Whether the Apple iPad will lead to travellers leaving half a dozen books at home remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that virtual travel sites and guides are transforming the way many of us will see the world this summer.
“I’ve done away with all the paper tourist information for a trip to Stockholm on Thursday, in favour of two Travel Guide iPhone/iPod apps which are now happily sitting on my devices and ready to go,” said Neil Wilkins of Viper Marketing, which specialises in promoting digital technology.
“The huge advantage is that they update daily with events and festivals rather than the tired paper format which are out of date the moment they’re printed,” he continued. “The Stockholm Travel Guide from cityscouter.com allows for realtime reviews and social networking, which means I can create comment and publish as I sit in the cafe or restaurant.”
Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Apptism equivalents also offer a vast array of digital information. And you may soon require apps even in the UK. Several UK outdoor areas are developing podscrolls and scaling back on information boards - which are expensive to make and rapidly deteriorate – in favour of “augmented reality”, whereby a “digital ranger” provides the “viewer” with the capability to use an iPod or other device to investigate deeper into a subject – for example, allowing Roman legions to be seen stomping down the Roman road visible under the field.
“A lot of travel publishers have rushed to get something into the [apps] space,” said Peter Buckley, digital publisher for Rough Guides, which has delayed its move into the field and instead offers users self-contained online content they can download. “The tricky bit isn’t the content, it’s the actual user experience. There’s still a big question over apps to do with travel. Until the roaming charges come down, they are just not going to take off.”
Beyond apps, Kirsty Parsons, of Mountain Kingdoms, approves of a new multi-purpose charger called the Power Monkey Explorer, from PowerTraveller. “It can be charged by a small solar panel, from mains or a USB. It’s a way of having power if you’re out and about,” she said. The solar re-charge takes 16 hours in the northern hemisphere, but only half this time south of the equator.
The Swiss Army Knife remains a design classic that is hard to beat, but it has a rival in the range of pocket-sized Leatherman multi-tools, such as the Juice Cs4, which measures 8.25cm when closed, weighs just 156g and includes corkscrew, can opener and scissors. Items recommended by Andrew Steed, general manager of Stanford’s travel bookshop in London, include a cooler mini fan and a worldwide travel adaptor (both from Design Go Travel), a travel pillow for kids called a yondi (by Magmatic) and a waterproof camera from Aquapac.
Mark Davison, managing director of travel company Venture Co, recommends binoculars (Canon, and others) with image stabilisation, which overcomes the problem of hand wobbles when viewing distant wildlife. “They’ve been around for a few years but they’re only now catching on. They’re fantastic if you’re on safari and bouncing around in a jeep – you can click the button and it will hold the image of an animal running parallel to your vehicle.”
And even technophobes may acknowledge there’s something to be said for the digital age: those lightweight travel gadgets and digital media might just make the battle with airlines voraciously charging you for luggage that bit easier.