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From maps to apps


David Flynn

App to date ... smartphones make matchless maps.

App to date ... smartphones make matchless maps.

Throw away that dog-eared accordion-like map. Forget those inch-thick city guides that are out of date before they're printed.

They're no match for a smartphone or tablet loaded with a few well-chosen travel apps.

But with hundreds of thousands of apps clamouring for your attention, where to begin?

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Top 20 business traveller essentials

From the latest and greatest gadgets to gear that will have you looking the part and travelling light. Here are our picks for the best flying accessories. 

We spoke to tech experts and frequent flyers to pull together five sets of must-have apps for the traveller.

Note that many apps need internet access to perform their magic. If you're heading overseas, don't use the roaming service of your Aussie carrier: it will cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

Pick up a prepaid SIM card from a local mobile phone store in whatever country you're visiting and you'll avoid an expensive post-trip shock.

Travel planning

There are some amazing smartphone apps that ease your travel headaches before you step on the plane.

A standout is TripIt (; for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone), which software engineer Liam Rasmussen describes as “the PA I never had”.

Forward emails with flight and hotel confirmations, car hire, even restaurant bookings and concert tickets to your TripIt account and the app transforms them into a single super-organised itinerary.

Rasmussen pays $50 a year for the more powerful TripIt Pro which tracks his frequent flyer points and alerts him to delayed flights via SMS.

“I've been sitting in the airport and received a text message saying my flight is delayed, even before the airport's own monitors have been updated.”

Les Posen, a clinical psychologist who specialises in fear of flying, is a fan of the free iPhone apps offered by an increasing number of airports, including Sydney and Melbourne.

“The app advises the check-in desk and departure gate for your flight and you get an alert when a flight begins boarding or has landed,” Posen says.

Posen also finds the airport maps – marked with the location of lounges, shops and public toilets – are handy for making your way around these modern labyrinths.

Hit the ground running

With mapping software built into every smartphone, plus a GPS chip that pinpoints your location on the grid, you're one step ahead of fold-up maps.

The next step? Grab a guide to the city's public transport network. Most are free and will get you from A to B with the confidence of a local.

If you prefer a more leisurely pace, search for apps that guide you through a walking tour of the city.

But be wary of apps that claim to be free yet contain only the briefest of information unless you pay for the full version.

There are city guides a'plenty, of course, including the highly regarded Lonely Planet series.

“I often favour the official apps for any given city or country,” says Angus Kidman, editor of the technology blog Lifehacker Australia.

“If the official tourist information board has produced something, it will invariably be free.”

Eat, drink and be merry

“There's a fantastic variety of apps for deciding where to eat and drink when you're overseas,” says the food blogger Zina Zhang.

“If you're visiting Singapore, Hungrygowhere (iPhone, Android) lets you search for restaurants by dish, cuisine and price.

“Travellers to the US should download OpenTable (iPhone, Android) for a fast, convenient way to reserve a table at your favourite restaurant.”

Sydney businesswoman Valerie Khoo is another fan of OpenTable.

“It helps you find restaurants based on availability, location, the number of people, cuisine, price and so on. I've discovered many new restaurants in the US with OpenTable.”

OpenTable's British edition is called TopTable (iPhone, Android).

Daniel Clark, director of online luggage retailer RushFaster, rates great food as “the most important thing when travelling”.

“Life is short and there's no time for second-rate food, and especially not food sickness when you're on the road.”

FoodSpotting (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone) is like a restaurant guide meets pop-photography app Instagram.

“You search for a particular dish and then get photos of what it looks like at different restaurants, so you can find the best version of any dish in any city,” Clark says.

Other popular apps based on user ratings and reviews are Yelp and UrbanSpoon.


App developer Chris Neugebauer relies on the homegrown BeanHunter (iPhone, Android) to find the best coffee in most Australian cities.

“It uses your phone's GPS chip to work out your location and show a list of the nearest cafes to you, along with reviews and photos submitted by other BeanHunter users,” Neugebauer says.

“Being able to quickly get the opinions of other coffee lovers is really valuable, although it's less useful outside of Australia.”

If you're headed to London, New York, LA or San Francisco try the Best Coffee series of apps (iPhone, Android).

Speak the language

The new wave of apps is even conquering the language barrier.

iTranslate (iPhone, Android) provides voice translation between over 50 languages.

“This is without a doubt the best translation app on the market,” says Lukas Picton, senior consultant with the PR firm Text 100, although he warns: “I wouldn't rely on it for a really important conversation.”

If you're just seeking to pick up basic words and phrases in a foreign tongue, don't overlook the hundreds of free language-learning podcasts available through iTunes.

15 comments so far

  • Throw away that old-fashioned map? All very well until you can't get a connection, or your battery goes flat. Then you just have a useless lump of plastic and no means of navigating.

    Technology is all very well, and I do like my mapping GPS, but you have to have a backup plan, especially if you are going off-piste.

    Date and time
    November 06, 2012, 11:34AM
    • Agreed: I'd become dependent on my iPhone 3GS by November 2009 but the single act of putting it in my pocket in contact with loose change shorted the battery and then I had a useless lump of plastic, at closing time in a London's pub, and not a clue as to how many kilometres or which direction was the friend's place at which I was staying. Thank goodness I had the address on a scrap of paper that I could hand to a taxi driver.

      St Leonards
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 1:13PM
    • Google Maps now allows you to download maps for areas of interest, so you can use it without a connection. If your battery dies, keep a spare, or a portable charger. It'll still be lighter and more compact than a bunch of maps.

      Nunawading, Vic
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 8:32AM
    • Exactly. Try travelling around Europe with high data roaming charges,even for tiny amounts of location data. While I do try to pick up PAYG SIMs wherever I go, I looked for one in Spain for two weeks in September and they were out of them everywhere! I tried every phone provider and phone shop I could find from San Sebastian to Seville. There are also recent restrictions on getting phone cards which require you to have a Spanish ID card, so bad luck travellers.

      An app is OK for foot navigation in a city, but it's still better to have a fold-out paper map as an adjunct to get the big picture. Likewise on a road trip, you simply don't see enough on a screen.

      Mike W
      Date and time
      November 07, 2012, 10:47PM
    • Never, ever have to rely solely on something electronic to find your way somewhere... I tried to navigate to Abercrombie caves the other weekend, only to find myself in a mass of confused and contradictory directions from different electronic sources.

      Stupid GPS! Because its in the coutnryt and not a suburb or city, Icouldnt even program in where to go!

      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 6:24AM
  • It will be long long time before I ever bother to rely on app-maps. Fiddly, WRONG and unreliable. Give me an old fashioned street directory any day.

    Date and time
    November 06, 2012, 1:15PM
    • Anyone who entrusts their location knowledge to the phone in their pocket, or the "navigator" on their dashboard is a fool. Be spatially aware - or get lost - literally.

      Latrobe Valley
      Date and time
      November 06, 2012, 8:10PM
      • Recent example - a wedding in Italy attended by people from all over the world. The only people who turned up on time the day before the wedding without getting lost were those who used a paper map. All the rest either had drop outs, poor directions, or completely wrong estimated times of travel.......and when the phones go, itineraries get lost, changed or other issues occur.....doh! --- smart travelers use pencil and paper.
        However, when they do work you cant go past the food sites you mention. It is also handy to have a FX converter as well - lets you know when you are getting reamed.

        Date and time
        November 06, 2012, 8:24PM
        • "Pick up a prepaid SIM card from a local mobile phone store in whatever country you're visiting and you'll avoid an expensive post-trip shock."

          Alternately, pick up an international SIM card - particularly if you're travelling to more than one country - to avoid the hassle and irritation of trying get the best local SIM deal in-store each time. Some of them have genuinely competitive data rates, particularly if you go for a data bundle deal.

          London UK
          Date and time
          November 07, 2012, 4:12AM
          • No love for Urban Spoon? Great for restaurants in Australia, the UK, the US and Canada.

            Nunawading, Vic
            Date and time
            November 07, 2012, 8:34AM

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