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Travel and communication have come a long way, baby

October 2011

When we travel today, the way we share contacts with people is usually taken for granted: visual cellphones, Facebook, Flicker, and so on. But in 1986—a mere 25 years ago—senior travellers literally lived in a communications vacuum.

In 1986, there were three models of cellphones, each the size of a loaf of bread and considerably heavier. At the time, the “Internet” was a link shared by research and educational organizations to access supercomputers. Email—then a truly complex activity—was the domain of big business. In 1986, I was a journalist using the magic of word processing on a Commodore 64.

The Net, with its first browsers to access Web pages, had to wait until the next decade to revolutionize travel. The calling card (remember we bought them for our kids so they would call home) weren’t even being used yet in the U.S. In 1986, digital photography was science fiction.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about: How today’s technology has become an indispensable aid for senior travel. The current blast of “at-your-fingertips” information is a real boon, providing senior travellers with a safer and more engaging experience.

A one-time $250 expenditure for an iPod Touch is the least expensive way to travel with a computer. In 1986, a similarly powered computer took two entire rooms to host—one for cooling and one for computing.

With the Touch, all you have to do is look for an ubiquitous WiFi connection (try the Easy WiFi app to find one) and you’re connected to the World Wide Web for your traveling inquiries. The first app I downloaded was Skype, an Internet telephone system that brings your voice within reach of anyone almost anywhere, very inexpensively.

Next, find apps that further embellish your travels—you have 4,000 to choose from. A great companion app I use comes from and provides free or inexpensive ($1.99) destination information. You can download maps, subway systems, and other info that can be accessed from your Touch even when you’re not connected to WiFi.

The Commodore 64 is a distant cousin of the tiny iPod Touch. Photos: Bill Bertram, Saint

Tripwolf’s site compares to a visit at a world Net café. Another app—iTravelFree)—provides “open source” (free to share) info and has free maps and destination info you can download.

Travel Guide apps are available for almost every conceivable country. I go for the free ones first, then for those modestly priced, from $2 to $5. When you’re spending so much on a vacation, a small “information” budget is worthwhile.

An app called Tripadvisor gives you the lowdown (by consumer voting) about places to stay and eat in a great many destinations, so you don’t have to be stuck in a deplorable hotel or spend a fortune for a meal … take a breath and consult your Touch, you’ll find there is always another place to stay.

If you’re heading somewhere by air, a handy app to keep abreast of your flight is FlightStatus. Plug in the data and you’ll find out whether you’re spending the night at the airport.

Having a language problem? A number of apps provide handy and quick translations. A world clock app will keep you instantly aware of time differences to avoid raising the ire of the folks back home when you call too early.

Another good App I like is AppBox Lite, which allows you access to currency exchange rates and national holidays—handy, when you consider I once lost two days traveling because a national holiday all but emptied the streets. In the morning, I organize my day relative to the weather, from The Weather Channel app—museum or walk.

There are apps that provide info in magazine formats; a few you might look at are Thomas Cooke’s MYCruise and Travel apps, EndlessVacation and TVRL magazine apps, as well as Jet Away and Couch Traveler HD Earth Explorer. Other apps that fall outside of the “travel” category but nevertheless enhance a vacation are the news apps from home, like the CBC or U.S. channels, including a great app from NPR. All the major newspapers have apps and there’s even a yoga app that displays positions on an airplane seat. To review your travel memories back home, download a journal app. Like to keep track of your expenditures while abroad? Yep, there’s an app for that, too.

So how did we ever survive those 1980s information-less years? I think we scribbled a lot more postcards to our pre-Facebook friends.



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