Our tech expert’s latest tips help you stay connected while you’re abroad—without the excessive fees.
Get a Data Plan: All the major U.S. cellular carriers are offering a better value when it comes to roaming—great news for travelers. AT&T and Verizon Wireless currently offer the best deals, starting at $25 a month for 100MB. Spending only two weeks away? The plans can be prorated, letting you activate the service for as long as you need to (yielding a fraction of both the bill and the data allotment). Be sure to stay within your limit: overage fees remain costly, but free app My Data Manager(Android, iOS) can help monitor your usage in real time. As for text and voice plans, they’re still separate, and less cost-effective.
Procrastinators, rejoice! There’s a slew of new apps aimed at snagging a last-minute hotel deal. Here, our tech expert’s road-tested favorites.
HotelTonight(Android, iOS): The pioneer of same-day booking apps, HotelTonight features staff-vetted properties in more than a hundred cities around the world, with tags like Hip, Luxe, or Charming to guide your search. Expect trendy boutique hotels and even some splashy new openings—but don’t get too attached to any one spot. Deals change daily and can be reserved only from noon onward.
Looking for the nearest ATM in Paris and rusty on your French? These tools—all road-tested by T+L ensures you’ll never be misunderstood again.
Most Comprehensive: Google Translate(free; Android, iOS) In addition to having 64 languages for typed and spoken translations, Google Translate is particularly savvy when it comes to brand names, knowing not to suggest the literal “équipe du ciel” when you’re asking about the nearest SkyTeam lounge in French, for example. The data-dependent app offers the best results, but Android users can get exclusive language packs that cover the basics and can be used offline.
Best for International Travel: Jibbigo Translator(offline language packs from $4.99; Android, iOS) Data connections aren’t required for Jibbigo’s thorough, vetted language packs (with more than 40,000 words each), which have set the standard for the past five years. Currently, it offers easy-to-use typed translations for 20-plus languages and spoken translations for 13; more are being rolled out soon. Especially useful are its customizable glossaries, which let you add terms you know you’ll need ahead of time.
Best for Signs and Menus: S Translator(free; only on Samsung’s Galaxy S4) and Word Lens($4.99 per language; Android, iOS) Point your smartphone’s camera at any word or phrase, and these apps give you its meaning. We love S Translator’s handy pronunciation tips and its ability to read simplified Chinese characters. Other Android and iPhone users can try the similar but more limited Word Lens. It offers help in French, Spanish, Italian, and German—no data connection needed.
Best For Longer Conversations: Verbalizeit($10 for five minutes of translator talk time; Android, iOS) Wish you had a native speaker in your pocket? With Verbalizeit, you can locate and call a live translator with the push of a button—ideal for technical conversations, such as seeing a doctor abroad. The app may require a little patience: depending on demand, it can take a few (unbilled) minutes for a translator to become available, but each one is tested for proficiency and ability to meet travelers’ needs.
Coming Soon If you need to make restaurant reservations by phone in Mandarin, a pocket app may not cut it. But new technologies are addressing these 2.0 needs. The innovative, though still-being-refined Lexifone app(free; Android) lets you call through its interface and will translate as you speak. Microsoft, meanwhile, is working on perhaps the coolest translator yet: it promises to convert your speech into a translated audio file that sounds just like your voice.
Android, Windows, and even BlackBerry are stepping up their game against Apple, benefiting travelers. T+L’s tech expert finds which platform is best for you.
For the Organization Wiz
Windows 8: Seamless integration with any Windows device is the greatest selling point for this platform. We also love its resizable “live” tiles, which let you put what’s important to you—flight alerts, for example—front and center; innovative tap-to-pay technology; and travel-friendly features, from built-in Skype to top-of-the-line photo capabilities.
The Phone to Get: The sexy and slim Nokia Lumia 920($99) has some of the best picture modes we’ve ever tried.
We’ve road tested the latest crop of digital tools to help you find exactly what you’re looking for, from the perfect cup of coffee to a last-minute restaurant deal.
For Restaurants You’ll Love: Ness While the popular Foodspotting app has mastered the art of predicting your next craving based on specific dishes you’ve said you enjoy, up-and-comer Ness uses its algorithm to deliver Pandora-like recommendations of restaurants themselves. The app factors in your preferred price point, cuisine, and more. As with the music service, the suggestions get better the more you use it. Free; iOS.
For Last-Minute Dining Deals: Savored A cut above the usual dining deal sites, Savored offers discounts at surprisingly excellent (sometimes even trendy) restaurants around the country. The app is best for off-peak days or hours: on Sunday or Monday nights, you might be able to snag 30 percent (or more) off dinner at Mercadito, in Miami, or Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne, in New York City. Free; Android and iOS.
For Your Caffeine Fix: Best Coffee If you turn your nose up at Starbucks, try these café-centric maps, which pinpoint independent coffee shops in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London (more cities are coming later this year). Staff-written reviews note brewing methods, Wi-Fi availability, and even the types of grinders used. From 99 cents; Android and iOS.
For the Best Local Brews: Untappd Like a Yelp for beer-lovers, Untappd helps locate the best bars around you—and pinpoints their top microbrews. A notepad function keeps track of beers you like and ones you’d like to try next. You can also share your finds on Facebook. Free; Android, BlackBerry, and iOS.
For Tips From the Pros: Chefs Feed Who better to seek out for advice on where to eat than the professionals themselves? This app canvasses well-regarded chefs in 16 global cities for their local picks. Insider tips range from Chris Galvin’s favorite quintessentially English meal (calf’s liver and bacon at London’s Delaunay restaurant) to Graham Elliot’s beloved Chicago deep-dish haunt (Lou Malnati’s). Free; iOS.
One to Watch: Evernote Food Digital note-taking pioneer Evernote’s culinary spin-off might be the best new documenting and sharing tool for foodies. Built-in templates let you record your meal (with everything from maps to photographs) on the fly. When you’re done, your notes instantly upload to your account and become digital mementos of your gastronomic pilgrimages. Free; Android and iOS.
Tom Samiljan is Travel + Leisure’s Tech Correspondent.
Looking to get from A to B with nothing but your smartphone? GPS apps are steadily increasing in functionality and accuracy—giving even Google a run for its money.
Best for City Driving: Google Maps The all-around app to beat, Google is particularly good in urban environments. It allows you to toggle between maps, street views, and 3-D cityscapes, and provides an extraordinarily complete picture of your surroundings. It takes you from car to foot to public transportation seamlessly, and (for Android users) it even has indoor maps of stores, hotels, and other buildings. Points of interest and area businesses are well marked and up-to-date. Free; Android and iOS.
Much ink has already been spilled on the relative pros and cons of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system that powers the new BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, announced Wednesday in New York, but what does this latest update in the super-competitive and ever-evolving smartphone space mean for travelers? Here’s a peek at our favorite features.
BlackBerry Balance: Taking advantage of BlackBerry’s work-friendly DNA, this feature lets you toggle between “Work” and “Personal” modes, so that you don’t have to worry about getting disturbing emails from the office while relaxing on a stunning Caribbean beach (both the Z10 and the Q10 are world-compatible for roaming, regardless of carrier).
BlackBerry Peek: Say a message comes in for you while you’re streaming a movie—just swipe from left to right and you’ll get split-screen preview of the message while your movie continues to play. In other words, you don’t need to turn off your in-terminal entertainment just to see if that email contains a Delta upgrade.
When by-the-hour car-sharing services such as Zipcar and Hertz on Demand arrived on the scene, they upended the traditional model for short-term rentals. Now it’s their turn to be upended. Taking a page from bike-sharing programs, the latest car-sharing services offer by-the-minute rentals. The most traveler-friendly of the half-dozen or so services that have recently emerged is Car2go($35 one-time membership fee), which rents smart cars in five U.S. cities (Austin; San Diego; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; and Miami), and 15 more across the globe (Toronto, Berlin, and Amsterdam, among others).
When it comes to reliable, easy-to-use tech amenities, hotels have lagged confoundingly behind what most travelers have at home or on their smart phones or tablets. Even at many so-called state-of-the-art properties guests wrestle with inscrutable room controls, ornery A/V setups, and awkward communications systems. Thankfully, some hotels are now stepping up their tech game—for real.
What’s Here Now
These days, any property worth its room rate offers free Wi-Fi. But too often it’s exceedingly sloooow. Solution: many hotels (including the Radisson in San Diego and the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo) are rolling out 100 Mbps Internet service, which is fast enough to download an album in three seconds.
If you’ve ever reached into your carry-on only to find an empty space where your phone, computer, or camera used to be, you know how thoroughly a lost or stolen gadget can ruin your trip. Fortunately, there are services to help track down your missing gear and protect you against identity theft. GadgetTrak Mobile Security($19.95 per year) brings the features built in to Windows Phone and iOS to Android and BlackBerry users: it will locate your phone using GPS and Wi-Fi and can also lock the device or wipe your data—even if someone inserts another SIM card. CameraTrace($10 per camera) tracks a registered camera using metadata embedded in digital photos, so it can find any pictures taken with your camera that have been uploaded to one of many popular image-sharing sites.
Knowing the location of your device is useful if you’ve simply misplaced it, but in the case of theft, it won’t do you much good without the help of the law. Unfortunately, limited resources mean few police departments will bother pursuing stolen tech gear. But when a laptop enabled with LoJack for Laptops(from $19.99 per year) is reported stolen, the program’s forensic tools automatically contact LoJack for Laptops’s central command every 15 minutes, making it easy to collect evidence that police can use for, say, a search warrant. “We have about 60 ex-police officers working for us,” says Mark Grace of Absolute Software, the company behind this product, “and they know how to work with law enforcement authorities across the globe to get these cases solved.”