SUMMER gives many people the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and into new adventures. With plenty of apps designed to help plan vacations, smartphones can now act as a sort of personal tour guide.
While on vacation, discovering places on foot can feel far more intimate than by car or public transportation. The Sidekix app adds a high-tech twist to walking tours. The app suggests places, venues and events to experience in a particular city based on your interests, and then helps you locate your destination.
You can choose to see lists of restaurants, nightlife venues, shops and other categories, and the app points out interesting ones around you. Tapping on an entry reveals more detaile d information, including store hours and reviews. You can search for specific venues or even particular areas of a city, but the best way to use the app may be to let it automatically suggest a route for you — it's a great way to discover a new place.
Sidekix's interface is modern and easy to use, and it's packed with photos and short text entries, so it's not too demanding of your attention. The app is free on iOS, and an Android version is due this year.
Like Sidekix, the Clarice app helps you discover places to visit during a vacation, but it's also designed to act like a virtual travel agent. You tell the app where you want to go, then you choose between budget, midlevel and upscale prices. The app will then put together a list of things to do near your chosen location.
With Clarice, you can also see lists of nearby hotels, bars, cafes and historic sites, and tap on each to see more information. You can even call an Uber car from within the app to transport you to and from some places. Alternatively, you can browse through Clarice's "Collections," which are curated lists of things to see and do as you follow a path through a city.
The most distinctive part of the app, though, is its "Live Chat" feature. This has a messaging interface through which you can ask about your planned trip, or the destinations you are interested in. The chat tool connects you to a real person.
Some of the menus and controls in Clarice can be a little confusing because of its many different settings to scroll and tap through. And the app is useful in only a short (but growing) list of cities around the world. It's free on iOS and Android.
If you're vacationing overseas, one practical app is Google Translate (free on iOS and Android). This app can help you overcome some foreign language obstacles. Its simple st feature is the text-translation system that you may have used on a desktop PC already — you type in text in a foreign language and Google will give you the English translation, or you type in English what you want to say in another language and Google will show you the foreign text to use.
Google Translate also has a spoken-word feature, where it will listen to someone speaking in, say, French, and show the translated text in English on the screen. This can be unreliable, depending on the noisiness of the environment.
The most impressive feature of Google Translate is its camera-based translation. To use this, place text printed in a foreign language in front of your phone's camera, and on the screen, you'll see a live image with the words automatically replaced in English. This tool is particularly helpful for reading restaurant menus.
Summer is also the time to pay extra attention to the dangers of sun exposure, whether you're touring a city or bumming aroun d on a beach. The UVLens app, free on iOS, Android and Windows 10, starts by asking questions to help you determine your skin type. Along with a forecast of the ultraviolet levels at your location, the app reports how long it will probably take you to get a sunburn and suggests whether you should use a hat, sun protection and sunglasses. The app has clear instructions and easily understandable graphics, so it's also a good tool to help educate children about the risks of UV light.
Finally, to release pre-travel stress, use the app TripList (free on iOS) to help you organize which items you want to pack.
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