Interesting tool for finding well-priced flights

We’ve been hearing a lot about the AirWander website for finding well-priced international airfares.

This site is for travellers who want to include stopovers in international flights.

Stopovers tend to be particularly attractive to people who are not necessarily on a tight schedule.

The principle is simple: you take a round-trip itinerary and split it into multiple bookings with multiple tickets.

And then you add a stopover, which is a break of more than 24 hours between your origin and your destination.

This allows you to visit two or more locations on your journey at a cost that can be similar to the original point-to-point round-trip.

We’ve heard of travellers adding a stopover and saving money, although Australia’s isolation makes us sceptical.

Type a proposed destination into AirWander and it offers possible stopover locations and fares. Then fiddle with cities and dates in a bid to get the lowest fare.

When doing your sums, costs such as accommodation at the stopover site obviously need to be taken into account.

AirWander then refers you to third-party booking websites, in the same way as sites like Skyscanner and Momondo.

And, of course, there is always some connection risks – such as flight delays and missing luggage – with buying separate tickets from separate airlines.

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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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Travel tips feature: Favourite technology

Technology and travelling light often seem contradictory.

However, in recent years, we have developed our own list of essential gadgets that we take with us on our travels.

  •  Two iPads and at least one iPhone – for writing reviews, social media, using Apple Wallet and keeping in touch via FaceTime.
  • Two wifi cameras – for illustrating reviews and social media updates.

  • Portable digital scales. With excess baggage fees today, these scales are essential.  We hook them to our bag handle and lift the luggage for an LED weight read-out.
  • An all-in-one powerpoint adapter. After years to carrying one for European powerpoints and another for the US, we were thrilled when all-in-one devices appeared.
  • Power bank. These are extremely handy, especially if they have enough juice to charge two devices.
  • It’s almost a hotel truism that there are never enough powerpoints in your room. We use a multi adapter which combine extra power points, USB points and a surge protector.

  • Bags may have individual locks, but we keep hearing about people who have lost their entire luggage on ferries or buses. So we take a retractable cable lock with a 90 cm steel cable for wrapping around a pole or rack.
  • An ‘under the door’ alarm and a range of anti-theft bags and clothing.
  • To complement hotel wifi, we adapted an old Apple Express music player to serve as a travel router and plug into high speed internet cables available in most rooms. Time will eventually catch up with this old technology, but at the moment, it works well.
Technology on the road Tips

Reading signs and menus you can’t understand

Visiting a country where you don’t speak the language can be awkward.

Luckily, there’s now a range of translation apps for mobile phones that can help you read those menus and reduce the chance of being misunderstood.

The most comprehensive app we’ve come across is Google Translate, mainly because it has a feature called Word Lens.

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If you’re puzzling at a street or building sign or a menu written in a language that you can’t understand, simply point the phone at it – and the words should change to English.

The feature currently supports about 30 languages – and Google says more are increasingly being added.

Free to download, the app also has speech translation that converts your words into a language you select from a library of more than 50.

For example, if you are visiting France, you can ask for directions in English, hold up the phone, and it will repeat your words in French. If someone replies in French, the app is designed to convert that back to English – and so on.

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It may sound like something out of Star Trek, but we’ve found that although the translation system understands English, it doesn’t always grasp our Australian accents. And it can also be confused by background noise – and doesn’t seem to grasp tenses yet.

Another drawback would appear to be human nature: not everyone appreciates having a phone pushed toward them – and we’ve heard stories of people simply declining to answer questions.

There are alternatives available for those who don’t want a Google app.

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We have used one called iTranslate, which is free to download from Apple’s App Store in its basic form, but has an impressive word-recognition feature available for a small fee.

Other popular apps include SayHi Translate; Universal Translator; Speak Text; and Jibbigo Translator, which doesn’t necessarily require an internet connection to work.

Technology on the road Tips

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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