5 Ways Travel Has Been Transformed

I was describing my recent trip to Colombia to a friend and he looked at me in amazement.  “Wow, look at you, Cathy. Using Uber and Airbnb. You are so 21st century.” I’m thinking, “Me? Cutting edge? Heck no.” This is the way travel has been transformed in the last five years. It’s not as intimidating to travel to a foreign country in today’s world of technology. As long as there is an app and a cellular connection, you are connected to easier travel. You too can take on the world.


Thirty years ago, when I traveled to South America, we did everything very old school. We stayed with family or walked up to a hotel with a vacancy sign. We stood in line at a travel agency in Caracas to purchase plane tickets to Rio de Janeiro. My first husband bartered with cab drivers to get the cheapest price to our hotel. We would refrain from speaking English in the cab so that we had the most direct route to the restaurant.


Travel has transformed and this is how:


  1. Uber. This is one of the single most transformative modes of transportation for a very simple reason. You don’t necessarily need to know the language of the city you are in to travel where you want to go. All you have to do is plug in the address in the app. You don’t necessarily need to talk to the driver once they pick you up. In Medellín, the address system was incomprehensible to me. Our address was Calle 8 #42-32. I had no idea how that was figured out, but the Uber driver got us there without fail. You also don’t need to have cash, which helps to not have to exchange all sorts of money into pesos or euros. No wandering around a bus station trying to get on the right bus. I have been in Ubers in Miami, Paris and Medellín, and about 80% of the time, the driver did not speak English. We always still arrived where we needed to go without incident.


  1. Airbnb. My first experience with Airbnb was when my friend, Susannah, found a wonderful apartment in Paris. This app/service lets you rent a room, apartment or house practically anywhere in the world. I found a great place in Medellín that was close to shopping and restaurants. I find they are best for extended travel because you can set up shop for breakfast and lunch (maybe even dinner). We could decide if we needed Wifi, laundry, number of beds, and other extraneous creature comforts. Having coffee first thing in the morning without having to dress or take a shower is so much more relaxing. It also takes the guesswork out of a vacation in terms of timing and figuring out when everyone needs to get up. This is a huge bonus with adult kids who have their own schedule.


  1. Airline apps. I have the Delta, American and Copa (Air Panama Airlines) app on my phone. The way this is transformative is that you can check-in on your phone for your flight. This saves not having to have a physical ticket in your possession for your entire trip. I can remember when my first husband and I hopscotched around South America in the mid-1980’s. We had to manage a slew of tickets. Some of these apps even have enhancements. The Delta app tracks where your bag is. I recently traveled two days after a snow storm out of my home airport of Raleigh-Durham. I could check the status of all the flights to Atlanta for two days before. I knew that the flight I was taking had been delayed the day before but not cancelled. This was reassuring before I headed to the airport in ice and snow.


  1. Trip Advisor. This app gives you reviews, hours of operation, addresses, and pricing for local attractions and restaurants. So when we were in the Plaza de Botero in Medellín, we could find a local coffee shop with the best reviews and use the Map section to walk to it. There were a few glitches with one or two restaurants not being open but for now, I’ll chalk that up to it being a holiday week and Trip Advisor being unaware. It’s also helpful when deciding between one attraction or another to have them based on crowd sourced reviews. So one attraction might have 5 stars (the highest) but only 30 reviews, whereas another has 4½ starts but 2000 reviews. It also shows the latest reviews first and on my app. They were in English.


  1. WhatsApp. This is an app to send texts and calls without cellular service. My daughter and I had cellular coverage while on the trip to Medellín. But we were able to contact friends and family both in Colombia and at home without having to use cellular service. This was so critical. An Uber driver or two contacted us using it, as well as several friends and family. It’s the way to communicate. You just need to make sure you have Wifi. It is popularly used in countries outside of the U.S. now. You should make sure you have this app before you travel. With more smart devices than people in the world, you need to make sure you are connected.


I feel like I stumbled on all of this in the last year and all of these are available to check out in your App Store, even if you don’t travel overseas. There is also Lyft, a cheaper and safer version of Uber, available in the USA but not overseas, as far as I know. Make sure you are all app’ed up before you travel and it will make your trip so much more enjoyable and manageable.

6 or 7 More Apps no Traveler Should be Without

I wrote a post a few months ago about apps for travel and received several more suggestions from some loyal readers! So I decided to road test a few and I have several to pass onto you. I don’t want to recommend what I haven’t tried out myself. Some of the apps I was already using and it took a nudge from a reader that it was an appropriate travel app. Actually, I kind of hit my forehead and said, duh, of course you have to have the Uber app.6 or 7 More Apps No Traveler should be without

Since my last post on travel, my husband has been using Waze and has been using it every day on his drive to and from work. They have updated the app to send ETAs to others on the app. I have to say it is fantastic to receive the ETA on my phone and know that he’ll be home in 22 minutes, shows the route he is on and will update the ETA when he stops as a gas station or is delayed in some other way. If I had a child in high school behind the wheel of a car, I would mandate the use of this app. No texting or calling while behind the wheel is necessary!

So here are my additional 6 (or 7) Must Have apps:

1. Uber. This is like a personal chauffeur service that is amazing and usually inexpensive. When you open the app it will get you a quote on how much it will cost to ride from your current location (say a hotel) to another location (perhaps a restaurant). If you decide the rate is acceptable, it gives you an ETA for the car to arrive, a description of the car and photo of the driver and follows the car as it comes to your location. The other amazing thing is that it automatically charges a credit card on file, so you don’t have to mess with swiping your credit card when you arrive at your destination. I love Uber but there has been some recent press and controversy over competition with taxis. I was recently in San Antonio and it was banned. So verify it’s available in the city you are traveling too.

2. GasBuddy. Have you ever been in the middle of eastern Georgia on Interstate 20 looking for a gas station? This is the app to have. It shows both by price and distance where the closest or cheapest gas station is. You can also update prices if you pass a gas station that has the incorrect price in the app and sort by type of gas you need such as diesel or premium. So if I’m low on gas I can check if I should wait and fill up in the next town and save 20 cents or stop at the next station. As a woman traveling alone in a car, this is a must have app.

3. Fly Delta. I’m not sure how long this app has been available but a passenger on a recent flight told me about it. Delta previously just had an app that showed flight status, arrival and departure gates. This new app is amazing. Now you can check in, have your boarding pass and find out your flight status. The minute you land it notifies you of your arrival gate and departure gate when making a connection. It also tracks your bag (you can rest easy that it’s on the same plane as you!) and lets you know the local weather. Phenomenal. That’s a lot of flight info packed into an app!

4. WebMD Allergy. I am allergic to dust, grass, and trees. I was suffering badly before a recent trip and found out this was going to be a really bad allergy season on the East coast because of the exceptionally cold winter. I searched for an allergy app and this one is terrific. It notifies me first thing in the morning if tree pollen is high and gives tips on what to do. You can search the city you are traveling to and find out whether there are any allergy issues there. I was relieved when I went to San Antonio because they had less allergens.

5. HHonors. This is Hiltons app which includes a whole host of hotels from Hampton Inns to Waldorf Astoria. This app has recently been improved because you can now check in using the app. You can even select which floor and room you want to have. In addition, at some hotels you can make requests for upgrades or items for your arrival. This app is invaluable if you ever get delayed beyond your control. I have booked a room after midnight on the DC beltway and used my honors points to pay for it.

6. Red Herring and 7 Little Words. These are just fun apps to play while on an airplane or at the airport. They start with 50 free games but you will have to pay for additional games eventually (because these games are addictive). Red Herring is about grouping 16 words into 3 groups while leaving aside 4 “Red Herring” words. It’s nice because you can set the difficulty. So if you are brain dead you can select “easy” and feel very superior by our grouping prowess. 7  Little Words is a cross between word find and crossword puzzles. The best part of this game is the smiley face when you put together all 7 little words.

Ok. So there you have it. 6 (actually 7) more apps to try out on your next trip across the country or across town. What apps do you travel with?