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tips

Afar.com & the Afar app

October 16, 2015

Travel junky that I am, I get my fix between trips, by planning our next trip. Prior to our last journey, I discovered Afar. You may be familiar with the magazine, which is lovely and awesome for getting destination ideas, but what I found to be super helpful for the actual planning of our trip was their website and app (and it’s free!).

We made 90% of our hotel and restaurant selects for our Portugal trip based on their recommendations, and there was not a dud in the bunch. We definitely felt like there were places we never would have found without Afar because they had insider/local tips that were less generic than your average travel guide.

Simply do a search on the site for your destination of choice, and you’ll get a list of recommendations that fall under the categories of Eat, Drink, Stay, Shop or Do. So if you’re looking for a hotel, for example, just click on the “stay” tab and you’ll get a list of just hotels. Then you can save the ones that interest you by creating a Trip Plan. Once you’ve got your list all set with where you want to stay and ideas for things you want to do, restaurants, etc, you can download your list(s) to the app and have access to everything, including all of your locations of interest pinned on a map, without having to rely on wifi.

This system was a game changer for us, and one we’ll definitely be using for all of our trips from now on.

tips

Tom Tom app

September 4, 2015

If you’ve ever spent a day driving in Philadelphia, you’ll agree that making it home in one piece is a challenge. That said, driving in a completely different country may not be something you would even consider. But honestly, the freedom to explore at your own leisure is the best way get around outside of cities.

To be honest, fifteen years ago, when we first drove internationally, we were a bit nervous. Not so much with the actual driving because, again, we’ve survived Philly. But more with the logistics. Things like navigation, paying tolls, and even how gas stations work gave us pause. Nowadays, we rent cars all the time without a second thought. Sure, our driving frequency has helped instill more courage, but really it’s the technology that has given us the confidence we once lacked.

When renting a car these days some rental companies will give you the option to add a GPS and even a toll device. In Portugal their EZ-Pass system is called Via Verde. It was €1.50 per day plus the actual toll costs. The tolls were frequent on the highways and not cheap. Having the Via Verde tag saved us the trouble of attempting to speak Portuguese to a toll operator or carrying around a wad of cash.

Renting a GPS, however, might not be the best way to go for navigation. In Belgium we spent 20 minutes in the parking garage trying to figure out how to change the language from Dutch to English. Additionally, renting a unit isn’t cheap. In Portugal the going rate was  €125/week.

There’s a better way to go if you have a iPhone. It turns out, iPhones don’t require data usage for a GPS position. They only require data to pull maps from the internet as you move. But if you download the maps in advance, then you can navigate without using data or being dependent on wifi. We downloaded the Tom Tom app with the Southern Europe maps before we left the States. There was a one time cost of $59 for the app. When you get abroad, just launch the app with your data turned off and you can navigate for free.

Additionally, you can use the app to help you get around on foot when you reach your destination. Another neat function the Tom Tom app offers is to navigate by photo. Any photo you take on an iPhone is GPS tagged. Pass a great restaurant or town you want to hit another day? Snap a photo as you pass it so you can find you way back to it at a later time. Forget the address of the place you are staying? Dig up a photo you took of your new digs when you checked in and the app will help you get back. It’s a game changer for navigation and since maps are sold as areas, should you go anywhere else in the area your maps cover (say Germany, in our case), it won’t cost you a dime.