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Archive for the ‘travel’ tag

September 18th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Road Trip Apps – Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Hitting the road for a long drive? Used to be you brought along an atlas, some snacks, some music and prayers for a smooth trip.

These days, there are some great tools on your smartphone that can help make the trip easier and more hassle free than ever.

First, there’s Google Maps (Android). For navigation, it’s amazing. Enter your destination, turn on the navigation and get turn by turn instructions either visually or with audio. Turn on the Traffic layer and you can keep an eye on delays and bottlenecks. On our recent trip, we were able to avoid hours sitting in traffic due to a closed interstate by rerouting on some back roads.

Getting low on gas? Type “gas station” in the search box and GMaps will pinpoint all the stations on your route. GasBuddy can help you find the best prices. This is great for avoiding the dreaded “30 miles till next exit” when you’re low on fuel, bladder control, or wakefulness.

For lodging, type in “hotels” and see what’s around. Each map pin has information about the hotels so you can find the brand you want and get additional information. To get rating information, TripAdvisor is great for finding out the particular pros and cons and getting good insight from past travelers. The Travelocity app is also feature rich for this. If you’re a frequent guest at a particular hotel, make sure you’ve downloaded their app for quick and easy reservations. And if you’re near a large city a newer app called HotelTonight can provide deals on last minute hotel reservations.

Hungry? If you’ve got Siri, simply tell her that you are or what you feel like eating and let her come up with some suggestions. Or you can use Yelp, Good Food Near You, or Foodspotting (see my post from a couple of weeks ago) to see what’s nearby.

And if you want to explore the area you’re in beyond gas stations, hotels and restaurants, try Roadside America (iphone $2.99) for tips on finding the fun, funny and absurd attractions nearby. Or let Woofound match you up with your favorite activities away from home.

When I was 15, I went on a family road trip cross country armed with a box full of AAA TripTiks and hotel catalogs and spent a lot of time stopping and checking hotels and restaurants. Before cell phones (forget smartphones), it was a lot of hit or miss, with enough misses to write a book.

My husband, daughter and I recently spent 11 days on the road covering over 2700 miles. As the designated navigator and mission control, I used all of these apps to ensure the trip went as smooth as possible, with mostly hits. It was a blast.


You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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September 4th, 2012 at 7:10 am

See Food and Eat It With Foodspotting

Where should we eat? If you’ve asked that question and gotten a lot of “I don’t knows”, you know how hard it is to come up with restaurant ideas sometimes.

On my family’s recent road trip, we were faced with this decision in every new place we visited. So of course I turned to my smartphone apps for help. I found a really good one called Foodspotting. It’s a simple to use app that provides menu item photos that people have posted from restaurants near your location. Seeing a luscious plate of ribs or a yummy red velvet cupcake can do wonders in helping you pick a restaurant.

Foodspotting allows you to view your options based on Specials, Best Rated, what’s Nearby, and the Latest Additions. You can participate by choosing items you Want, Tried or Loved. You can also add your own photos to help build up the database. While we were traveling I added a BBQ Taco Plate and a Shrimp Burger that I loved.

You can also do a search on a specific item and see if any local restaurants feature them. Got a yen for sliders? Foodspotting can help you find them.

Foodspotting is not as comprehensive as Yelp, which is a great app that I use all the time. But sometimes I don’t want to read a dozen reviews. I just want a quick look at what’s available. A picture can really get the mouth watering.

Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it. I have to go now. I’m heading out to try a breakfast trifle at a local restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try for months. The photo looks so good I just have to try it.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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August 21st, 2012 at 8:46 am

Woofound – A Good Times Concierge on Your Phone

Looking for ideas for something to do today? There’s a nifty new app called Woofound that can offer suggestions for restaurants, fitness, entertainment and other activities based on your user profile and your location.

I’m currently on a road trip with my family we were looking for some daytime activities in a new city. I downloaded this app to my iPad (it’s also available on iPhone, Android is coming soon) to see how it works.

The first step is to create an account and go through the Play function which shows you photos of foods, sports, and other activity types. You simply click on Me or Not Me and the app will then suggest local places to go or things to do that fit your profile. And the more you “Play”, the better it gets at choosing appropriate activities.

This way you can avoid suggestions for jousting, hookah lounges or English cuisine if they’re not your thing.

Once you find an attraction or destination that you like you can then “Plan” it. You can set a day and time, find it on a map, go to the website or call the site. And if you want, you can share it with your friends on Woofound or Facebook.

You can also search by category and price range to narrow your options.

I think this is a very cool app. I found a museum, a bike rental, a designer consignment shop and a restaurant for dinner without having to search various websites or travel guides. Once you’ve established your profile, let Woofound play matchmaker for you. It’s quick and easy.

If you’re the travel agent for your family or the social director for your pals, Woofound is a keeper.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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February 2nd, 2012 at 5:01 am

Why Traveling is Important if You’re Raising Bilingual Children

I love to travel. I always say that if I had a lot of money, that’s pretty much all I would do.

My parents are to blame for that because since I can remember, they always loved to travel too. Sometimes they would take us with them and others they’d go by themselves.

Now that I’m a mom myself and I’m raising my kids bilingual, traveling has taken a whole different role. Check out some reasons why traveling is so important for bilingual/bicultural kids:

  • Full time exposure to Spanish. When I took my children back to Peru last year, they spent a lot of time just playing with their cousins. They were immersed in Spanish all day long and surrounded with children their own age, which means they got to extend their ‘play’ vocabulary in Spanish. My daughter also figured out that while we all speak Spanish, there are many variations of the language and we have many different names for the same word.
  • Showing them your heritage culture is way better than telling them about it. Culture entails many things, such as language, food, music, traditions and, in the case of Latinos, family. Instead of telling my children about all these, I like to give them the opportunity to experience it all first hand. When we traveled to Peru last year, I was thrilled to see they loved every aspect of it. From our very, very loud family reunions to the two days we spent at the beach doing what I always did as child there: nothing.
  • A chance to stock up on all things Spanish. Before becoming a mom, I used to spend tons of money at the bookstore whenever I traveled to any Spanish speaking country. Now I do that but for children’s books in Spanish. There’s an awesome bookstore only 3 blocks from my grandmother’s apartment in Lima, so it is always one of the first places we visit! I end up spending a fortune, but we always leave happy!
  • An opportunity to expand their horizons. Again, the only way to truly understand this, is to live it, even if it’s for a short period of time. I think that one of the bonuses of going back to Peru has been that my children have seen with their own two eyes why it’s important to speak Spanish and how this is a language spoken in many other countries of the world.

Where have you traveled with your children? 

Roxana A. Soto is the Editorial Director of SpanglishBaby, the go-to site for parents raising bilingual children. Her first book, based on her blog, will be published in the Fall 2012.

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November 15th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Three Ways to Send a Digital Card Through the (Real) Mail

Back in July, I wrote a post on a very cool app, Postcardly, that enabled you to turn a digital photo into a postcard that you could send through the mail.

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of trying out two other apps that also use the postal service for mailing postcards or cards.

The first, Postcards on the Run, has the same idea as Postcardly but it’s smartphone based. Take a photo with your phone, run the POTR, app, and send to the recipient. This is really handy, because you can do it all right from the phone, on the spot. It’s quick and really easy. It also has a fun feature that lets you use your finger to sign your name. A nice personalized touch. You can even add a map of the location of your photo if you want.

I also hear that the next release of POTR will include a scented feature. You’ll be able to add a smell to your card, such as bubble gum, ocean breeze, chocolate, holiday spice, and more. So your postcards from the beach can not only look beachy but smell that way too. How cool is that?

The third app I tried is Cards. Since I don’t have an iPhone I downloaded it to my iPad instead. This app is a little different because it is for creating actual cards with envelopes as opposed to postcards. There is a nice, but so far somewhat limited, selection of cards (thank you, birthday, wish you were here) that you can personalize with a photo from your device. Cards prints it on high quality letterpress paper and sends it to your recipient via U.S. mail. Each card is $2.99 (U.S) or $4.99 (international).

I’ve tried all three and while they are all similar, here’s a rundown of the finer distinctions of each.

Postcardly is for sending your pc based photos. Once you’ve downloaded from your camera you can pick and choose your best shots and send via an email. After the initial free 3 cards, you can buy 20 cards for $19.99. The quality is great. They’re printed with a matte finish on heavy card stock. No international option yet, but it’s coming soon.

Postcard on the Run is great for sending your photos right from your phone. Snap the shot, run the app, and send. Prices range from $.99 to a $1.49. (add .20 cents for international). The photo quality is also great. It’s a glossier finish, also on good quality card stock. I like the signature feature. I also like being able to send internationally.

Cards is a nice app for sending an actual card rather than a postcard. The selection is not extensive yet so you might not find just the right card for the occasion, but the card quality is really nice. They even include a piece of tissue paper inside the card. An elegant touch. The photo quality is not as good, since it’s printing the image on the card paper rather than photo paper, but the card itself was beautiful.

All three of these are really great apps. I find it interesting how often I now think of sending a postcard or card through the mail now that these apps have made it so easy. I can’t really remember the last time I bought and sent a traditional postcard. But I can tell you, I’ll be sending a digital postcard from my weekend visit with a friend right after I’m done with this post.

And if this catches on, I think the U.S. Postal service might be thanking the creators of these apps too.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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July 19th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Old Fashioned Postcards, the New Fashioned Way

Here’s an interesting combination of old and new. There’s a service available called Postcardly that takes your digital picture and turns it into a postcard that it then mails to your selected recipient.

So while you’re away on your summer vacation, you can use Postcardly to send out “wish you were here” cards with photos of your fun times. This is a really useful application, especially if you have loved ones who aren’t online.

Here’s how it works. You take a photo that you want to share with Aunt Alda in the nursing home. You set up Aunt Alda’s mailing information in your Postcardly address book. You create an email with a message that you’d like to appear on the postcard and attach your photo. You email it to [email protected] Postcardly prints the photo with your message on the back and mails it to your recipient via US Mail.

The site is still in beta, but when you sign up you get your first 3 postcards free. The options include $4.99 a month for 5 postcards, $9.99 a month for 15 postcards, or a one-time charge of $19.99 for 20 prepaid postcards. What’s really great is that even if you’re overseas, there’s no extra charge to send postcards back home. Although sending them from here to overseas isn’t an option quite yet.

This is such a cool idea. Why send a generic postcard of the Grand Canyon, when you can send a photo of your family at the Grand Canyon? Aunt Alda will love this.

Thanks to Cool Mom Tech for this one.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.


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July 13th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Don’t Forget the Dog

So last  year at this time, my family was planning a trip to my stepson’s wedding in Seattle. Despite dire warnings from friends and family, we packed up Bessie (our “mature” minivan), shoe horned all six of us into the car in Chicago and hit the road, taking in a half dozen National Parks along the way. It was a great trip, with minimal bloodshed.

Planning for such a momentous trip took some real family engineering. My husband had the brilliant idea of shipping our dress clothes out to Seattle so we wouldn’t have to squeeze them into the car. Since we would be traveling every day, instead of packing individual suitcases per family member, I packed one suitcase per night with everyone’s stuff. When we went through all six suitcases, it was time to do laundry. I tell you, it was a stoke of genius.

As my son toted the last suitcase down so my husband could pack the car-top carrier, I turned around to see Hazel, our Wheaton Terrier, staring at me with her big brown eyes.

We had packed, bought our snacks, plotted our route, charged our electronics, and changed the oil in the car. We had not, however, made arrangements for the dog. We toyed briefly with the idea of taking her with us, but soon nixed it. Too much driving in the heat of summer.

Despite being in the pet business (our store actually boards other animals, but not dogs), we have yet to find a satisfactory solution for own dog-boarding needs. Now we were scrambling at the last minute. I do not recommend this strategy, as many reputable boarders are booked months in advance. In the end, we boarded Hazel with our groomer — a wonderful woman who is very good with dogs. Hazel was not too happy, though, and it took weeks for her to get back to normal.

Recently, our neighbors hired two of my boys as pet sitters. Their dogs were able to stay at home, and my boys shared the responsibility of feeding and watering them, walking them twice a day and playing with them in the afternoon. I think we will try to make similar arrangements next time. If you do decide to board your dog, here are some tips from the American Kennel Club for making it a good experience.

Susan Bearman also writes at Two Kinds of PeopleMike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds and The Animal Store Blogas well as being a regular contributor to The Chicago Moms and Technorati.


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July 12th, 2011 at 5:00 am

Packing for a trip? There’s help for that.

There’s nothing worse than getting to a destination and realizing you forgot something. Sometimes it’s toothpaste. Other times it’s Bubby, the favorite toy. If you’re lucky and realize it’s absence early in the journey, you turn around and go fetch him. If not, bedtime with a bereft child awaits.

Admit it. You would (or have) turn(ed) around to fetch the beloved companion.

As our family prepares for our annual camping trip, it’s time to consult “the lists”. Unlike vacations where you stay at a house or hotel, camping brings packing to another level. The lists are absolutely necessary, and you MUST check repeatedly, lest you be stuck in the woods without a necessity.

Now paper lists have served us quite well over the years. Our friend Joe supplied us with a great list years ago, so we usually always have the important tools, supplies, and necessities. But what about an app that does this and possibly more? So I went looking for an app that might make this task a little easier.

I rounded up some candidates from both iTunes and the Android App Market and did a little research. Here’s a sampling.

Pack the Bag and uPackingList (both free versions) start you out with a fairly good list of items categorized by type (clothes, accessories, hygiene, gadgets, etc). They also include the Before you Go category which reminds you of things like turning off appliances, informing neighbors, and things you always seem to second guess yourself about just as you pass the point of no return.

The best part is the ability to customize the lists and add new categories and items so you can get specific about your particular packing tasks. Or add things for the next time. As you start packing, you check off each item and can then filter the list for packed/unpacked status. Very helpful.

I also came across an app called Pack & Go ($0.99 and $2.99 versions) which I didn’t get a chance to try out. They also have a Baby Pack & Go version ($0.99) that, if you have an infant, I’m sure will come in very handy very often.

I then tried Packing Pro ($2.99) which has the features of the others but also includes import/export, sharing, and advanced customization features.

uPackingList is out on the Android, but not the others yet. Two free Android apps include Packing List Lite, which provides an expandable list of categories to create and edit your list. Easy enough to use and customize. Travel Checklist seemed a little more basic but very straightforward. It gives you a list and as you select each item it moves it to the packed items list. It is also customizable. Both offer paid versions that provide more features.

Any one of these apps can be a huge help in keeping organized and sane when preparing for a trip. And hopefully help you avoid one of those stomach churning omissions that you know is going to be painful.

I’m a fan.

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