How to replace your paper travel guide with some help from apps and the Internet

Rest in peace, paper Frommer's.

Google was poised to put an end to the legendary travel guide Frommer’s printed version, marking a brilliant new frontier of electronically-abetted travel. Plenty of apps making friendly locals more accessible sound like every traveler’s dream. The Internet has tools on how to get the most of your vacation itinerary, taking you far beyond the paper tour guide. 

Still, be warned. When you’re traveling somewhere with rampant roaming charges and spotty Wi-Fi, Internet apps can improve your experience up until, “Oh crap. Was it a right or a left at the intersection?” 

And fittingly, recent news says that Arthur Frommer, the creator of the series, seems to be buying the rights back from Google and keeping the print around (while also maintaining a website and selling eBooks). 

While no tool is a cure-all for travel pains, plenty of apps offer access to locals and customizability not available in the standard paper guide. All it takes is a little planning ahead.

Plan your activities   

Plnnr generates itineraries based on how many days your trip is and what your interests are
Plnnr generates itineraries based on how many days your trip is and what your interests are

Instantly generate itineraries based on your interests, the length of the trip, and desired activity-level with Plnnr. It’s like a more personalized version of the itineraries travelers turn to Frommer’s and Lonely Planet for. While the attractions err toward typical tourist-favorites, it’s a good place to start and then supplement with food and drink picks from the likes of Spotted by Locals (mostly useful for trips to Europe, but there is some availability in the states), or local tips from Time Outs for cities globally. 

Sidetour connects local historians and other experts with visitors or just the curious. It’s currently only available in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Chicago but is expanding quickly around the U.S. With one-of-a-kind experiences like a fish fry accompanied by jazz in a Brooklyn brownstone and making pizza with the food editor of the Washington Post, these are worth waiting for. 

How to meet locals is a pretty ubiquitous travel question. Old standbys like Couchsurfing (which organizes events for travelers as well as finding them a place to stay) and Meetup are as great as ever, if a little overwhelming to peruse the options at times, but great food-oriented alternatives are Grubwithus and Dishcrawl. With organized, pre-fixed meals around a variety of themes like meals for vegans, runners, 90s wrestling fans, and even recent transplants, Grubwithus makes it easy to find a table and a delicious meal with people you’ll have a lot in common with too. And Dishcrawl offers a lot of excitement for the palette. Like a pub crawl but with food, it’s the perfect answer for when you’re in a great culinary city like San Francisco and just can decide what to eat. 

How to meet locals? Grubwithus makes it easy to eat with them too.
How to meet locals? Grubwithus makes it easy to eat with them too.

Mind the details 

You’ve planned the trip, now it’s time for the details. Packing Pro is an app that make it easy to create a packing list based on the the length of the trip, kind of trip you’ll be going on (family, business, camping), the expected temperature, whether the trip is domestic or international, and who you’re packing for. Plus, Packing Pro syncs with iCloud to make your information easily accessible anywhere.

And to make sure your trip there and back is as pleasant as can be, SeatGuru is still the go-to when it comes to finding out if your airline seat won’t recline because of its proximity to the emergency exit before you sit down … or you know, other seating details.

If you found tipping to be hard with four people on one bill at the bar around the corner, imagine having to do it in a foreign country with its own currency and customs. Tipping Guide offers all the advice Rick Steves’ tour books would have about Europe at your fingertips. And all translated into the local currency. 

Keep it all together 

TripAdvisor offers a variety of offline-accessible city guides.
TripAdvisor offers a variety of offline-accessible city guides.

When roaming charges are an issue, a little early planning is necessary. While TripAdvisor, Afar, and all offer recommendations as to what to do and where to eat, these apps are also often short on details like what kind of food is served and what prices may be. Those details are easy enough to find when you have Internet access, but if not, things can get a little haphazard. Definitely have one of these on hand if only just for the offline-accessible maps, but do know that when you’re desperate to impress and without a clue, these apps are not the cure-all. 

If you don’t want to live off scraps of paper tied together, TripIt makes it easy to keep everything together from flight information to dinner reservations. Plus, everything is stored in the cloud, so it’s easily accessible. 

Bon voyage!


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