Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Emergency Assistance Apps for iPhone

It's summer and the living is... well business travelers tend to hate summers because all of the leisure travelers are out and about. It's not that we begrudge them their vacations, it's just that they don't always know "the rules," like not overstuffing their carry-ons such that others cannot get their bags in the overhead compartment.

It's also the time when emergencies are more likely to happen. With inexperienced travelers around who are not prepared for the extra exertions involved in moving themselves and their possessions from place to place, you may find yourself within the vicinity of an emergency situation. Or it might be YOU in that situation. This month I'm reviewing two apps that are worth having on your iPhone: one that covers basic First Aid, and the second that helps store your emergency contact and medical information.

It's Happening: Do You Need Help?

Eighteen months ago, a family member had a medical incident that left us shaken and stirred. (That person has recovered well, thanks for asking.) The first-responders were spectacular, by the way! I knew where to find the medications to show them, but was uncertain of what was taken when. I have remedied that situation. I was glad to be right there when needed, but it of course got me thinking about who would look after me if something happened to me on the road?

That's where this application comes in:

The In Case of Emergency app lets you store crucial medical information about yourself that can help first-responders when you cannot tell them about yourself.

I went ahead and purchased the full version at US$1.99, and the application asked to use my location information. Given that it can help me find a hospital nearby if I need it, I allowed it access. I then filled in the information, after accepting their Terms of Service. There was a place for my emergency contact, my doctor's name and number, and my health insurance policy information, along with any medications that I might need or allergies I had.

I admit to being a bit hesitant about storing this information; like so much other content on my phone, I would not want this falling into the wrong hands. So bear that in mind and always keep good track of your phone!

It's Happening: How Can You Help?

The other situation you might encounter is another traveler needing help. Of course, we all hope that there is a doctor nearby, but if someone's in trouble and you choose to help, there are apps that can provide First Aid information when you need it.

This is the app that got my attention:

The Pocket First Aid and CPR from the American Heart Association includes basic instructions on performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a video demonstration. This is life-saving information that you can use, or that others can use on you.

The app also lets you store medical profiles on family members, which is the other reason why I like the application. This app is perfect for parents who need to keep track of kids and adult children of parents who need care-giving. As with the other application, please treat this information with the greatest care, and keep your phone safe.

Have you found emergency and medical applications that are useful to you? Visit my blog at and leave a comment, and I will include it a future newsletter.
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Newsletter: TripAdvisor's Kindle Travel Guide App

I don't walk around wearing my Toolie® the Travel Guide T-Shirt, but people seem to naturally gravitate towards me to ask directions. I was on my way to my commuter bus in Downtown Seattle today when I noticed two senior couples consulting the posted schedule at my stop. It turns out they were waiting for the same bus I planned to ride, so I spoke up to confirm (thanks to my iPhone real-time bus information app) that the bus was 2 minutes away. The two couples plus some younger family members were in town for a wedding.

As I looked up the bus schedule, I thought about using my Kindle to look up additional information for them, but realized that I would have a hard time connecting to WiFi while out on the sidewalk. That's why finding today's travel guide app is particularly pleasing; it doesn't rely on WiFi to provide travel information on an ongoing basis.

Android/Kindle Travel App: TripAdvisor

Yes, the same website you may rely on for grass-roots travel reviews has a travel guide app that you can put on your Android-based device. In my case, I downloaded the free app onto my Kindle Fire HD 7" device. I'm really pleased with the 7" device because it's the perfect size for slipping into a purse or fanny pack.

First the app installed itself, then it informed me that there was content to download based on the fact that I had searched for a Seattle travel guide. I tapped the button, and it began downloading the Seattle map, restaurant, hotel, attractions, shopping, and tour info; that all took about 5 minutes over my home WiFi connection.

While I the content was downloading, I took a minute to read the reviews of the app itself on the Kindle Store. Apparently 2 of the reviewers were unaware of how TripAdvisor works, citing the "grass roots" nature of the content. That feature, in fact, is what makes TripAvisor a favorite for many people; it is "regular folks" who are writing the reviews. Besides, how can you complain about a free app that has such nice features?

All the Standard Information ... Plus!

In addition to sections for restaurant, hotels, attractions, etc., TripAdvisor provides a place for you to write reviews that contribute to the overall content and upload a photo you've taken.

The size of the Kindle makes reading and interacting with the app pretty easy. What I appreciate most about this app is that it will work offline as well as on WiFi. You don't have to have a device with a data connection all the time just to read the information.

Synchronize to the TripAdvisor Servers

If you create a Travel Journal through their app, you can synchronize the information with your TripAdvisor account online. The TripAdvisor website had been overhauled since I last used it, so I had to sign up for an account again, but I did that on my laptop, and was able to immediately sign in on my Kindle. I also had the option to sign in with my Facebook username and password if preferred.

I tapped the Sync button and the app showed me that the My Trip Content, Map, Reviews, and Photos had all been synchronized in the last hour. It is a pretty clever way for TripAdvisor to expand their content with your help, but also protects the information you've collected for your own use.

Relying on Crowd-sourced Information

The Internet has truly revolutionized how we communicate with each other, and the availability of high-power devices with lots of storage means that we can take the Internet with us. I have to admit that as a travel professional, I'm unwilling to completely rely on travel information that is not written by other professionals. However, with any Internet-based information, it's always a good idea to cross-check your information against multiple sources. What users of TripAdvisor think is a great place to stay might not fit your definition of a great place to stay.

My last experience with relying on TripAdvisor was mixed; I got a great deal on the room in Liechtenstein City where I stayed a few years back, but it was the closest to going camping I've experienced since the 1980s. Yes, the room was clean and available, but it was sorely lacking in the amenities I relied upon at the time.

It was a tough choice: there was very little travel information available at that time about places to stay in Liechtenstein City, so I went for it. That doesn't mean you'll suffer the same fate I did when using TripAdvisor. A LOT has changed in the last 5 years: up-to-date travel information is much more readily available. Just double-check against professional sources and use your own judgement.
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Newsletter: TripLingo Translation App for iPhone

I speak English as my first language and 4 other European languages to varying degrees of proficiency. I sat through endless hours of class, having conversations, puzzling over grammar, and memorizing syntax. In other words, I learned languages the old-fashioned way. I secretly resent the Rosetta Stone advertisements that explain that learning a language can be easy. I'm pretty facile at languages, and I don't remember it being easy to learn!

I didn't start out learning languages because I needed it for business travel, but being able to speak other languages WHEN I traveled was a huge advantage. So as I write my review of this month's language app, I'll remember the real reason for having such an app: communicating with others in a way that establishes respect for the culture.

TripLingo Lite for iPhone

I downloaded the TripLingo app and chose French for my language. The Lite version allows you to choose from 11 languages, but only one of them. If you buy a language pack, you can have more than one on your iPhone at a time.

Upon starting the app, I had to create an account for myself. I gave it my first name, my email, and a password, and the app started up. I was presented with a home screen containing the name of the selected language, the apps assessment of my language ability, a search box, and 4 buttons: My Phrases, Translator, Travel Situations, and Flashcards. Across the bottom are 5 more buttons: Dictionary, Culture, Talk Live, Word Bank, and Options.

As you might expect, the most enticing features require you to purchase something to add to the app, but I was able to utilize the Essentials list in the My Phrases section. There I could choose a useful phrase such as "How much does it cost?" and have the app show me 4 different versions of the phrase: formal, casual, slang, and crazy.

Naturally as a formal student of French, I chose that one, and from my iPhone came a perfectly pronounced phrase, "Combien cela coûte-t-il?" What I truly appreciated were 2 buttons just below the slider, marked Slow and Normal. As someone who loves French and who knows that the French appreciate their language being spoken to them, I was thrilled to be able to slow the phrase down so that I could practice it and repeat it.

Building Vocabulary

Other parts of the app encourage you to learn basic phrases by giving you a flash card quiz. It will show you a phrase in English, for example, give you a chance to view it in French, pronounce it for you, then ask you whether you indeed knew the phrase. As you learn the phrases, the progress bar showing your language status lengthens, and you've got an incentive to keep going.

Even though I took a year of French in grad school, I went out of my way to take a 6-week conversational class before my first visit to France in 1996. I realized then that the French I knew might not be very helpful in restaurants and stores. Well this app is like a conversational French class in your pocket. The only thing missing is someone who can give you feedback on how well you're pronouncing the words. If you can find a native speaker to give you feedback, that's the best option. Otherwise, you will no doubt receive feedback when you try your phrases on the locals. Be patient, be polite, and they will help you!
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Newsletter: The Shift to Electronic Travel Guides

I love languages. I was bitten by the language bug when I was in high school. I took 3 years of the Spanish language with Miss Staley in an accelerated course and got good enough at it to read a novel in Spanish. That was cool!

Next came singing in foreign languages in college. I didn't have enough elective credits to take language courses during my undergrad, so before and during grad school I took a year each of German, French, and Italian, and audited a linguistics class that pulled it all together for me. I finally understood what I was singing about, and that was cool!

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when I began traveling for Microsoft. They sent me to 24 countries and regions in a 7 year period, and I bought (paper) travel guides, language phrase books, and language dictionaries for each of those locations, and I hauled them with me on those trips. The books are currently stacked up in my office closet along with the paper maps I used on the trips.

So you can appreciate my slight resentment of the fact that now ALL of those items will fit neatly on my iPhone, and I can load and unload them at will. Bye-bye 50-pound (23Kg) suitcases; I can easily eliminate 8 pounds just from the books I don't have to carry.

Books vs. Electronic Devices

I admit that I still like books for most circumstances. People who visit my office are impressed with my book collection; there's an implication that I have read all of them, you see, which of course I have not. But they're there for reference, and I have used parts of nearly all of them at one time or another.

Now that I have both an iPhone and a Kindle, I can read books on either device. I like using the Kindle -- that is for what it was originally designed -- but there are times when being able to leaf through a book is much more efficient. Plus, you don't need an Internet connection or a battery!

I liked my travel guidebooks, especially the Dorling-Kindersley series of travel guides. They were printed on glossy paper with compactly printed, well-organized information, etc. Now they appear on glossy screens and the information gets updated regularly. THAT I can appreciate.

Guarding Your Devices on the Road

While I am waiting for the commuter bus, I look around to see how many of us have electronic devices in our hands, and it's usually 40%-60%. Given that I live in Seattle (one of the premier high-tech locations worldwide) that's not surprising. Since I'm here near home, I don't feel concerned for my safety standing around looking at my iPhone. But I also make sure I keep it close to my body so that it would be difficult for someone to snatch it and run away.

You see, we carry so much personal information on our electronic devices that losing them through our own missteps or by theft could be devastating. So I think twice about the idea of walking around another country with my travel guidebook on my Kindle. I even think carefully about reading my Kindle on the bus, lest someone snatch it from my hand as they head for the door. I can't run as fast as I used to, though I would very motivated to try.

So I would offer the same advice to those of you carrying electronic travel guides and maps as I did for the paper versions:

  1. Plan your walking tours carefully; know where you're going. Have a clear idea in your head about which direction you're headed. And if you get turned around, use the compass or map on your device to re- orient yourself.

  2. If you must stop to check the map or your travel guide on your electronic reader, step into an alcove or some non-obvious place before you put your head down to start reading. This practice keeps you from appearing vulnerable. Walking confidently is the easiest defense against observers who might consider confronting you.

Reviews of Language and Travel Guide Apps

In the next few issues, I'm going to review some of the language and translation apps as well as various travel guides. If you have a favorite travel or language guide series that you like, leave a comment below, and I'll include your recommendations in the appropriate issue of the newsletter.
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Newsletter: Entertainment on the Road and at Home

Well, my appreciation of the Kindle only increases as time passes.  I'm very pleased with having my 7" Kindle Fire HD as a regular companion.  I haven't done much travel lately (except back and forth to Seattle), but I certainly have made use of the Kindle whenever I'm in transit.  But I also watch TV while I work on tasks that don't require much brain power, like website link checking and data entry tasks.  I usually watch (or rather listen to) movies that I've already seen so that I'm not too distracted.

I've been watching the Amazon Instant Videos that are available as part of my Prime Membership, including my nightly dose of Mythbusters episodes.  Last week though, I took the next step in the permanent tethering of the Kindle to my day bag: I added Netflix streaming movies to my existing subscription to Netflix DVDs.

The Amazon Instant Movies in the Prime Membership are not available to McAlister's iPad, so I felt it was only fair that he have access to the same movies I had.  Or so I thought.  Amazon has a long way to go to match the availability of movies that Netflix has.

Wireless Movies Everywhere

McAlister and I are movie buffs.  I took up watching movies after I found myself single again in the early 1990s.  McAlister has a minor in film, meaning he studied the production aspects of filmmaking and actually made a few films himself.  When we first met, our standing date on Fridays was to leave the office a little early and catch the 5 pm showing at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California.  We track actors' careers, discuss plot lines, appreciate good screen writing, and inhale great acting like the air we breathe.

We don't get to go OUT to the movies as much anymore, but we are no less enthusiastic about them.  So to have Netflix stream movies on my Kindle while I develop websites, and on his iPad he works on his wax sculptures, is positively heavenly.  Of course one needs high-speed Internet to stream that much data, so I'm now in negotiations with Comcast to get their high-speed connection into our house.  If you've ever dealt with Comcast, you know what I mean by "negotiations."  Don't get me started....

Leaving the DVDs at Home

It's time for me to get back on the road; long overdue in fact.  I'm looking forward to being able to throw my Kindle in my carry-on bag and not having to worry about my standard pack of movie DVDs disappearing from my checked luggage.  It's happened to me!  On one trip a couple of years ago, I lost over $200 worth of movies and even some software Cds, and I'm still angry with TSA over that little stunt.  Now I can carry just the Kindle (or just my laptop for that matter) and my Netflix subscription, and get movies wherever I can get a connection.

That's not to say I don't use my DVDs anymore; I still do.  Netflix doesn't have every movie I like to watch, so I am keeping my Netflix DVD subscription for the time being.

Not Just Movies

I mentioned the Mythbusters in passing, but I have to tell you that I'm thoroughly enjoying having free access to 9 seasons of their show as part of my Prime Membership.  I watch at least 1 episode every night as I get ready for bed.  It helps me unwind; it's completely different than what I do all day; I learn something new; and it's wonderful to watch people who love what they do.  I didn't get much science in my undergrad education, so I pick up some pretty interesting stuff along the way.

I've also put every season of Julia Child's The French Chef episodes on my Amazon Instant Video watch list, because my rather bland cooking needs some HELP!  I've also snagged 3 seasons of the original Star Trek TV show.  I will finally get to see all of them!

May you also find the portable movie-viewing device of your dreams...!
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