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November 13, 2011

Travel: There Are Apps For That


Perhaps no industry has done a better job of adopting to consumer tech platforms than the
travel biz. Given the complexity of travel choices and the powerful new handheld devices we all carry, it seems a perfect match. So, here are a few of my favorite apps and sites to make travel a breeze.

CLEVER COMMUTE: This free e-mail and Twitter-based service allows commuters to text each other in real time and describe problems in their train rides on Metro-North. Though some contributors tend to cry “fire”, Clever Commute has on most occasions been faster and more accurate than Metro-North in describing problems on the trains. More info at www.clevercommute.com

TRAIN-TIME: This website and mobile app are Metro-North's attempt to give riders real-time info on individual trains and their delays. But I've found it unreliable, reporting “good service” when trains were obviously delayed. Still, I'll give the railroad points for trying.

HIPMUNK: This website (www.hipmunk.com) and mobile app are brilliant for showing you travel alternatives between any two places. Planning a trip from NYC to Boston? Hipmunk shows not only the air fare ($420 on the shuttles) but train fares ($69 and up). You can search by departure time, length of trip, or my favorite, the “agony” factor.

TRIP ADVISOR: I am a “top contributor” to this site having posted more than 60 reviews over the past eight years. Whenever I'm going to a new city I rely on Trip Advisor posts to scout out unknown hotels, restaurants and tourism sites. You'll save yourself a lot of pain by referring to this site on the web or via mobile app.

FLYTECOMM: There are a lot of flight tracking sites and apps, and they all offer great info about when your flight will really take off and arrive, not just what the airline has been telling you. My favorite game is to use the app in-flight when the airline offers wi-fi, and watch myself flying across the US, dodging bad weather.

SEAT GURU: Finding a cheap air fare is only half the battle. Now you want to pick a decent seat on the plane. Seat Guru shows you seating plans for every aircraft in dozens of airlines fleets, which ones have more legroom or limited reclines.

AMTRAK: One of the things that Amtrak really does right is offer real time train info, fares and schedules on the web and via their apps. Faster, if less 'perky', than their telephone-based “Julie” robot, these sites are invaluable if you're traveling in the Northeast. And now, Amtrak has free wi-fi on almost all of their trains in the region, not just Acela.

KAYAK: Probably the best single website for everything related to travel... flights, car rentals, hotels and even cruises (but no Amtrak or bus info). Unlike Expedia and Travelocity they only show you the info and don't sell tickets. (Full disclosure: Kayak was a consulting client of mine a few years back).

RAIL EUROPE: Another consulting client, but a brilliant website and mobile app if you're zooming through Europe. Plug in departure city, destination and time and you're shown all the rail alternatives and fares. While I used to travel in Europe with a phone-book sized Thomas Cook's Rail Timetable, now I have more info, for free, on my iPad.

What are your favorite websites and mobile app's for travel? Share your thoughts and I'll pass them along in a future column.

© 2011 Cameron Communications Inc.