While traveling around Serbia and Montenegro on a road trip with friends years ago, we drove into small towns with little more than a paper map. To find places to stay, one of my friends would roll down the window and ask a local for advice. Fortunately, my friends were native speakers so we bunked in cozy, affordable places.
Fast forward to right now: We live in such a technical wonderland that you don’t need to be a local to feel like one in far-flung locales. Sure, apps for smartphones and tablets can’t entirely replace a real travel companion, but they do offer insider details about activities, events, eating out, and getting around that used to require a residency or an amazing tour guide to learn.
Near the top is Spotted By Locals, a series of city guides written by local “spotters.” Self-titled travel addicts Bart van Poll and his wife Sanne started the company in 2008 and now have guides for 56 cities throughout Europe and North America that are available on mobile devices, including tablets, for $3.99 each, which includes all future updates. The app primarily works offline so you don’t need a constant Wi-Fi connection to access its maps and info.
Spotted By Locals skips the obvious tourist traps, focusing instead on bars, restaurants, shops, and spots that residents love.
“For me, eating a very simple local dish in an ugly former communist neighborhood in Zagreb served by a waiter who can’t speak any English but is so happy I’ve come to his restaurant has meant so much more to me than visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris,” said Bart van Poll.
The free Eventseeker app is like hanging around a Time Out editor who knows your tastes by heart. When you connect a Facebook profile to the app, its algorithms learn from your likes to suggest concerts, sports games, performances, and cool events you’d likely want to attend. It also compiles artist similarity scores to make informed recommendations. Each event has a button to purchase tickets directly.
“If you are actually in the process of traveling, the application automatically adjusts to where your location is,” said Daniel Lysaught, Eventseeker’s business development manager.
Being a concert buff, he said he used Eventseeker to buy tickets in advance to an Arcade Fire concert that took place in Chicago while he was there for a conference. The company will be releasing an updated version in August with a new design and more personalization options.
Transportation is another area where timely info prevents travel headaches. The first time I ever tried to hail a cab in New York City, a local friend coached me to put my hand up “with authority!” Ride-sharing apps like Lyft make hitching a ride less daunting. One of the best-known worldwide is Uber, a free app for Android and Apple devices that connects riders with drivers in more than 30 countries. A ride could mean boats or pedicab, depending on where you are. Alternative apps like Hailo and Flywheel require drivers to be licensed and insured, although they operate in fewer locations.
Then there’s public transportation, if you’ve got an eye on your wallet. Transit agencies in metro areas are coming out with their own apps or approving ones from outside developers, although these apps don’t all offer the same functionality. Enter Moovit, a free crowdsourced app that works sort of like the traffic and navigation app Waze, except for public transportation. The app takes actual conditions into account to show the fastest route, and it lets users track trains and buses on a live map.
To venture further off the beaten path for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and boating without losing your bearings, Theodolite’s topo interface picks up where most basic turn-by-turn maps leave off.
The $3.99 augmented reality app puts exact positioning data into a live camera view. It’s so detailed that surveyors and private pilots gave the app positive reviews.
This wonderfully wacky guide illuminates odd attractions around the world — including a record-breaking sculpture I didn’t know existed in my own hometown. So even locals can be tourists, if we stay curious.
A professional writer and editor, Alyssa Danigelis focuses on the intersection of technology with sustainability, business, media, arts, and design. Her interest in technology has led her to cover self-healing power grids, 3D-printed food, wearable computers, and robotic couture. Originally from Vermont, she’s a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She lived in New York City for several years before falling in love with sunny Boulder, Colorado, where she currently resides. Her writing has appeared in publications that include MIT’s Technology Review, Natural Health, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and Discovery News. Find her on Twitter at @adanigelis. She’s excited about sharing her passion for cool tech with iQ by Intel’s readers.