The modern day traveller is no longer a backpacker with a guitar and no idea where they are headed (well mostly). The modern day traveller is armed. No matter if you are a hard-core adventurer or a tourist seeing a city for the first time, when you travel you are armed to the teeth with Technology.
I have just come back from New York City in the USA – in fact writing this on the plane at 35000ft over the Atlantic. It was my first time there and my wife and I spent a week being real tourists exploring all the tourist traps as one does in a new city.
Only when I unpacked my bags in the hotel did I realise just how much tech I had with me. My arsenal included: 1x Laptop, 1x Universal charger with interchangeable heads, 1x Nikon Camera with an additional lens + charger, 1x Galaxy Note + charger, 1x Blackberry + charger. Did I mention I was only going for a week ?
These Tech items proved to be a lifesaver and money saver too.
Here is what I did in the Big Apple which I affectionately renamed to Big Android as all I could see around me was Samsung devices…#justsaying
I bought myself a prepaid T-Mobile SIM card for $2 per day that let me have unlimited phone calls, unlimited Text and unlimited Internet. The process took about 15 minutes and the requirement was that I had to have an unlocked mobile phone for this to work. I had my Samsung Galaxy Note and that was perfect.
I then created a portable Hot Spot on my Galaxy Note and connected my wife’s Blackberry to it. Instantly she had BBMs and Emails. Everyone is now happy and her BBM status changed from to
Next, I downloaded several Apps from the Google Play store that were the secret to making my touristy life a pleasure. I had a handful of them on their own “page” on the Note and this is where I lived for the week.
First App was NYC TripAdvisor. The features and facilities here were amazing. I could look up any attraction/restaurant/shops and read its reviews & find out how to get there. It even had an arrow that pointed you towards the attraction like a compass. Pretty neat when trying to work out where the heck 6th Avenue is compared to your location – left or right.
A word of caution here too: Apps like Trip Advisor that allow users to rate sites, events, hotels, restaurants etc. must be taken with a pinch of salt. I found that if someone had a bad experience they gave the venue a poor rating, however when I was there I found the opposite to be true. So the rule it to take the average reviews and to make up your own mind. And read between the lines.
I also used the TripAdvisor app to find the nearest Subway and used its Map to navigate the now-not-so-complicated system
Speaking of getting around, when you want to hail a cab, its a good idea to know roughly how much it should cost you to get to your destination. I used an App called the FairCab NYC which allows you to enter your starting point and your end point and it calculated the amount that you should be paying. I am a tourist not stupid.
Next up was the Convertor app – this was helpful not only to work out how many RANDS I was spending as it did the US Dollar to South African Rand conversion (which also updated itself to reflect the current rate) but the app also did the conversation from Fahrenheit to Celsius, Milles to Kilometres, Ounces to Kilograms etc..
I bought something called the New York Pass which entitles you to get into most attractions at huge discounts. Instead of lugging around the book of where everything is and what everything is, I downloaded their NYP Guide app and all was there. Click Sightseeing cruises, select the one you want and it shows you where it is, how to get there and their contact details to make your reservation.
The sheer size and scale of some attraction was overwhelming. How do you know where the Dinosaurs are in the American Museum or Natural History (where they filmed A night at the museum) ? or where the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys are kept in the Public Library ? Simple- you download the Point Inside app. It has the inside layout of famous attractions. It can even place where you are and tell you how to get to where you want to go. Just to put you in the picture, department stores like Macys and Centuary21 are also featured on the app so you know where the Armani suits are and the Kelvin Cline t-shirts.
Being in New York on Broadway and not seeing a show is a crime. But since tickets are insanely priced, you look out for specials and coupons. Instead of waiting in the long line at the last minute ticket booth, I downloaded Broadway Box and found the show I wanted, with a discount coupon attached.
Whilst all this unlimited connectivity is great when you are on the road, it didn’t really hold up when connecting to a laptop to do any real work. So for this, I used the Wi Fi Finder app and it told me where the free Wi-Fi hot spots are in relation to my current position.
All these apps were superb, but I the mostly used app by far was Google Maps. This was truly a miracle and was quickly named the “Magic Box” . Needed to know where 43rd was “ask the Magic Box”. Needed to know where Toys R Us was “Ask the Magic Box”. It homed in on my current position and I could use it to get to any destination by walking, public transport (bus or subway) and it instantly gave me the correct answer.
Finally, being on the road from early morning to late at night, uses up battery. However when you have the mighty and powerful Power Traveller, you are never worried. When battery was running low, I simply plugged in the Power Traveller and it charged the phone. When I was back in the hotel room, I just charged the Power Traveller via my USB port on my laptop so it was ready for another day. Life saver device that everyone should have.
So in summary:
There is so much to see and do in New York that a week was just not long enough, so careful planning was necessary and these apps really played their part we wouldn’t spend time walking around aimlessly making mistakes that cost time.
The most important lesson I would pass onto App makers is that you have to take into account OFFLINE MODE. These apps are great when there is connectivity, however go into the Subway and you loose internet making most of the apps useless. Google Maps has an offline mode that kept on ticking. Some apps are driven by ads, however when they cant connect to the ad server to fetch the ad, the rest of the app hangs. Bad design. Build in a time-out option so that your app can work even when the user is underground.
You have no idea where you are never mind how to get to where you need to get to so Apps that take into account your physical location are awesome.
Guidebooks are great before you leave home to get an idea of what you want, however things change all the time. Trains that are suppose to go to Brooklyn are not running – now what ? Road closure due to street market changed your bus route – now what ? This is where the apps rule. The apps are constantly being updated with the current info so you always know what is happening and where and can make new plans accordingly. Information at your finger tips.
Final word must be on the Samsung Galaxy Note. Yes its large and yes people who don’t use it think it looks strange, however there is no other device I would have rather travelled with. I didn’t miss a beat when I was working. I answered my emails, did spread sheets and took care of customers, all this using Google Docs and Google Drive and whilst sitting with an over priced Starbucks coffee in central park. I said it before and I say it again – what a device ! I love my Samsung Galaxy Note !