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Travel Tip #5. Embrace Technology

June 16, 2015

Your smart phone and tablet can be your best friends on a trip—alarm clock, calendar, reservations, flight update, electronic boarding pass, map, books, newspaper, camera, weather report, flashlight, currency converter and language translator—as well as your 24×7 communication link.

Because my children and grandchildren embraced technology quickly, buying iPhones as soon as they came out and signing up for Facebook when social media was in its infancy, I joined the parade to stay connected. I described my initial ventures in my June 4 blog, “Staying Connected in Good Times and Bad”; so I won’t dwell on the obvious value of 24×7 communications now. But I will share a true story:

In case of emergency

In February 2014 a friend and I went on a New Zealand-Australia cruise. As my friend attempted to climb up into a vintage tourist train during a rainstorm, her hands slipped from the rail. She fell straight backwards onto the blacktop and was taken immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room. For whatever reason, x-rays failed to reveal (or medical staff failed to spot) her cracked pelvis. We were near the bottom of the globe, with no good options for going home.

14 Tips for Safe Solo TravelOn one particularly bad morning, I realized that I did not know how to contact her family or her doctor. Then I remembered that I had the email address of one of her closest friends, a highly efficient and caring person. She would know whom to contact and what to do. Within hours, an international communications network was established and my friend’s doctor at home was in contact with the ship’s doctor. Arrangements were made for her transfer home when the cruise finally ended in Sydney. Meanwhile, mostly confined to her room, her iPhone and iPad were her entertainment and her link to the rest of the world.

On trips, I use my iPhone and iPad for different purposes, though they have the same apps. The larger tablet is much more comfortable both for reading and for writing. I have digital newspaper subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as our local paper. I download travel guides along with fiction, and  I prefer digital travel guides, with their links to today’s currency rates and maps. I use my iPhone for photos, but I edit them at night on my iPad. I have quit packing a camera. I love having every photo I have ever taken stored on iCloud and instantly available on all my devices. Airline apps have far more information than simply my itinerary. I can check flight status of my incoming aircraft, find out where to retrieve my luggage at the end of a flight and much, much more. I no longer go to the hotel business center to print my boarding passes. I download them and show my iPhone when I’m checking in.

For entertainment and convenience

I have downloaded an entire season of Downton Abbey and watched all the shows on a long flight to Europe. I make dinner reservations at Open Table and search for the nearest pharmacy at Yelp. I use Uber to call for a taxi. When I’m bored, I play Solitaire, Scrabble and Sudoku.

Because I am all Apple—Mac, iPad and iPhone—my calendar and contacts are synced on iCloud (I don’t understand it; I simply use it), available to me all the time.

Traveling alone, even the shortest distance from the house, I always have my iPhone with me. It’s my 911, my ID and my flashlight—useful for everything from finding the electric outlet under the airplane seat to climbing dark stairs and walking old brick walks and cobblestone streets in Colonial Williamsburg and Nantucket.

Photo: My packable electronics, clockwise from lower left: AT&T personal hotspot for better, cheaper wifi service in many U.S. hotels; DC converter for charging devices in-flight; computer external hard drive; computer cables in a small packing cube, which holds all the small stuff on trips; MacBook Air, only 2.2 pounds, when I need to do serious writing; Lev’s old adapters for electric plugs around the world; a bag of Apple adapters for charging my electronics anywhere; iPad Mini; and cables for devices and hotspot. Not shown, my iPhone, which I used to take the photo. I keep all of it stored in one place, so I can grab and go.

What electronics are indispensable to you when you travel?
What are your favorite travel apps?