June was a hectic month for me. I attended no less than three “conference-type” events, that had me either in transit or altogether outside of my fair city for 18 days. I learned a lot about what I needed to have along with me for the ride, and I also learned that my iPad (while far better at handling what I needed this time than last year), wasn’t entirely up to the task.
Nonetheless, when it did come in handy, it was a combination of the form factor and several apps available to me that proved to be valuable for long excursions. And while the iPad or iPhone are not full replacements for, say, a notebook on the road, I can attest to 10 must-have apps that every iOS device should have installed before hitting the road.
1. Some form of task management app
I’ve been using OmniFocus for a long time now, but there are other task management/productivity apps that can work; it all depends on how deep into the productivity space you want to go. I’ve got a lot on the go, so OmniFocus is where everything “lives”. When you’re traveling, having some form of “to-do” app is integral, as you’ll need to inevitably add follow-up items for when you get home and add other items of notes throughout your travels. For me, my go-to app was OmniFocus. For you, it might be Things, Flow, Wunderlist, Priorities or one of the other countless apps out there. The key is to pick one and use it — even when you’re on the road.
I like the native Camera app, but if I’m traveling I like to have a more robust one that can do more with the photos I’m taking, such as zooming in on a subject. Camera+ gives me that and much more. I have barely scratched the surface on what it can do, but in terms of grabbing great shots on the go, I’ve yet to find a more complete camera app.
TripIt has become my “go to” app for all of my travel itinerary needs. I can have all of my travel info automatically imported into the app (or can email them as well), from flight times to hotel bookings to less obvious items such as ticket information for concerts and such. I can also see alternate flights within the app if I decide to make a change and can discover the best seats to choose when checking in — very handy if you’d like to have as much as leg room as possible on longer flights.
In addition, you can keep track of all of your travel reward points with TripIt if you upgrade to the pro version of the app on its website. But the bare bones version allows for all of the stuff most travelers will really need…which is to figure where they need to be at what time. I’ve tried other apps that purport to do the same, but I keep coming back to TripIt. And now I’m a pro user as well.
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4. Qik Video
Since I was leaving my family behind during the traveling I did last month, I wanted to be able to give them video in real time as to where I was. Enter Qik Video. At one time it was only available for jail broken iPhones, but now it’s an official app and it shouldn’t be underestimated as a valuable one when on the road. I simply sent my family a link to my Qik page and they could log in and see me live if they wanted, or could see archived videos of where’d I’d been during my day. It’s a great way to keep connected visually without having to schedule those moments.
I still have no idea why Apple hasn’t incorporated what Instacast can do into the iPod functionality on iOS devices. Instacast allows users to grab the latest episodes of their favorite podcasts without having to sync to iTunes on their computers. Very handy if you’re on the road and want to keep up with a regular podcasting diet. I was able to listen to many of my favorite podcasts stream of the wireless network on my train trip from Vancouver to Portland, and every morning I’d run Instacast to see if anything new popped up. Then I’d give them a listen at my leisure, which is a luxury I wouldn’t have had otherwise, as I didn’t travel with my laptop. Traveling or not, this is a must-have app for podcast fans.
As a writer, I’ve tried a slew of writing apps, but for traveling I lean towards Simplenote if only because of its ubiquitous nature. I know that if I sync up to Simplenote with whatever I’m writing, then I can tweak it on any computer platform I end up having at my disposal. That’s one of the advantages of being a web-based service.
Plus, Simplenote just works. Sure, you can really dig deep into the app, but at its core it’s plain, simple text editing…and it lets me get down to writing and syncs with the service once I’m within range of 3G or wifi. That’s what I need when I’m on the road.
I hate paying roaming fees, and Canadian cellphone providers have a penchant for gouging their customers with them. Skype takes care of that for me. Sure, I do pay for calls to phone lines, but it pales in comparison to what I’d pay my cellphone provider. The reception can be wonky at times, depending on the connection speed, but Skype does the job in most cases. As a Canuck on the road, Skype is a must-have money-saver. (I just hope it stays as valuable under its new ownership.)
It’s not free, like Voice Notes or similar apps, but what DropVox does that the others don’t do is sync up to my DropBox account. Some have even found a way to have their DropVox notes sync over to OmniFocus, which is incredibly convenient if that’s your task management app of choice. It also has unlimited record time as well (which would be limited only by the space you have on your DropBox account). All of these features make DropVox my preferred voice recording app.
9. Night Stand HD
I have a tough time waking up, whether at home or on the road. I’ve got WakeMate while at home, but I try to pack as light as I can when traveling. Sure, the wristband doesn’t take up much room…but Night Stand HD takes up even less.
It’s a fully-featured alarm clock app, giving me weather options for where I am at (with location services enabled, of course) and a variety of choices of clock type and alarm sounds. And it wakes me up, which is really the most important feature.
I, like many others, am not a fan of the native iCal app. I’ve tried Calvetica and haven’t spent enough time in it (or Dialvetica, for that matter) to feel comfortable in it. But Agenda works like a charm for me. It has a great user interface and keeps me on schedule, which is crucial during conferences when you have to be at certain sessions on time. Of course, the push notifications help with this. Agenda lets me take in my surroundings during my down time without getting lost in them so that I can take in what I’m really in the area for: the conference.
And an honorable mention goes to FourSquare/Gowalla/Etc.
I rarely use location-based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, but when I’m traveling, it’s a great way for you (and others) to keep track of your whereabouts. Sure, these apps are great for social gaming, but if something was to happen to you, there’d be a virtual starting point for people to track you down. Perhaps not the ideal use for such services, but a use for them nonetheless.
These must-have apps have alternatives (especially the task managers), but during last month’s traveling blitz I’d have been hard-pressed without the ones above. They’ve earned a home on their own page as a result of their effectiveness.