Writing for LV= travel insurance, travel writer Tracey Davies tracks down the travel tech that’s helped her and fellow voyagers stay safe and improve their trips.
Before I became a travel writer, I backpacked around the world for three years. It was a time before smart phones, iPads, and even half-decent internet access, and sometimes weeks would go by without any contact with my folks back home.
As a solo female traveller, my parents would have been much happier if I'd had a reliable mobile phone. Two decades on, and with solo female travel at its highest ever level, things have certainly changed for the better.
The trend for solo travel has grown three-fold since 2011. A report from ABTA revealed that one in six of us is choosing to holiday alone in the past year.
This could be thanks to improved technology, social media and a growing number of apps which enable solo travellers to explore the world with ease and confidence.
One of the biggest trials many of us face when travelling to many different countries is a lack of language skills beyond 'hello', 'thank you' and 'a beer, please'. Now, thanks to advanced technology, anyone can use an app to get by in Italian, Portuguese and even Swahili.
‘I recently used the Speak and Translate app in Venice,’ says Emma Cooke, former digital editor at easyJet magazine. ‘I'd booked the highly sought-after Secret Itineraries tour of Doge's Palace, which explores the palace's old prisons and the Chamber of Torment. It was in Italian as all the English-speaking ones were booked solid. I highly recommend it, even if you do spend the entire time being stared at by very confused Italians!’
Of course, make sure that you have a good data roaming policy on your phone if you don’t want to rack up bills, otherwise going analogue can make more sense. Simone Sagi, an arts and culture PR, uses Allergy translation cards from Allergy UK.
‘I can absolutely trust the translations and they describe what you can’t eat and the severity of it. Also, the plastic cards mean that the waiting staff can take them into a kitchen to show chefs.’
Language apps aren’t the only mobile applications that can help you.
‘The best I’ve come across is TripCase, which stores all the details about your trip – hotel bookings, flight info and car reservations – in one place,’ says Peter Jenkins, managing director of Sun-hat Villas & Resorts. ‘You can also share it with other people, so if you’re travelling in a group the app will update your companions on your behalf. It’s really handy if you’re on the go a lot.’
However, prolonged app use is not kind to the modern smart phone.
‘I never travel anywhere without my portable charger,’ says Cathy Winston, editor of 101 Singles Holidays and the award-winning blog Mummytravels.com. ‘Having your phone charged up has as many uses as the phone does. There are hundreds on the market, but I like the RAVPower.’
If you’re going ‘off-grid’, you could also consider a solar charger. There are plenty of portable solar panel chargers that can be plugged into USB devices.
Of course, phones aren’t the only things that need a little boost now and then. As an eco-minded coffee fiend, I'm rarely without my reusable coffee mug. A PR recently gave me a leak-proof, collapsible one by Stojo and it's actually proved to be an invaluable piece of kit when I'm rushing through airports.
Another big change is the way we spend when travelling abroad. Long gone are the days of traveller’s cheques, now it's all pre-paid cards, fee-free credit cards and slick banking apps.
‘When I was looking for the best way to carry and spend money when travelling abroad I did a lot of research on pre-paid cards,’ says Victoria, who runs Victoria's Vintage, a vintage fashion and travel blog.
‘I signed up to Monzo, a digital mobile-only bank and found it the best way to carry and spend money whilst I was away. It's a great alternative to pre-paid cards, where you often have to pay fees to access your money, and it's much safer than carrying cash.’
Thanks to technology, there are also plenty of great tools to find your way around.
Will Petty took a Garmin inReach Explorer®+ on his epic South American tour, which he recounted on his travel blog.
‘It’s invaluable to know exactly where you are anywhere in the world, and also to have a track of where you’ve been in case you need to retrace your steps,’ says Will. ‘Knowing I could always send an SOS call gave me great peace of mind, although thankfully I never needed to use it. Being able to message loved ones while I was trekking in the wilderness kept them reassured too.
‘I could explore the labyrinthine red rock formations of Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert on my own, safe in the knowledge that I could always use the Garmin to find my way,’ he continues. ‘In Paraguay, I used the Garmin to measure the length of a stretch of road that had been completely covered in candles for Good Friday – it was over a kilometre!’
‘Get the guiding hand you need with the Around Me app,’ says Will Roberts, owner of breaks.com, a leading travel advice and review site specialising on city breaks in the UK and Europe. ‘Don't have 4G? Then use a wi-fi finder app to connect to the nearest hotspot. Nowadays, there are so many ways to make your life easier abroad.’
From instant language translation to solar power packs, technology is making travelling easier and indeed safer. Now, if only someone would invent a bag-packing robot...