Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Turn Your Smartphone into a Travel Guide with the Right Apps

Best Smartphone Apps for Your Trip to Europe

Taking your dream trip to Europe and don't want to carry a backpack full of guidebooks and maps everywhere? Your smartphone can store all the information you need to find your way around and have a wonderful time. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Guidebooks:

The simplest way to get tourist information on your smartphone is to buy your favorite guides in e-book form. Download them to your smartphone for reading with your book app of choice. While your smartphone may not be the best format for general reading, it is perfect for keeping reference material easily to hand. Have a day out in Paris and find yourself with some extra time? Look up nearby tourist attractions in your downloaded guide book, and find your way using your map function.

Rick Steves:

Travel author and TV host, Rick Steves, has his own audio-app for playing travel podcasts. The app and podcasts are free of charge, and available for iOS and Android. From inside the app, you can choose and download the podcasts that interest you. Once downloaded to your phone, there is no need for Wi-Fi or a data connection in order to play them. Podcasts are available for destinations all over Europe - from "Backroads Scotland," to "Caves of Slovenia."
Steve's many podcasts for Paris include a hilarious and informative interview with David Sedaris. We enjoyed his audio walking tours around historic Paris, as well as the audio-guide to Versailles Palace, which is designed to complement the official audio-tour. I quickly learned that Steve's advice is never wrong - especially whenever I thought I knew better.

iTunes U:

If you have an iPhone, search iTunes U for offerings about the history, art, or archaeology of the region you're visiting. For example, I found a great series of short videos from The Open University on the archeology of Rome and Ostia Antica. I watched all of them before our trip, and viewed them again while we were on site - a huge help in understanding the details of complex Roman archeological sites.

Restaurant guides:

If you go to your smartphone's app store and search for your destination city, you'll find numerous guides offering reviews and other information about restaurants and more. Go ahead and read the descriptions and download any that appeal. They're great for getting an idea of the range of restaurants, bars, and food shops. Depending on where you're staying, you might find recommendations for the perfect nearby café, bistro, or cheese shop.
To be honest, I did not find food guide apps particularly helpful in finding local restaurants in Rome or Paris. We had better luck strolling around and reading posted menus. I did, however, find the wonderful "Caruso" gelato shop in Rome thanks to the "Eat Rome" app. In my book, that one tasty treat was totally worth the download!

Site-specific apps:

Some sites of interest have their own guide apps available, which are advertised by signs at the location and/or linked to their website. For example, signs at the Eiffel Tower and the gardens at Versailles Palace advertised their own apps, as well as free Wi-Fi for downloading. The bad news is that we were unable to connect to the Wi-Fi at either site, so had to make do without their guidance.
I recommend checking the websites of attractions you're interested in to see if they offer downloadable app guides or podcasts - before you leave for your trip. Using your own home Wi-Fi is both more reliable and more secure than downloading to your phone from a public site.
I downloaded the Versailles Gardens app after we got home from Paris. It is both beautiful and informative, with photos and embedded audio and video commentary about specific points of interest. I believe if you are on site, location markers will trigger the app to show you information about what you are looking at. I wish we'd had it when we were there! 

With these few tips in mind to help, your smartphone can be your guide to a wonderful vacation. Credits for this article goes to to Grace M. Drake!

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