Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

Win a travel writing assignment in Istanbul

IstanbulThink you have what it takes to be a travel writer, but don’t know how to kick-start your career? Thanks to a new contest from Rough Guides and BikeHike Adventures, you can test drive your potential new calling by going on an assignment with a Rough Guides author to Istanbul, Turkey.

Candidates will submit a 500-word travel essay based on a personal experience around one of the following themes: Responsible Travel, Journey in an Unknown Culture or My Big Adventure.

One person will be selected to travel, all-expenses paid, to Istanbul to work with Terry Richardson, author of The Rough Guide to Istanbul, as he researches a new edition of his book.

Prior to meeting and working with Richardson, the winner will enjoy total immersion into Turkish culture. BikeHike Adventures will provide the winner with their 12 day Turkish Delight tour highlighting most of Turkey’s iconic sights. The trip includes exploring Cappadocia by mountain bike, foot and horseback, visiting the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and Palace and sea kayaking on the Mediterranean past ancient ruins.

To enter, visit WorldNomads.com. The winner will be published on April 28, 2011, and travel will take place from June 7 to June 28, 2011.

[Flickr via cfarivar]

Seven ways to explore the world without leaving home

Travel can be an escape – a chance to get away from the stress of our daily lives – but it can also be much more. Travel is about exploring a destination (new or familiar), understanding and connecting with the local culture, and seeing how people in a different place live.

Even more than the physical act of moving to a new place, traveling is about discovery, and just because you can’t get away from home at a particular time doesn’t mean you can’t still embrace that philosophy of adventure. Here are seven ways to “travel” without leaving your hometown.
Movies
Movies can take us to other worlds – real or imagined, of this Earth or not. Next time you are suffering from serious wanderlust, pick up a movie set in a foreign land. Explore the sweeping grasslands of Kenya with Out of Africa, ride the back roads of South America with Che in The Motorcycle Diaries, wander the chaotic streets of Tokyo through Lost in Translation, or explore India by train on The Darjeeling Limited.
Public transportation roulette
Travel is all about exploring a foreign place. For most of us, that doesn’t mean we need to venture far to discover a place that is new to us. I’ve lived in Chicago for three years, but there are still pockets of the city I’ve yet to step foot on. It’s easy to fall into a routine and only visit the same reliable places in your hometown, but this can lead to a feeling of boredom. Spice up your daily life by seeking out new places in your own city.

If you live somewhere with a good train or bus system, pick a weekend to play what I like to call “public transportation roulette.” In Chicago, I hop on one of the El lines and get off at a stop I’ve never visited before. Then I spend the afternoon checking out the area’s restaurants and shops. If your city has an ethnic enclave, like a Chinatown or Greektown, spending an evening wandering the streets there can also feel like a mini cultural journey.

Books
Just like movies, books can take us places (see, that poster in the Library didn’t lie!). Whether you prefer to read creative nonfiction set in a specific place or places – explore the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese with J. Maarten Troust in Lost on Planet China, ride the rails through Asia with Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar, or return to the Paris of the 1920’s in Earnest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast – or to read more about the idea of wandering (try The Little Price by Antoine de Saint Exupery), books can help keep us in a traveling state of mind.

For a whirlwind tour of the world, try an anthology like the Best American Travel Writing series. Or for a mini shot of travel inspiration, I keep a copy of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth: A Rough Guide to the World on my coffee table and flip through it often.


TV
When I start to get itchy feet but know that I don’t have a trip scheduled for a few weeks, I start renting all my favorite travel shows. I explore the world through food with Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations, or laugh along with Ian Wright and the Globe Trekker crew as I learn about destinations I plan on visiting in the future.

Food and drink
Traveling through my taste buds is one of my favorite ways to “virtually” experience a destination. In most countries I visit, I try to schedule a cooking class to learn to make at least one local dish. When I get home, I can then make that meal any time I am feeling nostalgic for the country. I can’t make fresh pasta without being transported to my honeymoon in Tuscany. Empanadas and some Malbec wine take me back to Buenos Aires, and fresh paella recalls my days in Barcelona.

Even if you didn’t learn to make a special dish while you were in a country, you can try to recreate memorable meals at home, or just pick a local specialty from a country you’d like to visit, and make it with the help of a recipe found online. If you can’t cook more than a piece of toast, no worries – just head to your local ethnic restaurant. You might not be fooled into thinking you are really in Ethiopia as you spoon up stewed meats with spongy injera bread, but a little taste of a foreign country might satiate you until your next trip.

Theme nights
Remember that episode of the Gilmore Girls when, after Rory’s big trip to Asia was cancelled, Lorelei turned the living room into a tour of the continent with food and decorations from various Asian countries? Just like that, you can host a theme night to celebrate a destination you’ve been to or are planning a trip to. Heading to Japan? Host a Japanese night, complete with sake, anime movies, sushi and geisha costumes. If you have friends of various ethnicities, take turns hosting and ask each person to tell a story about their culture’s traditions.

Cultural centers and events
A large part of traveling is learning about another culture, and while nothing can really substitute for the experience of being there, a trip to a local cultural center can help you explore the history and traditions of a culture in your local area. Fore example, in Chicago, the Irish American Heritage Center hosts traditional Irish music at the onsite pub. When I sit there and drink a Guinness, I know I’m still in the US, but if I close my eyes and listen to the the proliferation of Irish accents around me, I almost feel like I’m back in Dublin.

Cultural festivals, which often feature food, music, and art from the home country, are another festive way to immerse yourself in a foreign culture.

Gadlinks for Wednesday 8.12.09

I don’t know about you guys, but I needed this past weekend to get some R&R that Monday came and went without sending my usual Gadlinks. I’m happy to report that Malibu is alive and well and the surf was, well, crowded — but good this weekend. And here are some other reports around the travel blogosphere.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.

Travel guidebooks: Choosing the one that’s just right

My Cuba travel companions and I accomplished the ultimate travel guidebook experiment during the first week of our travels. We each decided to bring a different Cuba guide with us to test which guidebook reigned supreme (kind of like the Iron Chef: Cuba). I was never a good science student, so I apologize for the rudimentary experiment form that follows…

Objective:
To identify the guidebook that provides the most comprehensive and useful information for travelers to Cuba.

Participants and their respective materials (guidebooks):
Lora – Lonely Planet Cuba by Brendan Sainsbury
Frank – Frommer’s Guide to Cuba by Susan Boobbyer
Peter – The Rough Guide to Cuba by Matthew Norman & Fiona McAuslan
Brenda – Moon Handbook Cuba by Christopher P. Baker

Procedure:

1. Carry each book with us every day while sightseeing in Havana for one week in April 2009. (I unfortunately didn’t bring my Moon Handbook with me to Cuba, but have since browsed through it carefully. The other three we humped everywhere. Only the Havana sections were thoroughly utilized, as well as general tips for other destinations such as Trinidad.)
2. Identify travel guidebook components and assessment criteria.
3. Use assessment criteria to rank the usefulness and/or accuracy of the guidebook components.

Hypothesis:
Before the trip, most participants’ top guidebook choice was Lonely Planet. Personally, I permanently dissed Lonely Planet when I was writing for Viva Travel Guides in Colombia last year and found out that LP’s Colombia guidebook writer, Thomas Kohnstamm, researched his book (with LP’s consent) from the States. Despite these sentiments, I suspected we would likely discover that, while LP’s information would be quite useful, it would also be the most used guidebook in Cuba, thereby making it an overexposed travel resource.
Assessment
What follows is our assessment of the important guidebook components.

  • Author: There’s really no doubt about the most experienced Cuba author in the bunch. Moon’s Christopher P. Baker has been traveling to Cuba for nearly 20 years — once by motorcycle. And he’s met Fidel Castro. (Read my “Talking Travel” post with him HERE).
  • Country overview and history: Lonely Planet always does a fantastic job with the informational section to country guides, and this one is full of well-written, helpful history and facts.
  • Suggested itineraries: LP’s Brendan Sainsbury also puts together some really original trip ideas like “Roads less traveled” and “Bird-watchers dream.” However, the one problem with these is their length. Sainsbury has several trips of up to two months, but tourist visas expire after 30 days.
  • Maps: Lonely Planet, hands down. Their maps are not only accurate but extremely handy.
  • Accurate information: Moon Handbooks is chock full of accurate and insightful info. Spot-on addresses, up-to-date phone numbers, and exact hours of operation are all there.
  • Size: Frommer’s Cuba is the lightest and most travel friendly. It’s not realistic to carry around a hunking travel guide like the Rough Guide to Cuba or Moon Cuba.
  • Cuba-specific issues we encountered: The casas particulares information in all of the books just aren’t useful — the reason being that casas, with their two-guestroom per night limit, can easily become full.
  • Online tools and information: Moon Cuba has the richest online resource, with information drawn from Baker’s guidebook as well as a cool blog updated by Baker himself. Be aware, however, that Internet is expensive in Cuba (US$8 per hour). Do your research ahead of time, and leave your time there for travel.

Conclusion
Based on Christopher P. Baker’s wealth of experience in Cuba, Moon is a sure thing. Sainsbury’s Lonely Planet Cuba is also a rich and trusty companion. Frommer’s Cuba, though the most recently updated (in January 2009), provided the most basic travel and destination info. We didn’t use the Rough Guide to Cuba at all; it was unjustifiably heavy and difficult to follow.

I think it’s worth mentioning that too many people carry the Lonely Planet guidebook around — not just in Cuba but around the world. In Cuba, it’s the only one I saw in at least five different languages (the content is the same). While useful, Lonely Planet is suffering from a unfortunate hipster effect: the same restaurants, hotels, and sights are becoming overrun by “budget backpackers,” and travelers are relying too heavily on LP-specific travel tips and suggestions.

Cuba is a really easy place to travel without a guidebook, but few tourists are willing to trust themselves and explore the place emptyhanded.

Please keep in mind that this experiment was based purely on our experience using Cuba guidebooks in Cuba and that our collective experience using these guidebooks should be taken as lightly or seriously as you deem worthy.