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Pandemic travel -- your mobile device is now an essential travel companion

From getting around to visiting different sights, apps have become a much bigger part of the travel experience

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If you’re someone who has mocked others for seemingly having their heads buried in their phone, you might find yourself more attached to yours, too, before long. In the post-pandemic world, you can expect a lot less human interaction, especially when doing things like dining out, going to events, or traveling on a plane or local transportation.

If my recent COVID-19 revenge tour taught me anything, it was that I need to be app-ready at every corner.

Apps become a bigger part of life

The pandemic has spurred more businesses to deploy digital payment options. That, in turn, has forced consumers to do the same. Many apps are touch-free like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and PayPal’s QR code-driven payment. The number of contactless-enabled merchants is growing, according to a recent study by MasterCard, as is the consumer demand for touch-free payments. 

Where else might you need an app? Here are just a few examples.

Events: How about buying a ticket to see a San Francisco Giants baseball game. When I went to the ticket window, I was told that I had to use an app. When I did that and tried to buy a single ticket, I couldn’t because tickets were only sold in “pods” of two or more. Luckily, one kind soul overheard me asking a Giants representative how I could buy just one ticket and offered to sell me one of his. 

Transportation: The same was true when I wanted to ride on public transportation. I had to buy tickets via my phone and scan those tickets when I got on a bus or subway. Airlines have been pushing people to use their check-in apps for a while, but the industry is moving quickly to everything digital -- from checking in at the gate to ordering onboard food. 

Dining out: Restaurants are largely doing away with physical menus and forcing diners to scan a QR code to see what food and drink options are available.

Museums: At the museums I visited, there were apps that essentially curated my visit -- from where to find a certain exhibit to the background of certain pieces.

Apping up means powering up too

I have a Google 4 5G phone that served me well before my trip. Having a battery life that lasted more than a day and a flexible Google Fi data plan allowed me to easily manage day-to-day tasks without racking up added costs.

But that all went away during my trip because more app usage means more drain on the battery. I found my phone battery on its last legs before the day was done two times during my trip. Because I had an extra reliance on apps -- especially GoogleMaps to help guide me around places I was unfamiliar with -- my data usage soared and cost me some extra money.

The fix -- for me anyway -- was to get a power bank. Once a power bank is fully charged, it has enough juice to quickly repower a mobile device -- sometimes up to two times depending on the product you have -- before it has to be recharged.

A quick suggestion list

If you’re going on vacation anytime soon, think about adding these apps and tools to your mobile device’s arsenal. It could save you some time and hassle, especially if you’re somewhere that requires interfacing or using an app to make a purchase.

QR code reader: There are plenty of available QR code reader apps, and they all work pretty much the same. My choice was Google Lens, which is available on the Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Payment app: If your mobile device isn’t ready for touch-free buying, it’s easy to set up and simpler than swiping a credit card. If techy things stress you out, your local bank might be willing to help you set up not only their banking app but connect it to something like Google Pay, PayPal, or Apple Pay. 

Events: If you’re going to a sporting event or concert, it’s likely that you will have to use your mobile device to buy tickets. Some venues even allow you to buy food via the same app. For sporting events, Major League Baseball and the NBA both have their own. If you’re going to a concert, you’ll need to show your ticket via an app (most likely Ticketmaster or the platform you purchased your tickets from) to get in.

Power bank: There are plenty to choose from that are available on Amazon, at Best Buy, and through other vendors. Most are in the $25-$50 range.

Airline app: Each airline has its own app, and they’re getting smarter and more integrated by the day. Some allow you to order snacks, and some even track your luggage. I also strongly recommend the MyTSA app. It provides airline passengers with 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information.

Language app: Going somewhere where they speak a different language? With Google Translate, you can hit the microphone button, ask a question, and a translation will automatically appear. 

Going with others: If you’re going somewhere with friends and think you’ll be splitting up at times to take separate mini-adventures, I’ve read that Apple’s exclusive Find My Friends app might help if you get separated and need to find out how to get back to the same place.

Banking app: Make sure you have the latest version of your bank’s app so that you don’t run into any unforeseen problems while away from home. 

Rideshare apps: If you’re not driving and don’t plan on getting around on foot, you’ll probably need either the Uber or Lyft app. I suggest both since there may be times when one will be busier -- and more expensive -- than the other.

AirHelp: You may never use this app, but it can be a lifesaver if you ever get stuck in a position where your flight has been delayed or canceled -- or, worse yet, you’ve been denied boarding a flight because it was oversold. The AirHelp app has all the laws that regulators in the U.S. and EU mandate for compensation in such cases. 

All your travel information in one place: While I depended more on my Google suite of apps to get me through my trip, I recently installed the TripIt app to keep track of all travel-related information -- flights, hotel reservations, COVID-19 guidance, important travel documents, etc.

Accommodations app: If you think you’ll be making hotel or vacation rental reservations during your trip, having an app like Hotels.com or Airbnb might come in handy. The Airbnb app can be particularly helpful because it allows guests and Hosts to stay in touch.

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