Visa and Lonely Planet launch online travel tool

When it comes to travel, almost half of all Kiwis spend more than 10 percent of their annual income on holidays, making the most of each trip by prioritising their time and pre-booking adventures.

New research commissioned by Visa looks at the travel habits of New Zealanders and Australians, noting differences and similarities between the trans-Tasman counterparts when it comes to researching, booking and taking holidays.

In New Zealand, 85 percent of Kiwis choose to book the majority, if not all, of their holiday activities before heading away, compared with 88 percent of all Australian travellers.

Five best air travel apps

The market is flooded with smartphone apps that help air travellers navigate their journey, from checking in to receiving updates when a flight is delayed.

But by the end of 2012, these apps may not be necessary. Apple’s new operating system, iOS 6 (a free update for most recent versions of the iPhone and iPad), will include a built-in app called Passbook that will function like many air travel apps combined.

Using your various frequent flier accounts, Passbook will store the information about your upcoming flights. On the day of your flight, the app will use your device’s geolocation service to recognise when you’ve arrived at the airport and open the relevant boarding pass, complete with a barcode for the gate agent to scan. Passbook will also provide gate status updates and include a hotel-booking tool.

Android, the largest rival smartphone platform to Apple, doesn’t yet have a similar service for its devices. So for travellers with Androids, or for those of us who prefer to stock our phones with several apps, here are a few that specialise in making the air travel experience run smoothly, with functions that will remain useful even after Apple’s new Passbook app debuts.

Airport Limos Can Help You Save Time, Money and Harassment

This article is written by Chandan.

With advance booking you can easily eliminate the stress for yourself and your family and just leave it upon the professional chauffeur of the limo to transport you to your desired destination safe and sound.

Whether you are traveling to Toronto on a business trip or returning to the Pearson International Airport after a beautiful vacation with your family; hiring a Pearson Airport limousine service can be a really sensible decision. Travelling nowadays in long distance flights is not always very comfortable, and then again travelling from the airport to the hotel or your residence can be really troublesome if you do not have a car hired in advanced. Moreover, if you are a tourist and not well-versed with the streets of Toronto, it can be a confusing as well as expensive journey for you. To save time, money and the harassment of dealing with unreliable cabbies, it is best to book a reliable airport limo service.
With advance booking you can easily eliminate the stress for yourself and your family and just leave it upon the professional chauffeur of the limo to transport you to your desired destination safe and sound. There are varied reasons as to why commuters nowadays opt for an airport limo service instead of the regular taxis.

•    Firstly, when you have a limo hired in advance, you will have a trained driver waiting right there for you outside the terminal to carry your luggage and take you to the vehicle with full respect. After that you can just hop in and sit back and relax in the luxurious backseat.

•    Now, why a limo and not any other normal cab? If your idea is to hire a taxi and save a few bucks, be assured that a taxi driver will ultimately overcharge you. Even if it is a few dollars less than the rent of a limo; the comfort, luxury, ease and safety that you will receive from a Pearson Airport limousine company cannot be compared to any other transport facility.

•    When you need to catch a flight, reaching the airport on time is perhaps the most important factor. A proper airport limo service company will pick you up and drop you off at the airport much before you scheduled departure. Similarly, when you come back after a hectic flight schedule, a limo will already be waiting for you so that you do not have to wait in the airport premises even one second more.

•    With airport limos, you can treat yourself to great service, world-class amenities, a smooth journey and a secured trip. Yes, all limos offering Pearson airport limousine services have authorized licenses, insured vehicles and drivers with proper permits. So be assured that apart from experiencing a ride in one of the classiest cars in the world, you will always be in safe hands.



The best weather apps for travellers

For detailed forecasts, iPhone users should give the WeatherBug app a try.

When it comes to weather apps, hype springs eternal.

Many promise to deliver weather reports relevant to a smartphone user’s precise location, but the advertised “refresh” doesn’t always mean a new forecast. Others claim to have easy-to-read interfaces, enabling users to make travel plans at a glance – but don’t. In reality, the most popular apps perform a few functions well — not all of them.

And the quality of weather apps seems to range greatly by region. For example, Canada’s local leader in weather data, The Weather Network, provides forecasted snow accumulations on its free iPhone and Android apps, something that neither the Weather Channel nor AccuWeather do for their United States apps. North American-centric apps also tend to lack access to the nitty-gritty data gathered by the official meteorology organisations in foreign countries. Australia’s Android Pocket Weather AU uses Bureau of Meteorology data, including (so-far-unique) access to the official agency’s detailed rain radar (about $2, Android, iPhone). Similarly, Britain’s new Metropolitan Weather Service app (free, Android, iPhone) delivers much more precise rain forecasts than its US-centric rivals. Bottom line: if precision matters, download the app from the official weather service at your destination, where available.

But if your holiday plans are still unclear, here are the apps most likely to appeal to a global traveller who decides itineraries on the fly. All of these apps offer optional alerts for major weather events, such as approaching rainstorms.

Droids come with “widgets”, mini-apps on the home screen that constantly refresh themselves without needing to be activated. Travellers should swap out the pre-installed weather widget with the AccuWeather one, which comes free with its app. AccuWeather’s widget and app deliver temperature and condition forecasts for locations worldwide, updated hourly. AccuWeather taps into your device’s GPS locator tool and enables you to see a forecast for your precise spot on a map, without having to know your location’s name or spelling. That is a practical feature for travellers off the grid in a rural area or moving rapidly through the countryside on a train. The app also makes it easy to track forecasts for a few destinations at once and has far fewer flashing ads than other free apps, at least as of today.

The latest generation iPhones come pre-installed with Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant that can be asked about the weather (such as “What is the forecast for the week ahead?”). But the result is generally vague, such as “sunny and 76 today, cloudy and 75 tomorrow”.

For detailed forecasts, iPhone users should give the WeatherBug app (free, iPhone) a try. It has far fewer flashing banner ads than rival apps and an easier to read interface on the iPhone, providing hourly predictions for the coming day and a 10-day forecast with minimal detail for rapid scrolling. A menu-and-swipe interface makes it easy to drill down for details.

One drawback is, unlike the Weather Channel and AccuWeather apps for iPhone, WeatherBug lacks the ability to find a forecast for any geo-location internationally, directing you instead to the forecast for the nearest urban centre or airport. But the app does allow you to track more than one destination at a time.

Apple picked the Weather Channel app as its first iPad-available weather app for good reason. No other app takes as full advantage of the tablet’s large, interactive, high-resolution screen. Radar maps are animated to let you suss out a storm’s direction. Touch any point on a spinning globe to see the weather at that spot. Plus, no company is as good at video reports of weather forecasts as the Weather Channel, and its videos appear beautifully on the iPad’s large screen. The app’s TruPoint technology, similar to AccuWeather, uses the iPad’s built-in GPS locator for assessments of weather conditions within a mile of any arbitrary location, without you needing to enter your location’s name. The app also makes it easy to track forecasts for a multiple destinations at the same time.

Sean O’Neill

16 Feb 2012

New travel apps speed up expense reporting

 From left, Expensify, Concur and XpenseTracker.

Sometimes it’s not jet lag or missed connections that thwart business travellers – it’s filling out those tedious expense reports. Thankfully, a few smart phone apps are lessening the ordeal.

The three apps most often recommended for tracking expenses are Concur, Expensify and XpenseTracker. These apps allow you to automatically import bank account and credit card transactions into an easy-to-use expense report that meets IRS requirements. They make it a cinch to snap photos of your receipts, categorise them (such as by “entertainment” or “lodging”) and attach the images to a report, which can be edited later via the apps’ websites. The apps also produce files that are compatible with many small businesses’ accounting systems, such as QuickBooks. Lastly, the apps allow you to enter transactions in a variety of currencies and produce reports in a variety of formats, such as spreadsheets that you can import into software like Excel.

Each of the apps differ slightly from the others, so though they’re all highly rated and frequently downloaded, one may work best for you.

Concur is the largest North American company in the travel-and-expense management business, and its tracking products are used by more than 15,000 corporations. This app may be best for anyone employed by a large company because its data has the greatest likelihood of being seamlessly compatible with their company’s expense-reporting system. Free for the basic version on Android, iPhone/iPad and Blackberry.

Expensify is an innovative, two-year-old app that has been downloaded more than 300,000 times and has high ratings from its users, many of whom seem to be freelancers and entrepreneurs. It’s my personal favourite for its irreverent touches; for instance, its “submit report” button is named “telepathy activate!” Silliness aside, the app does an accurate, automatic job of reading the receipts you’ve uploaded, pairing expenditures with individual items listed in your online bank and credit card statements, and categorising your expenses. Free for the basic version on Android, iPhone/iPad and Blackberry.

XpenseTracker has an elegant design and clean user interface, making it extremely intuitive and quick to record mileage travelled and other details on the fly. Many experienced travellers sing its praises, including Pauline Frommer, the globetrotting creator of the award-winning guidebook series, who says she uses it “religiously”. The app stands out for producing sophisticated, PDF-formatted expense reports that are well-enough designed to make you look like a pro when you submit them to clients. (The reports of the other two apps mentioned above are less impressive when printed out and seem mainly useful for copying the information and re-entering it into an employer’s or client’s own forms.) One downside: XpenseTracker currently only works with Apple devices ($5 for iPhone/iPad).

19 Jan 2012

Tips for Taking 2012 Trips

The United States has plenty to offer, but there’s a big, wide world out there. Why not do something different this summer and go overseas? Before you get on that plane, follow some of these useful tips to make the most out of your summer trip:

1) Define what you want: What do you want to do on your summer trip? Are you interested in visiting museums and historical sites? Do you want to relax on a beach? Do you want to immerse yourself in cultural experiences? Do you want to go to a place with good nightlife? Are you interested in nature and outdoors activities? Asking yourself these questions is an important first step because it will help you narrow down your destination choices. Many destinations offer a variety of activities and interests to partake in, but it is up to you to decide which ones are your priority.

How to plan a round-the-world trip

Circumnavigating the planet and stopping off wherever you fancy is the ultimate trip – perfect for travellers who want to see it all, or who are just plain indecisive. But booking a round-the-world (RTW) trip can be a complex business. Here is a guide to get you started.

How to do it

The most economical way to circumnavigate the globe is to buy a RTW air ticket that uses one airline alliance. Theoretically, any routing is possible, but knowing how the RTW booking system works will make your trip cheaper. For example, the Star Alliance, a coalition of 27 airlines which fly to 1,185 airports in 185 countries, offers a RTW ticket with a maximum of 15 stops.

There are rules: you must follow one global direction (east or west – no backtracking); you must start and finish in the same country; and you must book all of your flights before departure, though you can change them later (which may incur extra charges).

How long you will need

You could whip around the world in a weekend if you flew non-stop. However, the minimum duration of most RTW tickets is 10 days – still a breathless romp. Consider stock-piling annual leave, tagging on public holidays or even arranging a sabbatical in order to take a few months off work. The maximum duration of a RTW ticket is one year.

When to go

The weather will never be ideal in all of your stops. So, focus on what you want to do most and research conditions there. If a Himalaya trek is your highlight, do not land in Nepal mid-monsoon season; if you want to swim with whale sharks off the coast of Western Australia, be there between April and July. Then accept you will be in some regions at the “wrong” time – though this might offer unexpected benefits (for example, Zambia in wet season means lush landscapes and cheaper prices).

Whale Shark Diving in Australia

In general, city sightseeing can be done year-round (escape extreme heat/cold/rain in museums and cafes) but outdoor adventures are more reliant on – and enjoyable in – the right weather.

Where to go

The classic (and cheapest) RTW tickets flit between a few big cities, for example London – Bangkok – Singapore – Sydney – LA. If you want to link more offbeat hubs (Baku – Kinshasa – Paramaribo, anyone?), prices will climb considerably. The cost of the ticket is based on the total distance covered or the number of countries visited.

Everest Base Camp

Remember, you do not have to fly between each point: in Australia you could land in Perth, travel overland and fly out of Cairns. Or fly into Moscow, board the Trans-Siberian train and fly onwards from Beijing.

Pick some personal highlights and string the rest of your itinerary around those. For instance, if you are a keen trekker, flesh out a Peru (Inca Trail), New Zealand (Milford Track) and Nepal (Everest Base Camp) itinerary with Brazil (Rio’s a good access point for South America), Australia and northern India.

If budget is an issue, spend more time in less expensive countries. Your daily outgoings will be far higher in Europe and North America than in South-East Asia. Indonesia, Bolivia and India are particularly cheap.

Tips, tricks and pitfalls

  • Talk to an expert before you book: you may have an itinerary in mind but an experienced RTW flight booker will know which routings work best and cost least – a few tweaks could mean big savings.
  • Be flexible: moving your departure date by a few days can save money; mid-week flights are generally cheaper, as are flights on Christmas Day.
  • Think about internal travel: it can be cheaper to book internal flights at the same time as booking your RTW ticket. But, with the global increase of low-cost airlines, you may find it better (and more flexible) to buy them separately as you go.
  • Be warned: if you do not board one of your booked flights (say, on a whim, you decide to travel overland from Bangkok to Singapore rather than fly it) your airline is likely to cancel all subsequent flights.

Sarah Baxter

23 Dec 2011

Traveling Cheap but, Traveling Sensibly!

Choosing the best travel deals from a variety of international travel deals and offers is a bit of a challenge. Man was born to explore. Not just the places to visit but also the methods that he can use to find the best, when it comes to traveling to his favorite destination. They say international flights come with an expensive price tag. Well, for those of you who are really conscious about best travel deals, you can get what you want if you ‘think’ ahead of time.

You can find cheap international air tickets that not only meet your requirements but also fit your budget well. Timing is the key to everything. Understand that airline tickets can act quite funny: a thing called fixed price simply does not exist when it comes to airline tickets. So for those who want to make the most of your international travel deals, keep a watch on those prices. Once the price tag comes close to the budget that you have ready, go for the kill!

To get the best travel deals, “don’t” look at the peak seasons. The reason is there are certain times in a year when certain travel destinations and vacation spots become hugely expensive due to soaring demand. For example, Paris, the romantic capital of the world becomes the most visited spot during the months of February. So you cannot expect the prices to be cheap for your airline ticket during that month. But if you do want to go to Paris or any such dreamy place during the romantic month of February, make sure that you plan and book your air-tickets in advance. The right time to get the best of international travel deals is four months to three weeks before you fly.

A smart way of getting budget international travel deals even if you cannot afford them is to at least make a reservation first and then cough up the entire amount when you have the money.

Feb 8 2011

Maps that give more than directions

In the past year, a handful of free websites have debuted with features that up the ante on standard internet mapping tools like Google Maps and Mapquest.

Instead of providing turn-by-turn directions, these new sites (all of which are mashups of Google Maps) allow for navigation based on the type of transportation you’re taking, the time you’ve been given to explore, the sites you’re looking to discover or the memories you’ve made.

Find the most popular spots in a city

4SQoogle maps the most recent online check-ins from location-based mobile service Foursquare. The site doesn’t reveal the names of those who checked-in somewhere, but 4SQoogle proves its worth as a tool for discovering the city’s hottest venues, noting both “live” check-ins and total check-ins over time. During a recent lunch hour, London’s most popular spot among Foursquare users was surprisingly around the House of Commons. Later at night, West End venues were (not surprisingly) buzzing, with bar and restaurant the Living Room scoring the most Foursquare visits of any hangout.

Plot a path via public transport reveals areas you can reach by public transport within a certain time. Say you’re staying at a hotel in Madrid and want to know where you could go for dinner within a 30-minute metro or bus ride. Drag the online marker to your hotel’s approximate location and set a slider to 30 minutes. A shadow map will then reveal the area you can easily cover by public transport within a half hour. The site works for most major US cities and for many other cities worldwide, such as Canberra and Madrid.

Discover a region based on time

Isochronous Application is to driving what Mapnificent is to public transport. Pick any urban area in the world, specify a maximum amount of time you’re willing to drive (or to ride in a taxi), and the site will predict how much ground you can cover during that time — assuming no traffic congestion or other hindrances. In a three-hour drive from London, for example, you could see a large swath from Nottingham to Dover.

(On the downside, there’s no guarantee you’ll actually be able to drive where the site says you can. If you enter three hours driving distance from Kinshasa, Congo, the site brings up a map that covers areas that may be inaccessible due to recent political unrest. As always, no one site provides all the information you need to plan a trip.)

Map your memories enables you to create a custom map of the world that you can annotate with personal notes of what you did at each place. Click on your virtual pins to reveal the notes detailing what happened at each spot, such as the time and location you visited it, what the activity was and who you were with at the time. You then have the option to share and overlay your “memory map” with those of friends and family members. You can email the map to others, too.

Plan a daily itinerary with guidebooks in mind

GuidebookPlus makes it easier to plan a daily itinerary with the help of major guidebooks, such as those published by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. If you’re staying at a hotel in Benin and you want to see if there are any nearby attractions, GuidebookPlus can zoom in on a map of the area and display nearby virtual pushpins, each referring to a tourist attraction and with the relevant guidebook page number that describes the attraction. Then, you can use Internet searches or Google Books to possibly access the guidebook text for free.

Trail of two cities

This article is written by Nisha, who is one of India’s leading lady backpackers with extensive travel experience

An aerial view of Sydney

When I went to Sydney first, I started doing my research on the place, which I mostly do. I distinctly remember having noticed another city which was almost on the same latitude, lying on the southern hemisphere but separated by many thousand Kilometers.

A view of Cape Town from the Aerial Tram

I had made a mental note that I would visit this other town some time in my life. I shall club it with my visit to Africa. Any guesses? You are right. I am talking about Cape Town.

Being on the same latitude and both being sea ports ensure that the two places have a rather similar weather patterns, except fewer rains in South Africa. Beyond which I thought there would be a lots of differences.

Now it has been a while since I have returned from Sydney, suddenly I had this urge to see if my hypothesis was true about the two places. In my opinion, more often than not, it’s the people who make the difference.

So, let us see what I have found about the two cities, one which I have experienced, and the other soon to.

Both these cities (basically the countries in which these cities are situated) were under the rule of UK at some point in time. In addition Dutch ruled Cape Town for a while. So the biggest difference is the Language, although people of both countries speak English, the vocabulary of the South African counterpart is influenced by Afrikaans (which is again the local language that is influenced by Dutch). I have not seen much influence of the language of indigenous people of Australia in their language, except for the names of places.

Business dress code in both places are conservative, except when I saw the station master in one of the train stations in uniform shorts with a smartly ironed shirt and necktie to go with! :) Maybe Cape Town also has something similar to offer. Other than that there may not much difference between the two cities, when it comes to business dealings and corporate experience.

There is one thing I have not been able to find is what happens on Fridays in Cape Town. In Sydney work slows down to a halt early and all and sundry hit the local pub or bar for a couple, along with colleagues before making way towards home. Maybe someone can update me on this aspect of the culture. What I did find was that the pace of work is definitely slower in Cape Town.

When it comes to safety and security of travelers I believe Sydney is a notch better. Of course as long as you avoid being at the wrong place in wrong time. My experience, barring a racial abuse incident, was very good in Sydney.
As a response to the question where to stay in Cape Town or Sydney, both of these cities cater to travelers and tourists from every strata of society. Generally cost of living is higher in Sydney. Accommodation options in Sydney and Cape Town both range from low priced lodges to multi star hotels.

Kangaroo Steaks in Sydney

Again both cities serve culinary delights from all over the world. What would be interesting is to taste the local cuisine in Cape Town. Sydney by and large does not have any thing that can be termed Australian food, except Kangaroo meat.  Cape Town definitely wins by a few notches.

Let me see when I can compare them again, this time after my visit to Cape Town.


16 July 2011