A good vacation, like so many other things in life, will be more successful with ample planning. Your iPhone is more than up to the task! In this section, I’ll explain how to back up important information before you leave (and retrieve it if disaster strikes), pack your things in an orderly way and finally find tickets for a plane, a train and a hotel.
Why use an iPhone for these tasks? There are several reasons. My favorite is the wealth of beautiful, useful and convenient apps that are available. The travel industry has embraced Apple’s pocket-sized computer and we, the travelers, benefit. It’s so very easy to find a hotel, flight or bus when it’s convenient for us. Don’t want to pay a lot? Finding bargains with an app is easy, too. Plus, dedicated apps are so much easier to use than starting from scratch with Google.
Also, skipping email and printed tickets means less “stuff” to carry, loose and accidentally rip or destroy. There’s no fishing for “which pocket or case did I put that in” when the answer is, “It’s just here on my phone.” It’s a tremendous convenience. So, let’s get started by performing a good, reliable backup.
Perform a Backup
Before you leave for vacation, it’s a great idea to back up your iPhone. It’s likely that you won’t be able to do so while you’re away, and possible that your iPhone could be lost, stolen or damaged on the road. While most App Store purchases can be replaced for free, your pictures, home videos and certain app data cannot. Performing a backup before you leave means you’ll be able to perform a clean restoration, if necessary, when you return home.
You can opt to store a backup on your computer via iTunes, or on Apple’s iCloud server. To make your choice, open the Settings app, tap iCloud and then tap Storage and Backup. To store your backups to iCloud, move the iCloud Backup slider to the “On” position. Otherwise, leave it off.
It’s also a good idea to export your contacts to a separate file, just to be safe. There’s a utility called My Contacts Backup that can export your iPhone contacts as a CSV (Excel) file which can then be printed. It also will backup to a VCF file, which can be imported to another iOS device or Contacts on the Mac.
That’s it. Now you can rest assured that you’ve got a full backup of your iPhone stored safely away. If you need to restore your iPhone to the state it held before you left, you can.
Create a Packing List
Few things are as satisfying as scratching something off of a list. Your iPhone lets you ditch the pencil and create an electronic list to use on the go. There are many list apps in the App Store, and I encourage you to conduct a search with the terms “List” and “Packing.” In the meantime, here are a few apps that work well for me.
Drafts by Agile Tortoise is the closest thing I’ve found to paper on the App Store. When launched, it presents a text field and a keyboard. Simply start typing. There’s no title to create, no tags to think up and no unnecessary fiddling. You can view your collection of notes at any time and even search the full collection for any term they contain. Best practice: The first line of your note will become the title, so go with something descriptive, like “NYC Packing List” and then hit return.
Drafts is simple yet powerful. You can act on your lists in several ways, including sharing them via email, Twitter or text message. You can also send them to Dropbox. This app is so fast and easy, I use it for note-taking and list creating often. Once a note is no longer needed (say, when packing is complete), simply swipe to delete it.
I’ll mention Kayak several times this month, and for good reason. It’s a convenient and versatile app for travelers. Besides booking transportation and hotels, Kayak lets you create shopping and packing lists. Its approach is unique: list templates are populated with items you might take on one of several types of trips, family, business, romantic and general. Tap Packing List to find several list templates. It offers a different customizable list for each kind of trip: toys and a teddy bear (family) and business cards and voltage converter (business). Or create your own lists.
It’s nice to have at least some of the items you’ll need already listed, especially if you travel often.
Packing Pro ($2.99)
Those interested in an app specifically made to be a packing list manager should consider Packing Pro by Quinn Genzel. It’s got a huge list of features, and the highlights include iCloud synchronization (keep lists synchronized across iOS devices via Apple’s free iCloud service), Excel-compatible export, a customizable design and powerful search capabilities.
Packing Pro’s real standout feature is the list assistant. Tell the app how many adults are in your party, how many children, the destination and its likely weather and it will create a packing list automatically of items you’ll likely need. I’ve found these lists to be comprehensive and in need of minimal tweaking from me. It’s definitely a time-saving feature.
I’ll admit that I love finding and tracking flights with my iPhone. I can remember the hours I used to spend on the phone and even in front of my computer trying to find a flight. Not to mention scrambling to find my gate and read the information displays at the airport. Now I do all of it with the pocket-sized computer — the iPhone — I keep in my pocket.
In the App Store, conduct a search for “flights” or “airlines” to see more apps. In the meantime, here are some apps that work very well for me.
Apple’s own Passbook app lets you monitor and even board flights quickly and easily. However, you cannot find and book fights with it. I will discuss Passbook and other “en route” tools later this month.
Why, it’s Kayak again! Here’s how I use it to find flights. It’s is as close to a portable travel agent as you’re going to get. It handles everything, from finding a flight to hotels, car rentals, attractions, things to do, and much more. Plus, it looks fantastic on the iPhone. It’s one of my all-time favorite travel apps and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Launch the app, tap Flights and enter details like 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 to view 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, using Kayak.
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 readable form.
Seat Guru by Trip Advisor (free)
Seat Guru lets you search for low airfares, but its real strength is in the 700 seat maps it contains. Covering more than 100 airlines, Seat Guru reveals all sorts of information about the various seats in many different airplanes. You’ll see which seats recline, which are near an exit, the amenities on a given plane and much more. Flight tracking and live updates are included, but it’s really nice to know what you can expect from a multi-hour flight before you confirm your seat. Seat Guru offers a real benefit to air travelers.
Of course there are a huge number of flight apps in the App Store and I urge you to find one you like best. But in my years of experience in flying with my iPhone, Kayak is the way to go. I love it.
Many of the major airlines have apps that allow you to book and track flights. I’ve used apps from Continental/United and Delta, both of which are free. While the selection is limited to that single airline (as opposed to a service like Kayak, which searches across airlines), the airline-specific apps offer additional benefits like paperless check-in. Instead of requiring a printed a boarding pass, these apps provide a QR code that can be read at the airport. Simply scan it as you would a paper boarding pass and be on your way. Having one less thing to fiddle with is a win in my book.
Again, Passbook will help with this.
Planes and Trains
Of course, traveling doesn’t always mean flying. I often travel between Boston and New York City by train. I also take a bus between Boston and Cape Cod. Once again, the iPhone replaces time spent at a desk or on the phone with several handy apps. Here are a few that I enjoy using. There are many more, so be sure to check the App Store and search for “train” or “bus.”
This free app lets me find a train, book a trip and monitor schedules and arrivals/departures as I travel. You can even modify your plans right from the app and explore destination amenities, all from the app. It does offer electronic ticketing, though that service is limited to select cities as of this writing. I’ve used it in Boston and it’s great; simply scan the app at a kiosk and print a ticket to hand to the employee on the train. It’s also nice to see if you’re on schedule or not, and inform anyone who might be waiting for you.
Local Bus Line Apps
There are many apps in the App Store that detail local bus line schedules. I use one called Catch The Bus ($0.99) while in Boston, as it gives details on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority bus schedules. Others include Pocket MUNI ($0.99) for San Francisco, City Transit ($2.99) for New York City and BusMapper Pro ($0.99) for London. Search the store to find one that suits your travel needs.
International Train Apps
The UK’s National Rail has a free, official app called National Rail Enquiries. It provides real-time schedule information for above-ground trains in England, Wales, and Scotland. You can use the app to plan a trip and receive information on disruptions and delays. My favorite feature is an alarm that sounds as your train approaches its destination. So feel free to gaze out the window and daydream…your iPhone will tell you when you’ve arrived!
Finding a Hotel
Unless you’ve got a line on a place to stay, you’ll probably need a hotel room or other paid accommodation. As you may have guessed, your iPhone is up to task of finding one. There are many more, so be sure to check the App Store and search for “hotel.”
Third time is a charm! Kayak is a great way to comparison shop from your iPhone. Finding the perfect place often means finding the right price in addition to location, amenities, etc. Kayak has you covered. To begin, tap Hotels and then enter the pertinent information, like city, check-in and check-out dates, the number of guests and the number of rooms. When that’s all set, tap Search Hotels.
The results screen appears. Kayak will list many matches which you can sort by price, rating or distance. You can also apply various filters on the results to focus in on just what you’re after. Have a brand you really like (or despise)? Eliminate the others (or that one). You can also filter by price, star-ratings and name.
Once you’ve found a room that looks promising, tap it to reveal its detail screen. Kayak will present several options for booking that room, including offers from Orbitz, CheapTickets, Booking.com, HotelClub and more. Finally, read reviews, browse photos, look at the hotel’s location on a map and share information with others via email. It’s extremely comprehensive, easy and good-looking to boot.
Airbnb is a unique accommodation service. Instead of finding hotel rooms that match your criteria, it searches a database of homes, apartments and other accommodations made available by other Airbnb users. The options and prices vary greatly. You can stay alone or with others. Rent a room or a house. Stay for a night or a month.
The iPhone app is very well done. You can search and book with ease. View photos and read reviews from others who’ve stayed at a place you’re considering. There are even last-minute options available for when you need a room as soon as possible. If you’ve got questions, you can send a message directly to the property owner. It’s interesting and often less expensive than a hotel room.
One very nice feature is the “I need a room tonight!” feature. If you’re ever in a dire situation, tap that button and the app finds open rooms that are within your current location.
Much like Kayak, Orbitz will take your proposed itinerary and preferences and search many hotel brands for a room that matches your needs. Not only can you book hotel rooms with Orbitz, it also lets you find flights, rental cars and even plan and execute a whole travel plan, right from the app. Plus it looks great (as you’d expect from an Apple App Hall of Fame inductee). You’ll even find deals that are exclusive to the mobile app. This one is definitely worth checking out.
Trip Advisor (free)
What’s separates Trip Advisor from Orbitz is the crowd-sourced recommendations and ratings. The company has gathered “…over 100 million reviews and opinions” from travelers who use its services. That means you can book a hotel and more, but also find real-world tips on the best restaurants, attractions, hotel rooms, airports and more. Those who like to consider informed information during the booking stage (and who doesn’t?) ought to consider Trip Advisor.
This article is part of a series on traveling with your iPhone. You’ll find the other articles here.