Travel gear and gadgets for when you're on the go
This collection of gadgets, gear and apps helps travelers cope.
Texture App(Credit: Texture.com)
NAME Texture app
WHAT IT DOES It's an all-access pass to more than 200 magazines.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later; Android, and Amazon 4.1 and up.
COST Free for 14 days, then $9.99 a month
WHAT'S HOT You can access hundreds of magazines on as many as five devices per subscription. The magazines cover numerous topics such as travel, sports, news, women's lifestyle, food and more. Travel magazines offered include Afar, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sunset and Southern Living. One of the app's selling points is the access to back issues, such as three years of National Geographic Traveler. Choose magazines that you'd like to follow to create "My Library," then download them on Wi-Fi to access later offline.
WHAT'S NOT Avoid device storage problems by going to the Settings section and adjusting your "Storage" to use more or less space depending on your appetite for reading offline.--Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES The website and app let you compare and book ground transportation in North America and more than 1,000 cities across Europe.
WHAT'S HOT European train travel is romantic, adventurous and affordable. But finding the best, let alone cheapest, route can be intimidating and time-consuming. Wanderu simplifies the experience by offering cues such as company logos, Wi-Fi and electrical plug-in icons, and filters (cheapest, shortest, earliest, latest and more). A bus from Frankfurt to Prague was only $30 each way. Another from Barcelona to Milan was $42. Wanderu's new European feature saves plenty of research time and can help you book transportation almost two months in advance.
WHAT'S NOT Wanderu didn't have train routes for central and southern Spain. Go to the European launch page and use the "Wanderu in Europe" map to keep an eye on which destinations are available.--Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES How much money does it take to live abroad? Indicate your monthly budget, family size, accommodation size and location, your style of living, drive rate and pollution preference, and The Earth Awaits will suggest places. See a gallery of destinations, save favorites, view ratings and check a general cost breakdown. Memberships range from free to $6 a month for increased data to $48 annually.
WHAT'S HOT Can a family of three live in a two-bedroom apartment in Europe for $3,500 a month? You bet. Browse destinations and sort cities by internet download/upload speeds. To search within a specific continent, use the filter to narrow your results. Do an advanced search to sort according to quality of life, budget, language, health care and more.
WHAT'S NOT Cost breakdowns are general. For specifics such as the cost of an apartment by size in your city of interest, click on the Budget section on the main page for your destination.--Los Angeles Times
Radio Garden(Credit: radio.garden)
NAME Radio Garden
WHAT IT DOES The website radio.garden has an interactive map of Earth that lets you tap into radio stations around the world in real time. It also recounts listeners' stories about how they've used radio to make themselves at home in the world.
WHAT'S HOT Take an auditory journey to India, Cuba, Australia, Uganda or across the United States. Click on the "Live" button to navigate around the globe, then scroll in or out on the map. Tap on the "green dot" radio stations that are transmitting. The right side of the screen will show your radio station choices within that destination.
WHAT'S NOT There are no countries named or outlined on the map. You must know where a city or country is and scroll over to that part of the globe before the name will appear on the screen. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES The website uses private chat tools to reveal low hotel rates usually found on opaque travel inventory sources such as Priceline and Hotwire. Start at GetSnapTravel.com, select a destination and travel date, click on how you'd like to see your hotel deal (SMS or Facebook Messenger) and get instant results.
WHAT'S HOT SnapTravel partners with Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Sabre, Amadeus, Priceline and other top hotel inventory providers. It also sources deals directly with hotels to bring you incredibly low rates. The website offers "Discounts up to 50 percent at 200,000+ hotels worldwide with messaging only pricing." Users can filter their deals by savings, hotel rating or price as well as adjust their maximum budget.
WHAT'S NOT Be careful with your smartphone notification settings. If you're searching for destinations for a last-minute weekend getaway, your phone might buzz like crazy with alerts.
WHAT IT DOES The app prints and sends a card with a square image and three lines of text to the recipient within two to seven business days.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later
COST Free to download, $2.50 a card
WHAT'S HOT Pixinotes are printed on quality paper and look great. There's also a cute airmail-themed envelope. The app simplifies sending a postcard because first-class "Forever" postage is included. It also keeps track of addresses and can write a note about what you've been up to. Especially cool is the "Create Contact" tool: Start typing your recipient's address and Google will finish it for you. The app keeps track of previous contacts (and Pixinotes) and lets you send the same note and message to multiple people.
WHAT'S NOT If you're sending a note from your family, choose a profile picture and handle that represent your group instead of one person. --Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES Its meta search engine lets you discover and compare tours across all types and genres from more than 400 operators.
WHAT'S HOT Stride, which has more than 9,000 tours in more than 130 countries, anticipates what you might want to know and provides the info for you: the size of the tour, lodging level, level of physical activity, ratings and reviews, full itineraries, available dates, pricing and more. Tour results can be filtered based on interests, budgets and, of course, type and style of travel from family tours of the Galapagos to small-ship cruises in the Antarctic. Membership is free and some tours offer a $500 gift card for booking through Stride.
WHAT'S NOT The site could do a better job of illustrating the adventures that the tours provide. Video features would also be great.
Handpresso(Credit: Handpresso )
NAME Handpresso, available at thegrommet.com
WHAT IT IS A portable handheld espresso machine for travelers who can't do without their cup of Italian-style joe.
THE GOOD Not only does the machine make espresso, you can also brew up cappuccino as well as Americano-style java and latte. The machine is easy to use: Just add hot water and either ground coffee or ESE (easy-serving espresso) pods, then give the machine a few hand pumps to make one cup. Handpresso is lightweight (3 pounds) and holds 1.5 ounces of water. To clean it, rinse with soap and water.
THE BAD It seems a bit pricey, but if you travel frequently, Handpresso will save you the cost of buying espresso from your hotel or the local cafe. --The Washington Post
Atlas Cork Board Set(Credit: seattlestravelshop.com)
NAME Atlas Cork Board Set at seattlestravelshop.com
WHAT IT IS Part scrapbook, part art installation, this wall board is a great way to document where you've been or to map out the future.
THE GOOD World travelers who want to show off their love of globe-trotting at home will enjoy this self-adhesive wall map. You can use it to pin notes, photos or other inspirations for your next trip, or decorate it with souvenirs, snapshots or other mementos from your latest vacation. The board, which is 39 inches long and 20 inches tall, comes with a set of pushpins and easily wipes clean.
THE BAD Depending on how often you travel, the map could fill up quickly. -- The Washington Post
Cool Cousin -- Travel Through People app(Credit: Cool Cousin)
NAME Cool Cousin -- Travel Through People app
WHAT IT DOES Get travel recommendations and trip advice from "cousins" whose interests are similar to yours. Choose a metro city (12, with seven more on the way), look for guy or girl "cousins" and filter for recommendations.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later; Android version coming soon.
WHAT'S HOTThe app's mantra -- "a recommendation is only as good as the person behind it" -- is followed through on every page. Click on the "Find Your Cousin" link, then click on a particular city to see everyone listed. Once you choose a "cousin," you can read a Q&A about him or her, then view their list of recommendations. ("Cousin" Christiana in Prague, for instance, will steer you to Kino Aero cinema and beer garden.) All map pins have their own category icon so they are easy to distinguish.
WHAT'S NOTThe "cousins" and the developers should probably be paid for their quality and helpfulness. --Los Angeles Times
The Outbound -- The Best Local Outdoor Adventures app(Credit: Alamy / Jason O. Watson)
NAME The Outbound -- The Best Local Outdoor Adventures
WHAT IT DOES The app directs you to places and tour providers that specialize in backpacking, camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, kite boarding, mountain biking and more.
COMPATIBLE WITH AVAILABLE iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later
WHAT'S HOT Even in cities you may have visited many times, this app will find activities and destinations you never knew about, such as a day trip to Congaree National Park near Charleston, South Carolina. For far-reaching inspiration go to "Search by Activity" on the home page, click on your interest, such as swimming, but instead of a specific location click on "Anywhere" and the app will take you to places like La Laguna, Nicaragua; Slide Lake in Wyoming; and a blue hole in upstate Grahamsville. You can sort by season too.
WHAT'S NOT The app may crash when clicking into deeper pages. -- Los Angeles Times
The Getaway Passport Holder(Credit: Bando.com)
NAME The Getaway Passport Holder
COST $24, bando.com
WHAT IT IS World travelers with a sense of style will appreciate this chic and sassy way to hold your passport.
THE GOOD This artificial leather holder comes in five designs -- including pastels, hologram and floral prints -- that will appeal to the fashion-conscious. You can also choose designs that are emblazoned with the words "I'm Outta Here" or "Here Comes the Fun." At 4 inches by 5.625 inches, the size is a perfect fit for your passport. The inside features metallic lining and has three slots for money, credit cards or a driver's license.
THE BAD Given the colors and styles, this might not be a guy thing. -- The Washington Post
WHAT IT DOES It's a tool built by a professional travel photographer so other travel photographers can show -- and perhaps sell -- their work. Create your own photo website or travel blogs ($2.99 to $35 monthly plans).
WHAT'S HOT There are four elegant and easy-to-use design themes you can choose to build your site. You can upload travel photos, build galleries, and create pages and blog posts as desired. When you're on an individual photo, click on the camera icon to get specifics on how the photo was taken, or click on the share icon to send to friends and family. Photographers can create an account and get a free 14-day trial. The advanced features, such as having your own newsletter or image watermark, are enticing. But first, view the existing galleries for Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Oceania.
WHAT'S NOT The website is beautiful, but it's unclear how to buy photos.
WannaGo app(Credit: WannaGo)
NAME WannaGo app
WHAT IT DOES Lets users build and organize their "GoLists" by city. Tag a restaurant, hotel, attraction, shop, museum or other location as "Love it," if you've already been, or "Try it," if it's on your must-see list.
COMPATIBLE WITH Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later; Android, requires 4.4 and up.
WHAT'S HOT It's simple to organize places you love. Your lists, favorite spots and places you want to try are easily shared by email, Facebook, text and Twitter. The menu button is extra-handy. Not many travel websites show you the restaurant menu at the same time you're reading about it or looking at pictures of its entrees. This, besides having the map, website, hours and an instant call button all on the same page are more reasons to keep the app on the front page of your smartphone.
WHAT'S NOT Some of the 31 cities have only one or two lists.
Bandolier Cross-body Case for iPhone(Credit: hip2travel.com )
NAME Bandolier Cross-body Case for iPhone
COST $80, hip2travel.com
WHAT IT IS This hands-free cellphone case can also double as a wallet.
THE GOOD If you spend a significant percentage of every vacation fumbling for your cellphone, this stylish cross-body phone case could be the answer to your prayers. Just slip your phone in the case and pull out when needed. It's comfortable to wear while strolling about town, bustling through the airport or hiking in the woods. The case is made from pebbled silver leather and also features two slots for cash, credit cards and driver's license. The case is designed for iPhone 5, 6, 6+ and 7+.
THE BAD The price is $5 more for the iPhone 6+ and 7+, though it's $10 less for iPhone 5.
Secret London(Credit: iStockphoto / Philip Willcocks)
NAME Secret London (secret-london.co.uk)
WHAT IT DOES The website suggests walking tours and points to you unusual spots and little-known secrets about the English capital.
WHAT'S HOT This jolly good site has links to individual London boroughs from Aldwych to Woolwich. Each section is crammed with information on unusual sights such as a glockenspiel in Leicester Square that stands in place of the long-gone Swiss Center, and the Ten Bells Pub in Whitehall, which locals believe is haunted by Mary Kelly, the last victim of Jack the Ripper. The Themes section lets you plan your visit by topics including Horses, Heraldry and Rome. (For a bloody good time, you can choose Gore.) The Trivia section has fascinating histories on the city's bridges, rivers and even its red phone booths. There are also guides for shopping, museums, gastropubs, spots for afternoon tea and more.
WHAT'S NOT You can't click on a photo to enlarge it. --Dan Bubbeo
WHAT IT DOES An interactive map of the United States "zooms" you to visitor guides for states, cities and counties across the country.
WHAT'S HOT The website's strength is how quickly it gets you needed information. Hover your mouse over a state and watch its license plate pop up. Click on the state to take you to its map with cities and counties represented, then click on a destination's point to take you to its visitor guide. A wealth of information awaits in the tourist board's or convention and visitor bureau's website. The top navigation bar tabs are shortcuts to information about lodging, dining, events, kid-friendly activities and shopping.
WHAT'S NOT It lacks the usual About or Contact pages found on most websites. It's a small issue, but the information helps establish trust. --Los Angeles Times
Slim Sonic Toothbrush(Credit: The Container Store )
NAME Slim Sonic Toothbrush from The Container Store
COST $14.99; containerstore.com
WHAT IT IS A battery-operated toothbrush that provides the dental benefits of an electric one.
THE GOOD This sleek sonic toothbrush weighs only 2.5 ounces, so it won't take up much room in your suitcase and can even fit in a carry-on, gym bag or handbag. More important, it's super powerful and offers approximately 22,000 brush strokes per minute. The brush head is washable and can be replaced when it starts to wear (an additional brush head is included, and a package of four replacement heads is $9.99). The toothbrush operates on one AAA battery, so you won't have to lug a charger or cord with you when you travel. It comes in two stylish designs -- silver or polka dot.
THE BAD Toothpaste is not included. --The Washington Post
Showaround(Credit: Showaround.com )
WHAT IT DOES The new app accompanies the website showaround.com to pair travelers with 50,573 local guides in 5,400 cities in 192 countries.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod, requires iOS 8.0 or later.
WHAT'S HOT Use the setting button in the app's upper-right-hand corner to set your price range, language preference and activities you are interested in. There's even an option to filter your guide by male, female or couple. If you want to be a guide, you can set your own price. A search for a local guide in Nashville yielded a travel lover offering ways to show visitors how to avoid lines at the honky-tonks, how to find the best skyline shots for photos and where to find the original Nashville hot chicken. He charged $27 an hour.
WHAT'S NOT The app can be confusing to navigate.
Necktie Travel Roll(Credit: uncommongoods.com)
NAME Necktie Travel Roll from Uncommon Goods
COST $24, uncommongoods.com
WHAT IT IS This stylish dark navy vegan-leather case is designed to pack neatly rolled neckties in a space-efficient package.
THE GOOD Rolling rather than folding your clothes is the packing trend of the moment. Why should your tie be an exception? Once you arrive at your destination, just unroll your tie, which will be wrinkle-free and ready to wear. The case fits three ties, and the magnetic clasp will keep them secure. The tie roll is compact (4.25 inches long, 3 inches wide and 3 inches tall) and easily wipes clean.
THE BADThough the design is spiffy, it's too bad it's available only in one color.
WHAT IT DOES The accommodations-booking website caters to travelers who want the space a vacation rental provides but with hotel amenities. Available in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Montreal, San Diego, Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia.
WHAT'S HOT Amenities at these properties include 24/7 concierge service, hotel-style sheets and towels, local guides, quality toiletries, Wi-Fi and a fully stocked kitchen. Several of the properties start at less than $100 a night, though prices sometimes change according to date. Scroll through all the pictures before you use the filters. A three-bedroom spot in San Diego started at $129 a night. That rate was before taxes and the $95 cleaning fee.
WHAT'S NOT Charm and design sense vary. If you prefer a homey vacation rental with its share of personal effects, this may not be your site. The pictures depict rentals with minimalist décor and maximum cleanliness. --Los Angeles Times
Mask Bunny Luggage Tag(Credit: mochithings.com)
NAME Mask Bunny Luggage Tag
COST $14.95 at mochithings.com
WHAT IT IS For junior travelers, this cute and colorful kids' luggage tag is designed to stand out on the baggage carousel.
THE GOOD The tag pretty much matches what the name says -- it features a backpack-toting bunny donning a mask. Kids can write their name and number inside the bunny's backpack, then attach the tag to a baggage handle. (If they want to, kids can also use the tag on their own backpacks.) The tag is available in four colors -- blue, brown, pink and yellow -- so there should be no problem finding your little one's suitcase at the airport.
THE BAD The worst thing might be containing your child's enthusiasm until they can use it on the family vacation. --The Washington Post
WHAT IT DOES Unearthed Travel leads school groups on eight- to 21-day all-inclusive trips, with 15 destinations to choose from across Southeast Asia, India and Nepal, Africa, and Central and South America.
WHAT'S HOT Unearthed Travel refers to the tours as expeditions. Students attend a training workshop that addresses leadership roles and responsibilities, risk management, and destination research and logistics. Students help manage parts of the budget, purchase transportation, choose local restaurants and organize accommodations. The travel experiences include a community project, outdoor trek and a cultural exploration. Some of the projects have included building projects with Tibetan communities and supporting indigenous jungle villages in Borneo.
WHAT'S NOT Price information was hard to find on the website and the brochure, though you can call the company. Prices are all-inclusive and start at $2,500 for programs in Latin America and reach more than $5,000 for 21-day expeditions in India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. --Los Angeles Times
Journi app(Credit: Journi.com)
NAME Journi app
WHAT IT DOES Builds a story (or mobile blog entries) using the photos in your smartphone. Add text and click on the map icon to see highlights from your travels.
AVAILABLE In the App Store; requires iOS 8.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. In Google Play, requires Android; varies with device.
WHAT'S HOT A quick and easy alternative to setting up a website for a single trip. Allows your friends and family to follow your adventures in real time using the web, app and email. Group journaling is another option, a great tool for multigenerational trips or reunions. Your Journi can be made public or private.
WHAT'S NOT You can't switch the order of diary entries (called "Moments") because the app uploads chronologically. The makers say manual adjusting is coming soon.
Stamp app(Credit: Stamp app)
NAME Stamp app
WHAT IT DOES The app posts "stamps" of travel tips from around the world. Each stamp includes a photo, a description written by the traveler and a pin on a map. Travelers can browse for travel tips before a trip or from a current location.
AVAILABLE In the App Store, requires iOS 8.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
WHAT'S HOT It's a simple way to share travel tips before, during and after a journey. Use the "Explore" icon in the bottom navigation bar if you want to look for travel tips or "stamps" from a specific location. If you want to keep a stamp, click on the peach-colored bucket with a star on it. Doing that will start your bucket list.
WHAT'S NOT Users might want a networking tool within the app to see if friends from Facebook or Twitter were using it. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES Basetrip provides basic travel information you should know about a country before you leave, from visa requirements to vaccinations. You can also purchase country-specific information as a downloadable PDF ($5 with PayPal) that you can store on your smartphone or device.
WHAT'S HOT Having travel information all in one spot is a big help, and the Tips section is particularly useful with valuable information such as this shared by a traveler regarding China: "Get a VPN (virtual private network) and configure it well before you arrive. Limited internet access to the outside world and DNS (Domain Name System) errors when trying to access Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. can be very frustrating for the newcomers. WhatsApp is still available though."
WHAT'S NOT The PDFs usually have lots of white space, which is not efficient formatting for printing. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES A resource for discovering budget-friendly restaurants in Paris.
WHAT'S HOT The restaurants are presented in a photo gallery format with quick info printed on the photo (location, type of restaurant and when to grab the deal). Hover your mouse over the picture and you'll see the price. Click on the photo and you'll go to the restaurant's review page, which includes more images of dishes, price comparisons for midday and evening meals, hours, nearest Metro stops, a map and sometimes a video. Photos usually show a receipt with proof of the meal's cost. Click on the "All our restaurants" page where you can filter your Parisian meals by "Unusual," "Traditional," "Romantic," "World" and "Design."
WHAT'S NOT The site is written in French. If you are using Chrome, just wait for the translation option to load at the top of your Web browser. -- Los Angeles Times
NAME Whym: Last-Minute Tickets, Tours & Attractions
WHAT IT DOES The app sells tours and activity tickets to spur-of-the-moment travelers. Destinations include Barcelona, Spain; Rome; Paris; London; San Diego; New York; Las Vegas; Los Angeles and San Francisco.
COST App is free; the prices of tours and tickets vary.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later; Android 4.1 and up.
WHAT'S HOT If you search for activities and tickets in Chicago for a mother-daughter trip, you'll find pages of tempting offers. Click on "Collections" and find themes such as "Food & Drinks" and "Kid Friendly." The San Diego options appeal to locals with "Fun Date Ideas" and to travelers with "Get to Know San Diego." Another plus is the comprehensive information about the activity or tour provided.
WHAT'S NOT When it says last minute, it means last minute: Activities can only be booked seven days in advance. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES Breaks down costs for more than 1,000 cities across the globe, including room rates, transportation, groceries or an inexpensive restaurant meal. It also provides travelers with an overview of health care, crime, night life, pollution and religion.
WHAT'S HOT Got wanderlust? So do the creators of this website and corresponding app. Their belief that "investing in experiences is so much smarter than buying things" is demonstrated by FlyingYak's strong research tools, which are especially valuable for travelers who want to stay in a city longer than just to see the sights. Once you "follow" a few cities that meet your criteria (fast Wi-Fi, food and culinary arts, etc.), you can compare two of them by cost.
WHAT'S NOT It was time-consuming to use the add-a-city button. It would be much easier -- and faster -- if users could click off cities from a list for a fast start. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES The reward program offers 5 percent cash back through PayPal or e-payment sources and gift cards such as Visa, American Express, bitcoin, Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy, Bloomingdale's, Target, Starbucks, Toys R Us and more.
WHAT'S HOT Travelers who use this hotel loyalty program have even more options for rewards. Travelers also can choose a 10 percent back reward for using Guestbook's "Trip Cash" feature, which is applied to a stay at a hotel in its portfolio. The hotels include four- and five-star independent and boutique properties that are not part of mainstream chains. There are plentiful luxury options in large cities, but budget travelers shouldn't be discouraged. Guestbook has more than 500 hotels in 50 countries and is planning on expanding to 600 to 650 hotels by year's end.
WHAT'S NOT The results were inconsistent for destinations in the "Where are you headed?" search bar. -Los Angeles Times
Animoto Video Maker(Credit: animoto.com)
NAME Animoto Video Maker
WHAT IT DOES The online video-maker app lets you upload your photos and videos, pick a style to personalize your story, set it to music and add narration or title cards to complete it.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later
COST Free to download, with multiple in-app purchases. Basic monthly subscription is $4.99 (or $29.99 a year); personal subscription for $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
WHAT'S HOT This video-maker app is surprisingly fast and offers enough customization that your video appears professional. You can also edit from your computer, which might be easier if you're using more features. If you use higher-quality photos (not just smartphone photos), your video will turn out better. A help center on its website, animoto.com, can assist with troubleshooting.
WHAT'S NOT Why not offer one short video-editing session as a trial? --Los Angeles Times
Sky Tripping(Credit: Skytripping.com)
NAME Sky Tripping: Relax to Stunning Aerial Films
WHAT IT DOES The app offers a collection of aerial videos that begin on the California coast and, for subscribers, take you to the Rocky Mountains, the Sonoran desert and more.
AVAILABILITY Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later.
COST $2.99 to download (in-app purchases for $1.99 a month for additional themes or $19.99 a year for all access). Free trial for the first month if you sign up for the monthly subscription.
WHAT'S HOT The aerial videos of sunset ocean views are indeed peaceful, and to hear the waves of the Pacific Ocean lapping at the shore is dreamy. The tips section offers ideas on how to best use the app. You can control the volume with your phone or TV.
WHAT'S NOT There's one pitfall to pairing your iPhone to your Apple TV through AirPlay to watch the videos: If you use your phone to text someone, guess what will show on the TV? -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES Artists, writers, photographers, stylists and other creative types open their contact lists to create private tours of London for curious and discerning travelers. Select one of 28 experiences; get in touch with SideStory, which organizes the details; then meet your Insider for your experience.
WHAT'S HOT Touring with a local is not new, but it's a treat to explore the world of London antiques with TV host Mark Hill of BBC's "Antiques Roadshow" or glean fashion sense from stylist Hannah Teare as you walk through Mayfair and peruse boutiques popular with the royal family. Book at least two weeks in advance; however, it does try to accommodate last-minute requests.
WHAT'S NOT The website might leave you longing for similar experiences in other cities. Also, the tours are not cheap -- the three-hour outing with Hill costs $465. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES If you always wanted to work remotely and be location-independent, Pangea196 can arrange a 12-month, 12-country sojourn with apartment accommodations and 24-hour Wi-Fi.
WHAT'S HOT All the details are taken care of. In 2017, you will travel to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Czech Republic, Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and more. For $27,000 ($5,000 upfront and $2,000 per month for the remaining 11 months), your accommodations are paid for, as is your travel between cities. Pangea196 also organizes networking, cultural and community events in each location. Need a packing checklist? No problem: Info on travel insurance, visas and more is at the ready.
WHAT'S NOT It would be nice to see pictures of the apartments before signing up. Pangea196's FAQ page says that sleeping arrangements have professionals in mind. Each person (or couple) has a private room, kitchen access and other comforts. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES Drivers can rent a car -- or rent out their own.
WHAT'S HOT Tesla Model X. Maserati GranTurismo Convertible. Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Those are just a couple cars for rent on the "Elite in Los Angeles" board, but it's not all about expensive cars. If you're looking for adventure, tap the filters to fit your needs. Results after searching for a 2014 Jeep Wrangler in Denver with built-in navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming and a bike or ski rack yielded one for $99 a day, with discounts up to 10 percent per week or up to 18 percent per month. There currently aren't any rentals in New York, but there are plenty in New Jersey. If you want to list your car, Turo will set its rental price based on location, market value, time of year, etc., or you can do it yourself.
WHAT'S NOT The app (free) opens with a picture of a pop-up van with the prompt "Start your adventure," but such a van was nowhere to be found when searching. --Los Angeles Times
Collage: The London Picture Archive(Credit: Collage The London Picture Archive / Aurora Photos)
NAME Collage: The London Picture Archive (collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk)
WHAT IT DOES The site offers more than 250,000 images of London from the collections at London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery.
WHAT'S HOT Travelers can hunt for photos of that special pub they caroused in or view historical pics. You can browse a variety of topics: royal or political events, viaducts, mythology, markets, street sellers and more. Did you find a favorite image? Collage allows you to register for free, build a list of your favorites, print the photos (with a watermark), buy a digital copy or order a print. There are also more than 1,000 maps to view. Check out "Popular Searches" in the left navigation bar for a tip on where to start.
WHAT'S NOT The database is precise, and if you enter a typo or misspell a word, you'll see a page that tells you "No items were found." --Los Angeles Times
Room Mate Hotels(Credit: room-matehotels.com)
Room Mate Hotels (room-matehotels.com)
WHAT IT IS A hotel group launched by three friends who were looking for hotels that they actually wanted to stay in. It began in Madrid and has expanded to 23 hotels in 12 cities in Europe, the United States, Mexico and Turkey. New hotels are planned in 2017 for Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Barcelona, Spain, among other destinations.
WHAT'S HOT Each property in the hotel group has its own name and distinctive décor. That personal approach extends to hotel guests, whom the staff is encouraged to treat as a friend, buddy or roommate. All hotels have a convenient central city location, offer breakfast until noon and free WiMate Total Wi-Fi good throughout the city. Room rates for Waldorf Towers in Miami were in the same range as those for hotel chains Hampton Inn, DoubleTree and Sheraton.
WHAT'S NOT Finding more information about Total Wi-Fi in the hotel descriptions was a struggle. --Los Angeles Times
ExOfficio Women's BugsAway Lumen Hoody(Credit: exofficio.com)
NAME ExOfficio Women's BugsAway Lumen Hoody
COST $60; exofficio.com
WHAT IT IS A light mesh-weave summer hoody with drawstring hood, thumb loops and built-in insect repellent.
THE GOOD With the Zika virus, not to mention other mosquito-born diseases, on travelers' minds, this lightweight, vibrantly colored long-sleeve cover-up provides protection against potentially dangerous bugs. Using Insect Shield technology, ExOfficio BugsAway hoody effectively repels mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers and midges. Plus, it's good-looking, packs down to practically nothing and is easy to wear.
THE BAD Though the insect repellent is reported to last the life of the garment (70 washings), its potency diminishes over time. Also, when we checked, the garment was available only in medium, large or extra large. Though it comes in six colors, not all of them were available for some sizes. -- Malerie Yolen-Cohen
WHAT IT DOES This website opens the door to immersive travel through distinctive properties around the world. Hotels are grouped according to category: boutique, eco-friendly, fabulous, hideaway, quirky and shoestring.
WHAT'S HOT Next to the photos is essential information such as closest airport, destination facts, and currency and visa requirements. You can look at pictures of islands, beaches and cities. If you want to expand your travel to the ice canyons of Greenland, the northern lights of Lapland or the neon glow of the oceans in the Maldives, click on "Surreal" in the "Destinations" section.
WHAT'S NOT If you're used to that hotel room price tag being front and center, you won't find it here. Scroll down to the lower-right section of the property's description page and look for your next click under "Where to Book." You might find three websites to choose from or just the direction and link to "Book Direct." -- Los Angeles Times
Arcopedico Leta travel shoe(Credit: Arcopedicoshoes.com)
NAME Arcopedico Leta travel shoe
COST $120, info at arcopedicoshoes.com
WHAT IT IS A lightweight, durable, breathable, water-resistant walking shoe.
THE GOODThe Arcopedico Leta goes on (and feels like) a slipper, but performs like a hiking shoe. Its patented twin-arch support system results in even body weight distribution over the entire foot bed for all-day fatigue-free wear. The upper Lytech material stretches and conforms to the foot. Each pair weighs only 6 ounces, and they are easy to slip off and on at airport security and are washable. Though Arcopedico makes an assortment of comfortable footwear, the stylish Leta, available in multiple colors including modish red, is perfect for the serious walker who suffers with bunions.
THE BAD The Leta is a bit pricey, but will last a long time, even with constant wear. -- Malerie Yolen-Cohen
Avast Photo Space(Credit: Avast.com)
NAME Avast Photo Space
WHAT IT DOES The app takes your original high-quality, heavily weighted photos and, with your permission, uploads them to cloud services Dropbox or Google Drive (you will need accounts for those in advance). Then it optimizes your photos so you still have a lower-weighted copy on your phone. After they are uploaded and optimized, it asks your permission to delete the original photos from your phone, releasing the storage space.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.0 or later
WHAT'S HOT It needs Wi-Fi to operate, but if it disconnects, Photo Space picks up where it left off after the connection is restored. The app's communication function is quite strong. At every step, it notifies you about what it is going to do next and asks for approval.
WHAT'S NOT If you have lots of photos, you're in for a long process. The Photo Space app may occasionally crash, but stick with it. --Los Angeles Times
SKROSS World Adapter Pro + USB(Credit: Skross.com)
NAME SKROSS World Adapter Pro + USB
COST $48.99, info at skross.com/en
WHAT IT IS A multicountry electronics adapter with additional dual-USB charging ports.
THE GOOD This Swiss-designed, compact three-pole device allows globetrotters to plug in electronic gadgets -- from laptops to hair dryers -- in more than 220 countries with ease. The patented retractable sliding adapter comes with a separate USB port that can charge two pieces of equipment at the same time. The adapter is ideal for long-term, global travelers, and it features a sliding mechanism that provides seamless charging for unique outlets. And hey, it's cool-looking, too. -- Malerie Yolen-Cohen
THE BAD At 8.5 ounces, the adapter is a bit on the heavy side.
ATM's Smiley Luggage(Credit: atmluggage.com)
NAME ATM's Smiley Luggage
COST $99.99 (22-inch bag), $119.99 (26-inch) and $129.99 (30-inch) at atmluggage.com
WHAT IT IS A hard-shell carry-on luggage clad in the iconic yellow Smiley Face design.
THE GOOD Not only is ATM Luggage well-made, durable, lightweight and easy to roll, this four-wheel spinner bag makes people smile. In addition, the bag has enough space for several days worth of clothing, with two separate lined compartments, and can withstand the rigors of even the most careless of baggage handlers. It also comes with a five-year warranty and is available in several designs.
THE BAD With a growth in popularity, this cheery suitcase may be difficult to identify as yours at baggage claim. -- Malerie Yolen-Cohen
Lola app, lolatravel.com(Credit: Lolatravel.com)
NAME Lola app, lolatravel.com
WHAT IT DOES Connects you with travel agents who can find the best options for you based on your preferences, including favorite airlines, hotel brands, where you like to sit on planes, preferred hotel class and amenities, hotel budget and more. Your trip chats are organized by departure date and can be archived inside the app.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 9.0 or later
WHAT'S HOT Type in your trip-related question, meet your agent in a chat room, then put down the phone and go live your life. You'll get a ping notification when the agent has returned with your requested information. It was impressively quick with hotel and flight info.
WHAT'S NOT It wasn't as quick with advice on restaurants and activities. -- Los Angeles Times
History Here app(Credit: History Here)
NAME History Here
WHAT IT IS This app provides nuggets of history about thousands of locations across the United States, including famous homes, battlefields, museums and more.
AVAILABILITY Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 7.0 or later; in Google Play, requires Android 4.0 and up.
WHAT'S HOT The four-option menu bar is terrific. Choose "Explore" to search for historic locations; "Tour" for curated collections of locations with a connected theme; "Surprise Me," which takes you to a random U.S. location; and "My Places," which bookmarks your list. If a historic location is missing, you can click on the "Suggest a Place" button in the lower right corner of the map screen.
WHAT'S NOT There should be more photos for each location. That said, there often were more photos for the curated historic tours.
WHAT IT DOES You can browse children's books from all over the world to learn about other cultures, prepare for a trip, read book reviews and author interviews, get family travel tips and more.
WHAT'S HOT The depth of global coverage on KidsTravelBooks is unexpected and comprehensive, with books arranged by continent and country. Think you'd like to visit the Dominican Republic? Click the link and you'll find four books to help you decide. The Books by Type section helps you fine-tune your search for books about history, everyday life, true stories, activities and more. Don't miss the blog, which has author interviews and book reviews, and the Resource Library, with summer reading programs.
WHAT'S NOT It would be nice to see books filtered by age group. --Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES This photo-editing app can do everything from polishing the look of your selfies to turning your vacation pics into glossy layouts worthy of a travel magazine.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch (requires iOS 8.0 or later) and Android (requires 4.0 and up)
COST Free to download; add-ons start at $1.99
WHAT'S HOT You can choose from 135 magazine layouts. The shuffle icon lets you see in the upper left corner of your screen once you're in a magazine layout. Click on the icon and the same photos will appear in previews of other layouts. It's a convenient way to sift through different designs until you find the one that suits you.
WHAT'S NOT The add-on packs start at $1.99, and the full pack is $11.99.
WHAT IT IS A subscription-based travel service that sends you a text message when it finds an exceptionally good flight deal. Free for the first month, then a subscription is $9.99 a month.
WHAT'S HOT DealRay keeps its promise to respect the user's privacy. The texts it sends are few enough that it's exciting when one arrives. They usually say something like: "$402 or Less for Round-Trip to Paris from New York, Los Angeles, or Fort Lauderdale from November through March on Norwegian" and "Asia Round-Trips from $379 -- Thailand, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila & Shanghai from East & West Coasts on Various Airlines." The deals last only minutes or sometimes hours. The website offers discounts for recruiting other subscribers.
WHAT'S NOT The site automatically signs you up for international flight deals, but you'll need to do some digging in the preferences section to opt in for deals on hotels and domestic flights. --Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES The website is a source for air, land, water, snow, urban and crazy adventures around the globe.
WHAT'S HOTThrill-seekers don't have time to sift through all the options offered by most general-activity-focused travel websites. The site's niche focus is perfect: It points you in the direction of "Our Top Spots;" "Our Sports," which are the best adrenaline-packed activities in each of its sports; and "Adrenaline Hunter's Top 6," which are its favorites and include canoe surfing lessons in St. Martin, paragliding over Lake Annecy in France and scuba diving in Lesbos, Greece.
WHAT'S NOT The website is still in beta, which may explain why a search for paddleboarding in California yields no results. Hopefully the site will be upgraded in the near future. --Los Angeles Times
Undercover Tourist(Credit: Disney Parks via Getty Images / Matt Stroshane)
NAME Undercover Tourist
WHAT IT DOES The app provides customized touring plans and wait times for rides and attractions at Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld.
COMPATIBLE WITH iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, requires iOS 8.1 or later.
WHAT'S HOT The Crowd Calendar is an excellent vacation-planning tool that shows you how many people will be at any of those theme parks on a given day up to one year in advance. Once there, use the app's daily park information feature as a guide to opening hours, special events, character meet and greets, parades, show times and more. Detailed ride information -- including wait times, when to visit, height restrictions, tips and nearby places -- is a great tool for helping plan your day.
WHAT'S NOT It would be nice if the app covered theme parks outside of the Orlando area. -- Daniel Bubbeo