Robert Bundy
TCD Traveler Update

iPhone Apps for Travelers

By - Jan 16th, 2011 04:00 am
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To celebrate the iPhone coming to the Verizon network, we’re  reviewing some of our favorite apps for travelers, recommending a key piece of gear, and answering reader questions about the supposed dangers of exploring the Yucatan.

A typically terrifying gang in the Yucatan – Photo by Robert Bundy

Information Kills Fear

We heard a recurring theme in the feedback to last week’s story on Merida and the Yucatan:

Your story on Merida and the Yucatan was interesting, but isn’t it dangerous to go there? Every time I turn on the news I hear yet another story about how bad the crime is in Mexico, but you didn’t talk about that at all. Did you really feel safe there?

–Don G.

photo by Robert Bundy.

The drug violence afflicting Mexico is real, but the vast majority of that activity has been between rival gangs, and concentrated in Mexico’s northern border states, about 1,000 miles from Merida. Violent crime against tourists in the Yucatan is extremely rare.

USA Today recently released crime statistics for all of Mexico showing that the murder rate in the Yucatan is 2 per 100,000. That’s about the same murder rate as Wyoming and Montana. By contrast, the murder rate in Milwaukee is 17.7 per 100,000 — or 900 percent higher than the Yucatan.

So avoiding Merida because you’ve read about drug violence in Ciudad Juarez (the Mexican city with the worst drug crime) is a bit like avoiding Palm Beach because you’ve heard about shootings in Detroit. All you really need to do to be safe when traveling in the Yucatan is to observe ordinary sensible precautions like you would traveling anywhere, and you should be fine.

Note: the information I just provided you is easy to find. Don’t ever let uninformed fears prevent you from experiencing the joys of travel.

Traveling Light

Last Tuesday, it was announced that the iPhone was finally coming to Verizon Wireless. Details are still pending as I write this, but along with all of the standard functionality the iPhone currently offers users of AT&T’s network, there are whispers that on Verizon you might even be able to use this iconic device to (gasp) make phone calls. Seriously. I know, Future Shock, right?

Four years ago, I traveled with an armload of tools including still camera, movie camera, plug adaptors for the countries on my itinerary, and a big, fat step-down transformer to recharge all them all at the end of the day.  This is not to mention at least one guidebook, a book to assist with language and translation, various maps, multiple copies of the details of my trip with confirmation numbers and addresses, one book to read for downtime on trains and planes, compass, trusty moleskin notebook, penlight, portable alarm clock, a pocket digital voice recorder for interviews, and more.

I’d have to remember to print out copies of my boarding passes for flights. The list goes on and on.

And then I got an iPhone to replace them all. Traveling light is one of the important keys to traveling well, and in just three years, I’ve reduced the weight of my bag significantly, and increased my level of convenience with a single hand-held sliver of metal and glass. Sure, I still bring my good camera along, but Apple’s built-in 5-megapixel camera is more than fine for the casual shooter, as is the onboard HD video, which actually has replaced my clunky old dedicated digital video recorder. And the functionality just keeps getting more impressive, with scads of new third-party apps coming out every day.

Here are some great tools that fit neatly inside the Swiss Army Knife of the 21st century:

Free Wi-Fi Finder

International data roaming charges can be witheringly expensive, so taking care of business in a Wi-Fi hotspot is a good habit when you’re on the road. Wi-Fi FInder tracks more than 110,000 Wi-Fi spots worldwide, allows sorting by type of business (library, bar, cafe, etc.) and allows you to bookmark your favorites for future reference.

Packing Pro

Admit it, you always forget something on a trip. Well, no more. This little app is feature-packed, starting with the Expert List Assistant that automatically creates lists based upon the number of people traveling, number of children, temperature of your destination, food preparation and more. You can also track your progress as you pack, share your lists with family members and save customized lists for future use. A Godsend for the organizationally challenged globetrotter, and only $2.99.

Dragon Dictation

This app is so awesome it’s hard to believe that it’s free. Dragon® has folded their industry-leading NaturallySpeaking® voice recognition technology into an iPhone app that converts your speech into text for emails or notes. I use it for interviews and avoid a lot of the work of transcribing, but it is also an invaluable tool for note-taking, memos, phone or confirmation numbers, and about 5X faster than texting. Brilliant.

Free Translator

This great app provides an interface to the free Google Translate API and translates more than 18 languages. And the price is right.

Flight Track Pro

Keep on top of flight delays and cancellations, grab real-time status updates for gate departures and weather conditions, and best of all, enjoy the stunning, zoomable maps– even off-line. On the steep side for an iPhone app– $9.99– but worth every penny.


Skype lets you make and receive calls from anywhere, all with CD-quality sound. Very reasonable rates on international calls are a huge plus. More impressively, two weeks ago an update added live video chat, making a great product even better.

Wear Protection

Protect your investment. There are a wide range of cases out there, with different levels of protection, but right now I am using the Ballistic SG case. Not quite as svelte as some of the more minimal form factors available, but I can rest assured that if my shiny little $400 tchotchke goes slipping through my fingers and bounces off a city sidewalk, the odds are strong that it will survive the fall with this sturdy sleeve to protect it. Comes in a choice of four colors and priced at $34.99

Got a favorite travel app or iPhone accessory to recommend? Share!

Categories: Travel

0 thoughts on “TCD Traveler Update: iPhone Apps for Travelers”

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Don’t ever let uninformed fears prevent you from experiencing the joys of travel.”

    Thank you so, so much for this sentence. I’ve been preaching it to my friends and family for some time now, particularly after all the knee-jerk reactions I got to planned trips to both Mexico and Colombia. I think I’ve gotten through to some of them (also, my safe return from both countries has helped) but I think it’s something that EVERYONE needs to be made aware of.

    So many people view travel through the lens of fear, and it’s a very sad thing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    […] I’ve discussed this before, but misinformation persists, so let’s just dispel any irrational fears right here. Back in November of last year, the State Department released a traveler’s advisory for some parts of Mexico, all of which are hundreds of miles from the Riviera Maya. There is no traveler’s advisory for the entire state of the Yucatan. The Riviera Maya is safe. Very, very safe. Much safer than Milwaukee by any statistical measure. In fact, the city of Milwaukee has 700% more violent crime annually than the entire state of the Yucatan. So rest assured, the Riviera Maya is a very safe place for your family vacation. Millions of Americans visit there annually. If you’re smart, you’ll be one of them. […]

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