Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Taking a Virtual Vacation...Everyday

I know this is going to sound INSANE, but I take a virtual vacation almost everyday.  What is a virtual vacation, you might be wondering?  Well, for me, it is taking a little trip to somewhere on this awesome planet via the World Wide Web or through some cool app I've just discovered, for just a few minutes.  It can also entail the simple act of checking out a cool travel app, checking flight deals, or reading travel reviews.  I know it sounds crazy, but this practice is very therapeutic and helps me make it through the day, week, month, or any span of time that needs to pass until my next trip.  Today, I want to share my (current) five favorite "travel portals" or iPad apps for my mini vacas.

Viator - It's been around for awhile, but it is still my very favorite travel app because it gives me a little bit of background information on any city or site, and then it also provides tour information and allows me to book directly through them (which they also insure).  Users can contribute photos, videos, and write reviews.  You can plan an entire trip using the resources on this app or their Website (which is also awesome).  The app is free!  You can also download the Viator Ultimate Experience Guide app for free, which focuses on the world's top 100 cities.  These are beautiful, rich apps for those who love to travel, dream about travel, or plan a future trip.

Triposo - This app lets you pick a destination, like Italy, and then drill down by city.  Once you make your desired travel selections, you can view Triposo's travel guides, which are really good.  They also include maps, so there is no need to buy a travel guide or map before you go.  Just carry your iPad along and you can access the same information on Triposo.  The app also includes a "travel log" that allows you to document your own trip to a destination, share your travel tips, add photos and check-ins.  Love it!

Hipmunk - This must be THE cutest travel app out there.  I love the way the chipmonk moves his hips while he searchs for you!  This app allows you to check and book hotels and flights at the lowest advertised price.  How does it work?  You enter you destination and date range, and Hipmunk does the searching for you.  If you are searching for a hotel, a large map (a really good map that I often use for other purposes because I like the graphics that much) and a list of lodging options displays.  For flights, your options will load.  Select the hotel or flight that you like.  Unlike other aggregators, Hipmunk only displays ONE price - the cheapest one advertised!  Click the "book" link and you can book with the cheapest advertisor (Kayak, Getaroom, etc.)  The app also integrates with Trip Advisor to provide hotel reviews.
TripAdvisor - This app functions in much the same way as the TripAdvisor website, but in my opinion, it is better organized and cleaner.  All of the ads have been removed so what you have left is an uncluttered app that is perfect for reading reviews on any place you wish to visit, restaurant in which you wish to dine, or tour that you'd like to take.  The app also offers suggestions on things to do while in a selected city and allows you to participate in discussion forums (or just read them) on any travel topic you desire.  Of course, you can also find flights and hotels - TripAdvisor needs to make money somehow!

Google Earth - You can do so much with this app, but I love being able to "visit" a place before I get there and check out the surroundings.  For example, I always check out the neighborhood when I book a hotel in an unfamiliar city.  This was very helpful last month when a student shared with me the "deal" she got on a hotel near the airport in New Orleans.  The price was too good to be true so I Google Earth-ed it for her.  It was in the hood and was constructed directly in front of a housing project.  To the right, was a pretty scary trailer park.  The individuals in the satellite images were also pretty intimidating.  She cancelled her reservation.  Google Earth will let you snoop around before you get there and I like that.

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