THE LAW PRACTICE EDITORIAL BOARD asked me to become the new Web 2.0 columnist at an interesting time. I had just gotten back from a two-week business trip to Europe and was getting ready to head out on a two-week business trip to Asia—and the column was due in three weeks. Not exactly the best timing to start writing a new column, right? But I decided to let my travel experiences serve as research for this piece and to talk about the ways I used mobile technology when I was on the road.
You might expect to see an article about traveling and technology during the summer, but lawyers travel year-round. Depending on your practice, you might be traveling just a few hours away or halfway around the world on a regular basis. Fortunately, a lot of mobile apps can help you be a smarter traveler, and to have more fun while you are on the road. Listed below are some of the apps I used for my international travel. I never would have gotten through my trips without them.
Packing Pro. (iOS) When you leave on a two-week business trip, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need. Packing Pro is a great app that I used on my iPad to keep track of all the stuff I needed to take. The app starts with a helpful Demo Trip, with items in categories such as Pre-Trip, Essentials, Clothes, Accessories, Toiletries, Medical/Health, Gadgets and Miscellaneous. The app is completely customizable, however, so you can add any categories or items you like. You can create different types of lists for the various trips you take—business, vacation, etc. And it will sync across all of your i-devices.
TripIt. (iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry) TripIt is a lifesaver for keeping track of all my travel details. When I make my travel plans, I simply forward the confirmation emails (hotel, airfare, rental car, etc.) to TripIt, and the service creates a beautifully formatted itinerary with all the details, complete with links to maps, weather information and more. You can then share your complete itinerary with your assistant, colleagues, family or friends. Upgrading to a Pro account will give you extra features, including email alerts when planes are delayed, and a Seat Tracker that notifies you when better seats are available on your flight. The convenience of having all your travel plans in one place cannot be underestimated.
proXPN. (iOS, Android) When traveling, it’s tempting to connect to free Wi-Fi connections you might find in airports, hotels or cafés. However, these free access points can pose significant security risks, so a good way to protect yourself is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you aren’t already using one, check out proXPN, a free VPN that’s really easy to use. The free service will give you basic protection, but I recommend using the Premium service, which starts at $6.25 per month. Even better, Premium users can also use the VPN on their iOS or Android devices.
Google Services: Google Maps, Google Trans-late and Google+. I would have been lost without Google on my international trips; its tools are just so helpful for travelers. Google Maps is still the best routing app I have ever used when traveling. Except for one bad experience at the Great Wall of China, Google Maps pointed me flawlessly in the direction I needed to go. Be aware, however, that because it needs to use the GPS function of your phone, Google Maps can use up a lot of battery life, and sometimes a lot of data—which can be problematic when you are trying to conserve data on international trips.
Google Translate is a must-have app if you are in a foreign country where you do not know the language. You can translate from English to just about any major language, or vice versa, and you can even take a picture of a sign and have Google translate the text on it. Google Translate will also speak the translation, or display it in big letters if you need to show the translation to someone. If you use the Android version, you can download the translations to your device, which will work even when you are offline. This was a lifesaver in China, where using a completely different alphabet can be a challenge.
The last Google tool is one I didn’t expect to be using when I travel—Google+. I have been a member of the social networking site for a while but don’t really participate in it. However, I discovered that Google moved the great Picasa photo tool into Google+, which makes it a really good place to store and manage your photos. It’s a snap to upload pictures to Google+, and you can then create albums, edit or add filters to your photos, and share them with anyone. Now I have all my travel photos on my iPad, Android phone or anywhere I want to see them. (iOS, Android)
FlightBoard. (iOS, Android) Here’s a secret: Airlines are being less than honest with you when they post departure and arrival times on boards throughout the airport. That’s why I use FlightBoard, which provides accurate departure and arrival times for most flights. I usually switch the app to show arriving flights, so I can tell when my plane is going to get to the gate.
TripAdvisor. (iOS, Android, Windows) The TripAdvisor apps are pretty good at providing information on hotels, restaurants and flights, even if they tend to be a little touristy. I like to use TripAdvisor to find restaurants near me with good ratings by other TripAdvisor users. The site also offers City Guides for 80 cities around the world (iOS and Android only), which, in addition to the usual information, provides recommendations on itineraries, nightlife, shopping and tours. The walking tours provided in the Suggested Itineraries area are definitely worth a look.
XE Currency. (iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry) If you’re traveling out of the country, a currency conversion app is essential, and XE Currency is a great option, allowing you to convert more than 180 currencies. If you’re online, the exchange rate updates every minute, but it also works offline as well, storing the last updated rate.
Transit Apps. If you are heading to a major metropolitan area, chances are someone has developed an app to help you navigate the subway, bus or other mass transit system in that area. Most larger cities have at least one good app, which lists timetables for subways and sometimes buses. The better apps will provide routing to help you get from one location to another.
JiWire. (iOS, Android) JiWire has created a tremendous database of wireless networks around the world, so it pays to have this on your phone in case you need to find a nearby connection. The app also works offline as well, providing you with a listing of spots within a designated area.
Smart Traveler. (iOS, Android) A service provided by the U.S. Department of State, the app provides you with up-to-date information about the country you are visiting, contact information for embassies and consulates, and alerts and warnings on dangerous conditions around the world. You’ll want to register your trip within the app and enter your itinerary. If an alert is issued when you are traveling, you’ll be notified of potential problems you may encounter in your travels.
Streaming Video Services. One thing I noticed when traveling overseas is that your television options are limited—I got really tired of watching CNN International and BBC, which is why Hulu Plus (iOS, Android, Windows) came in handy. I was able to catch up on network shows I had missed, with most shows being released a day after their original airdate. Other good streaming apps include Netflix (iOS, Android, Windows), Vudu (iOS, Android) and HBO GO (iOS, Android). To use these services, you’ll want to make sure that (1) you have a strong Wi-Fi connection—in some hotel rooms, the signal just isn’t good enough; and (2) you are actually able to access these services. Some of them are only designed to work within the U.S., and others might be banned by the country you’re visiting (e.g., China). Using a VPN like proXPN, mentioned above, will typically solve this problem. I was able to watch U.S. television from China with no issues.
These apps helped me out while I was traveling, but I have only scratched the surface of the travel apps that are available on all the mobile platforms. Let’s continue the conversation. Do you have a favorite travel app you’d like to share? Send me a tweet @TomMighell or a message on Google+ at +TomMighell. I’ll compile all the recommendations I get and post them on the Law Technology Today blog (lawtechnologytoday.org).