A Technological Guide to Eurotripping
I just returned from a two and half month tour of Western Europe to 17 cities in 11 countries. While the sheer volume of information available at our fingertips may ruin the fear of the unknown, it sure does make jumping from country to country a breeze.
Perhaps in the future I’ll collect my thoughts enough to write a heartfelt post about how exactly traveling changed me, but for now I’ll try to provide some utility to you in the form of a list of useful tools. I am not sponsored or otherwise affiliated with any of the tools I’m listing here.
MapsWithMe - Offline Maps
$4.99 – iOS, Android
MapsWithMe provides offline street maps for the entire world. You download a
country or region at a time, and it acts roughly like Google Maps minus the
mobile data requirement. It doesn’t have route mapping, but it does have search.
An often forgotten feature of smartphones is that the GPS does not rely on mobile data, and neither does the compass. This means that you can tell where you are and where you’re pointing on this offline map with no cell connection at all!
If you buy the pro version for $4.99, you can download maps for as many regions as you’d like. Well worth the price tag.
I have an abysmal sense of direction, often not remembering which way I came from when I leave a restaurant, so this was crucial to me being able to find my hostel and avoiding sleeping in a ditch. MapsWithMe makes this easy by letting you drop pins at points of interest in a variety of colours. Nearer the end of the trip, I would’ve been pretty comfortable just asking local after local for directions, but it’s definitely handy at night on deserted streets.
MapWithMe was shown to me by my travel buddy Owen Wang.
Hipmunk - Flight Search
Free (no brokerage fees) – Web, iOS, Android
There are tons of flight search services now, but I keep coming back to Hipmunk for its clean user interface and ability to search for a range of departure/arrival dates (e.g. departing between December 2nd and 4th) in order to choose the cheapest option. In terms of the interface, I love the way it shows you the timing of different options and prominently displays flight durations. For speed, I always end up using the web interface over the mobile option. They have hotel search too, though I’ve never used it.
The most interesting alternative I’ve seen is Skyscanner, which lets you search for flights from/to a giant region. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can search for flights leaving from a city and going anywhere. Kayak Explore provides similar anywhere-but-here search functionality.
Another thing to be aware of if you’re trying to fly on the cheap is easyJet’s Route Map. easyJet is one of the cheapest airline you’re going to find (provided you have only one carry-on bag), so if you can plan your trip around the route map, you might save a ton of money. In practice, this probably means going to a major travel hub for every second stop. For instance, you can take easyJet Berlin ↔ London ↔ Prague, but not Berlin ↔ Prague, so you probably don’t want to start in London.
Hostels.com - Hostel Search
Free (with registration) – Web (Hostelworld for iOS, Android)
A bunch of the hostel search sites have the same inventory now, because they’re all owned by Hostelworld. I opt for hostels.com instead of hostelworld.com for a nicer user interface. It’s worth making an account to avoid the booking fees. If you want to book on mobile, you’ll need to use the hostelworld app, which is admittedly pretty crummy but gets the job done when you’re in a jam.
Airbnb - Short-term Room and Apartment Rentals
Free (no subscription) – Web, iOS, Android
If you’re getting sick of hostels and want a room or whole apartment of your own, Airbnb can be pretty handy. I used it to get places in Amsterdam, Lyon, and Madrid. It requires a lot more coordination with the owner than just booking a hostel room, so avoid leaving this to the last minute.
TripAdvisor - Restaurant and Attraction Search
Free – Web, iOS, Android
Even if you’re like me and most art museums are not a thrill-filled day-long activity, TripAdvisor has a lot of interesting local attractions you might not think to look for. For instance, I found the puzzle game TRAP Berlin and the surreal industrialist museum Design Panoptikum through TripAdvisor.
It can also be handy for finding good restaurants on your phone when you’ve got WiFi.
TripIt - Itinerary Management
Free ($49/year for Pro) – Web, iOs, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7
If you forward all of your itinerary confirmation emails to TripIt, it will parse them, aggregate them, and let you share them. This can be really useful for letting your family know where you are, or sharing the itinerary with other people in your travel party.
If you shell out the $49/year for TripIt Pro (30 day free trial), then you get alerts on your phone every time your flight gets a cancellation or gate change. It also comes with partnership perks like a Hertz Gold Card (Car Rentals) a Regus Businessworld Preferred Membership (see below).
Regus - Business Lounges
$49/month for Gold Card, Free with TripIt Pro
Regus is a system of internationally distributed offices. It was useful for me to have a space to set up my laptop with decent WiFi to code for a while. If you get a gold card with them, you get access to all of their business lounges, which is more or less just a little desk with an outlet in a swanky office (usually with a sweet view). The three offices I went to all had free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate too.
BlaBlaCar - Ridesharing
Free (?) - Web, iOS, Android
If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest way of traveling short of hitchhiking, BlaBlaCar is probably the way to go. Berlin → Prague for 16 Euros, Paris → Barcelona for 60. While I didn’t actually use this service, I met a few people who swore by it.
Though this post is about the technology I used, I’d like to emphasize that traveling has been about people for me. The article linked at the top of this post may be right about technology driving a divide between travelers and locals, but I did have the amazing opportunity to talk to travelers from around the world. I met a Brazilian in Barcelona, a Singaporean in Edinburgh, some Brits in Copenhagen, Germans on a train en route to Amsterdam, and far too many Australians to count.
Seriously, see how long you can go traveling without meeting an Australian. I give you two days, tops.