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Travel tech

Travel tech once meant chargers, backup batteries and luggage scales, but now it’s more about apps on your phone, tablet, and watch. Having just returned from a week in Japan, I relied on a whole new set of apps on my iPhone that made my travels more helpful and enjoyable.

I’ve been traveling to Japan on business for nearly 50 years and remember how I used to rush to Akihabara to see and buy the latest watches, PDAs, phones, and cameras. Those categories have now been coopted by Apple to a large degree.

Here’s some of the best travel tech I used:

Google Translate – A free app that works like magic to read signs, menus and anything written in a foreign language. It came in handy to translate Japanese menus and signs to English. Just frame the Japanese text in your camera, and the English words are superimposed. It’s also capable of translating the spoken word, although that didn’t work as well..

Google and Apple Maps – These familiar apps work wonders when navigating in a foreign country. I was was using them for all sorts of things, including my routes in taxis, locating attractions, and walking around the cities.

Reviews – A must while walking through neighborhood and searching for restaurants or other establishments. Yelp was mostly useless – it’s never developed much traction outside of the U.S. Instead, I constantly turned to Google reviews and Trip Adviser for relevant information. Opening up Google maps and searching by category worked best, and the reviews were much more comprehensive than Yelp. Trip Advisor was also very useful to check reviews of attractions, hotels, attractions and restaurants.

Photos – No longer do I travel with my Sony mirrorless camera, something I bought a number of years ago to replace my SLR with a lighter camera. It’s still too heavy with its large. This time I used my iPhone 12 Pro Max along with a tiny Ricoh GRIIIx digital camera. The GR is today’s version of the Minox. Yet as good as the camera’s images were, the iPhone sometimes did as well and often better because of its in-camera processing. It also made it easier to share photos by setting up a shared album that others back home could view.

United app – No more printed boarding passes with the excellent United app that delivers boarding passes directly to your phone.

Payments – Japan uses a couple of Universal payment cards called Suica and Pasmo. I purchased a Suica card before I left and added additional funds in Japan. I used it for trains, subways, taxis, store purchases, and vending machines. They’re accepted everywhere for most everything. I also downloaded the app and added it to my phone. That let me add cash to it from my credit cards in less than 30 seconds as long as I had an Internet connection.

FlightyPro – Used FlightyPro (see last week’s column) to keep informed of my flights.

Of course to use all of these apps require a good Internet connection. While there was free WiFi in many locales, cellular was a necessity, and we needed to use Verizon’s Travel Pass. With three of us, the cost adds up quickly at $10/day each. This is when I wish I had T-Mobile with their free international data.