Boston to Orlando with an iPhone

Last week I traveled to Orlando, Florida from Boston, Ma. I managed every aspect of the trip, from packing to sending a thank-you card, with my iPhone. I rarely touched paper and never felt unprepared or wanting. Here’s how I managed a quickie vacation with an iPhone (and you can, too).

Planning

I’d be staying with my parents (more on that in a future episode of 11 Minutes) so finding a hotel wasn’t a concern. My initial needs were:
1. Write a packing list
2. Find flights
3. Find bus transportation
4. Research the destination

There are many ways to accomplish these tasks with an iPhone, including several apps. I used Kayak, Evernote and a destination-specific app I’ll describe later.

Hardware

There are two pieces of hardware I need. The first is a backup battery case. It’s absolutely essential. My choice is the Mophie Juice Pack ($79.95). It’s sturdy, indicates its available power via LEDs and has an on/off switch, so you don’t turn it on until you need it. The Juice Pack leaves all the ports and buttons available and charges up with or without the iPhone inside. I typically switch it on when my iPhone’s battery hits 20%, and get it back up to 80%.

I also bring an AC charger for the car. Nothing devours an iPhone battery like running a GPS app, so a charger is essential. Save the Juice Pack for later.

Now, onto Kayak.

Find A Flight With Kayak

Kayak (free, universal) is my favorite iPhone travel app. It’s so comprehensive that it deserves a post of its own. For now, I’ll describe how I used it during this trip.

First, I use Kayak to book a flight. Launch the app, tap Flights and enter details like or originating airport, terminal airport, date, number of passengers and price range (I’m an “economy” man). When that’s done, tap Search Flights.

Kayak polls several top travel sites and airlines for flights that match your criteria. The results can be filtered by airline, number of stops, airport, price and duration. You can also sort by cost, duration and departure time (leaving soonest).

Tap a potential winner for all the details, like flight number, fare code, type of aircraft and number of open seats. Finally, email the details to yourself or a travel partner, call the airline or book it right then and there.

If you booked your flight outside of the app, create a free Kayak account and email any confirmation emails to your special Kayak address. The details will appear in the “My Trips” section. The app does a stellar job of parsing the information into something useable.

Create A Packing List

I also use Kayak to create a packing list. There are many apps that can do this, but I like having things in one place. Kayak offers four list templates by default: Family, Business, Romantic and General. Each features items that one might take on a family trip, business trip, etc. You can edit these or create new ones as your needs dictate.

Finding a Bus Ticket

I live in the boonies, so I must take a bus to the airport. My local bus line isn’t the most technically advanced, but that’s all right. The schedule is available as a PDF, which I put into Evernote (free, universal), tagged “Florida.” Now I’ve got the schedule ready to browse anytime, even if I lose my Internet connection.

At this point, I must touch paper. The bus line sells tickets with no electronic option.

Finally, I put copies of email confirmation from the airline into Evernote “Florida” notebook. It’s overkill, but it helps me rest easier. Now it’s off to the airport.

En Route

Kayak does a great job of monitoring flight information, but there are alternatives. My favorite is Flight Update Pro ($9.99). This app lets you create a “trip,” and each trip can have several flights. Flight information is very legible, and includes terminal and gate information, weather report flight maps and even a seating chart. You can store or confirmation number, seat number and any relevant notes.

The sharing options are great. You can send an email or a SMS to a travel partner with a tap. There’s little to type, as the messages are pre-populated with flight information and status. Kayak offers easy emails, but not SMS. It’s a simple way to say, “I’m here” with almost no effort.

There are other flight apps, and I’ve tried many. Honorable mention goes to Flight Card ($4.99) by Sylion. It’s less capable than the others, but every good looking and certainly well-suited to those who fly less frequently or aren’t as demanding of their flight apps. It’s another good choice.

Driving

After a night at my parents’, it was time to drive to the destination, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. I’d need a turn-by-turn GPS app for the two-hour drive, and MotionX GPS Drive ($0.99) is my choice. It’s been my go-to GPS app for years. The low cost and reliability (it’s never led me astray) make it a winner. Audible turn-by-turn navigation is available as an in-app purchase of $2.99 for 30 days. Buy it when you need it, don’t when you don’t.

At The Destination

Park Map

I love amusement parks. Who doesn’t? Many are creating apps for customers and some third-party developers are, too. Universal’s Islands Of Adventure – GPS Map with HP ($0.99) is a nice example of the latter. It provides a map of the venue with GPS directions, as well as points of interest like popular attractions, restaurants, restrooms and more. It’s not all-inclusive (many Disney apps include ride wait times, for example), but it is better than those oversized paper maps that typically get torn or lost.

Taking Photos

I like Camera+ by Tap Tap Tap (on sale for $0.99 as of this writing) for several reasons, especially the editing tools and option to keep images out of the camera roll. As an iCloud subscriber, I use Photo Stream, which sends images to the cloud and compatible devices when connected to Wi-Fi. Of course, I don’t want every image to be shared this way, and Camera+ lets me pick just the good ones.

Making Notes

I like to write notes when I travel. Memories, restaurants, thoughts, stuff to try next time. These end up in Evernote but Evernote is too time-consuming for quick capture. Instead, I use Drafts. This $0.99 app is as fast as pen and paper with fantastic sharing options. Send a note to email or Twitter easily. It even supports Markdown. I love it.

Traveling Home

It’s always such a bummer. Why can’t I have fun all the time? Until I’m independently wealthy, that’s not going to happen. So, here’s how I wrap things up.

Photos

Photos are a lot of fun to review. Once I’ve identified the keepers, I save them to the camera role and hop onto my parents’ Wi-Fi network. Photo stream sends them to my Mac at home, so my wife can review the fun before I even return.

Thank-you

I use Apple’s Cards app (free) to create a thank-you card and send it to my parents while riding the bus. It looks great and I know they’ll love it.

For Next Time

Memories, notes and so on are transferred to Evernote. The next time I’m on Orlando, I’ll know to visit the Brooklyn Pickle for a good Ruben. Likewise, I’ll check in on Winter the next time I’m in Clearwater.

There’s a lot more you can do when running a vacation, business trip or other getaway with an iPhone. This was a quick long weekend. I hope yo found something helpful here. The iPhone is an amazing little device.