Managing e-mail while on the road
Many people think that managing their e-mail while on a long-distance trip will be just that — manageable.
But travel is about spending time on new experiences, not your inbox. So next time you go away, try one of these simple web and mobile applications to help keep trifling messages out of sight and ease the eventual return to reality.
When you only want to receive messages from specific people
Most BlackBerry phones have a flashing light that blinks when an e-mail comes in, and a built-in option to filter alerts so that you only receive them from contacts you prioritise. The free Who Is It app customises this functionality further, so the light blinks in one of three colours for up to three different people.
Apple’s latest operating system, iOS6, uses Email VIP, a free feature that screens out unimportant messages and allows users to create a list of VIPs (very important people) whose messages should always be shown. Then, you can adjust your iPhone’s notification settings to only provide alerts for those VIP list e-mails.
If you are an Android user with a Gmail e-mail address, you can create a filter, called a Label, for all messages from the people you designate “top priority”. Then, you can use the free Android Gmail app to customise the Label and Notification settings so that the device only alerts you when you have received a message labelled top priority.
AwayFind is another iPhone app that can screen messages so only urgent ones come to your attention, but it has a few advanced features as well. For example, you can create an out-of-office message that includes a link to an online form that a person can use to override your filter system and send a text message to your phone. That way, even if you forget to add someone important to your filtered list, they can still reach you if they feel the matter is urgent enough. Pricing depends on the volume of alerts you want to receive, starting with 10 alerts a month for free and rising to 1,000 alerts a month for $15.
When you want to automate the screening process
If you like the premise of filtering, but think maintaining lists will be too onerous, you can hand over the work to a computer algorithm. New this year, Sanebox is a web-based tool that studies the patterns of the types of messages you open, don’t open, save and delete and then makes educated guesses about which e-mails should immediately get your attention, storing the others for you to review later. The paid service starts at $2 a month for basic usage -- though a free 14-day trial is available. Unfortunately there’s no mobile version yet.
When you need to send messages while offline
The browser-based tool Boomerang has a “Send Later” feature, which lets you write a message now and schedule a time for it to be sent later. For instance, if you know you’ll be offline but want to make sure you send birthday greetings to a family member, you can schedule a message to be delivered at the time of your choosing. Boomerang for Gmail is free for the first 10 messages processed and then $5 a month for unlimited usage, with a mobile browser version for iPhone and Android devices. The version for Outlook is free for one month and then $30 for a one-time fee for subsequent usage, but it isn’t available on smartphones. New since September, Boomerang for Yahoo Mail brings the service to Yahoo’s web-based e-mail application (free, unlimited messages) but isn’t yet easily accessible on a smartphone.
For keeping track of e-mailed reservation confirmations
If your e-mail use on the road is mainly for pulling up flight, hotel and other travel-related bookings, then use the free TripIt app to store that important information and ignore your inbox. If you use Gmail, TripIt will automatically pull any relevant travel e-mails from your account. If you use another mail service, such as Yahoo Mail, you will need to forward your confirmation messages one-by-one. TripIt then neatly presents the information in mini-itineraries that are viewable via its website and its mobile app (built for Apple, Android, Blackberry and Windows 7).
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel