Smartphones making travel easier

Technology is continuing to make travel easier and more accessible.

And, undoubtedly, one of the more intriguing developments in travel has been the move toward replacing credit cards, passports and hotel keys with a single device — the smartphone.

Some industry pundits have suggested that the smartphone could do it all in as little as five-10 years.

That certainly seems feasible.

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Cards on the way out

The way credit cards are used is changing fast because of services like Apple Pay.

It’s becoming common to see people holding their phones or watches next to the card reader at shop check-outs while their identity is verified.

The days of carrying a wallet or purse full of credit and loyalty cards certainly seem numbered.

On our most recent European trip, we had all our loyalty cards, Seniors Card, Driver’s licences etc stored on our phones using the Stocard App. It worked well, however we still nervously took along our actual credit cards. Perhaps next time!

Hotel room entry

Hotels world-wide are gradually testing various methods of keyless entry where a smartphone will open and lock room doors, instead of using cards or, in some cases, actual keys.

It’s just another way in which hotels are streamlining traditional processes to improve the process for guests.

Wireless phone charging

The industry is also moving to introduce wireless charging to reduce the need for charging points in hotel rooms. The latest phones can be charged wirelessly

And cheap international telephone roaming is now common in much of the world. Our charges were pegged at three Australian dollars a day – if we made calls. We send to use Face Time on free wifi.

The European Union has, also made cheap roaming mandotory in its member countries.

Boarding passes

Of course, using a phone as a boarding pass is now common at airports.

The movement to electronic Passports is probably a little way off yet – and may be governed largely by political and immigration issues.

However,  steps in that direction are still being taken in preparation.

Security booths

There are also automated security booths appearing at the departure area of many airports.

So, depending on destination and hotel, it’s already possible to:

  • buy aircraft tickets online and store them on your phone
  • board a plane using a pass and the tickets on your phone.
  • pay for your hotel with your phone
  • enter your room using your phone
  • pay for meals and purchases using your phone
  • book Uber or similar transport to and from airports.

And, thank goodness that today’s smartphones have ever-more-strict security features to prevent misuse.

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Arranging travel – and saving money doing it

Our latest European jaunt covered eight countries – and here’s a few tips that helped us organise the trip and ensure everything ran smoothly.

For a start, we were flown to and from Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines, to review how ‘Age-Friendly’ its Sydney-Athens link is. Read our review of the ScootBiz service here

For the remainder of the extensive trip, we used the Internet to book almost everything, to give us maximum control. This included;

other airlines
inter-country shuttle
Greek Island ferries
rail trips
couriers
bus tickets
accommodation
city cards
individual tours

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Booking flights

Flights were generally booked about 90 days beforehand because we believe that ensures the best deals.

In all, we used four airlines – Scoot, Aegean, Eurowings, and EasyJet. ‘Age-Friendly’ reports will be forthcoming on each.

All have easy-to-use websites and apps for managing your flights; getting boarding passes, selecting seats etc. An important tip is to make sure that the names you book are identifical to those in your passport – as changes may cost money.

We saved money and made it easier on ourselves by packing light – one 22kg bag between us and a carry-on bag each.

Accommodation

Accommodation was chosen at the same time as flights – also with the aim of doing extensive  ‘Age-Friendly’ reports on each.

We used numerous websites to compare hotel and Airbnb prices, with emphasis on central location – and proximity to public transport.

Once selected, we pre-paid accommodation – avoiding ‘cancellation-free’ booking. This can be a little risky if the entire trip falls over, but we prefer to take the chance for a lower cost.

Almost all our accommodation was paid well before we left home – although there’s always the occasional hotel that reserves the booking but doesn’t actually take the money until later.

And once booked, we followed up with at least one confirmation email close to the date of leaving.

Ferries

Ferries were reserved at least three months ahead of time, as we believe that prices for moving between the Greek Islands can increase as trips get closer.

And again, our aim was to see how the ferries catered for travellers of all ages …… and pass on our information.

We booked directly with the companies involved – and double checked by email.

International courier

We trialled an international shuttle service, Go-Opti, to travel from Venice, Italy to Ljubjana in Slovenia.

What could have taken most of a day by train or coach, was reduced to about three hours.

The service collected us and our luggage from one hotel and delivered us in comfort to another, at a lower cost than alternatives.

Watch for our upcoming review of Go-Opti. It’s an eye-opener.

All other bookings were done in the final month, including courier services at Santorini and London – which both worked out cheaper than using taxis – and train trips in Slovenia and the UK.

Public transport

As always, we also saved substantially by using public transport where possible.

For example, we were quoted $80 for a taxi from Changi Airport, Singapore to our hotel in the heart of the city. We had deliberately selected a hotel near a bus stop – and used a public bus that covered the same trip for about five dollars.

In Austria, Germany and Italy, our travel was kindly provided by close friends who took us to some wonderful sights.

In London, we chose a hotel within two minutes walking distance of Victoria Coach Terminal, from where we could get a bus to Gatwick Airport for about seven pounds – far less than any alternative.

Where possible, we always avoid airport trains – and usually save substantially by doing so.

For example, in Greece and Venice, we caught local buses to and from our attractions – and the airport. In each case, we emailed various bus services beforehand – and negotiated prices ourselves until we were happy with the quotes.

The only time we used a taxi was late at night in Athens – and, again, we emailed several companies beforehand to lock in an agreed price.

If you must use a cab with a meter, contact people like us to find out the exact distance you want to travel – and photograph the meter as you start the trip

Discounts

Before deciding on any travel, accommodation or attractions, we always make a point of checking whether the provider offers discounts. There’s nothing to lose in asking, and  it can sometimes save money.

For example, on this trip, we visited the massive Skocjan Caves in Slovenia – and were delighted to find substantial discounts offered for NSW Seniors Card holders.

We have a host of reviews coming from this trip, so stay tuned.

Personal travel planning Tips

Excess baggage: couriers may offer an answer.

It’s rather embarrassing  – and can be quite costly – to reach the airport check-in counter only to find that your bags are too heavy.

These days, airlines strictly enforce the amount of checked baggage and carry-on luggage on international flights; and any more than your ‘free’ baggage allowance may incur additional charges.

It happened to us once at Berlin – causing us to frantically re-pack our carry-on bags and jettison heavy paperwork.

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Photo: Pexels

However, the silver lining behind all this may be the advent of so-called ‘Delivery to Door Couriers’.

These services apparently collect baggage from your door and deliver it to your destination – leaving you to enjoy a hassle-free journey.

It’s an interesting idea, especially if you are travelling in Europe where distances between destinations can be short.

Firms operate in Europe and the US; we know of at least one that sends that type of box by air or sea from Australia; and there are operators that advertise a world-wide service.

What’s involved?

The service generally includes air freight, customs clearance, terminal fees, and local delivery costs to your international address.

Like normal airline baggage, there are, of course, restrictions on dangerous goods.

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P{photo: Pexels

But it does avoid the hassles of being laden down with back-breaking baggage; constantly weighting your load in fear; and the boring ritual of standing with crossed fingers at airport baggage carousels.

We’re yet to try one of these services but, like everything else, it seems that the widespread adoption of the idea would probably have a lot to do with cost and convenience.

From all reports, it appears that the cost, naturally, depends on how much luggage you want shipped and where.

And, ‘Delivery to Door’ couriers certainly seem to have convenience covered.

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Photo: Pexels

So, if you are are concerned about the possibility of excess baggage, these couriers may be well worth a look.

If you do use one of these firms, let us know how it works, so we can share details of the experience.

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Do and don’ts of free wifi

We’ve never paid to use the Internet while travelling.

We rely on Internet access for reviewing; booking accommodation; organising travel and attractions; translation; currency conversion; keeping calendars; social media; and calling home.

But, for most of the time, the Mobile Data setting on our iPhone and iPad is switched off and we rely solely on wifi – making sure that we stick strictly to a few basic rules.

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How do we do it?

Firstly, we try to only book accommodation that offers free wifi. In the past, it wasn’t easy – but things have changed dramatically in recent years.

We also make a concerted effort to work out in advance where free wifi hotspots are located.

One good way of doing this is to download and use the Wi-fi Finder App.

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When you install and first run this app, it downloads a database of free and paid Wi-Fi hotspots around the world – so you can then open the app when you don’t have an Internet connection.

And, of course, there is a fast-growing trend of cafes, pubs, restaurants, airports and shopping centres offering free wifi – some with time limits.

For example, here are some UK and European hotspot examples we are aware of:

  • London – a public network called The Cloud offers free wifi in the CBD and in scores of pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants
  • Paris – ‘Paris Wifi’ offers 296 hot spots, including parks; gardens; libraries; and museums.
  • Edinburgh – free system being installed in city centre. Numerous cafes.
  • Barcelona – free connection at museums; parks; markets; libraries; shops; and the beach.
  • Rome  – ‘Roma Wireless’ free wifi throughout much of the city.
  • Vienna‘Freewave’ service across the city.

OK, so how safe is free wifi?

Security is the big downside of free wifi, so we find it vital to follow a few key rules.

We DO treat all free wifi as probably being unsecured.  If they are secure sites, that information is usually found in a security clause of the ‘terms of use’ that you typically have to agree to before use.

We DON’T do any form of Internet banking over a free wifi. If we need to do this, we make sure that we find a secure site.

We DO make sure that every website we use on free (or otherwise wifi) has an address or  URL that starts with HTTPS and not just HTTP. The S shows that the website is using a secure communication.

If a website isn’t using HTTPS then we don’t enter any information into it on the Wi-Fi hotspot. We just browse it and leave.

We haven’t done this, but we have been told that, as an extra security precaution, you can install a plugin for Firefox and Chrome browsers called HTTPS Everywhere.

This apparently encrypts communication with those websites.

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How about mobile hotspots?

We’re keen to trial the new generation of mobile wifi hotspots, such as Tep Wireless or Xcom Global, that rent a mobile Internet connection that fits in the pocket.

This gives you wireless Internet access for a number of devices wherever you travel.

 

 

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Avoid paying for phone calls while travelling

When travelling, we make a point of never paying for international phone calls.

This can be done easily – without worrying about getting local SIM cards; racking up expensive roaming charges; or puzzling over country codes and the like.

We are free-wifi junkies  and we also make use of apps that allow you to make calls at no cost.

Instead of using traditional phone networks, these apps  rely on the Internet to transmit your voice, so all you need is free wifi – widely available with accommodation and in cafes, restaurants, pubs, airports, train stations etc.

FaceTime for video or audio

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Our favourite app is Apple’s FaceTime.

Most people know FaceTime as a video-calling service, but it also has an audio only button. We’ve used it to make calls  – both video and audio – from our iPad and iPhone across Europe and the US.

As long as the person you are calling also has an Apple device with FaceTime turned on in its settings, the calls are simple, fast, free and crystal clear.

One of our most memorable calls was back home to Australia while we waited for a train in Chicago. We had free wifi – and made the most of it.

WhatsApp

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If a person you want to call doesn’t have an Apple device, you can use the popular WhatsApp.

Free to download, this is a favourite for both texting and calls across the globe.

We’ve never tried it, but some travellers have told us that they also use Facebook’s Messenger app for free telephone calls.

Another that we haven’t spent much time on is Viber, which seems particularly popular for sending free text messages.

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Naturally, you need to remember that, for these calls to work, the person you are ringing also need to have the app that you are using.

 

 

 

 

 

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A traveller’s best friend

After a slow start, we’ve come to realise how helpful smartphone apps can be when travelling.

It wasn’t that long ago that we got by without our iPad, iPhone and their range of apps – but travelling is a lot easier with them.

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Our  hallelujah moment came at Berlin in 2013 when  we were forced to jettison our paper itinerary and stack of accompanying notes and photocopies to make the carry-on baggage weight limit at Tegel airport.

Before tearing up the pile of documents, we simply took photos of the most important ones with our iPhone – and then wondered aloud why we hadn’t done that in the first place.

Soon after, we also hesitantly discovered the ease of having our plane tickets and boarding passes sent directly to our electronic devices, rather than carrying and handling yet more paper.

From then, we became devotees of some of the travel apps designed to make life on the road easier. We have our favourites, most of which we keep on our iPhone and iPad when travelling only.

You might have your own favoured apps, but  these are some of ours:

iTranslate

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Free to download, this is good if you are going somewhere where you can’t speak the language.

Just start speaking and iTranslate recognizes your voice, converts your words to text and translates them into another language. The app works on 90 languages. There is also an up-market version that apparently repeats your words aloud in the selected language.

Yr.no

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We like new-age weather forecaster, Yr.no. This app issues something like 10 million weather forecasts – or simply uses GPS to find your location anywhere on the globe and provide comprehensive weather forecasts. And we’ve found them remarkably accurate.

Airbnb

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If you are happy using Airbnb to list, find, and rent accommodation, then this app makes access straightforward.

Uber

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As with Airbnb, Uber may not be your cup of tea for transportation. But, if it is, this app will help.

XE Currency

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We have found this app useful when we were thinking about changing money. You don’t need to be on the Internet at the time to use the app.

Free Wifi Finder

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This app is wonderful if, like us, you are reluctant to pay for Internet while travelling. It has a scanner that locates the nearest free wifi hotspots – in 50 countries.

Citymapper

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This free app is comprehensive, covers a stack of countries and is fairly easy to use.

FaceTime 

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Because our devices are Apple Mac, we also make use of the FaceTime video calling system. You can, of course, use Skype if you prefer.

Find my iPhone

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And the Find my iPhone device security app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cheaper plane fares: our tips

No one wants to think that they paid too much for flights.

We are regularly asked for tips on getting the best value air fares – and here are some of points we consider when researching. As any regular travellers will attest, there are no iron-clad guarantees, but these suggestions might help.

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Plan well ahead

For international air fares we try to search about 170 days before our flying date. As an initial part of online research, we set up ‘fare drop’ alerts with air fare websites.

If the fare falls, the sites usually send an email advising of the change.

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When looking online use the best web sites

Our favourites include;  CleverLayover; The FlightDeal; Skiplagged; Skyscanner; ITAMatrix; Which Budget; AirfareWatchdog; and Trip Advisor; all of which have their pros and cons.

We have often spoken about CleverLayover, which finds savings by linking together two separate return flights.

It’s also smart to keep your online searches secret by wiping your computer’s cookies and history – or using private browsing mode – before returning to a site. Don’t risk a price suddenly rising if a route is repeatedly searched.

Be as flexible as possible with travel dates

If possible, arrive at your destination in low season, rather than peak summer or late Spring.

Skyscanner, for example, also has a service that allows you to find the best prices for travel over a month. Check it out.

Try to fly during the middle of the week and on flights that leave early morning or late at night. The value of this is debatable, but sometimes it seem to work.

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Find the cheapest place to fly

Especially in Europe, compare the price of flying into various airports – and there is a web tool called Kayak Explore, that will help with this.

If you are bound for London, for example, it might be cheaper to fly to Amsterdam or Paris and then catch a budget domestic flight, train or ferry.

As another example, Rome is also considered by many to be a particularly well priced European destination, from where you can then pick up a flight elsewhere.

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Increased options

Many of the long-haul routes are now serviced by both traditional and so-called Budget airlines.

This has expanded the options for travellers.

However, when considering budget carriers, it is crucial to read the fine print about baggage fees etc and ensure you are comfortable about leg room, on-board entertainment and food etc.

Don’t forget layovers

If you are flying from the West Coast of the US to Australia for example, consider booking a budget flight from the US mainland to Hawaii and another budget flight from Hawaii to Australia – with a layover of a few days in between.

If you are not on a tight schedule, why not consider using layovers to see more destinations than you normally would.

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