Using mobile apps to find holiday entertainment

The happy holiday memories that you look back on with fondness often come from the events and entertainment that you have experienced.

Whether it’s local musicians playing guitars in a restaurant in Kefalonia, eating and drinking in the beer halls of Munich during Oktoberfest, or listening to a Mozart concert in Vienna, these are memories to last a lifetime.

But how do you find the perfect event suited to you?

Find events and discounts with the Time Out app
One way is to use the Time Out app, which is free for iPhone or Android.  Time Out, as you may know if you live in London, is a respected entertainment listings magazine, first published in 1968: it has a long and distinguished pedigree of highlighting fun things to do.

The app covers the European cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, and Paris. The country of Croatia is also covered, as are the UK cities of London, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, and Manchester. This makes the app worth downloading for use at home as well as abroad.

Categories that you can explore include Things to do this week, Free events this week, Art this week, and Upcoming gigs. You can also book a theatre show, and find restaurants, bars, and pubs nearby.

Each event has a short write-up by Time Out staff, explaining what’s going on and what you can expect. The app gives dates and times for the event. There are also links to event websites, to give you more information. Usefully, there are user reviews, comments, and star ratings, so you can learn what to expect from others who have been to the event.

The app has “Exclusive Offers” too, which sometimes get updated every day. This is well worth a look.

The content changes often, so you can look at the app before you go, to get an idea of things you might like to do, and then check again while you’re on holiday to see if any last minute activities or offers have been added.

Overall, this is a very polished and useful app. If you are visiting any of the places its covers, it’s well worth downloading it, especially since it is free!

TripAdvisor app
While many people associate TripAdvisor more with hotel and restaurant reviews, it also has a good selection of what it calls “Things to Do”.

It has vast coverage, so most places in Europe will have listings. TripAdvisor mostly covers ongoing activities, such as museums, sights, theatres, bike tours, and spas, rather than short-term events such as festivals and carnivals.

Uber: a taxi service on your smartphone

If you’re looking for a cheap alternative to a hire car on your holidays, especially for city breaks, then Uber could be just what you need. It’s effectively a taxi service that you order directly from an app on your phone.

You’ve probably heard about Uber, because it’s become incredibly popular, and is often in the news. There’s no more trying to find a taxi rank, looking up the phone number of a minicab firm, or waiting outside in long queues.

Uber serves many cities within Europe, including the UK, so you can use Uber at home and abroad. Here is the full list of European cities supported by Uber.

Download Uber for iPhone
Download Uber for Android from the Google Play store

How Uber works
You download the Uber app onto your smartphone, which knows your location. Then you ask the app for a car to pick you up, and tell the app where you want to go.

The price of the journey is calculated within the app, so you know how much you’re going to pay before you get in the car. At peak times prices get more expensive, but off-peak you can get a real bargain.

Payment is also handled within the app (linked to your credit card), so you don’t have to mess around trying to pay the driver in an unfamiliar foreign currency.

The app shows you a map so you can see how far away your car is from you, and when it is likely to arrive.

Uber is very popular, and in our experience in several cities, it works well.

Staying safe
While millions of trips have been successfully completed on Uber, you should take the same sensible precautions as you would when getting into any cab.

Take a look at the Uber trip safety page for more info.

Uber promotional code for a free ride
There are almost always lots of promotional codes for free Uber rides or discounts, because Uber as a company is trying to expand rapidly. The codes change quite often, so just do a Google search for Uber promo codes when you download the app.

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Travel apps: weather and travel guides

Modern technology can give us a wealth of up-to-date information about our holiday destination. As Samuel Johnson said, when two English people meet, their first talk is of the weather, so let’s start there. 

WeatherPro covers weather for Europe

Having tried out a few weather apps, the best seems to be WeatherPro. It covers weather for the whole of Europe (and beyond), and gives forecasts for individual towns and cities, or sometimes even different places within the city. Of course, this means it will work at home as well as when you’re on holiday.

You get clear forecasts, broken down hour-by-hour, showing amounts of sun and rain forecast during the hour, which is very useful to plan when you want to do your outdoor activities like going to the beach, and when you want to be inside to avoid the rain.

You also get satellite and radar images, so you can see cloud and rain as they move across the skies, and see whether you think you’re going to avoid the showers!

Forecasts with WeatherPro are usually quite accurate for today and tomorrow, but science hasn’t yet really mastered making predictions beyond this, so no app will be particularly accurate once you get to three days out or more.

WeatherPro costs a few pounds for a yearly subscription, but in our experience it’s an app you will use every day, whether at home or on holiday.

See WeatherPro for iPhone or WeatherPro for Android

Travel guides on Kindle, written by locals

Traditional guidebooks still have their place, and at least the battery can’t run out with a book! But Amazon Kindle (and other similar eReaders) has opened up the world of travel writing to a much wider range of people. 

This means that locals who live in a town or city have started to write their own guidebooks, and sell them through Amazon quite cheaply. Often, you will see the publisher listed as “CreateSpace”, which is an Amazon-owned tool allowing people to publish their own books. This ability to sell their work means that the best writing is often on Amazon through these guides, rather than on free websites. 

The Kindle editions are often quite cheap, and you can keep them on the free Kindle app on your phone, to save them from bulking out your bag.

The self-published guides are often quite different to the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, and Dorling Kindersley books. They tend to be shorter, and they often focus on some of the less touristy activities that you wouldn’t otherwise find out about. It’s also an interesting window into the culture of the locals, to see how they view the place they call home. 

Amazon tends to hide these guides that are written by locals, preferring to push the books by the big travel publishers, so you have to search around a bit. A search such as “Vienna by local” or “Paris by local” can get some good results though.

A few example guides written by locals: ViennaParisMilan.

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Travel apps: currency conversion and language translation

Let’s start this month with an essential type of app when you’re travelling abroad: a currency converter.

One of the most popular is XE Currency, which is free, and available for iPhone and Android. It gets live exchange rates from the internet when it can, or it uses the last rate it was able to get if you’re offline.

XE Currency for iPhone
XE Currency for Android

Unfortunately, most currency apps give you the exchange rates that banks themselves use, rather than the actual rates you’ll get as a tourist, so after you’ve done the conversion it’s best to think of everything as actually a little bit more expensive than the app is showing you.

The XE Currency app isn’t the easiest app in the world to use when you first get it, but it’s straightforward once you’ve figured it out. (It tries to get you to sign up for an account, but you can click a No Thanks link at the bottom to get rid of that!)

You can then convert euros to pounds, pounds to euros, or whatever else you fancy.

The app can also show you a currency chart of the pound vs. the euro, so you can guess whether the exchange rate is about to get better or worse! (Let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s a guess!)

When you’re abroad, here’s a tip to avoid extortionate data roaming fees. Load up your currency converter app when you’re in your hotel on wi-fi, let it get the latest exchange rates, then set your phone to aeroplane mode and use those exchange rates while you’re out and about for the day.

If you’re on the iPhone and you want a slightly simpler and easier to use currency converter app, try Currency.

Google Translate – foreign language translation
Moving on to look at another essential app, you don’t want to be without Google Translate. It’s free for iPhone or Android, and covers all the European languages you are likely to encounter.

Google Translate for iPhone
Google Translate for Android

The most common and useful way to use the app is to type in a word or a short phrase in the foreign language and have it converted to English. This is useful for reading signs and menus.

If you click the speaker icon, the app will pronounce foreign words to you, which can be very useful. Although it uses a computer-generated voice rather than recordings of real people, it’s still quite an accurate guide.

You can even hover your camera over a word, and the app will read the foreign text and translate it to English. At least, in theory you can do that – in practice this doesn’t usually work very reliably! But give it time, and it will get better; when it does work it’s pretty impressive though.

Since you will probably need to use Google Translate in places where you don’t have internet signal, you can go to the settings in the app and download a language. So if you’re going to Germany you can download the German language when you’ve got wi-fi, and then the app will still work when your phone isn’t connected to the internet.

Be safe – insure your gadgets
Get 90 days Worldwide cover for your gadgets with Premier Gadget Insurance, and save 10% with code LAUNCH10.

TripAdvisor and travel guide apps

In the last issue of this newsletter we started a new series looking at travel gadgets and travel apps. Last time we looked at airline apps, and this month, Ian from our technical team takes a look at TripAdvisor and some of its lesser-known features, and sees if it can replace a traditional guide book.

Tripadvisor is one of the biggest apps out there, and you’ve probably used it, or at least heard of it. The basic premise is that people review places they’ve been to, including restaurants and hotels, both here in the UK and worldwide.

Here’s how to find TripAdvisor:
TripAdvisor Website
TripAdvisor app for iPhone
TripAdvisor app for Android

What’s wrong with review sites?
This approach of what’s known as “crowd-sourced” reviews has a few flaws. Firstly, someone else’s taste might not be the same as yours. They might prefer different things to you, or have a different opinion to you as to what constitutes high or low quality.

Secondly, there is the issue of fraudulent reviews. TripAdvisor acknowledges this phenomenon, attempts to take action to prevent it, and even publishes a Fraud Detection policy on its website.

Fraudulent reviews can include people reviewing their own restaurants and hotels (presumably favourably!), submitting artificially negative review of a competitor’s business, and incentivising customers to write overly-glowing reviews. There are even companies that try to boost an establishment up the TripAdvisor rankings for a fee!

How to avoid fraudulent reviews
The best thing you can do to avoid falling foul of this is to look for places that have lots of reviews. The more reviews a place has, the more likely most reviews are to be genuine, and the more likely that people with similar tastes to yours will have left a review.

From my own experience, if a place is ranked bad it usually is pretty bad, but if it’s ranked very good you’ve got a 50/50 chance of it being worth a visit. Having said this, some of my favourite restaurants are indeed ranked as Excellent by TripAdvisor reviews, so it almost feels like pot luck!

Careful of the location of places you visit!
Also, reviews don’t tend to focus on where the place is located, so you need to be careful. I once went to what TripAdvisor claimed was a great American barbecue restaurant in Las Vegas, which involved us walking down a very poorly lit, seedy back street, with no proper pavement, and ending up outside a neon-lit horror of a place! We pretty much fled for our lives!

I had another faux pax on a trip to Bath, where we ended up walking miles out of our way to a place that was apparently great, but was like some kind of crazy uncontrolled riot when we got through the doors! And the menu was rubbish too!

Fortunately, TripAdvisor gives you the website for many restaurants and hotels, and many places publish their menu on the web. So you can either research some places before you go on holiday, or use your phone or iPad with the wifi in your hotel or in a coffee shop to figure out where to eat next.

A great TripAdvisor feature: downloadable city guides
One of the lesser-known features of the TripAdvisor app is probably more useful than the reviews: you can download an entire city guide. This puts all the information directly onto your phone, so you don’t need to be connected to the internet in order to read it. This is great because quite often when you’re overseas you can’t use the data connection on your phone for fear of racking up a huge bill!

I usually just put my phone into flight mode when I’m away, unless I’m using the wifi. Bonus tip: don’t forget to turn off data roaming on your phone. This means that when you’re away from the UK, your phone will not use the internet unless you’re on a wifi network, so you won’t get charged for it (overseas data charges can be extortionate!).

If you’re not sure how to turn off data roaming for your phone, just search Google for “turn off data roaming on iPhone“, or “turn off data roaming on Android“.

We’ve just come back from a few days in Vienna, and the downloadable city guide proved to be very useful. Here’s why:

Your download includes a map, and your phone can show you where you are. You can then find a place you want to go to, read a review, then see where the place is on the map compared to where you are right now. The little blue dot that represents you will start to move as you walk, so you can check you’re heading in the right direction.

Does this replace a traditional guide book?
In my opinion, no, you still need a traditional guide book (or its modern digital equivalent). I personally find the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel books very good, with lots of illustrations (although they are printed on high-quality heavy paper, which makes them quite weighty to tuck in your bag).

A good guide book will give the historical context of the place you are visiting, and will give you a much better understanding of what you are looking at, which routes to take, how to use public transport, etc.

Of course, in this modern age, you can download many travel guides onto your phone or iPad too. Amazon Kindle is particularly good for this.

Alongside the standard publishers, such as Dorling Kindersley, Rough Guide, Time Out, and Lonely Planet, there is a rising trend of non-professional publishing on Kindle, where short travel guides are written by people who live in the city they are writing about. These are often surprisingly good, and often very cheap, costing only a pound or two. I like to read them before I go on holiday, or on the plane, so I don’t waste time when I arrive.

Something a lot of people don’t realise is that you can also download travel guides for a specific city directly from your phone’s app store. For example, bringing up the Apple app store on my iPhone and searching for “Vienna travel” brings up several guides, including audio and video, and detailed transport maps. Some of these are free to download too.

Foreign Office Travel Advice
With the recent security alerts and fears in some destinations, the UK government’sForeign Office travel advice has information for every country you’re ever likely to visit. It’s kept up to date, and it is always a useful guide to check before you travel.

For example, the page on Turkey contains sections on terrorism, safety and security, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health, natural disasters, and money.

Without wishing to sound too grim, if you are ever overseas and find yourself in an unstable situation, you should check the Foreign Office website first, and then check with your airline, who will also publish advice on what to do.

Airlines often have problems contacting passengers who are overseas on holiday, because the passengers’ mobile phones either don’t work, or they don’t have your correct number, and they may be laying on emergency flights for you to return home.

Don’t forget YouTube
I don’t want to end on a downbeat note, so let’s take a look at one last thing this month! A useful source of information for your trip can also be YouTube.

Just search for the place you’re visiting, or a landmark within that city that you want to visit, and you can often find lots of interesting videos. Some videos will be from other travellers, some from professional publishers, and others from official sources such as the tourist board or the owner of the attraction.

Videos can give you a good feeling for whether or not something will appeal to you, how crowded a place can be, and any particular things to see or avoid.

Hopefully that’s given you a few new ideas to get the best out of your next holiday. Oh, and if you’re going to Vienna, go to Figlmüller and order the Schnitzel!

Be safe – insure your gadgets
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NEW: Introducing our Premier Gadget Insurance

We know that you value your holiday insurance, but many people also worry about their electronic gadgets when they are at home. What if they are stolen, or they break down, or they get dropped and damaged?

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Airline apps and parking apps

To celebrate the launch of our Premier Gadget Insurance policy, we’re starting a new series looking at travel gadgets and apps for your smartphone, helping you to make the most of your holiday.

Check your app store
There’s an obvious place to start when looking for travel apps for your phone.

If you have an iPhone, bring up the App Store, choose Categories from the top left, and scroll down to the travel category. You’ll be surprised what you find. A treasure trove of apps awaits, from airline apps, to travel guides, to apps for individual attractions such as museums.

If you have an Android phone, you can find a similar set of travel apps on the Google Play store.

Airline apps
This month, we’ll look at airline apps, to help you book your flight, change your flight, check your flight is on time, and help you at the airport. Airlines are putting a lot of time and money into their apps at the moment, because they see it as one of the ways to encourage you to fly with them and not their competitors.

The most popular airline for European destinations is easyJet, so let’s start there. The easyJet app is free to use, and gets updated regularly.

To see it on your app store, click one of these links:
easyJet app for iPhone
easyJet app for Android

You can search for flights, make bookings, and check in up to 30 days in advance, directly from your phone. You can also keep your boarding passes directly within the mobile app, which saves you having to print out your boarding passes – a welcome relief if you’ve ever tried to find a working printer while you’re on holiday!

Of course, don’t let your phone run out of battery while you’re away, or a mobile boarding pass won’t be much use!

The Flight Tracker part of the easyJet app lets you keep an eye on your flight, see if it’s on time, and will give you the latest messages directly from the Operations Control Centre at easyJet if your flight gets disrupted.

Although disruption is often unavoidable in this era of frequent air traffic control strikes, airlines know it is a major source of dissatisfaction for travellers, so they are trying hard to help by at least giving us information on what we can expect when our flights don’t leave on time.

You can use Apple Pay to pay for easyJet flights on the app too, which saves the difficulty of having to type your payment card details into a phone.

The future of airline apps?
An interesting innovation that easyJet is currently experimenting with is called Mobile Host. It’s being trialled at Gatwick, and a dozen other popular airports.

The idea is that app will guide you through the airport process, reminding you to check in online before travelling to the airport, providing directions to the bag drop area, telling you which gate your flight will depart from, and telling you which baggage belt your suitcase will arrive on. It also gives live flight updates and directions to the gate as soon as it is open.

It sounds like this could make travelling a lot easier, especially if you are unfamiliar with the airport, or if you do not fly very often.

Other airlines also have apps, including Ryanair and British Airways — some more advanced with others — so search your app store before you fly and download your airline’s app. You could find it very useful, especially if your flight is delayed.

Parking your car
One last useful little gem this month:
Ever forgotten where you parked your car at the airport? There are several apps that use the GPS on your phone to remember where you are. You just set it when you park, and it drops a pin on the map to remember where you are.

Your phone’s GPS is accurate to within a few feet, so when you come back from your holiday you can use it to guide yourself back to your car! Simple but often very useful.

On the iPhone, the Parking Aid for iPhone app costs £0.79.

Android users have a couple of other choices, both free to download: ParKing for Androidor Valet for Android.

Be safe – insure your gadgets
Get 90 days Worldwide cover for your gadgets with Premier Gadget Insurance, and save 10% with code LAUNCH10.