Travel Apps That Help You Pack, Explore And Enjoy The Scenery

May 24, 2012
Originally published on May 24, 2012 5:59 am

Mobile phones and tablets have put a world of information at our fingertips, even when we're on the go. It would seem natural, then, for smartphones to help make traveling easier and more fun.

But not all apps are created equal — so Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep sought advice from Lauren Goode, a senior editor at All Things D, where she recently reviewed travel apps. Here are some of the tips Goode discussed with Steve:

Pack the Bag (iPad/iPhone) — "It breaks luggage down into categories," Goode says, and includes details like sunscreen and sunglasses. "And you can set a reminder on the app that'll tell you when you're supposed to start packing," Goode says. The app also lets you email a packing list to friends or family.

TuneyFish — Available for many phones, the 99-cent app provides videos and tips on repairing your car — a possible savior if your vehicle breaks down. "It sounds better in theory than I actually found it to work," says Goode, who adds that the videos were sometimes hard to follow.

Google Translate (Android, iOS) — Also known as "the fan favorite," Goode says Google's tool promises to help travelers understand more than 63 languages. But "once you get into more complicated or long blocks of communication," she says, some of the results "might not make that much sense to you." Instead, Goode says, stick with short phrases.

Lonely Planet (Android/iPhone) — "Lonely Planet's travel apps are really, really extensive," Goode says. "These apps are really great. They offer a simpler interface than something like Frommer's." The apps include recommendations for places to eat, where to stay and what to see. They also offer audio walking tours.

Stuck on Earth (iPad) — "This is a really fascinating, unique travel app — I'm not even sure if I would call it a travel app, as I would call it a photographer's dream," Goode says. "It crowdsources all of these photos from Flickr that people around the world have posted to this particular area of Flickr that's designated for Stuck on Earth."

And if your summer travel plans include a trip to the beach, Goode says to be careful about relying on an app to avoid getting a sunburn.

"There are some apps out there that claim to help you monitor your sun exposure" by using your phone's GPS to find data on local UV levels, she says.

But the apps don't have any way of measuring your actual levels of exposure.

"I've tried a couple of these apps before, and at times they've said to me, 'Well, even if you're in the sun, you could still stay in the sun for 4 hours and 39 minutes before reapplying sunscreen,' " Goode says. "I'm thinking to myself, 'I am definitely going to get a sunburn.' "

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Every once in a while we turn to interesting people in the world of technology for what we call an app chat. That's where we get recommendations for applications - apps. You can download to a smartphone or a tablet computer or whatever app-friendly gadget you may have, and with summer just around the corner, some of you may be lucky enough to be planning a vacation.

So we've brought in Lauren Goode to give us some vacation-related apps. She is a senior editor at All Things D, the technology website. Welcome to the program.

LAUREN GOODE: Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me. It's good to be here.

INSKEEP: Now, we've got a bunch of apps on an iPhone that is now in my hand here and the first one is called Pack the Bag. That seems like a good place to start, so I'm just going to press on this. What do you do with Pack the Bag?

GOODE: I love Pack the Bag. This is a really great free app for iPad and iPhones. Sorry, Android users, but it is just for iPad and iPhone right now. It breaks luggage down into categories and then within that category there's a tab that says, you know, do you want to pack your sunscreen? Yes. Do you intend to pack your sunglasses? Yes.

And you just check them all off and you go through this massive, massive, comprehensive list and then you can set a reminder on the app that'll tell you when you're supposed to start packing ahead of your trip.

LAUREN GOODE ALL THINGS D: And this is the best part: You can email it to your friends. Now I'm assuming this means you can email it to perhaps your spouse, your partner, or somebody that, you know, watches your back as you're packing to make sure you're not forget something.

INSKEEP: So now, let's say that I'm driving to the vacation spot, as opposed to flying and - or taking the train, for that matter, and I have a problem with the car. It looks like there's an app here that's just for me, Tunyfish?

GOODE: I have to say, it sounds better in theory than I actually found it to work. Fortunately I did not find myself stuck on the side of the road when I was relying on Tunyfish. But it's a 99 cent app. It works on iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry. It's not just for changing tires. It's going to help you check your belts, change your oil, jumpstart your car - all of that.

The idea is that it crowd-sources videos from users that can post their videos to the app, showing how you do something like that. Except that most of the videos I found were actually - I'm assuming they were shot with some sort of head camera.

INSKEEP: Like on their forehead, like a miner's lamp or something.

GOODE: For example, or like a GoPro camera or that sort of thing, because I couldn't really see some of the actions the person was taking. You may want to have some familiarity with how to do these things before you head out onto the road. And then, maybe if you need an app to jog your memory, this could be helpful.

INSKEEP: So assume that we get to our destination, and it's a country where they speak a foreign language, what can I use for that?

GOODE: Google Translate is probably the fan favorite here, and it's free. It works on Android and it works on iPhone as well. And Google claims there are more than 63 languages available. This is great for punching in short phrases or simple phrases. But once you get into more complicated or long blocks of communication, some of the translation, it still might not make that much sense to you.

INSKEEP: Oh, sure. I mean I've just - this one here on this phone is set from English to French. So I typed in smartphone, it gives me the spelling of the words in French. And let's see if we can hear it.


INSKEEP: (French spoken) OK, so it gives me a pronunciation and everything else. But I guess we have to remember that all languages are not necessarily literal will at all times. And so, you may have a completely different meaning from the literal expression that is used.

GOODE: You do have to keep that in mind.

INSKEEP: One final question. If you happen to be vacationing at the beach, is there an app that can protect your smartphone from sand and sunscreen?


GOODE: I don't think there's an app that can protect your smartphone from sand and sunscreen. There are some apps out there that claim to help you monitor your sun exposure. They take your location, based on the inherent geo-location abilities of the smartphone, and they'll tell you what the UV Index might be for that day.


GOODE: But it's not as though there are sensors built into the phone or the app itself that are actually going to be able to gauge for you, in real time, the kind of sun exposure you're getting. I tried a couple of these apps before and at times they've said to me: You could just to stay in the sun for four hours and 39 minutes before reapplying sunscreen. And I'm thinking to myself, I am definitely going to get a sunburn after that amount of time.


GOODE: So I would not rely too much on those kinds of applications.

INSKEEP: Or you could use the smartphone or even the iPad as a kind of visor, like put it out on your forehead so that you have shade for your eyes.

GOODE: Well, these devices can overheat, so you might want to keep that in mind as well. But I like the way you're thinking, Steve.


INSKEEP: All right. Lauren Goode, I hope you have a good vacation wherever you may go this summer.

GOODE: Thank you. You as well.

INSKEEP: She's a senior editor at All Things D, the technology website. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.