Travel gear and gadets

Travel tools I’ve been using

During my travels in London and Amsterdam this week, my adventures have been made a bit smoother by two tools: HotelTonight and T-Mobile.

The last-minute booking app, HotelTonight, was already on my phone, but until this trip I hadn’t had much need or incentive to use it.

But I turned to the app (and some banked credit) when faced with a shifting itinerary and out-of-my-budget prices for a long list of  familiar and recommened-by-friends hotels.

The app’s curated selection of available bookings – leaning to boutique and indepentent properties – came through for me in Amsterdam, especially, where I found a good last-minute rate and friendly folks at The Albus, a  hip, centrally-located hotel I would have been unlikely to find on my own.

Until now, the HotelTonight booking window was day-of and up to seven nights out, but the booking window has just been expanded in 14 major cities, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, London and Las Vegas, and should be expanded in around 30 national and international markets by the end of this year

Most all my travel buddies already use – and highly recommend – the T-Mobile ONE plan that includes  unlimited international data and low-cost phone international calls, but I’d been stubbornly clinging to an old ATT plan.

I’ve got a loaner T-Mobile sim card in my phone for this trip and have been able delighted at how it makes it easier to get around, download maps, check out attractions, read email, stay in touch and deal with some less-than-ideal wireless situations in hotels.

Note to self: switch mobile phone service when you get home.


Jetpac City Guides parse photos, not user-reviews

There are zillion apps trying to make their mark in the world of travel. Here’s one of them:

Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel, January 2013?June 2013

Jetpac City Guides, a free, new iPhone app, skips user reviews to analyze data from billions of publicly shared Instagram photos to offer tips on everything from hip bars and hot coffee shops to cool music venues and popular museums.

“We learned that people love browsing their friend’s travel photos, but their friends hadn’t been everywhere,” said Jetpac co-founder and CEO Julian Green.

The company mined Instagram photos for clues about where people went and what they liked to do.

“Think of a photo as saying, “I’m here and I’m taking a photo,’ ” Green said. “That’s a strong recommendation for the fact that someone is having a good time. It’s like check-in or a review, a very data-rich review.”

Jetpac worked through the Instagram developer program and created an image analysis that uses an algorithm to parse each photo down to the pixel. It looks for patterns and assigns value to details such as the amount of blue sky, the evidence of coffee cups, lipstick, or mustaches, and the presence of beaches or wine glasses.

From these and thousands of other data points, Jetpac puts together lists such as “Hipster Hangouts in San Francisco” and “Bars Women Love in Moscow,” Green said. It has also figured out popular “go to” places in 5,000 cities. They include bars where business travelers gather, places where dog people hang out, restaurants with the best views, and favorite places for outdoorsy types, parents (with and without their kids) and sports fans.

“Other polls ask people how happy they are,” Green said. “Our study reveals what people show.”

Showing is good, because when people take leisure trips they use photos to help them decide where to go, stay and eat, and what to do, said PhoCusWright research analyst Maggie Rauch.

But research shows that people also use photos less frequently than some other tools, such as interactive maps, traveler reviews, and professional ratings and photos.

“What seems important to me is if [Jetpac] integrates with helpful reviews and can get people to use the app in their own city,” Rauch said. “But they would be up against some pretty strong established players,” she added, including TripAdvisor, which bought photo-heavy site WanderFly last year, and Yelp.

One thing Jetpac has figured out is where people look the happiest. By studying the average size of people’s smiles in more than 100 million Instagram photos, it has come up with a list of the 50 happiest U.S. cities

The five cities with the highest “smile scores” were, in descending order, St. Louis, Mo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh.

That’s useful information for a travel app to offer, said Green “because people like to go where other people are happy.”

(My story about Jetpac City Guides first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Would you use this? A bra with pockets.

I know someone who stores her mobile phone in her bra cup and I have to admit it’s a bit odd to be out in public with her and have her reach in there to answer a call.

But for those who like to travel light and keep a close watch on cash, credit cards, keys and passports, the idea of jackets, skirts and shirts with hidden pockets and underwear with hidden pouches seems like a great idea.

That is, if you can remember where you’ve put things and – with the underwear – if you don’t store things in there that you’ll need to access often when you’re on the go.

I saw a fair number of products with secret pockets at the Travel Goods show in Las Vegas last February, but only recently heard from the team that came up with the JoeyBra right here in Seattle.

The concept: it’s a bra with side pockets large enough to store a smartphone, a credit card, an iPod and a car key and comes in both fashion and sports models in real bra sizes.


I’ve got one to test out, but would like to know if you’d use this and, if so, how and when?

JoeyBraFashion Coral Dress and Phone