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(2012 - Fall Issue)


In today’s iPhone Age, there’s no need to lug around heavy tour books.

Instead, as the cliché goes, “there’s an app for that.” So here are some of the best travel apps/websites available today. 

Useful Travel Tools

TripIt.com is a travel app/website that takes in your transport, hotel and car rental confirmation emails and crunches them to create free itineraries. You can then access the itineraries online and share with others. For a fee, TripIt Pro will alert you about gate changes, flight cancellations and ticket refunds.

Available for Android and iPhone, GateGuru (gateguruapp.com) briefs you about services available in the airport you’re in, such as restaurants, shopping and ATMs. It also provides reviews about the best and worst of these services to minimize your exposure to over-priced, poorly made airport food!   

Worried about how much airlines will charge you for checking luggage? Check out iflybags.com. It lets you check baggage allowances and checked baggage fees based on your flight plan, airline and class. This is a free iPhone app and a free website accessible to all smartphone users.

The FlightTrack app (available through mobiata.com for all platforms) lets you track airline departures and arrivals, search flight schedules and predict flight delays. You can also see where your flight is in the air in real time, using one of FlightTrack’s detailed maps.

Think of Jetsetter.com and its iPhone app as being akin to having an experienced traveller in your pocket. This site is a traveller-written, private online community that promises users insider information—as well as deals on hotels and resorts worldwide unavailable to the general public.

The mTrip.com city-specific Android and iPhone/iPod Touch travel guide app lets you input your itinerary and reservations, plus sites that you wish to see. mTrip then compiles a travel plan for you, complete with directions, times and transportation options. You can rate the kind of attractions you like and mTrip will use this data to provide sightseeing recommendations.

The free Poynt app (poynt.com) is an extremely useful travelling tool. Just load it onto your smartphone and tell it where you are—either via GPS or punching in your physical address—and Poynt will help you find restaurants, hotels, gas stations and shops. Suggestions are sorted by proximity to your current location. If you want to know what’s handy at your destination location, input that address into Poynt and the app will do the rest.

HealthTraveler (health-traveler.com) is a $2.99 iPhone app that lets you find American-accredited hospitals and clinics in the world’s 50 most popular tourist destinations. You can also find similar information through PatientsBeyondBorders.com. For travel health alerts from Health Canada, log onto publichealth.gc.ca.

For Remote Locations

Regarding the useful travel apps noted above, there are times when smartphones can’t meet all of your needs, especially when you are in a remote location. Here are some products that can fill the communications gap.

Connecting your laptop computer to a commercial wireless network isn’t new. But actually connecting at speeds similar to being plugged into broadband Internet service; well, that’s something else. On a recent trip across the Maritimes—including the remote and rural areas of Newfoundland—I received such service by taking along a 4G LTE Sierra Wireless U330 Turbo Stick from Bell Mobility (bell.ca).

This soda-cracker-sized square modem plugs into a laptop’s USB slot, delivering download speeds of at least 3.5 Mbps to up to 14 Mbps, depending on where you are. Granted, there are some truly remote areas where Bell Mobility doesn’t provide coverage. But overall, I had broadband quality service most of the trip, including close to shore on the Marine Atlantic ferry between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Rogers (rogers.com) offers a similar product called the Sierra Wireless AirCard 763S LTE mobile hotspot. It lets you create a password-protected hotspot in seconds that can be accessed by as many as 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices. This can be useful for business teams on the road or families with a host of Wi-Fi-connectable smartphones, tablets and computers.

For those areas not covered by commercial wireless networks, consider leasing a satellite phone (globalstar.com). Granted, satellite-connected phone service is more expensive than Bell, Rogers or Telus, but it reaches places where terrestrial wireless cannot. You can also lease portable broadband satellite terminals to link your computer to the Web from almost anywhere on Earth. Satellite phones and terminals are available through canadasatellite.ca, Onesat.ca and Roadpost.ca.           

In a pinch, you can access your email from any Internet-connected computer or smartphone anywhere by logging onto mail2web.com. This is a free site where you enter your email address and password and you are then connected to your email service provider. You can read, write, send and delete messages. I have used mail2web.com for years and have never run into any security issues as a result of doing so.

A Couple of More Tips

Finally, some words to the wise: roaming charges can be painful. Before you leave, check to see what your carrier charges you for using your smartphone out of country. In some cases, it may be cheaper to pick up a prepaid cell phone once you arrive at your destination. Check online prior to your trip to see what your options are.

As well, not all countries offer the same level of wireless and Internet access services found in Canada. Again, check before you leave—especially if the travel app you’re relying on needs high-speed wireless Internet access to function.

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