’s oldest–and one of the world’s largest–covered markets. Slinging everything from traditional pottery to precious gemstones, the market has roughly 4000 different shops, and the restaurants feature some of the most palate-whetting, finger-licking good food on the planet. Savvy travelers to the market bring a pocketful of cash (as few stalls accept credit cards), hardy bargaining skills, and a voracious appetite.

Monastiraki Flea Market, Athens, Greece
On Sunday mornings in Athens, the Monastiraki Flea Market is simply the place to be. Rural merchants and urban store owners alike all crowd the streets with their wares, as street performers and local musicians provide background ambiance to the entire scene. While many of the goods found in the market can be classified as typical tourist junk, the intuitive shopper can easily be rewarded by hunting out the quirky local characters and some of the tucked away stores. One such store features a sign out front that simply states, “No tourists allowed. Travelers welcome”, attesting to the shopper it hopes to attract.
Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
Seeing as the entire city of Luang Prabang is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it comes as no surprise that it also features one of the most colorful, exquisite markets in all of Asia. Each evening, ethnic Hmong villagers descend from nearby hill communities to ply their handicrafts at the Night Market, with the most popular being the handsewn silk scarves. If all the shopping works up an appetite, an incredibly narrow alleyway features a cornucopia of fresh meat, vegetables, and fish, where you can tackle an “all-you can fit” style plate to the tune of a whopping $3.

Jalan Gaya Street Fair, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia

There aren’t all that many markets in the world where you can purchase a fresh handful of Rambutan fruit, handpainted blowdarts, and top it all off with a live snake for lunch. This is exactly the case, however, at the Jalan Gaya Street Fair held each Sunday in this bustling Borneo metropolis. For a curious array of fresh seafood, check down the street at the seafood market along the waterfront. Highly eclectic and culturally diverse, the entire scene takes place under the watchful eye of 13,435 ft. Mt. Kinabalu, looming stoically in the distance.

Chiconcuac Tianguis, Mexico City, Mexico
With the third-largest metropolitan area on the planet and a culturally diverse native population, Mexico City is bound to offer up some colorful street shopping experiences, for those who know where to look. Traditional tianguis (Aztec for market) are located all over the city, the largest being the Chiconcuac Market on the outskirts of the city, where up to 3,000 merchants swap handwoven clothing, pottery, and various forms of produce.

The Medina, Tangiers, Morocco

With its shoulder width alleyways and constant cloud of wafting spices, navigating the Tangiers Medina is a shopping experience entirely unto itself. While many of the Medina (old towns, usually featuring tightly knit houses and narrow alleys) in other Moroccan cities have become somewhat of tourist-traps, the Tangiers Medina is an authentic cultural experience. Spend enough time in the Medina, and there’s a good chance you’ll wind up drinking tea on a rooftop with a local carpet merchant, haggling over color schemes and which neighbor cooks the best lunch.

Chinatown Night Market, Singapore
Under a string of red lanterns in the moist equatorial air, the experience of the Chinatown Market comes alive once the sun goes down. A juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, you can haggle for knockoff watches and purses while eating a plate of fried manta ray wings, or examine the markings on a handpainted mask while enjoying a cold Tiger beer. While the market is always a hotbed of energy, the streets explode with activity during the Chinese New Year.

Portobello Market, London, England
Set in West London’s Notting HIll district (yes, the same one as the film), the Portobello Market held each Saturday turns two miles of Portobello Rd. into a teeming street scene of market stalls and browsing pedestrians. In proper British fashion, the market is subdivided into categories so that merchandise of the same genre can all be found clustered together in the same vicinity.

El Rastro, Madrid, Spain
An essential stop on any Madrid itinerary, El Rastro is a Sunday morning flurry of street commerce that takes up multiple streets in the Spanish capital. While the usual market items are available for purchase, the top-prize at El Rastro is to come away with a good price on a handcrafted sword from the nearby town of Toledo, home of all the weaponry found in the movie series Lord of the Rings.

* 20 best destinations for shopping
* 16 great farmers’ markets

Five of Hawaii’s hidden gems

While millions of visitors flock to Hawaii’s fabled golden shores, there are a number of sights around the state that are well-off the typical tourist map – and well worth a visit when in town.

Papohaku Beach, Moloka’i
Stoically occupying the west end of the island of Moloka’i, Papohaku Beach is one of the largest white sand beaches in the state of Hawaii, minus all of the crowds. Nearly three miles long and 100 yards wide, a day with more than 6 people is a crowded day at Papohaku. Visitors can gaze across the Kaiwi channel towards neighboring Oahu, its one million residents and crowded beaches merely an afterthought in this isolated corner of paradise. While campers must obtain a state permit for the campground, casual visits to this expanse of sand are free of charge.

Mo’okini Heiau, birthplace of King Kamehameha, Hawai’i
The first person to unite the Hawaiian Islands under a single system of rule, the journey of the revered King Kamehameha the Great began on this windswept pastureland out on Upolu Point. Set just outside of the sprawling Mo’okini heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple erected in 480 A.D. to Ku., the Hawaiian God of War, a small sign marks where Kamehameha was born in 1858. The sight is reachable via the Upolu airport road, though the final two miles to the heiau are on an uneven dirt road, and four-wheel drive is highly recommended if the road is wet or muddy. Hiking is a good backup option. Free admission.

The “Blue Room”, Kaua’i
Tucked away in the verdant jungles of northern Kaua’i, the “Blue Room” is a fresh-water pool that perfectly catches the sunlight, illuminating an exquisite shade of blue to the cold waters within. Located a short walk up a narrow, muddy trail, the combination of the lush green rainforest, vibrantly colored tropical flowers, and ice-blue water inside of the cave create a hidden treasure on Kaua’i that is literally minutes off of the normally beaten path. Free Admission.

Paliku Cabin, Maui
While thousands of visitors annually make the pre-dawn pilgrimage to witness the sunrise from the summit of Maui’s Haleakala Volcano, few venture down into the intricate network of hiking trails that line the crater floor of Haleakala National Park. Aside from the alien landscape and multi-hued cinder cones exploding from the nearby trails, there are three well maintained cabins inside of the crater that are available for public use, the most stunning of which is Paliku. This quaint cabin at 6,300 ft features an exquisitely lush landscape, and wild nene geese patrol the mist-shrouded hillside. Cabins in the park can be reserved at for a fee of $75/night.

Kaunolu Fishing VIllage, Lana’i
Little more than a rocky outcropping at the base of towering sea cliffs, this National Historic Landmark was once the site of a thriving village that was the recreation center of royalty. A favorite fishing spot of Kamehameha, Kaunolu also features “Kahekili’s Leap”, a spot from which warriors would throw themselves off of a 60 ft. cliff into the bay below to prove their valor. Exceptionally remote, Trilogy Excursions offers snorkeling trips to Kaunolu and the southwestern coastline of Lana’i. ($150/day)