Simple Travel Tips: 7 Ways to Prep Your Smart Phone for Travel

Simple Travel Tips: 7 Ways to Prep Your Smart Phone for Travel

Why does summer always evaporate? Right now, I’m reflecting on a full month of travel to Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herszignovia, Italy and Slovenia. I’ve been incredibly lucky to take the time to travel, and I will write about it all soon enough here, and the lessons in simplicity I’ve taken from these beautiful, fascinating and delicious places.

An obnoxiously beautiful beach on the Sorrentine Penninsula, with a view of Capri.

Through these trips, I’ve been refining my pre-travel preparation. In particular, I’ve been finding the most efficient uses of the greatest travel tool available: the smart phone. I am still amazed at the vast resources that my phone provides to me at my convenience.

I’m old enough to remember traveling before smart phones. In fact, I owned my first cell phone after I moved to France in 2009. It was smaller than a credit card and allowed me to master T-9 dialing (a lost skill?). Besides being able to text a friend for an address, the phone was useless as a travel resource.

Instead, I relied heavily on the paper map I picked up from the new city’s tourist information center. (This is a habit I still follow today, though I suppose it’s mostly sentimental.) On the map, I would carefully circle key landmarks, my hostel, and memorize intersection street names to be able to recognize them while walking the town.

It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the little red book of Paris’ streets was the essential and the only tool for guidance. I remember standing on a tiny 5-way intersection as we oriented and reoriented the small pages of the Plan de Paris to find the correct street and direction to our night’s adventure.

The grey but beautiful meandering streets of Paris are far easier to navigate with a smart phone than a book.

While some people reading this might find it hard to imagine traveling by paper map, I’m grateful for the perspective it gives me. Every time I can easily follow the blue dot towards my starred accommodation on my phone’s map, I am thankful for the convenience. Every time I bring up a metro map to catch the right train, I appreciate how much time and brow-furrowing it saves me.

While paper maps harken of a simpler time, smart phone travel offers smoother travel with less waste. Catching the right airport bus can mean a last-minute taxi ride averted. Having good, reasonable priced restaurants (or grocers) marked on a map may mean a plastic-packed street food meal can be avoided. Used wisely, a smart phone can be a simple traveler’s best friend.

In appreciation of this handy travel tool, I want how I’ve made it useful for my travels. I’ve been repeating this process for each trip this summer, and I’ve compiled my list of the more valuable smart phone travel preparations. This combination of apps, notes and downloads has saved time and money, and allowed me to better experience the little things.

Disclaimer: I’ve linked to the apps I use on my iPhone SE, but you may find others equal or better (if so, please comment as I’ve love to hear them!).

Seven Ways to Prepare Your Smart Phone for Travel:

1. Download the Lonely Planet City Guide App

Lonely Planet Guide App screenshotWhen I first explored this app, I couldn’t believe it was free. The Lonely Planet Guides app has dozens of major travel cities available as an offline city map. It includes a brief city description, and long searchable, navigable, savable lists of where to see, eat, sleep, shop, drink and play. It’s been handy to find a nice glass of wine in a quiet Barcelona neighbourhood and to learn more about an intriguing statue inside Dubrovnik’s city walls. Most of the information can be found on their website, but it’s packaged into this wonderful little package. Before traveling, be sure to click on the ‘download the offline map’ option to ensure you have all the interesting facts without data. If your destination isn’t listed, you can also vote to have it be the next one added to the app.

2. Download a Currency App

While mental math is a key skill, there’s nothing more frustrating that miscalculating a currency by a factor of ten. When traveling, I check my math within just a couple clicks to make sure I know what I’m really paying. My go-to is XE Currency Exchange. Before traveling, I add the new currencies I may need, so when I arrive without data, the most recent exchange rate is already loaded.

3. Download the language pack on Google Translate

Google Translate still boggles my mind. When I first used the photo function to automatically translate text in place, I felt the future had truly arrived. (Was anyone else this impressed, or am I a bumpkin?)

This app has been useful for me to ask for directions to a monument or to offer a poorly pronounced but happy ‘Delicious!’ in tasty foreign restaurants. Yes, English is global. However, using the local language allows you to communicate with people outside the tourism industry and to communicate respect for their place and culture. It works offline with a basic vocabulary in many languages. Before traveling, search for the language(s) on the app and click the download arrow. When you arrive, you’ll

It works offline with a basic vocabulary in many languages. Before traveling, search for the language(s) on the app and click the download arrow. When you arrive, you’ll have a better voice.

4. Starting Language Learning with Duolingo

If you don’t have Duolingo on your phone, stop reading and download it right now. It’s the most useful (and cutest!) way to pass the time. Learning a new language is always a good idea, for the world and for your brain.

Plus, it’s a great, free way to learn the basics of a new language before arriving at your destination. The languages offered are limited, compared to Google Translate, especially depending on your native tongue. For English speakers, there are 29 options to choose from. You can learn Spanish, Turkish, Hungarian, German, Vietnamese, Ukranian, Swahili and more. (While preparing this post, I discovered you can learn Esperanto and Klingon on the app!)

5. Download Relevant Podcasts

Whether before your trip or on the train, listening to a travel podcast or a local podcast on the destination city or country fuels the excitement. A good podcast can offer essential background and thoughtful insight through storytelling.

I also am a huge fan of Rick Steve’s Travel Podcasts. I once thought he was a travel guide for my parent’s generation. However, his travel advice is valuable for all ages and budgets. His interviews pull interesting stories and tips from local guides. And as a lover of a walking tour, his audio tours are fantastic. I recently followed his tour and map through Pompeii. Not only did I save 8 Euro on the (admittedly more extensive) official audio-guide, it provided a curated tour that I could feel satisfied with or supplement as desired.

Google Maps screenshot
Each star is actually a group of useful locations I’ve previously marked in Maps before leaving.

6. Make Your Mark on Google Maps

Although I’m wary of Google’s all-encompassing and all-knowing abilities, I can’t help but acknowledge how darn useful it is. Without data, the little blue dot on Google Maps can still guide you to your destination.

Before departing, I save all key locations under the ‘Favourites’ or ‘Starred Places’ function either on my laptop or on my phone, ensuring they have all loaded on my phone. The locations include accommodation, museums, well-reviewed restaurants and bakeries, bus and train stops, and anywhere else that would be useful to have on a map.

7. Create a Local Note

Some information isn’t captured in emails or in apps. Each trip, I compile museum opening hours, screenshots of bus schedules, interesting local website links, a metro map, directions to (free walking) tour meeting spots, and other information that might be useful. It’s nothing fancy, it’s just a quick cut and paste of information to the basic notepad program that is both on my computer browser and phone (for me, Notes). A draft email can also serve this purpose. The idea is to simply save you from having to re-research the local information you found before leaving home.

Bonus: Password App

In the age of digital privacy, good and changing passwords are crucial. Most people set strong passwords, but don’t need to remember them as their personal devices have them saved. Then, there’s that moment when you need to print a ticket from your email from a hostel computer. Which brilliant combination did I use last time…? Then, to reset your password from an international, unrecognized computer can start a rabbit-hole of email access issues. It’s far better to avoid these scenarios by either properly memorizing those key passwords, or using a password app. I quite like LastPass as it has a great auto-add/update on browsers and its mobile app is very searchable and easy to use. This is a bonus one as I’m wary of advising on online security. But, no matter the solution, passwords are an important thing to remember while traveling.

Water lilies and Lake Bled, captured on a smart phone.
Water lilies and Lake Bled. For all its benefits, not to mention that most of my photos are captured on my smart phone.

I hope you find this list useful when you’re preparing for your next trip. Is there anything I missed? I’d love to hear your favourite travel apps and tips in the comments below.

Share
I Wish My Visit to Auschwitz was Irrelevant

I Wish My Visit to Auschwitz was Irrelevant

While traveling, I have visited magnificent monuments as well as sites of great tragedy. Travel offers an important opportunity to learn not only the good (the art! the architecture! the food!) but also the bad. Thoughtful memorials are built to preserve the memory and the lessons learned in humanity’s darkest moments.

Earlier this summer, I visited one monument that is all too relevant today: Auschwitz.

I read the news today, oh boy

On Saturday night, I sat and scrolled through the news and comments coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia. Yes, I know there are populist movements rising in all different parts of the Western world. There has been an increase in violent, racially-motivated attacks. There are all the racist and provoking statements Donald Trump has made. Yet, it didn’t seem that it could really be happening.

A white supremacy rally in 2017? Really?

In the morning, I woke up and saw the news that came out overnight. The death, the violence, the calls to ‘go home’. It seemed surreal. Haven’t we learned these lessons from hatred already?

On a day trip from Kraków, I set off for Oświęcim with four friends to see the largest concentration and extermination camps of World War II.

Visiting Auschwitz

As you might imagine, the whole experience was haunting. We started at the original camp, Auschwitz I before going to the purpose-built Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Our tour guide asked for quiet and respect as we approach the entryway. The crunch of gravel and our guide’s somber words were all we could hear; the whole complex causes a quiet even on bright summer’s day.

Auschwitz I Entry
From the International Auschwitz Committee website: “Today, and into the future, the inverted “B” will always symbolise the message from the prisoners to coming generations: “Remember: when injustices take place, when people are discriminated against and persecuted – never remain indifferent. Indifference kills.”

 

“Modern historians suggest that without the mass transportation of the railways, the scale of the “Final Solution” would not have been possible.” Holocaust Trains Wikipedia

The whole camp seemed impossible. Walking down the hallway of prisoner’s faces, the names and dates cry out a story of a continent swept into a frenzy of fear and hatred. The cruelty and precision seem inhuman. In June, I thought, ‘How could this be?’

How?

In August, I think to the rally in Charlottesville. That’s how. Casting broad strokes, blaming ethnic and religious groups, polarizing people to extremes that ultimately cause terror. Breaking the world into simplistic blocks that can be forcefully rearranged to better suit some. A leader who avoids using the strongest and most accurate words to condemn these movements. A leader gaining political capital on the back of hatred and violence. Words matter.

Auschwitz quote
Words matter.

From my place of privilege, I’m uncertain what my words can do. But it’s not a time to stay quiet. We need to talk about prejudice and inequality and terrorism. We must remember our history.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  — George Santayana

Share
Croatian Road Trip Tip: Follow the Sunshine

Croatian Road Trip Tip: Follow the Sunshine

Last month, I was lucky enough to have my parents and my younger sister visit me in Budapest. It was a busy trip, as I would say they wanted to fit an entire European summer vacation into two and a half weeks. As part of this vacation, we enjoyed a Croatian road trip.

Not a bad view from the passenger seat.

In North America, the road trip has a certain romantic appeal. It combines adventure, independence, landscape and opportunity. There’s the ability to add to and deviate from plans, to set your own pace, and the best ones have a great soundtrack. It’s been romanticized by writers, by musicians and now by Instagrammers. I’ve done road trips across Canada and France and can confirm it’s a fantastic way to explore. In fact, the road trip may be the one good thing our North American car culture has to offer.

 

Mom: I’m so happy to be on this road trip! Dad: How many Split decision puns can I make before the border?

In April in Croatia, our little rental car allowed us the flexibility to travel with one guiding principle: follow the sunshine. We had a rough schedule, some accommodation booked, and Dubrovnik as only must-do. Otherwise, our days were flexible. With the forecast for rain looming, we wanted to take advantage of the warm Adriatic weather as best we could.

By following the sunshine, it led us to a lunch and long walk through the capital, Zagreb. The forecast called for rain and 8°C in our planned destination of Plitvice National Park, so we skipped it and headed for the coast.

Zagrab Croatia

Waking up on the Adriatic, we enjoyed a leisurely morning walk by Zadar’s sea organ (perhaps one of the most clever urban designs) and Roman ruins. When the weather started to go south, so did we.

Children for scale.

An impromptu visit to the Krka National Park (pronounced Kirka, if you were wondering as we did) by boat then by foot to explore its seven cascading waterfalls.

Krka National Park, Croatia
A moment of calm before running to catch the last boat back to Skradin town.

An exciting rainstorm with thunder echoing against the Dubrovnik Old Town walls.

Dubrovnik Croatia
Well, it did look ominous on our walk down to the Old Town.

Followed by a quiet yet stunning golden hour as the Old Town.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
But after the storm, that light…. Also, that shrapnel!

A pit-stop in Makarska for snacks and coffee on the water.

Makarska Croatia
Mountains, coastline and palm trees in Makarska

And finally, a late-night but rain-free exploration of the Split Diocletian Palace after a delicious meal of pizza, pasta and Rakija.

The Iron Gate entering the Roman Diocletian Palace.

Our Croatian adventure was jam-packed but still flexible enough to make Split decisions. (You’re welcome.) We were able to do this by focusing on research rather than planning. We knew the options, and Croatia as many great ones, and were able to chose. Most importantly, we had a car-wide understanding that no route would be a bad one. With this agreement and a weather forecast, we finalized our plans on the highway.

Croatian Road Trip
On the road to through Bosnia onto Dubrovnik

 

Share
The Humble Beer Mat Gets Classy

The Humble Beer Mat Gets Classy

While I’m traveling, I am always interested in the simple things. I love discovering those items or spaces so thoughtfully designed or naturally occurring that they work well with less. Less waste, less energy, less effort. There’s plenty of examples to learn from within different cultures, histories, and landscapes.

Today, I’m beginning a catalog of these clever items that I think are worth remembering, worth considering, and worth taking back home, wherever home may be. I hope these act as an inspiration to see and seek simplicity in everyday objects.

Prague Old Town Square
Prague Old Town Square

Location: Prague, Czech Republic

Space:  Restaurace Kolonial, a sleek yet bicycle-themed bar near the Old Town Square

Simplified Item: the beer coaster

Read more

Share
A Free Art and Architecture Tour of Barcelona

A Free Art and Architecture Tour of Barcelona

Barcelona is beautiful. It’s lively, fresh, warm and welcoming. It’s the fiercely proud capital of Catalonia and the hip urban hangout for those who want to explore the Spanish Mediterranean. It’s delightfully affordable and down-to-earth for a Western European capital. However, I think the best things in life are free, so here are a few cultural activities to take in without spending a Euro.

Sagrada Familia’s Facades

Antoni Gaudí dominates the city. His architectural presence is revered and delightful to discover. The English term ‘gaudy’ stems from his extravagant, strange and intricate buildings. His masterpiece, of course, is the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s basilica, which is still under construction. (They’re working hard to have it finished for the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death in 2026, but it’s unlikely the deadline will be met.) I highly recommend entering the Basilica. The interior is awe-inspiring, melding natural form, function, and faith. However, if you’d like to save the entry fee, you can still enjoy the structure. Take in the nativity scene over the north-eastern entrance – overseen by Gaudí’ himself, the facade captures the entire biblical scene, crowned by the vibrant colourful Tree of Life.

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Nativity Facade

 

Meander around to the south-western entrance and take in the Passion facade. See how the architect defined his own style with angular interpretations of the scenes. But the natural feature can be seen in the columns overlaying the structure, reminiscent of the bones of human skeleton supporting the facade. Both sides have a park adjacent with sunlit benches for you sit and look. And look. And look.

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Passion Facade

If you tire of the architecture, you can also take in a fine example of bocce ball play as the north-eastern park, Plaça de Gaudí, has courts filled with local grey-haired gentlemen squaring off against each other.

Barcelona bocce ball at play

Antoni Llena’s Homage to the Castells

My favourite piece of public art had to be in the Homenatge als Castellers. In part because the form is playful, simple but imaginative. In part because I love how it plays tribute to one of the wildest activities I had ever heard of: the Castell. In Catalonia, people will build human castles at festivals. Yes, men will literally tower over one another, competing to be the highest castle. I only wish I could visit Barcelona in late summer to take in the festivals. For me, the creative, chicken-wire version was a small, but satisfying replacement.

Read more

Share
What I learned from 29 countries when turning 30

What I learned from 29 countries when turning 30

As I struggled with the idea of leaving my twenties behind, I scrambled to put together a list of accomplishments that allowed me to feel this youthful decade was valuable, fun, engaging, impactful, and overall worth it. I think it’s a common process that many 29 turning 30 year olds go through. And it’s disastrous.

There’s no grading scheme for a life well lived. There’s no meter to say “yep, you did alright, kiddo”, which I wish would be whispered in my ear by a wise old man with a southern drawl. It’s just life. Your decision, your stories, your relationships and that glimmering hope that you’re not screwing it all up.

In 29 years on the planet, one thing I have prioritized is travel. I was lucky enough to travel for work and for pleasure and for volunteering, and one of the reasons D and I decided to move to Budapest for his studies as it is a central point from which to explore. I believe travel is important to broaden your perspective, to understand the world and to try all the delicious things.

Barbeque lunch in the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan
Barbecue lunch in the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan
In my scramble to pull together what I’ve done in my twenties, I haphazardly had put together my list of countries I visited in my 30 years. Some I’ve explored thoroughly, and some I’ve visited only a city. It wasn’t planned, though that would have been clever (and I would have made 30!), but by adding in Canada (which I allow as I’ve traveled to every province and two of three territories) and remembering that afternoon in Monaco, my list totaled 29.

Midnight walk in Doha, Qatar
Midnight walk in Doha, Qatar
Here, I offer the distilled wisdom I’ve collected is from the from these twenty-nine countries, to be taken with many grains of salt.

Read more

Share
Ton Sai Teachings: How to Weather a Travel Storm with the Right Currency

Ton Sai Teachings: How to Weather a Travel Storm with the Right Currency

[This post is the fourth part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

Ton Sai and Railay are beautiful parts of the Krabi coastline on the southeast coast of Thailand. It’s that long gangly arm of Thailand that reaches out to hug the Gulf of Thailand.

The landscape was immediately striking. Peeking up at the lush hills, the rocky cliffs that rose beside the highway reveal the striking Karst landscape that the region is known for. The dark rocks held shapes that didn’t seem physically possible, while also being geologically beautiful.

We traveled there to see its rugged beauty. And we arrived on a different route than planned with lessons in planning, logistics and travel’s most important currency.

Landing at Ton Sai

Plan A: Arrive at the airport, take a shuttle to Ao Phra Nang, hop on a long-tail to Ton Sai, all before the boats stop running at dark. Although Ton Sai is part of the mainland, there are no roads, only boats, to the bay. Easy.

Plan B: Flight is delayed, leaving us with just enough time to reach the boat before sunset. I watched Google maps as we drove to Krabi Town onto Ao Nammao Bay en route to our stop Ao Phra Nang. I was following along Google Maps and the ol’ faithful blue dot and almost missed it. “Did he say Ton Sai?” Derek asked. We asked the driver confirmed that this was the stop to reach Ton Sai, two bays away from our planned pier.  Without being sure, we followed the drivers’ directions and hopped off the bus. The woman worked the boat ticket office confirmed: there’s a storm further up the coast and boats aren’t leaving Ao Phra Nang. The only way to arrive in Ton Sai is to take a long-tail from this more protected bay to Railay and then walk.

Signs of a storm from the shuttle.

The boat ride was beautiful, but it definitely sailed into a storm. We arrived in a torrent of rain. I was almost forgotten on the boat as I stuffed our valuables into plastic bags in the inside of my pack with the boatman was anxious to leave. Derek alerted the driver and I leaped onto the floating dock, and we ran for cover into the Railay trees.

The calm and the storm from Ao Nammao

Read more

Share
Stories and Silence in Phnom Penh: How I Learned about Cambodia’s Haunting History

Stories and Silence in Phnom Penh: How I Learned about Cambodia’s Haunting History

{Disclaimer: this post discusses difficult content and may not be appropriate for all readers.}

[This post is the third part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

The Cambodian people are a warm, smiling, welcoming people. The people we met in our travels were gracious and kind. The kind of people who wave and smile brightly as you stand confused trying to cross the toad with never-ending traffic with your obviously-tourist pack. A wave and smile that doesn’t judge but says “Welcome to Cambodia!”. The capital of Phnom Penh is developing so quickly that if you stand still long enough, you can watch the city grow. However, this shift in development comes after a horrific period in their history, followed by international misunderstanding and mishandling in the wake of a genocide.

Cambodian countryside

I knew little of the Cambodian genocide until watching Brother Number One at the then called Global Visions Festival in Edmonton. It told the story of the genocide through one man’s journey to understand what happened to his brother after he sailed into Cambodian waters in 1978. It was powerful and gruesome and heart-breaking.

During our stay in Phnom Penh, the travel-savvy Camille organized a van to tour for our group, a fantastic hodge-podge of six visiting Canadians who happened upon the city at the same time. The van would take us to two memorial sites dedicated to the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide: the Killing Fields and S21.

Killing Fields
The uncovered Killing Fields.

Read more

Share
What will be our Angkor Wat?: Explorations in Angkor

What will be our Angkor Wat?: Explorations in Angkor

[This post is the second part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

Walking past the people hawking elephant pants and the fresh fruit stands, I approached my first temple within Angkor Wat – Pre Rup, a temple in tribute to the king’s mother. A Hindu temple, built in the 10th century before the Cambodian people converted to Buddhism. Our tour guide explained how a whole town would have lived surrounding the temple and where we stood was once covered in water. He drew in the sand to detail the layout and used the hand carved leather works for sale to illustrate the symbols of the ancient civilization.

Pre Rup carvings

The endurance of the structure became clear as I slowly climbed the steps of the central tower, the cremation tower. The steps rose more than a foot each time, ensuring a calmer, more solemn pace, especially as centuries of footsteps followed by modern-day tourism have rounded the edges of each stair. The restored ornate carvings marking each doorway add an otherworldly charm. The dancing and fighting figures intertwined with plants and animals tell stories I only begin to understand after sitting and reading my guidebook and looking and reading and looking.

Exploring Angkor

The Angkor Archeological Park Complex is immense. It is larger than life and has withstood centuries of life. From weather to rediscovery to theft to the Khmer Rouge, this immense center of worship that expands over 400 acres is the largest religious monument in the world, Lonely Planet’s number one site in the world, and is hard to truly comprehend.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

We explored it by van, by tuktuk, and by bicycle. By guide, by guidebook, and by gut.  The site is overwhelming and has a lifetime of exploration possibilities. After just three days and scratching the surface, I walked away with a feeling of awe and endurance.

Read more

Share
Bangkok Streets: The Savvy Sightseeing Way

Bangkok Streets: The Savvy Sightseeing Way

[This post is the first part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

Bangkok is a feast for the senses and a city of cities. I just scratched the surface and can only share my brief experience as one that made me want to go back. Bangkok was swept from a sleepy trade town to a scandalous city during the Viet Nam War (or, as they say in that end of the world, the American War) and has grown into a modern metropolis. It has architectural, cultural and culinary delights worth traveling for. For all its sites, the best way to experience it, in my humble opinion, was through its streets.

Bangkok Chess break on Silom Road
Chess break on Silom Road

Streetside sightseeing is my preferred way to explore a city. By keeping away from the main tourist strips and diving into side streets (in Bangkok, the intricate Soi system), back alleys and the less-trodden parts. On these walks, you can discover the everyday grit and atmosphere that defines a city as much or more than its brightest monuments or minds. Plus, it totally free.

Bangkok soi shop
A wee shop found on a soi off a soi off a soi of Silom Road.

We arrived in Bangkok on New Year’s Eve, spilling out of the BTS airport line and into the warm evening air. The streets were disorienting in so many ways. The traffic flows in the opposite direction. (We tried catching a bus and ended up crossing an intersection five times). The sidewalks are jammed with …life. The waxing and waning strips of asphalt theoretically separating pedestrian and vehicular life are vibrant. There’s commerce, there’s love, there’s children’s play, there’s poverty, there’s chess, there’s fighting, there’s drama, there’s worship, there’s fruit, there’s greenery, and of course, there’s food. Oh, the food!

Bangkok pad thai
My first of many Pad Thai dishes.

Read more

Share