Category Archives: travel

my go-to iphone apps

This isn’t exactly breaking news, as my Verizon friends have had plenty of time to become acquainted with their new iPhones. When I started this post nearly a month ago, I thought it be helpful to put together a list of my favorite apps to help guide them through the learning curve. They are probably all more iPhone savvy than I am at this point, but figured I should finish what I started.

It’s not surprise that many of my most-used apps also happen to be everyone else’s most-used apps. But that just means they are so good they are worth mentioning again. So here is my list of my favorite apps, both the well-known and the less popular gems. All apps are free (I’m an app cheap skate) unless otherwise noted.

The Necessities
Facebook:
Obviously.
Google and Google Maps: Again, obviously.
AroundMe: Looking for the closest dry cleaner around you? Need to find a bank? A sushi joint? Find it on AroundMe.
Yelp: The go-to for restaurant suggestions wherever you happen to be. The GPS map is particularly helpful when you want suggestions outside your neighborhood.
Skype: This free or low-cost (depending on who you are calling) internet phone app is a life-saver when the husband is traveling, especially when he is out of the country.
The Weather Channel: There’s nothing I hate worse than being inappropriately dressed for the weather.
Wikipedia: I hate not knowing something.
IMDb: I hate not knowing something about movies and the people who star in them.
Sirius XM: I can’t live without my Sirius Satellite Radio in my car, in my house, on my phone.
Alarm Clock Pro ($0.99):
Keeps me punctual by gently waking me up to my favorite iPod playlists.
Nike+ GPS:
Record every mile you run, get time and pace updates, even hear words of encouragement from your favorite running idols (like Tracy Morgan!). If I take a run without it, I feel cheated — like it didn’t even happen.
New York Times and NPR: Of all my news apps, these are the two I check the most.

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bringing a little France back to Phoenix

We’ve just returned from our long-anticipated trip to France, and it was everything I could have hoped for. I absolutely fell in love with the history, the architecture, the arts and culture, the food and wine: I could go on forever. And though I was happy to return to the comforts of home — sleeping in my own bed, understanding the language — there are some things I really wish I could have brought back with me. Here are my top 6: Continue reading

a perfectly tailored (and free) vegas getaway

Vegas and I go way back. I’ve been making the quick turnaround trip from Phoenix for about 15 years and have experienced just about everything that glittery den of iniquity has to offer. I’ve seen my share of seedy downtown casinos and dined in fancy restaurants run by celebrity chefs. And I love it all.

Our recent trip to Vegas was a spur-of-the-moment thing precipitated by a free two-night stay offer from the new Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. I had never even heard of the place but the web site was pretty impressive. We figured there had to be a catch, but it was worth a call. Turns out, there was no catch. I don’t know who these people thought we were, but they apparently mistook us for high rollers deserving of a free room. No matter, we’ll take it! Continue reading

on paris planning in the blogosphere

I’ve used my passport 11 times in the past 10 years, which is not too shabby, I think. While I would love for this number to be double, triple, even quadruple, I am incredibly grateful for each of the travel experiences I have had (see my cool TripAdvisor Travel Map below). Traveling is my favorite hobby and certainly a priority in my life. I’m so lucky Tim shares my passion for discovery, as seeing the world with him makes it all the more meaningful (ew … here ends the excessive sentimentality).

One of my favorite parts of traveling, once the destination has been agreed upon, is planning the trip. The bookshelf in our guest bedroom is lined with travel guides from our previous adventures. I love to scan the titles, each one carrying its own set of postcard memories.

I am a big fan of the travel book, and I like to buy at least one for every trip we take. But lately, as in so many other instances, the book has taken a backseat to the travel information available on the web. The limitations of a travel guide — the fact that it’s outdated basically as soon as it is printed, the obvious space limitations that come with publishing a book people are meant to carry with them while traveling — have made online resources all the more valuable.

The most obvious, and useful, advancement to online travel planning has been the rise of social networking tools like TripAdvisor. Online travel planning used to mean searching individual hotel web sites or booking through Travelocity or Expedia. Not that those things aren’t still really helpful. But nowadays, thanks to the Facebook-Yelp-YouTube mentality, everyone is a critic and plenty of places exist where these critics can be heard.

I used to be wary of comments from “the general population”. How are they to be trusted, when I don’t know a thing about them? How can I measure my expectations against those of a stranger? But as our socially networked society has matured, so has the functionality of travel web sites. Sure, you can find plenty of inane comments on the discussion boards. And, yes, there are bound to be outlier comments of the positive and negative variety for just about every city, hotel and restaurant you wish to visit. But the beauty of TripAdvisor is that the wisdom of the masses really can be trusted. I don’t really why it works so well, but I continue to be amazed by the amount of success we’ve had following advice we got on TripAdvisor.

We are going to France in the spring, and I couldn’t be more excited. I haven’t been to Europe since 2003 and we’ve never been to France, so this trip is long overdue. But I’m also a little intimidated by what France holds in store for us. First of all, everyone in Paris is infinitely more stylish than I am. This is the first trip I’ve taken in a while where I’ve had to pack more than flip-flops and a swimsuit, and I’m terrified of being identified as an unfashionable American. But even more nerve-wracking is the food. I am so excited about the fromage and the vin and the pâtisseries. But my vegetarian sensibilities are terrified of the coq au vin, the foie gras and the cassoulet. I want to get the full French experience, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere. So I’m a wee bit skittish about poring over a menu in an unfamiliar language and inadvertently ordering beef tongue, or something.

Here’s where the web has really come through during this travel planning. There are, like, a million travel blogs about Paris. And a lot of them are really good! I came across many of them when booking our vacation rentals (one of which we found through TripAdvisor), as quite a few of the sites are tied in with Paris travel business owners, like HiP Paris blog. On this adorable site I’ve found tips for shopping, sightseeing and, most importantly, vegetarian dining in Paris (who knew there was such a thing?).

When I visit another country, I like to blend in as much as possible. I know people won’t think I’m French (although I’m sampling red lipsticks to help my case), but I don’t want to be identified as a tourist from across the Metro station. Reading tips on what to see, taste and do from expats living in Paris, like at I Heart Paris and the delightfully named Lost in Cheeseland, makes me feel like I’m an insider, like Tim and I will leisurely move from one hip and trendy cafe to the next, without a care in the world. And thanks to 52 Martinis, we also have an inside scoop on where best to imbibe once the sun goes down. The best part is that all of these cool blogs have links to a seemingly endless list of other really cool blogs. We are going to be the most knowledgeable Paris first-timers in history. I am so excited, even more so when I watched this video posted on Lost in Cheeseland. According to the post, it is a time-lapse video made entirely from photographs by a student at the American University of Paris. So technically stunning — I can’t wait to see it all in person.

My first European holiday was to Italy in 2000. From the time we arrived in Italy until we touched back down in San Francisco, we did without mobile phones, Internet or GPS. How quaint. Our only guide to getting around was Rick Steves’ Italy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Rick Steves. But trying to find some hidden tapas (cicchetti) bar he recommended on those crazy Venetian streets was an exercise in absurdity that Tim, to this day, will not let me live down.

Nearly 11 years later, we’ll be arriving in Paris with two iPhones and our beloved iPad. Thanks Apple. Rick Steves is coming with us, too, both in book and web form. We are staying in apartments with wi-fi access so we will be able to surf the World Wide Web to our hearts’ content to help us avoid eating at the Applebee’s of Paris and showing up at the Louvre the day it’s closed. We will rely on the wisdom of our friends in the blogosphere, choosing sites mostly by the fonts, banners and images adorning them … you know, the really important things. But in Paris, as in America, if you’re going to rely on the Internet “Gen Pop” for advice, you want to make sure they seem as though they would run in the same circles as you do. Fortunately for us, there appears to be an ample array of blogs to suit our tastes. I will report back upon our return on just how well these bloggers know what we like.