Pro travellers reveal their top tech tools
The Pleco app can help read menus and signs in Chinese instantly, thanks to its optical-character recognition.
We caught up with a bunch of well-travelled digital drifters to get their opinions on the best tools for life on the road. From camel-proof cameras to airport-navigating apps, they kindly revealed their favourite pieces of travel tech.
Book trips with specialty websites
Jodi Ettenberg, founder of the blog Legal Nomads, has been travelling almost nonstop since 2008. Through trial-and-error, she learned that some lesser known travel-booking websites specialise in filling the gaps left by larger online travel agencies like Expedia and Orbitz. "I love AirNinja.com because it allows you to find budget airlines between any two destinations, something few other booking engines do," she said. She's also fond of Hipmunk, which uses an innovative map-based interface to help travellers book a hotel in the right neighbourhood and clever colour-coded bar graphs to help travellers identify the least agonizing flights for their journey.
Take a camera that is sturdy enough for your itinerary
Last year, 26-year-old London attorney Faraz Shibli crossed the Gobi Desert as part of an international expedition, becoming the youngest Briton to cross the Gobi Desert on foot. During the two-month, 1,000-mile journey, Shibli said, "My two digital cameras died a slow death as a result of sandstorms, rainstorms and temperatures of up to 45C. What survived was a teammate's GoPro, a wearable, waterproof and shockproof camera. It allowed us to shoot footage from deep within sandstorms. We even fastened it around a camel's neck to capture the experience of galloping across seemingly endless plains from a camel's point of view. I have seen others use their [GoPros] mounted on surfboards, ski poles and airplane wings to produce some stunning adventure films."
Tap into smarter tools for taking photos
Taking photos is important for most travellers, including Sean Keener, founder of the BootsnAll travel network. Keener recently moved his family to Ohope, New Zealand, from their home in Portland, Oregon, for four months. While there, he’s been using his iPad to take photos with the app 360 Panorama. This photo-stitching tool replaces the need for taking multiple photos and using desktop software to create the same wraparound effect. "Just hit the take picture button and, on the fly, the software stitches the images together to make a panorama photo," Keener said.
Use a mobile app to find hot local attractions
Leo Seaton, the Sydney-based manager of media relations at Tourism Australia, has travelled to more than 50 countries over the years. His current favourite iPad app is AroundMe (free; Apple; Android), a geo-location based tool for finding essential spots, such as an ATM, a petrol station or a restaurant in an unfamiliar area. "While on a recent business trip to the southern Australian city of Hobart, AroundMe recommended a great restaurant called Ethos, where we ended up being sat next to other guests who turned out to be the three Australian Masterchefs — Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris,” Seaton said.
Seaton also adores UrbanSpoon, a similar geo-location-powered recommendation service, with especially strong user-powered listings for restaurants and cafes. He likes that it lets him search for places depending on mood and budget.
Navigate airports faster
Benét Wilson has been writing full-time about the aviation industry since 1992, and before that, travelled frequently as the daughter of US Air Force officers. She also blogs at Aviation Queen. We had a hard time forcing her to pick a favourite app, but she finally said, "It would have to be GateGuru, which gives locations and user reviews of retail, restaurants and services at airports worldwide. During a trip to Atlanta, I needed a drug store at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Gate Guru told me that Drugs & More was there, pre-security, in the atrium. When you have a tight connection and want to make sure you get something to eat for the plane ride, this app is a godsend."
Create your own wireless hub
A New Zealander living in the US, David Rowell has published the Travel Insider newsletter every week for more than a decade, providing expert tips to readers based on his travels worldwide. Connectivity on the go is important to him, and he praises the Connectify software, a Windows 7 program that can take an Internet connection (wired or wireless) and convert your laptop or iPad/tablet into a wireless hub, rebroadcasting the Internet signal through your computer's built in wi-fi card. The benefit, Rowell said, "is that if you're travelling with multiple devices and are in a hotel or airport that charges a fee per device, you can pay only one fee for the connection with your laptop and then share the zone with your phones, tablets and other devices.”
Use apps to help you converse with the locals
Benny Lewis has travelled the world for eight years, picking up conversational fluency in eight languages. An Irishman, Lewis is currently living in Taiwan and shares his language learning tips on his website, Fluent in Three Months. For his favourite language-related app, he said, "In Chinese speaking countries, I will definitely recommend people check out Pleco. It can help you read menus and signs in Chinese instantly thanks to its optical-character recognition. It’s also great for learning the language in general."
Keep track of your location while off the grid
For two decades, American Majka Burhardt has been an adventurer travelling the world. She has authored books, including Coffee Story: Ethiopia, and produced the movie Waypoint Namibia. "I’m permanently tied to my Garmin eTrex 30 GPS,” she said. “I used it for two months in Africa this year to mark prospective sites for climbing in Malawi, locations of new species discoveries in Mozambique, and the course for the first ever trail race in Ethiopia."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrecty stated that Faraz Shibli was the youngest person to cross the Gobi Desert. He was the youngest Briton to cross the Gobi Desert on foot. This has been fixed.