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Tech Thursday: Google Maps Launches New Explore Feature

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In what has become routine news, Google has announced this week that they are, once again, pushing the envelope with Google Maps. So what are they up to this time? The cornerstone of the update is Explore, a new feature that acts as your personal assistant on the road. At the heart of it, Explore helps find whatever it is that you’re looking for, from gas stations and pharmacies to restaurants and local attractions. The listings (there are dozens in each category) include useful details, like hours, directions, and Zagat ratings, all within the app itself—that means no navigating back and forth between your browser and map. And if you prefer to note one of the suggestions for later in the day, a useful “starring” feature lets you bookmark places to your map. It’s available today for Android, and coming soon for iOS. If Google's predictions ring true, those of us on Apple devices will be able to jump on the bandwagon in just a few days.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Google

Trip Doctor: The Lesson of Asiana Flight 214

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The cause of Saturday’s crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport, which left two dead and a number of others critically injured, remains under investigation. The latest reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicate that the airplane’s approach speed for landing was well below what it should have been. The pilots apparently realized the problem, but it was too late to correct it. The NTSB investigation—which could take months, if not years—will determine whether a mechanical failure or human error (or some combination or the two) was responsible. In the midst of intense media scrutiny, both the NTSB and the Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest airline pilot union, have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the action of the crew in charge of the plane.

One thing that is apparent: the heroics of the flight attendants and other passengers who assisted in getting people quickly off the burning plane. Remarkably, 305 of the 307 passengers survived, a testament, as the Wall Street Journal reports, to on-board safety improvements (stronger seats; more flame-retardant materials), better crew training, and a nimble on-ground rescue crew.

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Live and On Demand TV Now Free on Southwest

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In this day and age, it’s pretty rare to hear about new services on flights—unless they come with a side of sticker shock. Southwest is an exception to the rule, as they’ve always maintained an anti-fee ethos, but we’re still impressed by their latest announcement: as of this week, the airline’s customers will enjoy free On Demand and live TV—all streamed to their mobile devices—via DISH Network on every WiFi-equipped Southwest flight. The lineup features most major networks (along with dedicated sports channels) as well as 75 on demand titles. The catch? It’s only free for a limited time. According to a spokesperson, the promotion will likely run through the end of the year; even then, all signs point to a reasonable $5 price tag for in-flight streaming once the deal expires. 

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Spotted: New Boarding System for United

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On a recent trip through Houston’s IAH, we noticed these unusual—but clever—markers, which United is now using to corral flyers waiting to get on their plane. Yes, we thought it was a bit odd as well—until we realized how much it organized the chaos of zone-by-zone boarding, eliminating the pre-emptive swarms that tend to crowd the gate.

Have you noticed any changes at the airport lately? Tell us at tripdoctor@aexp.com.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Nilou Motamed

Trip Doctor: Lolë’s Quick-Dry Swimsuit

Lole quick-drying swimsuit

Q: I’m so tired of my swimsuit taking eons to dry. Help! —Kay Ekblad, via e-mail

A: Here’s the solution: this one-piece from Montreal-based Lolë ($70). The paneled “Maui” maillot is made of chlorine-resistant, quick-drying Swim Tech fabric with an über-comfortable four-way stretch. Need something to throw on post-dip? The breathable and anti-wrinkle fabric of Eco Swim by Aqua Green Shirred Side Dress Cover Up ($85) is knitted out of (yes) coffee grounds, making it sustainable by the sea.

Mimi LombardoMimi Lombardo is Travel + Leisure’s style director. Packing is rarely easy-we're here to help. Send your question to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

 

Photo by John Lawton

Tech Thursday: Travel Safe With React Mobile App

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Safety is a constant concern when traveling, whether you’re hopping in the car for a weekend getaway or backpacking across Europe. Besides being unfamiliar with a location, language barriers can also make communication difficult. Cue new mobile security app, React Mobile.

Free to download for iOS and select Android systems, the app allows you to create a list of emergency contacts (friends, parents, doctors, etc.) that will be instantly notified if danger strikes. Just tap once to “activate your shield” and GPS coordinates of your location will be sent to members on your list, with an option to link your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Have a serious problem? Send a message to police directly from the app. React Mobile has world-travelers covered, with availability in 39 countries and four continents including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, European Union, Australia, China, Japan, Israel, Jamaica, Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina.

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Introducing Frequent Flier Miles… For Your Pet

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Clearly we’re not the only ones obsessed with globetrotting pets. This week, Virgin Australia launched a new program for its furry fliers, making them the second airline to offer frequent flier miles to its four-legged jet set (JetBlue, with its JetPaws initiative, has been offering miles for a few years). Miles get added to the human handler’s account—Peaches sure isn’t carrying her own status card—and members can expect a minimum of 300 points per pet flight. Now if only the flight attendants could pass out some kibbles along with those pretzels…

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo credit: istockphoto

Announced: T+L's 2013 World's Best Awards

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

T+L's features director, Nilou Motamed, announces the 2013 winners of Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards, as voted by readers in our annual survey. Whether it's a rustic safari hideaway or a river cruise line, these hotels, destinations, and travel companies represent the best in travel. For all the winners, click here.

Jennifer FlowersJennifer Flowers is the Travel News Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @JennFlowers.

Trip Doctor: How to Get Last-Minute Hotel Deals

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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.

Our Best Score: Mexico City’s sleek Las Suites for $163 a night (37 percent off).

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Paris Restaurants Short List

Paris Restaurants: Chez Georges

Christian Boyens, general manager of the Ritz Paris—currently undergoing renovations—reveals his short list for where to eat in the City of Light.

First Arr.-Verjus ($$$$): French farm food, great setting. Kinugawa ($$$): Japanese bento boxes for lunch.

Second Arr.-Chez Georges (pictured; 1 Rue du Mail; $$$): well-preserved classic, market-fresh specials. Le Mesturet ($$): real Parisian bistro, good price-to-quality ratio. Le Petit Vendôme ($$): hole-in-the-wall for lunch; get the escalope de veau with mushrooms.

Third Arr.-Derrière ($$$): young, eclectic scene, great patio, table tennis, rotisserie ham. Chez Janou ($$$): French bistro, get the duck and the chocolate mousse; fish soup only so-so.

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