Travel anxiety reduction in the age of the smart phone. 

This post comes to you from seat 30D (yes…a middle aisle seat on a 767) of Delta flight 229 from Paris to Cincinnati. No, I didn’t spring for the crazy expensive expensive international wifi. Nope, they particular plane I am in is broken and awaiting a part so I decided to share some quick learnings from our (hopefully) soon to be completed trip to Russia. 
I had to be in Russia for business and we decided at the start of the year that my family would tag along. None of us had ever been to Russia before so we figured it was an opportunity for a good experience with three company picking up at least part of my expenses. 
My first trip overseas came when I was 12. I traveled to Austria and Switzerland with my family as part of the Cincinnati boy’s choir. A few years later I struck out on my own and visited Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France as part of a 6 week bicycle trip that my high school made every four years. Since then I have been to both Europe and Asia nearly 100 times. All that is to say that I consider myself to be a reasonably experienced traveler. However, until very recently there were still a few things that gave me anxiety during a trip. A few apps, an unused/ carrier unlocked iPhone 5, and a local sim card with a data plan solved all of them for me on our trip to Russia. 
Where to stay? My hostel days are behind me (for now anyway. Do they have old people hostels I can use when I’m retired?). For most tourists this means staying in a hotel. There are two classes in most cities: global chains and local spots. The local spots can be hit and miss and the global chains are usually so comfortably western that you don’t feel like you’ve left the country. The answer: AirBNB. We booked all of our lodging with AirBNB this time and had great experiences. The same rules apply to buying something on Amazon: only go for things with lots of good (and real) reviews and you should be safe. AirBNB is not just an app of course,but their app experience is very well thought out. You can do everything from browse and select a place to stay to get directions to your booking and message with your host. 
How get around? While this is second on the list it is concise tilt the source of the most anxiety, whether traveling for business or pleasure. Cabs are a constant, but the payment methods they accept are not. I can’t tell you how many cabs I’ve gotten into, asked if they take plastic, received an affirmative response, taken a rise then, upon arriving, the credit card machine is mysteriously broke and we’re on the look for an ATM. Even when I do have cash, there is always the small worry that traffic, the rate or the distance will cause the final tally to exceed what I’ve got on hand. The answer: Uber. We used Uber exclusively for all ground transport and every ride was perfect. True, we tried to use it for a 1 mile trip from one attraction to another that we didn’t want to walk in the rain to see that resulted in three consecutive cancels, but all he rides we did go one couldn’t have gone better. The cars were clean. The drivers were nice. They knew where we were going before we go in, avoiding any miscommunications or “extra” sightseeing to fatten the tab. When we arrived we just got out of the car,grabbed our bags and headed off. No worries about broken credit card machines (although I do always try to to remember to tip my Uber drivers – they are providing a great service afterall) and when the bill shows up in the app a few minutes later, it’s nearly always half of what I would expect a can to have cost. Major anxiety killer there. (Small hat tip on this point to Google maps which now let’s you download areas to your phone, so even without local cell service you can use your phone for walking directions. I loaded this with maps of both Moscow and St Petersburg on my kids phones and then saved the location of our apartments. Even without service, they could fire up their phones and always get directions to where we were staying if they got separated for some reason). 
Where to eat? What to see? I limo these two together since they are both forms of the question “how should I allocate my relatively limited vacation time to get the most out of it?”. Where to get good food, which for me means a ocombinationof value and local flavor and what things to go see (recognising that no one can see it all) are persistant questions, especially when I am visiting someplace for the first time. The answer: TripAdvisor. Of all the apps on this list I’ve been using this site and app the longest. At first for restaurant recommendations (even when traveling domestically) but more and more I’ve been using the “Things to do” section. We used it in Moscow to make the final decision on what to see in the last few hours before we left and actually booked our guided tours of The Hermitage and Peterhof Summer Palace directly through the app. The key feature is the reviews. You can see what everyone else thinks both quantitatively and qualitatively. Add in the bonus of being able to download cities (so you don’t need a data connection) and “find things near me now” and you have no more excuses to eat at McDonalds or go to the local mall. 
What’s that say? I, along with most Americans (or at least most with a passport) am ashamed to admit that really only know one language (and my friends in the UK woul argue that point). I have picked up taxi/bar/restaurant German after nearly a decade of trips there. I know less French and Italian. And I knew no Russian until I got there. (First phrase I learned: thank you). Compounding the issue is the Cyrillic alphabet (my days in there fraternity actually helped a bit here). The answer: Google translate. Many are familiar with what web site version of this or the chrome prompt that comes up when you visit a site that isn’t in your preferred language. For traveling though, the app is the bomb for one simple reason: it can access the camera on your phone and translate in screen whatever is looking at. Point it at the menu and you’ll never order deep fried monkey testicles again (unless of course that is what you wanted). No more walking in the out door or into the opposite gender bathroom (at least in places where there are gender based bathrooms…not so common in Europe and yet they also seem to have a lack of cross gender restroom predation…but I digress). It is the most mind blowing of all the apps here. I suggest you get it now, find something in a foreign language and try it in camera mode right now. I’ll wait. I do think it also offers an offline mode too although I didn’t test this). 
We have another trip coming up in a month+, this time to Ireland We’re renting a car and I’m told most of them speak English so no need for Uber or Google translate. But we will be using TripAdvisor, Google maps and all our overnights have been booked through Airbnb. Any other must have travel apps? Leave a comment. 
Update : the short delay turned into a long one. Still here 6 hours later. Looking for parts. 






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