Tech You Need If You’re Traveling

Tech You Need If You’re Traveling

Have plans to travel? If you’re like a lot of other people, you might be headed on vacation this summer. Or you could have business trips planned. Whatever the case may be, traveling can be fun. But it can also have its own stresses and issues. Whether you’re driving a car or heading to an airport, it can sometimes seem tricky making it to a destination.

Thankfully, there’s some great technology available to make trips a little easier. You might need something to keep kids distracted during family trips, something to help you find your destination more smoothly, or something to give you peace of mind while your home is empty. All of these worries and more can be taken care of with some devices you’ve already heard of (and perhaps some you haven’t).

Tech For Traveling

Don’t lose your stuff

Want to keep track of your luggage or other important items? Tile is one way to do that. Luggage can sometimes get lost. And while you’re away from home, being in unfamiliar places can make it easier to lose things like your keys or your wallet.

With Tile, you can easily track important items, whether it be a suitcase or your rental car keys. All you have to do is attach Tile to whatever you want to keep track of, then use Tile’s app if you need to locate the item. There’s the Tile Slim, which is a thin version of the device that isn’t too bulky in a wallet. There’s the Tile Mate, which has a small hole in the corner so you can attach it to anything, like purses, backpacks, keys, and more. These two are most likely to be helpful during your travels. There’s even an accessory for the Tile Slim that is specifically made for traveling: the Tile Slim Luggage Tag.

There’s also the Tile Sport, which could come in handy if you’re going on a trip that might get a little rough (like if you’re camping, hiking, biking, or doing things outdoors). And there’s the Tile Style, which adds some extra flair to the device for a more fun appearance.

Prices vary for each Tile device, and there are also combo packs. You can buy 4-packs or 8-packs to pay a little less for each device, or you can mix it up and buy the different devices separately.

Keep your passengers entertained

If you’re traveling with impatient kids or adults who aren’t fans of road trips, keeping them distracted can be a great way to eliminate some stress. The answer is simple: bring a tablet. Using phones can be a drain on the battery and run the risk of not having enough battery life if your car breaks down. And using a tablet can seem like a special treat if your kids don’t already use them regularly (if they do, I’m sure you already know how entertaining they can be).

Even if you don’t already have one, buying one for your trip doesn’t have to be expensive. There are pricey options out there, but it can be as easy as buying a Kindle Fire for just $49.99 (and sometimes for less during a promotion). You can easily set up a kid-friendly account and choose which apps they can use. This should make it easier to pass the time.

A tablet can also be a useful way to save space. If you like to read during your relaxing vacations, you don’t have to pack any bulky booksyou can just read them on your tablet.

Find your destination with no problem

We all know about apps like Google Maps and Waze. You likely use Google Maps to find your way on a regular basis. But for some, this isn’t the most convenient way to travel. If you’re traveling alone, or if you are particularly uncomfortable driving on busy interstates, through tricky areas, or at night, having a GPS system in your car might work a lot better than having to look at your phone while on the road.

Navdy is one way you can integrate navigation into your vehicle. Information is projected onto your windshield with a transparent display, so you don’t have to look down at a phone. It also dims or brightens appropriately. It uses Google Maps, so that will be familiar to you, and you can also set up a dashboard that shows things like how much gas you have left.

If you can’t quite afford a system like that at the moment, you can also consider Garmin. Garmin offers many different GPS systems, some for less than a hundred dollars. Their website lists their many different products, and you can also find them on Amazon.

Track down your car

You might be worried you’ll forget where you parked at the airport. Or you might be parking on unfamiliar streets in a city away from home. You can take a picture of your surroundings, but that isn’t always enough to find your way back where you started.

Fortunately, there are many apps that you can use to track down your car when you’re ready to leave. The simplest solution? Drop a pin on Google Maps and save your location. By placing a pin at your current location before leaving your car and then saving it to your places, you can easily make your way back.

There are other options if you don’t use Google Maps or want a more streamlined way to get back to your vehicle. Find My Car is a well-known app that saves the GPS location of your car and navigates you back to it later. You can find it on iOS and on Android. There’s also ParkMe, which can not only help you find your car, it can also help you figure out where to park in the first place.

Keep your home safe while you’re gone

If you’ll be away from home for a while and there won’t be anyone staying behind to house sit, there are ways to make yourself feel less worried about your empty home. With smart devices, you can keep watch on your home and make it look as though it’s not actually empty.

Smart bulbs, like Philips Hue bulbs and the bulbs from MagicLight, can be set on a timer to turn on and off, fade, and more. So your home won’t have to be dark and obviously empty at night.

Smart security systems are also great for peace of mind. There are a lot of options out there, so of course, research carefully before investing in a system. With these systems, you can typically set motion alerts so you get a notification if the camera catches movement. You can also usually check in on a live feed. Nest offers some popular devices, as well as Frontpoint and Canary. Just make sure you know what the initial installation cost is as well as how much it will cost every month.

Accessibility Updates—Google & Airbnb in the News

Accessibility Updates—Google & Airbnb in the News

Accessibility is an important focus in tech, and Google & Airbnb both reinforced that idea in recent announcements. Both Google and Airbnb will be updating their services to make them accessible for more people.

CNET is reporting that Google is working to make things more accessible in their transit maps. Now Google Maps will be able to show routes that are specifically accessible to people in wheelchairs. The update is live and available to use now. As CNET notes, it’s currently only available in six places, including London, New York, and Sydney, with more cities planned for the future.

If the feature is available in your city, you can access the wheelchair-accessible routes in the Google Maps app. After you’ve entered your destination and are looking at your directions, you simply choose the public transportation feature, then go to options and choose “wheelchair accessible” under routes.

In Google’s blog post, they illustrate how the routes work and how they were put together. Google was helped in building the feature by using meetups with guides to compile the information needed for their accessible routes. They’ve also updated Street View to make public transport more visible before actually getting there. In their blog post, they mention plans for expansion to other areas “in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, Airbnb has made their service more accessible, as well. Last year I wrote about Airbnb acquiring Accomable, an Airbnb-type service that focused on accessible locations. At that time, some basic accessibility search features were available on Airbnb’s website, but now there are almost two dozen search filters available to focus on accessible listings.

In Airbnb’s blog post, they outline the new search filters. According to Airbnb, people will now be able to search for listings based on a variety of different needs. They can find listings with “step-free access,” wide doorways and hallways, elevators, shower chairs, disabled parking spots, and more. Airbnb notes they’ll be focusing on making their filters better in the future, even expanding them.

With these updates to Google Maps and Airbnb, hopefully traveling will become easier for those concerned about accessibility.

Translate Languages with Tech

Translate Languages with Tech

When it comes to working with a language other than your own, it might seem intimidating. Some languages are incredibly complex, making them especially difficult to learn. If you decide to use a translator, you have another issue: when it comes to translation technology, it can be tricky to find a tool that translates with as much accuracy as you might like.

All of this being said, using some tech for translating can be a step in the right direction if you’re looking for an easy way to communicate some of the basics. Idioms might make things difficult, and some more complex languages might not easily translate when using a machine translator, but the tech is pretty consistently improving, and it can be a huge help.

Translation technology is on a lot of peoples’ minds. Many different companies are working to come up with the newest and best tech that will help people translate through text or through spoken word. For instance, news recently broke that Amazon is interested in making Alexa capable of translating in real-time.

Read on to learn more about what’s currently available in the world of machine translation!

When you might use translation tech

There are many different times you could benefit from accessing a translator. You might want translation tech if you’re:

  • Going on a trip
  • Working with a document written in another language
  • Communicating online with people who speak a different language
  • Accessing a website in a foreign language

Some of your options

Since most people know about Google Translate, you might be thinking that is the only real competitor when it comes to translation. While Google Translate is top-notch, there are actually a lot of other apps, sites, and devices to help you translate another language. This means you can find the one you enjoy the most and that fits with your specific priorities. You can:

  • Use an app
  • Use a website
  • Use a device
  • Hire a real person

Before we get started…

You might have noticed the last item on the list above. It’s important to note that translating with a device or an app just isn’t going to be as accurate as relying on a human interpreter or translator. If you’re looking for a high degree of accuracy, you should probably skip the tech and hire a professional.

To get started learning more about translators and interpreters, you can look into the American Translators Association. The ATA has a search function that lets you search for people available for hire. They also explain what translators and interpreters do.

If you don’t need or want a professional human translator or interpreter, let’s move on to the tech!

Translation apps

Google Translate—The app version of Google’s translation service is one of the most popular apps in this list. You can translate with its 103 languages. There are even 59 languages available for offline translation. You can translate text from images (using the in-app camera), handwritten text, and during two-way conversations, and there are many more features. (Android, iOS)

iTranslate—This is another hugely popular translation app. There are more than 100 available languages. The free version has some customization options, different dialects, favorites, a dictionary, and more. In the paid version, you can translate offline in some languages, translate from voice to voice, and more. (Android, iOS)

Microsoft Translator—This translator from Microsoft has more than 60 available languages, and some languages are available to be downloaded and used offline. You can use the in-app camera to translate text in photos, and you can have multiple people involved in a conversation. You can also save translations, connect with Android Wear, and access a phrasebook. (Android, iOS)

Naver Papago Translate—This translation app is a particularly good one for those wanting to translate between English and some specific languages including Korean and Chinese. There may be only 10 languages, but the idea is that the translations will be more accurate because of the narrow focus. You can do things like use voice translation, translate text in images, and use a phrasebook. (Android, iOS)

TripLingo—TripLingo is a translation app with some nice extra features. You can do the typical things, like translate with text and voice, look through phrases, and check the dictionary. But you also can choose different levels of slang, learn about different cultures, use travel tools (like a currency converter), and even pay per minute to have a live translation done by a real person—plus more. (Android, iOS)

Waygo—This app is another one that has far fewer available languages but might be ideal in certain situations. This app is for translating in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. You can translate offline, use the camera to get translations immediately (without actually taking a picture), share translations, and with Chinese food name translations, you can even see pictures of the food. There’s a free trial, after which you have to pay for unlimited translations. (Android, iOS)

Translation websites

If you don’t want to download an app, just use a site!

Google Translate—Again, Google’s translator is one of the most popular. It can translate in 103 languages, and you can do things like upload a document for translation, translate a website, or even write by hand.

Bing Microsoft Translator—Microsoft’s translator has more than 60 available languages. You can translate websites, listen to your translations, share, and more. You can also take part in their Conversations between people who are using Translator on computers and mobile devices.

Translation devices

There are some devices you can take with you to make translating a little easier. Most of these are in-ear devices, including earbuds. Here are just a few devices available to you:

Bragi Dash Pro—The Dash Pro is a set of earbuds that pair with iTranslate. The earbuds work as typical earbuds, so they’re not solely for translation. With the Dash Pro, you have earbuds that are recognized to work well with the iTranslate app. If someone else also has Dash, you can both speak to each other using the translation capabilities without even having to use a phone. With others, though, you’ll have to use your phone to translate during conversations.

Google Pixel Buds—Like the Dash Pro, Google Pixel Buds are also multi-purpose earbuds that have translation capabilities integrated (if you have Google’s Pixel or Pixel 2 phone). You can use the Google Translate app to translate dozens of languages by holding down a button on the earbuds and saying what you’d like to translate. The other person can then respond using the app on your phone, and the translation will be spoken into the earbuds.

iliili is a handheld device that translates English into Mandarin, Spanish, or Japanese. It works offline, so you don’t have to be connected to use it. It’s also meant to hear your voice better than a translation app on a smartphone because of the microphones it uses. It is a one-way translator, which means you’re the only one who’s being translated, and you may have to rely on things like gestures and body language during a conversation.

PilotPilot is an earpiece that can translate more than 15 languages. It uses noise-canceling microphones so it’s easier to pick up what’s being said, and you can share the earpiece with the other person in the conversation so you can communicate both ways. It currently doesn’t work offline, but this may not be an issue in most situations.

Plan Your Valentine’s Day Online

Plan Your Valentine’s Day Online

Valentine’s Day is coming up soon, and whether you have a significant other or not, you may still want to make plans. And with so many specific sites and apps out there these days, it’s easier than ever to plan your February 14th by using your internet connection.

The internet can play an important role in how you prepare for any holiday. But with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to think about how you can make the day easier. You may not even know how many helpful apps and sites there are that cater to lovebirds, people who are looking, and people who are single.

If you have a special someone, or if you don’t have a date for the 14th yet (and even if you don’t want one), scroll through for some ways you can improve Valentine’s Day this 2018!

Find a date

There are definitely plenty of dating sites and apps to choose from. You can find more general sites, like most of the ones below, or you can narrow your search to sites that focus on a specific interest. If you don’t have a date for Valentine’s Day and you’d like to, you might find someone who’s looking for a date for the 14th themselves.

  • Match—Match is the popular dating site that’s been around since the 90s. You can join for free, but to really use the site, you’ll need a subscription.
  • Zoosk—Zoosk is another well-known dating site, this one started in the mid-2000s. Like Match, you can join for free, but you’ll need to pay to actually use their services.
  • Tinder—If you want to try a free way to maybe find a Valentine’s Day date, give Tinder a shot. Keep in mind, people using Tinder have a wide variety of agendas, and it’s not like a dating site that has a detailed algorithm for matches.
  • OkCupid—OkCupid has also been hugely popular for years. OkCupid also has a free version, as well as a paid version. With OkCupid, though, you can do more in the free version than other sites.
  • Coffee Meets Bagel—This app is a newer dating option that began in the mid-2010s and has been gaining in popularity. You have suggested matches every afternoon who are chosen through their algorithm.

Plan an outing

If you want to go out this year, you have a few things to consider. Here are just a few ways you can plan your day (or night).

Take a trip—If you’re going out of town, you might want to stay with Airbnb. Or if your plans are slightly more last-minute, give HotelTonight a look.

Find a restaurant—If you want to make a reservation, try the OpenTable app. And of course, the top app for searching for the best restaurant choice is still Yelp.

Look for special events in town—If you want to spend your Valentine’s Day going to an event you’ll both like, find out what’s happening nearby with something like Eventbrite, or search through Events on Facebook.

Stay in

You don’t have to hit the town or take a trip to celebrate. If you do plan a night in, take a look and see if these apps and sites can make it special.

Cook—When you decide to try your hand at cooking a romantic dinner, download a cooking app like BigOven (Android or iOS) or Food Network in the Kitchen (Android or iOS) for a little extra help. Both offer thousands of recipes to choose from.

Order in—Maybe cooking isn’t really your thing. If that’s the case, you can always find food to order with apps like GrubHub and UberEats, both of which let you find what’s nearby and have it delivered to you.

Play music—Playlists and genre stations can help give your night atmosphere. You can always make your own playlist with Spotify or find a themed one, and Pandora has plenty of playlists for different occasions (including Love Songs Radio).

Give something nice

It’s not a requirement to buy something for your Valentine’s Day date, but it can be a nice gesture! If you think your date would like something for the occasion, here are some places you can find something for them without leaving home.

Sweets—Chocolates and other candies are an obvious (and usually well-liked) choice for Valentine’s Day. See’s Candies offers a lot of different options for candy. 1-800-Flowers may have “Flowers” in the name, but they also have a large selection of sweets. And Godiva has many different chocolate options. All of these sites specifically have pages dedicated to Valentine’s Day sweets.

Arrangements—Whether you want flowers or something a little different, an arrangement can be a nice gift. 1-800-Flowers has many, many different options for bouquets and other types of flowers. Shari’s Berries offers many different bouquets that can be paired with their berries (meaning you can order a bouquet with chocolate covered strawberries). ThinkGeek is a little bit different—instead of sending a bouquet of flowers, you might want to send a bouquet of plushies (like a bouquet of plush dragons).

Gifts—If you’re not sure what to get someone for Valentine’s Day, take a look at my list of gift finders! It includes several websites that offer gift suggestions and even let you buy the suggested gifts right there on the site.

Custom Valentine’s Day cards—You can always buy a card at a local store, but if you want something a little more personal, you can make your own card. Canva lets you create a card from scratch or choose from many different templates, and Shutterfly has a large selection of card choices that you can customize with things like text and photos.

Connect long-distance

If your significant other is going to be out-of-town on the 14th, or if your relationship is long-distance, Valentine’s Day may seem like a downer. But there are ways to make the day a little nicer from far away. Below are just a few ways you can make the day more romantic with some helpful apps.

Plan a scavenger hunt—If your partner is away, try planning something fun for them to do anyway. One popular scavenger hunt app, Klikaklu, lets you create your own hunts and then send them to a specific person (or make them public). It’s only available for iOS, but you can try something kind of similar with Seek&Spot, another scavenger hunt app that lets you create your own hunts.

Send poetry—If you’re not a poet yourself, don’t worry. You can find plenty of romantic poems to send on Valentine’s Day. Love Poems is available for Android, and it lets you search, save, and send poems. On iOS, you can try Valentine’s Love Poems for romantic poems you can share.

Keep in touch—If you’re long-distance, make sure you’re staying connected. Couple is an app that can be helpful on Valentine’s Day, since it lets you message each other, and it also has ThumbKiss, which is a feature that makes phones vibrate when both people press their thumbs to same spot on their phones.

Skip romance

There’s been plenty in this article for those who have a date or are looking for one. But being without a romantic date on Valentine’s Day is awesome, too. There are plenty of things to do if you’re single on February 14th. Here are just a couple ideas!

Find a Second Halloween—Some people are skipping Valentine’s Day and celebrating Second Halloween instead. Your town might be throwing a Second Halloween bash—search for “2nd Halloween” or “Second Halloween” on Facebook, narrow your results to “Events,” and see what you find!

Celebrate Galentine’s Day—Galentine’s Day is a popular way for women to celebrate on the 13th without worrying about romance. For many, it replaces Valentine’s Day celebrations. You can plan your own Galentine’s Day by using a site like RSVPify. Or if you’re new to town and looking for friends to invite, you might give Bumble a shot; Bumble is for finding friends, dates, business partners, and more, not just a dating site.

Airbnb Improving Service for People with Disabilities

Airbnb Improving Service for People with Disabilities

It should soon become easier for people with disabilities to use Airbnb’s services. Airbnb is working to improve its accessibility by acquiring Accomable. Accomable is essentially a more accessible version of Airbnb. It offered listings for places to stay that showed relevant information for people with disabilities.

Accomable will soon be “winding down its business,” according to TechCrunch. Instead it will be working to make Airbnb more accessible for people. Airbnb is a hugely popular website and app that lets people list their homes for people to stay in. People who don’t necessarily want to stay in a hotel while they travel can instead search for listings of homes they can stay in during trips. Before Airbnb’s new move toward accessibility, people searching through listings could only see whether a place was wheelchair accessible.

Now Airbnb is including the option to search for things like step-free room entry and listings for places with doorways wide enough for wheelchairs to go through, according to CNET. Accomable will also be moving its accessibility-focused listings over to Airbnb, and Airbnb will be working to make its website more accessible for people with visual impairment.

All of these moves make it clear that Airbnb hopes to build a bigger client base and do better for people with disabilities. Airbnb has more than four million listings, and they’ve had more than 2.5 million guests stay through their service. But moving away from their lackluster offerings in the area of accessibility may make it more possible for people with disabilities to actually take a second look at Airbnb.

Airbnb’s website already has the new accessibility search options added, and they’ll be coming to their apps soon. Importantly, Airbnb has suggested that this is just the beginning. They note that the changes they’re making are important, but that there’s still more to do and it’s just the “start of an ongoing conversation.” If all goes well, people with disabilities will soon be able to take advantage of Airbnb’s services and feel confident in the listings they choose.

Best sites and apps to plan your next vacation

Best sites and apps to plan your next vacation

It’s time to go on vacation! Where do you even begin? Vacation planning can be a headache, but it doesn’t have to be if you use some of the site and app recommendations below.

Quick disclaimer: Most of the apps below are designed for urban areas, and work most places in the U.S. But depending upon your vacation destination, they may or may not work extremely well (or at all) in all locations.

Stage 1: Inspiration

Pinterest is built on inspiration. Just go to the Travel boards and explore. Or use Pinterest to pin things you would like to save from other sites. I pin things to my Travel Board just because I like to look at them all at once, side-by-side.

Google Voyager- Travel makes looking around strange cities a breeze. Get a sample of the famous landmarks, look a little closer by using Street View, and save places to My Places so you can find them when you actually get there, using Google Maps.

TripAdvisor is a great all-around resource. You can get destination ideas by entering the kind of vacation you like, find restaurant and attraction suggestions, and see what other people thought of those places. You will come up with a wealth of recommendations just by reading the comments.

tripadvisor lets you choose the type of vacation you want

tripadvisor.com

 

Stage 2: Planning

Find a vacation package deal:

In the age of the internet, travel agents aren’t doing so hot, so you can find some pretty amazing deals where most of the work has been done for you; you just have to show up.

Groupon always has fabulous vacation packages for not a lot of money. My latest 2-week vacation to 5 capital cities in Europe cost around $4000 for 2 people—and that included airfare, hotels, multiple tours in each city, and flights or trains between cities! A word of warning: before booking, make sure to Google reviews for the agency you are considering. There are plenty with a bad reputation running deals too good to be true.

Hotwire, Expedia, and other discount booking services don’t just do hotels—you can book a package deal including accommodations, car rental, and flights at a package discount.

Cruisecheap.com searches a bunch of cruise lines all over the world for the best deals. Maybe you prefer to cruise where it’s sunny and tropical. Maybe you’d rather see the Alaskan coast. Maybe you would like to cruise down a famous river in Europe. Just select your dates, preferred departure port, and destination, and see what kind of deals you can find

Flights:

Flight deals are mostly the same across the web. The factor that affects flight prices more than the retailer is the travel date, and even the date it is booked. Time is on your side, and you are usually better off if you have more than two months to plan.

Google flights is better than other flight bookers, and here’s why—they will tell you when the price of your desired flight is about to go up, they actively provide tips that will save you money (like tweaking your travel dates a bit), and you can use the “flights” filter in Google maps to see what it costs to fly to several different cities.

Hotels:

One of the biggest expense of travel is the accommodations. This can also determine how much you enjoy yourself: a hotel with free wifi, private bathrooms, and a definition of “clean” that is similar to yours is far preferable to the alternatives.

Hotwire is my personal choice of hotel booker, though I’ve heard that some of the others are becoming more competitive. I like booking the “Hot Rate” hotels—you get some details (general location, comparable chains, amenities, and reviews), but the actual hotel is a mystery, which makes it exciting. This is also how you can stay in a 4-star hotel for a 2-star price.

Airbnb lets you book a single room or an entire house, and if you are traveling with a group, booking a house or condo might a lot more economical than staying in a hotel. Not to mention that staying in a local’s house is more interesting, and you can ask them where to eat or what to see. And safety isn’t an issue.

Stage 3: While you are there

Car:

Renting a car can be super convenient if you have a long distance to drive, or you are not in an urban area. Otherwise, it’s a hassle. Who wants to drive in traffic or find parking (that you then might have to pay for)?

Uber makes getting around super fast, easy and cheap. The app is incredibly easy to use, and your payment happens through it. Not to mention that the company tracks your car through Google maps, making sure that the driver is taking the most direct route (unlike some cab drivers who take you all over the city to get an extra $20). And the background checks and strict review system make it hard to be a bad Uber driver.

Lyft is Uber’s direct competitor and may be easier to use in some cities.

Public transport:

While Google Maps works extremely well in some locations, it really doesn’t in others (like Vienna).

Transit authority’s app (if available). Some cities make getting around easy (mostly cities that get a lot of tourists every year) by providing an app. If the app gives you options for multiple modes of travel, great. If it doesn’t (maybe it is owned by one transportation company, and only shows you how to get around using that company), you’re better off finding a third party app that shows everything available.

Google Maps is still my favorite map app, because it is easy and puts navigation, public transport, and saved places in one spot. Very occasionally it isn’t available. Or is extremely inaccurate, depending on the support they have in each city.

Citymapper is a free app which includes options for train, underground, bus, Uber, or bike.

BONUS: Citybike is a bike sharing service in Vienna that I used. The concept is that you rent a bike at a kiosk, ride it to the kiosk closest to your destination, and then turn it in. The whole process is automated, and the first hour was free, with the second hour costing 1 euro, and then rising from there. If you are on a budget and comfortable on a bike in a city (and some cities are better for bikes than others), check out more about bike sharing.

Find food/attractions:

Why do we travel? TO EAT! Or is that just me?

Yelp is my favorite site/app combo to see what customers really think about a restaurant. Reading the comments also can give you ideas about what to order on the menu.

Eat24 is a great app for food delivery. Hey, I didn’t come all the way here just to look at the inside of a hotel room! I know, but also my feet can’t take anymore. If you’re wiped, but also don’t want to eat out of the vending machine (or room service), get something delivered. Different cities support different apps: in Paris, we used Deliveroo to get food delivered to our hotel from a place that didn’t do delivery, for 2 euros extra. Nifty!

Currency exchange:

If you go somewhere they don’t use American dollars, you need to know local exchange rates. Trust me, some vendors will take advantage of your unfamiliarity with their currency.

XE Currency is an excellent app that calculates prices for you using the most current exchange rate.

Translation:

Sure, a lot of places have a lot of English speakers. But once in a while, you need to know the word for something pronto. And it seems like the best restaurants and stores are always run by little old ladies who don’t know a word of English.

Google Translate is a quick and easy-to-use app, has voice-to-text AND can translate signs using the camera. Watch people smile when the phone asks them where the nearest bathroom is, but beware: Google Translate is improving, but it isn’t perfect. You may experience a misunderstanding or two. Chalk it up to stories to tell when you go home!

Maps:

Maybe the most important tool to use in a strange city, a digital map has several perks over a paper one, one being that you look less like a tourist if you are looking at your phone rather than a big paper map.

Google Maps lets you can drop pins over places you want to see (along with notes to remind you why you wanted to see it), which lets me save places directly to my Google account and have them available on the app. Directions, public transit, and all of the power of Google is in one place. But beware: not all cities have great support for Google maps (Vienna didn’t).

BONUS: Disney World and Universal Studios have their own convenient apps that track your Fast Pass, dinner reservations, and on-resort hotel details.

Happy vacationing!

New version of Google Earth allows virtual field trips

New version of Google Earth allows virtual field trips

Do you remember sitting in history class? Or should I say, sleeping in history class? Maybe the teacher spoke in a monotone voice. Maybe he or she was way more interested in dates and maps than you were. Maybe they never quite got around to explaining the most important piece of the puzzle: why you should care.

The same thing could be said of travel. Most people would love to travel and see other parts of the world. But the same factor applies: I need to know what I’m looking at, what its significance is, and where it fits into my knowledge about the world, past and present, or I’m not going to care.

The future of learning and travel just got a whole lot brighter, because Google has figured out how to harness the power of their vast catalogue of educational materials and their Google Earth images to put together all the pieces for students to not only be able to see places and people (in the present and in a historical context), but to understand what the significance is, where this is taking place, and how it fits into their knowledge about the world. With all of that at your fingertips, how could you not care?

Google announced on their blog new features and resources geared toward helping educators and students. While some of these new features require a special Google for Education account, many can be accessed from home, putting better education within reach for anyone with an internet connection.

What kind of educational tools are we talking about?

Google Earth is in 3d, and has knowledge cards attached to major landmarks that explain cultural or historical significance: “condensed factual information that is frequently sought by a user in association with a given query.” But the real educational magic is in Google Earth Voyager.

Google Earth Voyager contains curated stories that provide guidance by pulling together geographic location and historical and cultural facts to foster geospatial learning. Google’s partnership with National Geographic, HHMI Biointeractive, PBS, Mission Blue, NASA, and BBC Earth gives students access to the best resources to explore the world, including videos, lessons, and interactive tools.

You can follow the trail of Lewis and Clark, the Vikings, or explorers along the Silk Road. You can see what scientists are up to while investigating climate change, the Ebola outbreak, or the coral reefs. See some of the most beautiful landscapes from BBC’s Planet Earth II. Explore World UNESCO sites. See the ruins of ancient civilizations, or explore modern ones by taking a grand tour of Italy. Follow the haunts of such authors as Charles Dickens and Hemingway.

And keep in mind that every step of the way, context is provided so that you know what you’re looking at and what is interesting or significant about it.

Age of the interactive classroom

All of these new features are just a small piece of what Google is making available to schools who purchase their Chromebooks, suite of educational programs, and resources for educators. Profiles of schools who have been using Chromebooks and the interactive tools provided by Google do report better engagement with some promising improvements in test scores and graduation rates to back up that claim.

Would I like to be a kid in school again? No. Am I a little bit bitter about all the new ways for children to learn what I had to struggle to memorize from a textbook? Maybe. But I’m willing to let it slide because there is nothing with the power to improve lives like education. And I’m no history, nature, or geography buff, but I don’t plan to let school-age children have all the fun.

Use CityHeat to help plan your next trip

We’ve all done it at least once. You show up to your hotel and you’re excited about dropping off your stuff and hitting the town to discover all the cool stuff your vacation location has to offer. You notice that there aren’t a lot of attractions around your hotel, and then you ask the desk where to go and they suggest a long cab ride to another part of the city. It’s discouraging and long cab or Uber rides tend to put a damper on your evening. Or maybe you put a lot of time into figuring out the best part of the city before you booked, but it turns out you’re hitting only the tourist locations and none of the local flavor is coming through. CityHeat is ready to make finding the most visited places in a city (by visitors or locals) incredibly easy by showing you heat maps of the most popular locations.

What’s a heatmap?

Heatmaps are a great way to visualize data about locations or places in use. In this case you simply select the city you are planning to visit and in a matter of seconds you will have a regular looking Google Map with colors overlayed showing you the “heat” or commonality of people visiting locations across the city. The darker the red the more visited the location, with the color scale going from green to deep red. Here’s an example from Honolulu:

Picking a hotel in or near one of those bright red areas helps you ensure you’re going to be in the heart of action – if that’s what you’re trying to achieve. Of course you can use it for the opposite purpose and find hotels to stay at that are far away from the deepest reds and the hustle and bustle of inner-metro areas. You can zoom in on the maps to get a closer inspection of an individual neighborhood or zoom out to see who whole metropolitan region.

After you select the city you can enter what you’re interested in, giving you detailed break down of attractions that might interest you and their locations in the heatmap. Plus, it even shows you the Google review rating of the locations in your hotspots.

Another handy feature is the ability to mouse over “Visitor” or “Local” and the map will change to show you the differences between where the locals like to be and where the visitors tend to assemble. Again, depending on the goals of your trip you can use this feature to help plan out the sights and experiences that will be best for you. At the very least it’s fun tool just to see where people like to congregate in your own city!

Click Here to Go To City Heat