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You search for the best airfares and flight times on Kayak. You hop over to Hotels.com or maybe Airbnb to find a place to stay. And now you don’t even have to power off your phone or tablet for take-off. Technology is powering travel like never before. But there’s still something nice about tucking a guidebook into your bag, and unplugging enough to actually enjoy the vacation. Tech Tuesday explores favorite apps and devices for an efficient — and relaxing — trip.
- Andrea Sachs Staff Writer, The Washington Post
- Keith Bellows Editor-in-Chief, "National Geographic Traveler"
- Rob Pegoraro Freelance Journalist, USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer
Apps To Help Your Travel
Truphone App: Lets users make free international calls over Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G to other app users. If they aren’t users, you can still call at reduced rates.
Hotels.com: Hotel deals around the world, including via the Hotels.com app.
Hotel Tonight: Hotels give their unsold rooms to Hotel Tonight, which in turn makes the rooms available to its users at a discounted price.
Kayak.com: The site and app allows users to compare several travel sites for hotel, flight and car deals, among others.
Flight Aware : Offers free flight tracking services for private and commercial air traffic.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood to the world. It's "Tech Tuesday." It's hard to imagine a tech free vacation anymore. We book flights through Kayak or Expedia or an airline website. We browse hotels.com or hoteltonight for a place to stay, and we'll soon be able to check in and unlock the hotel door with our smart phone. And we load up on apps and devices before heading for the airport, then use them from gate to gate without having to power down in flight anymore.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut, the choices can be overwhelming. Which website offers the lowest airfares? What apps are best for navigating a new city? And most confusing of all, how will I make sure my phone and data service will work if I'm traveling overseas? Today on Tech Tuesday, we're asking three travel pros to share their tips on the best apps and gadgets for a tech rich, but also relaxing summer vacation. Joining us in studio is Keith Bellows, Senior Vice-President and Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Travel and Traveler Magazine. He's the author of "100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life." Keith Bellows, thank you for joining us.
MR. KEITH BELLOWSPleasure.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Andrea Sachs, travel writer at The Washington Post. Andrea, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANDREA SACHSHi. Nice to be here.
NNAMDINo need to introduce our next guest. He's here too frequently. Okay, it's Rob Pegoraro.
MR. ROB PEGORAROYou're not sick of me yet?
NNAMDIHe's a freelance journalist and USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo tech writer. Always a pleasure, Rob.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. What are your favorite travel apps? What's your strategy for booking a plane flight or a hotel? 800-433-8850. Andrea, let's start with your philosophy of travel. You're happy with high tech booking and low tech traveling. Why do you still take guide books and paper maps along on a trip?
SACHSI'm a traditionalist. I have a newspaper in my bag, as we speak. But, I also have my iPhone. I dislike the idea of rummaging through a book, sort of flipping through it, slowly writing down where I might want to go, and I find apps and things online get overwhelming. And you can just spend so much time going through choices, and after hours, still not have a decision.
NNAMDIYou realize this means you have created your own cultural space, so to speak.
SACHSI'm all by myself.
NNAMDIThis is what you...
SACHSI know like two other people that are in my space.
NNAMDI...this is what you like. Keith, when you're on vacation, you like to leave plans open ended and ask locals. I think that's a great idea, by the way, rather than apps for suggestions. Why?
BELLOWSYeah, I do. And I think I'm a little bit more close to being the curmudgeon that I used to be. Because I think there is a lot to understanding the context in where, you know, the place you're in. And I think talking to people, talking to locals, getting connected. That's what it's about. These apps tend to say, here's how you can connect to the world. Well, maybe.
NNAMDII like to ask the cab driver, where do you have lunch?
NNAMDIThat’s the spot I want to check out. Why are you skeptical about the value of Yelp and other crowd sourced...
BELLOWSWell, there's a couple of reasons. One, I don't know who those people are. So, I don't know if they're like me or they're not like me. I think that some of those sites are gamed. I think that tripadvisor, for instance, I mean, it's pretty proven that a lot of the suggestions that go on there are coming from the people who are purveyors of the places. But more important is when you see somebody behind a bar, for instance, and you go like, oh, I like that person. I think that person looks interesting, cool, or whatever. I'm gonna ask him where he had breakfast this morning.
BELLOWSYou're likely to understand the context in which you're getting that information.
NNAMDIRob, you've been writing about how to stay connected through Wi-Fi when you travel. What are some tips for using Wi-Fi at the airport and on the plane?
PEGORAROSo, at the airport, the trick's basically, in the US, to use it without having to pay for it. And it's gotten easier. A lot of airports, they used to charge for it, now give you at least some time free. I think, this fall, finally Newark and JFK and LaGuardia will give you a whole half an hour free instead of the pay Boingo access. There are various options that may not be obvious. Boingo, for instance, is this paid hot spot network. They recently signed...
NNAMDIHow did I end up getting a monthly bill from Boingo.
NNAMDII don't understand. I used it in the Newark airport and all of a sudden, it pops up on my monthly bill.
PEGORAROWell, I know the people in PR. I can put in a word on your behalf for them.
SACHSI never put my credit card number in. That's how I avoid it.
NNAMDIThat's the mistake I made.
PEGORAROYes. So, apparently, if you have an MX Platinum card, you get that Boingo membership comped now, which is nice. If you have access to an airline's lounges, that's almost always free Wi-Fi. Although, overseas, that can be really limited as well.
NNAMDIAnything else? Any other tips?
PEGORAROWell, the other thing is, I should mention, as I speak, I'm clutching my phone.
PEGORAROAs I often do. Your phone, you can tether off that, pretty much any new plan you sign up for. Except at Sprint, is gonna have tethering included. And that's where you share your phone's bandwidth with a laptop, via Wi-Fi. And so in that case, you don't need to worry about whatever the airport's doing. And even free Wi-Fi can be a real pain if it's three clicks to log in and then it's horrendously slow.
NNAMDIHow about Wi-Fi onboard the plane?
PEGORAROSpeaking of horrendously slow, yeah, it's, you know, you have to note that when you're complaining about having your slow internet access, it's slow internet access from a chair in the sky. So, let's not be too upset about it. But yeah, I will occasionally sign up for it. A lot of the time I won't. I find I'm really productive when it's just my laptop and the only way words are going to appear on the screen is if I type them.
NNAMDIIt's a "Tech Tuesday" conversation on travel tech for your vacation. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What's your secret for finding affordable, reliable Wi-Fi when you travel? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. You all travel extensively for work. What's your favorite app or website for finding the best plane fare, Andrea? Start with you.
SACHSWell, I can tell you, about a couple of hours ago, I was on Kayak, looking for a flight to Alaska, and then I went over to Alaskaair to see what they had, because Kayak sort of showed me what was out there. And I thought, well maybe I can put it together a little better by myself. I couldn't, so then I went to tripadvisorflights to see what they could do, and then I realized I had to get out of bed and get dressed. And I still don't have a flight. But those are sort of the -- my process of sort of hopping between Kayak and tripadvisor and just seeing what's out there and then trying to maybe build it myself.
NNAMDIWhat's your process, Keith?
BELLOWSI'm pretty much the same way. I think that, you know, and this is the problem. It's supposed to save you time. It doesn't do -- it doesn't save you any time. It just devours time. My best opportunity in terms of snagging a good fare is to go directly to the airline in question. Because they usually try to, I mean, they're in a war with all these apps. And you're likely to get a better deal.
NNAMDISo you go to someplace like Kayak first.
BELLOWSWhich I do do.
NNAMDIThen you see what airline they're recommending for you. Then you go to the airline website itself.
PEGORAROThe site I've been using a lot lately is one called hipmonk, hipmonk.com. And they really get around the issue of having to do the search and then recreate it at the airline site. Cause they have a button, you click it and you're taken directly to United's site or whoever. And whatever kind of crazy connection you've lined up is duplicated there. And it's much more flexible, if you want to play around, to see if, okay, what are my connection options here? I don't want to have a connection under half an hour. Compare that with price, everything else.
PEGORAROThey do an okay job of showing if you're going to have Wi-Fi on the plane or not.
NNAMDIWhat's that website again?
SACHSThat's a very cute chipmunk. But I say I find their graphics overwhelming. Like, my eyes start to water and they just bug out. And I just -- I close my computer. Yeah.
BELLOWSBut they do have the agony index, which is a really lovely thing, which is the idea that how long, you know, are you gonna be on the plane? What's the layover like? How bad is this flight going to be? And you've gotta love that.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here -- were you about to say, about Kayak?
PEGORAROKayak can be a little too generous with flights that'll have a five hour layover, which, really, just, no.
NNAMDIYeah. Here's Eileen in Washington, D.C. Eileen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EILEENHi. I have a question about an error that was made by American Airlines in booking an American Airlines vacation package. The charge for the hotel room in Santa Barbara was at least 100 dollars more than what I was quoted. And I noticed this before I traveled. But trying to get American Airlines vacation package to correct this error has been almost impossible.
BELLOWSI have a suggestion. Send -- contact our ombudsman at the magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Chris Elliott. And he will bird dog this.
SACHSOh, he's ours too.
BELLOWSYes. He now works for...
SACHSBoth of us.
BELLOWS...every -- for everywhere.
SACHSThere's enough of Chris to get around.
BELLOWSBut anyway, he is really good at this stuff. He knows exactly who to call. He knows how to work with them. This is a very typical problem. And you're just caught in the mesh of bureaucracy.
NNAMDIIn your pursuit of a solution, were you ever able to speak with a live person?
EILEENI spoke to a manager at American Airlines and explained that I was being charged almost 100 dollars a night more than if I had walked in off the street at Santa Barbara to get a room at this Hyatt for that night. And he said, you know, you really should have done your research. Well, I did do my research, but the paperwork I got did not match what I was told on the phone.
NNAMDIOkay. Well, purse the suggestions offered by Keith and Andrea and hopefully, you will get help.
EILEENThanks so much.
SACHSCan I just say one thing about packages? It's important to sort of break it down yourself and say, well, if I did it a la carte, if I did the flight, and I did that hotel, how much are my savings? And maybe you could match it or even save more by doing it by yourself.
NNAMDIOops, Eileen, I accidentally cut you off. Call us back. 800-433-8850.
SACHSYou went on your vacation. Bye.
NNAMDII sense that you were about to say something. 800-433-8850. Eileen, call us back. Do you sign up for the airline's text messages or use an app that keeps you posted about changes to your flight?
PEGORAROSo, yeah. I'm signed up to get emails. A lot of the time, if there's -- what I found, if you want to like get a better sense of what's going on with the flight, don't just look at the delay estimate. If the airline, the site or the app, has a where's this flight coming from button, check that first. Like, I mentioned United before. It's great that they have that function, but the people who put the estimates on the boards don't pay attention to it. Cause it's a triumph of optimism over experience when they tell you, sure, we'll turn this plane around in 20 minutes.
PEGORAROIf you really want to geek out, there's a site called flightaware.com, where you can look up, you know, not just this current flight and see where it is on the map, but see how has it been over the last week?
NNAMDIKeith, you use flighttracker?
BELLOWSYes I do. Flighttracker, I've found to be very, very accurate. And it is impartial. So, it is what it is. That's when I don't rely on the airline. I just...
NNAMDII use flighttracker too. Andrea?
SACHSI don't, but I do follow, as you were saying, Rob, that I'll see where the plane originated, and sort of track it, just using online, like seeing where they landed and then I might just call the agent, say what's going on? But I also started using, a couple of months ago, what my editor told me about, using Twitter, so using the airline's Twitter. And you just tell them what's going on. I'm stuck at the airport, and they respond so much faster on Twitter than they would through the phone or even when they're overwhelmed at the airport. And they will try and help you through Twitter to resolve the problem.
NNAMDIOh, good tip. What websites or apps do you use to book a hotel or other -- some other type of lodging when you travel? Keith?
BELLOWSI use hoteltonight. I'm a gambler. And, you know, basically, what it does is the morning of the day you want to stay, it throws up all the unused rooms, so if you're going to New York, you might end up in the same Regis for a pittance compared to what you would pay if you booked it through the hotel in advance. So, while it's a bit of a crapshoot, you know what you're getting. And it's a little bit late -- you know, the crackerjack box. You know, you open it up and oh, look. I got, you know, I'm staying at the Waldorf.
SACHSI typically go to, if I'm staying at a major hotel and I don't care much about character, to hotels.com. Because if you book 10 times, you get the next one free. So I feel like I'm winning something for my loyalty. And they're owned by Expedia, so that's fine, so they have a vast number of options. Although, my deputy editor is convinced that if you call the hotel directly, you will get a better deal.
NNAMDIWell, the free word after 10 bookings is what appeals to you, obviously. The magic word.
PEGORAROI usually go with Kayak for hotels. Not so much flights, but more hotels. I like the fact that you can see where the hotels are at on a map. I don't want to take their word for it and you can say, show me hotels within a mile of a convention center or a museum or the train station at the airport. Hoteltonight is kind of neat, but you do need to get on the ball. Two years ago, I got a great deal on a hotel in San Francisco. Then took 15 minutes too long to book it and wound up paying way too much for a lesser place way out of the way. And not even through hoteltonight 'cause all they had left were like 300 dollar a night specials instead of 200 and change.
NNAMDIWell, Hilton just announced a new app that will let you choose a specific room, check in and out and even unlock the door to your room. Is that the way of the future, Andrea?
SACHSOh gosh, I hope not 'cause I'm gonna end up opening someone else's door. I just, again, for me, it's too much -- too many decisions. And I like surprise. I like walking into my room and being awed by whatever the view is. Or running down and complaining. And it just seems like it's losing that personal interaction, so I don't need to make another decision. I already spent hours, probably, trying to pick that hotel. For me, then, to have to decide which room I want -- I just want to get there, and just be surprised. But I'm sure a lot of people like the control.
NNAMDIKeith, you like the control?
BELLOWSI like to be a little out of control, but I think that I certainly admire Hilton's kind of forward thinking. But this is a fairly -- this is happening everywhere now. It's certainly happened a lot in Europe. I was staying in a hotel last night in New York called The Row, which was the old Milford Place, if anyone remembers The Lullaby on Broadway.
BELLOWSAnd it's been completely transformed. You know, this is very funky cool sort of hotel.
PEGORAROThis is the one by Penn Station?
BELLOWSIt's -- it's on 8th. Yeah. And but what's interesting is I said, do you have room service? And they said, no, we don't have room service. And I said, well, you don't have room service? We're in Times Square. And now they're developing an app which will allow you to order from 30 different restaurants...
NNAMDIAnd get it delivered.
BELLOWS...as if it were room service.
BELLOWSSo I think we're in the vanguard of a complete transformation of how hotels are gonna do business.
NNAMDIIn Times Square, you don't want to walk 10 steps to a restaurant. How about you, Rob?
PEGORAROYeah. I -- don't give me a view of an airshaft, I guess otherwise. You know, I over-think enough other parts of the travel experience, and I tend not to spend that much time in a hotel room anyways.
NNAMDISo you don't necessarily have to select your room before you travel.
PEGORAROI'm sure they're gonna just gonna find some way to upsell me on that. This view is 10 dollars a night nicer.
BELLOWSBut what about the people who don't get the room? There are bad rooms and good rooms. Somebody's gonna have to get the bad room.
SACHSLike, we're all gonna get the middle seats of the hotel world.
NNAMDIIf you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. It's a "Tech Tuesday" conversation on travel. So, if you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. It's Tech Tuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our "Tech Tuesday" conversation on travel. We're talking with Andrea Sachs, travel writer at the Washington Post. Rob Pegoraro is a freelance journalist and USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo tech writer. And Keith Bellows is senior vice president and editor-in-chief of National Geographic Travel and Traveler Magazine. He's the author of "100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life." We got an email from Beth in D.C. who says, when I see a cell phone check in sign on TSA lane, I go to the other lane. Because the cell phone check in always takes two or three times as long as the paper check in.
NNAMDIUsually the cell phone user is doing something wrong. If everyone checked in with a cell phone, our TSA line waits would be at least twice as long for everyone. This has been going on for a very long time now. Do you ever think it will become -- do you think it will ever become official, Rob?
PEGORAROThe people developing the apps have to get better at it. If you want to see it done right, there's a site called Eventbright you can use to RSVP to various events and whatnot. And their app is great. When you bring up the bar code, it automatically cranks up the brightness on the screen. United Amtrak, could you please get with the program? Otherwise, you see people having to fuss with that and for some reason, Nationals Park, I cannot get the bar code they email to me to scan at all. I just have a friend who runs their season ticket group email those to my wife, like, on her iPhone it seems to work better. I don't know why.
NNAMDIWe got an email from David in Reston, Virginia, who says in Europe, I like City Maps To Go for walking and Navigon for driving. I also like Gate Guru for airports and Travtracker for itineraries. What are your favorite gadgets and apps to bring on a trip? What's on your must have list, Keith?
BELLOWSIn Flight Reader. It's a brand new one. It allows you to go to the airport and download as many magazines as you possibly want for free. You can only use them for 24 hours. So, it means that on the flight, you can read to your heart's delight. And, of course, they're going to charge you -- you know, they're gonna try to upsell you. But it's completely free. I think this is brilliant. Because I'm a, you know, serendipitous magazine reader at all times, but when I'm at an airport, I'm a sucker. And so, to get to sample magazines for nothing, hello. That's great.
NNAMDIDoes it beat just browsing around in the airport at magazines?
BELLOWSWell, you browse. You go, ooh, I want that one, that one, that one, that one. And then you boom. You do it.
NNAMDIYou got it.
SACHSAnd then you read them, right? Or someone or your app reads it.
BELLOWSI do. I actually do.
NNAMDIWhat do you think?
SACHSFor me, anything, I'm terri -- yes, I'm a travel writer. But I am terrible with directions, so anything that will give me a little voice inside my head that tells me to go left instead of right, I definitely advocate and use. And I'm sort of dipping into the pool of whatsapp. I just used that. So, traveling abroad, it's so nice to be able to text and call people without getting charged for that. And then, also, any of the translate or currency exchange that helps you quickly either have a conversation or quickly know if you can afford that or not. So, those are good apps to have.
SACHSMore of the, like the toolbox, I think. So, those items. The necessary items.
NNAMDII like whatsapp when I'm abroad, except that my nephew who lives abroad seems to think I have nothing else to do but talk with him all the time on whatsapp. What do you like, Rob?
PEGORAROFor texting, I use Google voice. I already have my work phone number through that, and so I can just use this app anywhere I have Wi-Fi, and no one needs to learn some new phone number for me. Google Maps is really good, 'cause you can save maps for offline use, which, even if you're going to put a prepaid sim into your phone right away, you may still need to figure out where the nearest mall is. And so, this way, you can just look at it on your phone and then figure out your connectivity.
NNAMDIOn to, oh, I was going to go to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth dropped off. So, let's go to John on the eastern shore in Maryland. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. Good afternoon, folks. We are traveling from Washington to San Francisco next week taking a cat with us. And we have spoken to a couple of the airline representatives on two occasions about the requirements. Also looked on some websites, and I want to make sure that we have accurate information before we check in. We were told we could check in, pay the fee for the cat, and then board with the cat. And I just wanted to know, what is the best way to get the most accurate information from the airline before we get to the airport?
SACHSI would say always call in advance and just make sure, although sometimes agents tell you different stories. But the website -- their websites always have that information, and it doesn't change, especially with pets. And their fees might change. They've increased over the years, but that will be on the website. And then, also, make sure that your cage or whatever your carrier is, fits under the seat and things of that, and that your cat has all its needs for the flight. But really, the airline should have all that information, and TSA shouldn't be a problem.
BELLOWSI want to add one quick thing. If you go to the airline site and you use the language that's there, that's binding language. If you talk to somebody who's on the phone, at the other end, they may or may not know what they're talking about and no matter what they say, it's not binding.
JOHNVery well. Well, I certainly appreciate the input and I wish you all a great rest of the day.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on to Roger in Washington, D.C. Roger, your turn.
ROGERYes. Hi. Thank, Kojo. I'm going to Europe later in the summer, and I'm wondering about times when I might want to use GPS or search the internet when I don't have Wi-Fi. And I heard about pre-paying, somehow, and I just don't know. I've got Verizon as my backup, but that could be very expensive. I know. With roaming charges and stuff.
NNAMDIAny suggestion, Rob?
PEGORAROSo, Verizon, you're in luck. If your phone is LTE, which is pretty much anything they would have sold in the last two years, it's already unlocked for international use. And apparently even domestic use. So you can -- what happens is you go into a store, jetlagged, just out of it, and you ask for a prepaid sim and it may be kind of an awkward conversation, depending on the languages involved. You put it into your phone. You have to enter a pin to unlock it. The phone reboots and then you have a domestic number, and however much access you bought for the week. And this is really cheap.
PEGORAROI paid 21 bucks at the current exchange rate for a prepaid sim with one gigabyte of data, this February in Spain. And the alternative would have been -- I don't know how much TMobile would have charged. With Verizon, I think it's 25 bucks for 100 megs of data. I just did a how to promotional plug for a Gannett site called nowu. N-O-W-U.com. All about international access. Verizon, it's kind of their little secret. Your phone's already unlocked, you don't need to ask them for permission or anything.
ROGERRight. And what kind of store -- it's a Verizon store that you go into? In Amsterdam, for example.
PEGORAROA prepaid sim -- don't know about shopping for there, but for instance, in, if you're lucky, it will be in the airport. In Barcelona, there's one before you can even pick up your bags. And it's an electronic store, and they have their prepaid sims at the front counter. The funny thing is I asked around like travel technology experts and analysts, how do you go shopping for one? And this one guy said, well, I ask on Twitter before going. So, that's about the extent of my research too.
NNAMDIWell, I think I saw such a store in Amsterdam also, so you might get lucky.
ROGERGreat. Thanks so much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Andrea, how important is it to load up the apps you want for your trip and learn to use them before you leave home?
SACHSThat's a good question. Cause I tend to not do that. And so, for example, on my drive up here, which wasn't very far away, I used an app called waze, which is supposed to tell you if there's traffic or there are cops. And I was so distracted by this little bobbing head of a cop that I got lost. And I live in Adams Morgan. So, I should have practiced it before I came here. Another example, I tried to download whatsapp while I was in, oh where was -- I was in Namibia. And I couldn't do it because it needed to call me to confirm.
SACHSAnd so I wasn't able to get -- so you def, I definitely agree that part of your packing pre-trip experience, you need to download all your apps and become familiar with them.
PEGORAROYou mentioned phone numbers. If you've turned on what's called two step verification on any of your internet accounts, that's where you have to enter some number that either pops up in an app like Google Authenticator, or sent to you as a text message, the latter method will either not work or be kind of expensive to use if you're overseas. Most of these services have a fallback method where you print out a bunch of codes that only work one time. Make sure you print out those codes and know where they're actually at in your wallet before you go overseas and find you're disconnected from a service you use a lot.
NNAMDIKeith, anything you feel important?
BELLOWSWell, I'm of the mode of app. Apps to me mean aptly indifferent in the sense that if it doesn't work, there's a reason for it. And I just go on with my life without it. The only thing that I truly rely on is for very short haul trips, is Google Maps. Pretty much everything else, I assume, I want to spend more time experiencing the place I'm in, rather than have it mediated by this gauze of app-dom. So.
NNAMDIThis gauze of app-dom? Here is Sarah in Cabin John, Maryland. Sarah, your turn.
SARAHHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to share with your audience a cautionary tale about an Orbitz induced travel nightmare that my husband and I experienced this past spring. Last September, we booked our airfare to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. And we booked it through Orbitz. And Orbitz gave us kind of a convoluted route to get to the Virgin Islands. They sent us up to Boston, and then from Boston down to Miami and then Miami to St. Thomas. But, you know, it was 100 dollars cheaper per ticket, so we thought it was worth it. Sometime in November, and we were booked on two separate airlines for the trip.
SARAHSo, sometime in November, American Airlines, which was gonna cover the second two legs of our flight, changed their itinerary and canceled the flights that we had been booked on. And they rebooked us, but the flights were earlier in the day. We couldn't have met the itinerary, because we were on United, and American didn't know we were on United.
NNAMDIDoes this story ever end?
SARAHYeah. They had no way -- nobody contacted us about the change in itinerary. So, we showed up at the airport in Boston, after our first flight, and we had no flights to get to St. Thomas.
SARAHAnd then, it became a finger pointing exercise between Orbitz and the airlines, because each of them declined responsibility, saying it was the other party's fault.
NNAMDISo you ended up spending your vacation in Boston, in the airport?
SARAHNo, we didn't. Thankfully, the airline -- the American reservation agents took pity on us and they managed, through a series of magic tricks and standby, to get us to St. Thomas that night. But it was extremely stressful, and I'll never book through a third party site again. Only directly through the airlines.
NNAMDICare to comment on that experience, Andrea?
SACHSOh, absolutely. I'm so sorry that happened to you, and I can completely relate. And whenever I book on a third party site, which is very frequently, I will always go the airline and confirm and say, do you have me on your flights? And if it's multiple airlines, I will call them and make sure I'm on all their flights. And I don't know -- Rob, both of you might know it better, but my editor had recommended TripIt for organizing your itinerary, and he said that -- so, if something changes with your flight or the airline, it will update on TripIt. Is that true?
NNAMDIIs that true?
PEGORAROYeah, TripIt will send you notifications. You can subscribe to TripIt Pro. But, yeah. Ouch.
NNAMDII guess everyone has had a traveling -- a travel nightmare comparable to this.
PEGORAROThe problem is when it's not American's job to make United's flights run on time, or vice versa. It is Orbitz job to get the person to where they paid to go to. And the problem is, Orbitz doesn't have planes of its own. And so, it's left hand, right hand.
SACHSRight. After the reservation, they sort of walk away from you. And then, so you -- I always go back to the main source, which is the airline. They're responsible for flying me there, and I will make sure that I have a seat.
NNAMDISarah, thank you very much for your call. Better luck next time.
BELLOWSNow, if you really want to avoid that, you can do Jet Starter, which is a new app, which is the uber private planes. So, if anybody's really out there looking for...
PEGORAROMy journalist income. I don't.
NNAMDISarah, once again, thank you very much for your call. Andrea, can we talk about maps, something that everyone needs in an unfamiliar place? You had a bad experience, following a digital map to the wrong Peoria. What happened?
SACHSYou're taking me down that road again, aren't you?
NNAMDIPlease do. Please, share that.
SACHSI'd be happy to share this experience. So, I was in Chicago, and I had to go to Peoria. And so, I put in Peoria in my iPhone's map. I wasn't using Google Maps at the time. And I just kept on driving. I was like, well there you go. I don't have to think about it. I can open the windows. I can sing. And all of a sudden, I started seeing signs for Indianapolis. And then I pull to the side of the road and I scrolled to the bottom, and it was taking me to Peoria, Indiana. And I learned, from that, that I had become co-dependent. And I was no better than a little baby in the back seat of that car, just going take me wherever you want.
SACHSJust give me some ice cream at the end. So, I learned I need to be aware of my surroundings.
NNAMDIYou also learned about Peoria, Indiana.
SACHSI -- well, I didn't make it all the way there. But I did pass by Gary, Indiana and I did make a tribute to Michael Jackson. So, maybe that made it worth it.
NNAMDIKeith, what is your ideal combination of cell phone, GPS and the paper map for context?
BELLOWSI really do rely on the paper map. And I find this more and more, especially when I'm overseas. And a recent experience was that I wanted to get -- I'm sorry. I wanted to get from a place called Ballycastle to Dublin. And I looked it on my Google Maps, and I got little pieces of it. Well, the little pieces didn't give me any sense of where I was going. I could have ended up going in completely the -- I could have ended up in Ireland's Peoria.
SACHSIn Peoria, Ireland.
BELLOWSAnd so what happened to us -- I got this paper map and I put it out and I looked at it, and I said, oh, that's how far it is. And oh, because I'm spacial. You know, I look at things and I want to see things in relationship to other places. And so I think for a very short, you know, 10, 15, 20 mile trip in the car, great. Google Maps is perfect. But for anything longer where you -- and especially when you're in a foreign land, you really need to understand how all of it connects.
NNAMDIRob, you recommend saving Google Maps for your destination onto your phone before you leave so even if you're not connected while you're traveling, you still have a map that's linked to your phone's GPS. Can you explain how that works?
PEGORAROYeah. Basically, it just saves the map and not just the picture of it, but you can zoom all the way in. What you can't do is interact with it. You can't get directions. You can't tap an icon and see the name of this or people's reviews of it or whatever. So you actually need to have map reading skills to be able to see where you have to go. But yeah, it's a really handy feature. It's -- they could make it more obvious in the app.
PEGORAROIt's sort of -- you have to, like, tap on here, pull the screen up and then press this button and then it's done for you.
NNAMDIBut even if you don't have Wi-Fi connection, at least you still have the map available to look at.
SACHSRight. 'Cause there are a lot of places, even in our country, where there are just black spots. Like, when I was driving around West Virginia, I would just completely lose service and you've no idea where you are. You're on a mountain, where?
NNAMDIGonna take a short break. If you have called, Phil in Washington and others, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. How do you find your way around when you're on the road? Are you a Google maps convert or do you still tuck a foldout paper map into your travel bag? How do you balance the urge to stay connected with the need to unplug while you're on vacation?
NNAMDISend us a tweet at kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're talking travel with Keith Bellows, senior vice president and editor and chief of National Geographic Travel and Traveler magazine and author of "100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life." Andrea Sachs is a travel writer at The Washington Post and Rob Pegoraro is a free-lance journalist, USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo tech writer.
NNAMDIGo directly to the phones. Here is Phil in Washington D.C. Phil, your turn.
PHILAll right. Thank so much for taking my call.
PHILI just wanted to comment. I was a Peace Corp volunteer in Bulgaria and left in 2012 and I traveled around Europe just with and iPod Touch that had a Wi-Fi signal. I just wanted to say that you could pretty much do everything you want, in Europe at least, with an iPad or something with a Wi-Fi connection. And Skype is another thing that I would recommend purchasing credit for and also communicating with people for free over the Wi-Fi.
NNAMDIWell, Rob, when you're traveling abroad, the options for using your Smartphone are very confusing. Oh, by the way, Phil, in our next hour, we'll be talking with Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the new director of the Peace Corps, so you want to stay tuned for that.
PHILYes, sir, I will. Thank you very much. It was -- it's a great show, so.
NNAMDIGot to get in the promo.
PHILThank you so much.
NNAMDIRob, explain what you think about what he just said and how sim cards work and what data options carriers like Verizon and AT&T offer for international travel.
PEGORAROWell, it does depend so much on your carrier. Like, if you have T-Mobile right now, if you just signed up, they've got a great deal. They give you free low-speed roaming so it's what they call Edge, which used to be considered, you know, a really good connection on a phone, being that you had data at all. But you know what, for looking up directions and getting your email, it's okay. It works.
PEGORAROIf you have AT&T, they don't unlock the phone and their policy is not to conclude the contract and so you have to pay their -- I think it's 30 bucks for 120 Megs of data and that's it. You got to take it and like it. With Sprint, I think you need to be 40 or 60 days into a contract and they'll unlock the sim card slot, if it's a world phone, which most of their Smartphones are these days.
PEGORAROThe Wi-Fi strategy can work, but then you just see weird occasions where there's either no Wi-Fi or it's limited to, like, a 15 or a 30-minute block. And maybe you also need to get a password from, like, the front desk at the hotel or the lounge or whatever. Really kind of nickel and dime stuff. And apparently, it gets down to a lot of these places, the Wi-Fi is run by the local telecom monopoly, which would much rather people pay them for cell phone service.
NNAMDIYou buy an unlocked phone.
PEGORAROYeah. So, like, I've got a Nexus 4 I bought almost a year and a half ago. And so yeah, I can just pop out the sim card, pop in another one, reboot the phone, enter the pin for the new sim card and I'm up and running. I've got a local number, which I never know what it is. I never call from it.
PEGORAROI've got my data service, you know. Text messages to my Google Voice number come and go as they did before and the nice thing is I don't need to have a second phone, keep a different set of apps up to date. It's the same phone as before.
NNAMDIOkay. Tis the season for family vacations, all. What tech tips do you have for traveling with kids, Keith?
BELLOWSPaper books, no. You know, it's amazing because I have two kids, 9 and 10, and they're veracious consumers of distraction and the -- just an iPhone, or any phone, with a couple of apps, very simple apps, will really transport them. And so I make sure that we have one game app, one drawing app and one music app. And those three things, with the exception of the music app which drives anybody on a plane crazy, really keeps them going.
BELLOWSAnd the same rules that exist at home exist on the road, which is one hour of screen time a day.
NNAMDITips for traveling with children, Andrea?
SACHSOh, distractions, snacks, their favorite stuffed animals and I think -- and I don't have children myself, but I do have a niece and a nephew and I think when you get them involved with the planning, so if they can choose one activity or bring out a guidebook by app or paper and let them choose something if they're old enough to read. And I think the involvement really gets them excited about the trip.
NNAMDIDad, I can't get Netflix. Why? Is that a familiar question for you?
PEGORAROYes. We have a 4-year-old and yes, the first time she was bringing out the iPad, she was tapping the Netflix icon. We have some trouble keeping the one-hour screen time. It's just difficult. Don't judge.
BELLOWSI'm not saying it's easy.
PEGORAROSo yeah, you want to have some kind of offline forms of entertainment, whether it's a movie you rented off iTunes or, you know, you ripped a DVD to the computer and copied it to the iPad so you can watch it that way, you know. If you have to pay for the seat back video, just go ahead and do it. But also, you know, hopefully, she'll like to read or look out the window.
PEGORAROAnd fortunately, my daughter, the apple did not fall far from the tree. She likes looking at airplanes when we're at the airport. So we get a long good.
NNAMDIHere now is Jane in Washington, D.C. Jane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Jane, can you hear me? Jane, I suggest you listen on the phone, as opposed to on the radio and then we will be in direct contact with one another. Jane, are you there? Well, Jane, I will...
NNAMDIThere you are. Go ahead, Jane.
JANEI'm so sorry. Yes, my simple question -- well, maybe it's not that simple, is I'm a blind person and I do travel extensively and as I describe myself, I use a dumb phone, not a smart phone. So I just use a traditional phone. But I really need a phone that will enable me to just take it here or there without trying to figure out how to put in sim cards and all that sort of thing that works like an iPhone does, which means essentially, you can just, you know, call your provider and say, hi, I'm traveling overseas and I need my phone to work.
JANESo is that possible?
NNAMDIIs it, Rob?
PEGORAROWell, the simple solution is to use T-Mobile where, you know, you can get by without having to by a pre-paid sim card, if the slower data speed is okay, which in this case sounds like it is. Their text messaging is free and the voice calls, I think it's 20 cents a minute back home. Otherwise, you know, you can buy what are sort of called roaming sim cards where the same phone works in different countries at a discounted rate.
PEGORAROBut last I checked, like, I tried this company Truphone and they have a good product, but unless you were gonna go to the UK or Australia or maybe Ireland, their rates were not better than the normal roaming rates you'd pay your provider.
JANEI use Verizon and that's where both my husband I have our phones. And he has an iPhone, but, you know, I want to be able to have the same phone number when I travel so people can reach me.
PEGORARORight. In that case, I would just, you know, chalk up the roaming package as the cost of doing business. I guess one advantage of having a feature phone, we don't like to use the word dumb phone, feature phone is actually what the industry calls them, yeah, your data budget is gonna be pretty minimal. So you're just looking at -- they've got plans that'll cut the cost of texting and calling down a lot.
JANERight. Yeah, and I mean, I don't need, you know, data, per se. I just need basically to be able to make and receive calls. That's really all that I particularly want. Do you have a particular phone that you would suggest? I do use Verizon so I have to use one that's, you know, compatible with their service.
PEGORAROYeah. That, I have not looked at their feature phone selection in a little while and that's something you should probably, you know, judge on your own in terms of how easy is it to use, you know, with whatever accessibility features it has. That's a little -- that's not something I know (unintelligible)
JANEAnd they would be called feature phones.
PEGORAROFeature phones, yes, yes, which means you're not paying the expensive Smartphone prices either.
SACHSDo they not respond to dumb phones.
JANEFeatureless phones, yes. Okay. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jane, and good luck to you. Keith, we got an email from Eric in Kensington who says, "in Europe, the maps on ViaMichelin even include the location of speed cameras."
BELLOWSYes. And just don't we need that because one of the things I've learned is not to speed in foreign countries. Of course, especially when you're on the other side of the road. But, you know, the thing is that I think you just want to get from A to Z. If you get a ticket, you get a ticket.
NNAMDIAndrea, what advice do you have for people who are going to use public transportation while on vacation? Should they load the app for their destination's transit system ahead of time?
SACHSI would say, yes. I think there are some things where app -- they're just -- you don't want to waste time while you're traveling. You want all the busy stuff, you just want that out of your way and so you can enjoy the leisure piece of it and the exploration. So if there's an app and a city that allows you to know when the bus is coming or when the train is coming -- and they have those now.
SACHSAnd there's some that are throughout the country and then you might just have a specific BART for San Francisco or I know we have a couple in D.C. and so you might want to play around with that so then you can spend, say, more time at the museum because you'll know that the next bus is coming in a half hour instead of standing at the bus stop.
NNAMDIAny other suggestions for people using public transportation? If not, then here's an email we got from Robin in Bethesda. "My 17-year-old son and his bandmates just took a 1200-mile, 5-city tour of the east coast. I went to a lot of trouble to get an eastern map of the United States, circled each city and sat with them and gave them that spacial overview of where they were going and how far things were from each other.
NNAMDIThey used their phones instead and didn't look at the map once. I fear for the map-reading skills of the next generation." And this email we got from E.J., "good grief, take a paper map. Everywhere you go there are maps at hotels, tourist shops, et cetera. Use AAA or give Barnes and Noble some business." No GPS mistakes, Rob. Welcome to the brave new world.
SACHSI agree, but when you're traveling by yourself, so frequently I'm by myself, it's really hard to drive and look at a map. And it's so much easier to sort of glance at my phone and see the arrow and follow or have that woman tell me what to do, even if she takes me to the wrong Peoria.
NNAMDIWell, here is Carl in Arlington, Virginia. Carl, tell them your system for travel.
CARLHello all and thanks for taking my call. So I was listening earlier to you all talking about apps for the phones and how many hours you spend on putting together trips. I have -- maybe it's one of the lowest tech of all. I have a great travel agent who's local and I call her. I tell her where I want to go, what my general dates and thoughts are. She's already got my profile there of what sorts of places I like to stay at, where I like to sit on an airplane.
CARLShe pulls it together for me, comes back with options and prices and one of the best things is that when I'm on a flight, if it gets cancelled or is delayed, rather than having to hassle with the airline with trying to rebook, I call her as soon as I know there is an issue, or text her even, and she takes care of me. Fixes it and it's one stop.
NNAMDIWhat happens if you can't reach her on the phone, Carl?
CARLYou know, maybe I've been fortunate, but I've never had an issue with that, either phone or text, I mean, it's been...
NNAMDINow, if you couldn't reach her on the phone, would you simply sit in the airport or wherever you're stranded until you...
CARLOh, no. Certainly, if I couldn't reach, I'd immediately -- I'd go the, you know, deal with the airline first. But actually, as an immediately recent example, I was stuck at an airport. The flight was listed as delayed. I realized that the connection was going to miss because of the delay. I called her. She looked in her system. She says, well, on my computer, it's showing it cancelled and immediately went in, she set me up on another flight.
NNAMDIAnd solved your problem.
CARLI was ahead of queue.
NNAMDIThere you go. Okay. Thank you very much for your call. Back to the future. Talk about cameras. Do you rely on the camera in your phone or do you take a separate camera when you go on vacation and what advice do you have for shooting, storing and sharing the pictures that you take, Keith?
BELLOWSWell, you know, part of my job is to take pictures. And so when I'm doing a lot of, you know, tweeting and so forth, I rely solely on the iPhone. I also work at National Geographic and I know what I'm up against so I don't even pretend to use a professional camera because, you know, we now are in a world of semi-pros. Everybody's a semi-pro. And you can be in the right place at the right time to capture the right photo. So I really do rely on it because it's in the moment and thats something the phone does for you.
SACHSSo I do the same thing where I show up with my Canon and I take about six photos and then I put it in my bag and I never take it out again and all my other photos are my iPhone. My iPhone, so I can send it to family.
PEGORAROI mix and match. You know, the camera on my phone is the camera I always have with me, but it's not good at some shots. Things that have kind of a lot of contrast, any kind of telephoto shot, forget it, things at night. And this little Canon point and shoot I have, which, you know, not an expensive or heavy camera, that I do try to remember to take with me, although I actually forget to bring it from home just this morning and that's -- if there's a photo that I think I might want to do something crazy like order a print of later on, that's the camera I'm gonna want to use.
PEGORAROBut I've deliberately avoided getting, like, a DSOR because then there would be a much bigger production to haul around.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Rob Pegoraro is a freelance journalist, USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo tech writer. Rob, thank you for dropping by.
NNAMDIAndrea Sachs is a travel writer at The Washington Post. Andrea, thank you for finding your way here.
SACHSWhy, thank you. Can I get home?
NNAMDII hope so. It's just Adam and Morgan. It's 10 minutes away. Keith Bellows is senior vice president and editor and chief of National Geographic Travel and Traveler magazine and author of "100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life." Keith Bellows, thank you for joining us.
BELLOWSBeen a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Happy traveling. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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