By Keene Haywood
Your bags are packed with tickets and passport are in hand. Do you have everything? Check again. Good. You’ve got it all. Breath a sigh of relief. Off to the airport. Did you remember your iPhone? Yep, you got that, but what about the apps? Huh? Yes, the travel apps. Did you pack those into your phone? Well if you did not, here are a few that may make your traveling just a little bit easier.
The U.S. Government has gotten into the iDevice app development and they have done a pretty decent job with a few of these. Recently, they released two that are of particular interest to travelers. One is My TSA, which works for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. It's a straightforward app that gives you some key pieces of information that can make your travel a more pleasant experience. First, under the Status icon, it gives you a map of the U.S. with the major airports pinned. Click on a pin and you will see if there are any delays at that airport. The pins are also colored for a quick glance to see if the airport has any delays. Green is good no delays, then there is yellow, orange red…you get the idea.
The Suitcase with the luggage icon lets you search for items to see if you can travel with them in either your check in or carry on luggage. If your exact item is not found, it will try to find the closest match. This is very handy as it seems these things change all the time.
The Guide icon gives you a nice list of tips and hints that can make your travel easier. Everything from acceptable forms of ID to traveling with children is covered here. Reviewing this before your trip can potentially save you some headaches at the airport.
Finally, the Wait Times icon gives you some user generated data related to wait times a security at the major U.S. airports. VERY nice. As any traveler knows, this is the one thing that can add lots of time to your journey to the gate. Knowing what wait times are ahead of time can really save your sanity (and reduce anxiety levels).
The second handy app is a web app that you can access at http://m.usembassy.gov. This site is optimized for mobile devices and gives you a wealth of information related to travel alerts, travel warnings, emergency services and contact information for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. If you are traveling internationally, this web app can really be a security blanket for you. The only catch is that you need to be able to get online to access it, which could be challenging overseas. I wish it was an stand alone app, at least for the contact information and emergency services, but if you are able to be online, you can use the site to call embassies directly along with seeing maps of their location.
Here are two tips for this app: One, you can also access the same site from a regular computer, but it will be optimized for a small screen; Second, take a screen shot of the embassy and emergency information. Pull up the information you need for where ever you are traveling and hold the Home and Sleep buttons at the same time on your phone. This will take a screen shot of your phone storing the image in your Photos app. My one gripe is that the maps on this web app are not live. You get a location, but you cannot use it for navigation.
There is also a $0.99 cent app called Embassies that does give you embassy information and locations stored on your phone without a cell or wi-fi connection. This may be worth the change to have this information in your pocket.
Another great travel app that is almost indispensable is either FlightTrack ($4.99) or FlightTrack Pro ($9.99). These apps are wonderful if you travel often or live with someone who does. Flights can be tracked in real time, showing you gate and arrival information along with delays and even weather that might be affecting the route with a nice map of the route showing the flight path and location of the plane along with its elevation and air speed. The Pro version offers additional features such as synchronization of itineraries, push alerts, advance scheduling for up to one year and the ability to find alternate flights should yours get cancelled. These apps also integrate with TripIt to pull your flight information without you typing a thing. The Pro version can sync between it and your TripIt account. The standard version only can ingest TripIt information one way into the app, not sync it.
What is TripIt you may wonder? Its a web service that uses semantic technology to help you plan and manage your travel arrangements. You send email confirmations from your airlines, hotel, etc and it can pull the information out and help build your itinerary. It's almost magical. The free TripIt app can manage all of this on your phone and, of course, you can access it through the web at http://www.tripit.com. You can read more details about how it works there. Keep in mind that the FlightTrack Apps can handle TripIt accounts and give you more information about your flight, so you may find the FlightTrack apps are all you need. But TripIt is free so why not get an account and install the app and try it out too?
There are a slew of other travel apps that are out there from currency conversion to language translators to travel guides for specific places. A virtual trip to the App Store online will reveal an entire category devoted to travel. I urge you to explore it. You may find some gems. Let us know if you find one (or two) that really made your travel experiences better. Hopefully these apps will get your next trip off to a flying start!