I was describing my recent trip to Colombia to a friend and he looked at me in amazement. “Wow, look at you, Cathy. Using Uber and Airbnb. You are so 21st century.” I’m thinking, “Me? Cutting edge? Heck no.” This is the way travel has been transformed in the last five years. It’s not as intimidating to travel to a foreign country in today’s world of technology. As long as there is an app and a cellular connection, you are connected to easier travel. You too can take on the world.
Thirty years ago, when I traveled to South America, we did everything very old school. We stayed with family or walked up to a hotel with a vacancy sign. We stood in line at a travel agency in Caracas to purchase plane tickets to Rio de Janeiro. My first husband bartered with cab drivers to get the cheapest price to our hotel. We would refrain from speaking English in the cab so that we had the most direct route to the restaurant.
Travel has transformed and this is how:
- Uber. This is one of the single most transformative modes of transportation for a very simple reason. You don’t necessarily need to know the language of the city you are in to travel where you want to go. All you have to do is plug in the address in the app. You don’t necessarily need to talk to the driver once they pick you up. In Medellín, the address system was incomprehensible to me. Our address was Calle 8 #42-32. I had no idea how that was figured out, but the Uber driver got us there without fail. You also don’t need to have cash, which helps to not have to exchange all sorts of money into pesos or euros. No wandering around a bus station trying to get on the right bus. I have been in Ubers in Miami, Paris and Medellín, and about 80% of the time, the driver did not speak English. We always still arrived where we needed to go without incident.
- Airbnb. My first experience with Airbnb was when my friend, Susannah, found a wonderful apartment in Paris. This app/service lets you rent a room, apartment or house practically anywhere in the world. I found a great place in Medellín that was close to shopping and restaurants. I find they are best for extended travel because you can set up shop for breakfast and lunch (maybe even dinner). We could decide if we needed Wifi, laundry, number of beds, and other extraneous creature comforts. Having coffee first thing in the morning without having to dress or take a shower is so much more relaxing. It also takes the guesswork out of a vacation in terms of timing and figuring out when everyone needs to get up. This is a huge bonus with adult kids who have their own schedule.
- Airline apps. I have the Delta, American and Copa (Air Panama Airlines) app on my phone. The way this is transformative is that you can check-in on your phone for your flight. This saves not having to have a physical ticket in your possession for your entire trip. I can remember when my first husband and I hopscotched around South America in the mid-1980’s. We had to manage a slew of tickets. Some of these apps even have enhancements. The Delta app tracks where your bag is. I recently traveled two days after a snow storm out of my home airport of Raleigh-Durham. I could check the status of all the flights to Atlanta for two days before. I knew that the flight I was taking had been delayed the day before but not cancelled. This was reassuring before I headed to the airport in ice and snow.
- Trip Advisor. This app gives you reviews, hours of operation, addresses, and pricing for local attractions and restaurants. So when we were in the Plaza de Botero in Medellín, we could find a local coffee shop with the best reviews and use the Map section to walk to it. There were a few glitches with one or two restaurants not being open but for now, I’ll chalk that up to it being a holiday week and Trip Advisor being unaware. It’s also helpful when deciding between one attraction or another to have them based on crowd sourced reviews. So one attraction might have 5 stars (the highest) but only 30 reviews, whereas another has 4½ starts but 2000 reviews. It also shows the latest reviews first and on my app. They were in English.
- WhatsApp. This is an app to send texts and calls without cellular service. My daughter and I had cellular coverage while on the trip to Medellín. But we were able to contact friends and family both in Colombia and at home without having to use cellular service. This was so critical. An Uber driver or two contacted us using it, as well as several friends and family. It’s the way to communicate. You just need to make sure you have Wifi. It is popularly used in countries outside of the U.S. now. You should make sure you have this app before you travel. With more smart devices than people in the world, you need to make sure you are connected.
I feel like I stumbled on all of this in the last year and all of these are available to check out in your App Store, even if you don’t travel overseas. There is also Lyft, a cheaper and safer version of Uber, available in the USA but not overseas, as far as I know. Make sure you are all app’ed up before you travel and it will make your trip so much more enjoyable and manageable.