Saturday, April 9, 2016

Apps make travelling easier - April 8, 2016

My wife was selected more than a year ago as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher. She is in Israel for four months to study how they educate young children with autism and share her knowledge of the subject. The week of spring break, my adult son and I flew over to visit her.

Of course I used technology to make the trip easier and also learned a lot about technology in Israel. What I learned is useful for domestic trips as well. Lessons learned from our whirlwind trip will be inspiration for the next few columns.

I created a folder on the front page of my phone for apps I needed on the trip. The first one was TripIt.

Tripit is a “freemium” service, meaning it is free but with a paid level giving you more features that track your itinerary for you. Once you setup a TripIt account, you simply forward any emails you get from airlines, hotels, rental car companies, etc. and Tripit maintains your itinerary for you. You can track it in its smartphone app. It makes it easy to remember your flight times, gates and other information.

I also added the app from the airline we would be flying. These seem to be constantly improving. We flew on United and its app kept us up-to-date on flight changes and even held our boarding passes for us.

Once in Israel, my wife introduced us to the Moovit app. It turns out that some of the best travel apps are created by Israeli startups. Many of us probably already use Waze, a driving direction app that also allows other drivers to share information about the road, where there are accidents, police and obstacles. Waze is now owned by Google, but it was created by an Israeli team and their offices are still in Tel Aviv. We passed the Google, Microsoft and Intel offices north of Tel Aviv on one of our tours.

The Moovit app works in more than 800 cities in 60 nations. Type in your destination and it gives you the bus, train, ferry and other rapid transit options you have to get there. My wife has been using it since she arrived in Haifa a month ago. She said she appreciates that it tracks where she is while she is on the bus and alerts her as to when she should push the button to alert the driver that she wants the next stop.

One of the options when using Moovit is that it offers a taxi as an option. Moovit uses the Gett Taxi technology to do that. Gett Taxi also has its own app. The app works something like the Uber app but with taxis that subscribe to the service. It finds the closest taxi and tells it where you want to go. Then it tells you when the taxi has accepted the trip and lets you know how soon the taxi will arrive to you, with almost frightening precision.

Gett is in only a few cities now. In the U.S. it works in New York City.

Almost all the taxis and tour buses we were on used Waze to navigate. The national pride in that app is immense. I used it and Google Maps, with which I was more familiar, to track our progress around the city. I had the “Your Timeline” feature turned on in Google Maps. It plotted our path each day. It was fun to review our many travels around the country. It even tracked our walking tour through Jerusalem, but without 100 percent accuracy. Cell coverage in the Old City is not perfect, as you might expect.

I have an Android Watch, and my wife has an Apple Watch. We enjoyed comparing the number of steps each recorded as we took tours each day. If you have a Fitbit or other health tracker, be sure to take it on vacation with you. While I normally only walk 4,000 steps a day, I had a streak going that week. I hit almost 14,000 steps the day we toured Masada. My fitness app had been quite disappointed with me upon my return. I’m not walking nearly as much.

Effective use of our phones required local phone coverage. And travelling with your phone as your primary camera also required some adjustments.

This week’s link post at will have links to my online travelogue on the trip if you are interested, and my wife’s blog on her impressions of Israel and the professional experiences she is having there.

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