Trip Planning Online?

Back on the road again…should it be on the screen?

A picture of a laptop  computer surrounded by print travel guides and booklets.
Trip planning online or in print material? Image:www.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am an older traveler and have caught the travel bug again now that I am  fully vaccinated. I plan to take some seriously long car trips and perhaps a cruise. I am thinking that trip planning is online and the most complete travel information is on my Ipad or Iphone. My girlfriend insists trip planning is not online and recommends that I start with the bookstore for travel books and the auto club for maps. Hasn’t most trip planning moved online, and am I not right to start there? Cecil, Oakland

Dear Cecil: You are both right. It comes down to a matter of personal preference as well as familiarity and trust with online platforms. Rather than choose one or the other, why not use both online sources and the travel books and maps as complements for trip taking? After all,  you have more than one adventure in mind!

Online maps will help you get from point A to B, but in other ways might narrow your adventures. They typically program you to take the most efficient route, although scenic routes can be found in the ‘alt’ settings. An online map makes you seek a destination so you might miss a detour that captures spur-of-the-moment interest. Entering “What’s Near Me” on Google maps  helps but remember that what loads first is often a paid-for-ad. I personally begin every long trip with a big-old fold out road map. The bigger screen for a map display, say on the IPad, is spotty without cellular service. 

Place or Placement?

Once you are on the road, you could use sites like Yelp/Open Table, and Hotels/ Trip Advisor (no endorsements here) to identify where to eat and stay. Again, the recommendations that rise to the top are ad placements. But, that’s not to say that print travel guides don’t have drawbacks. Print books have been called out for inaccuracies, and it’s hard to keep the recommendations for food and hotels up-to-date. Recently these books have been diminished by the force of the Internet.

Keep in mind that travel is a huge ($$) industry, and there are lots of sources that would like to literally track your entire trip. I looked up an online source that Lonely Planet, once a trusted source, recommended called Thorn Tree. It had a site forward that then asked me to log in with a Twitter account or Facebook. While I could begin there for travel ideas, should I?  The option was to create an online account and doing so was like giving a pint of blood: this online travel site demanded my email address, and then, surprise, my age, zip code, and more. 

Is it Travel-Bait?

If I had exchanged privacy for travel information perhaps the site would have recommended the ‘top ten things.’ That’s just more  click-bait travel following the bucket-list tradition. With that in mind I hope the travel advice you seek will be more expansive. 

Before you set out, you may want to purchase or download printed travel guides or check them out from the library. Get the latest versions of these books if you plan to use their hotel/dining recommendations!  The guide books should help you go deeper than the ‘top ten’ to discover the  cultural background and history of places you visit. How did this community get settled and what do people do there?  If you were a local, what would be unusual and interesting in this place? There was an in-print travel guide called NFT (Not For Tourists) that used to cover some of the bases for bigger cities. If guidebooks doesn’t work for you, and you are somewhat extroverted, then seek a local watering hole when you arrive and ask the bartender, barista, or patrons for ideas. 

 When we take a trip to someone else’s community we are dropping in:  it’s important to honor their local values and traditions. Some of that tradition might be found in places or occasions: say  the baseball stadium, the annual county fair, the pancake breakfast fundraiser, and the bimonthly antique show. If you exclusively search online, you might drive right past it. 

Checking Phones for Work?

Watching the baby at home. Watching my phone too?

A cartoon of three Hasidic men , ech carrying an infant in a baby carrier that they wear around their shoulder. One carrier is pink, one green, one yellow
Men Pushing Baby Carriages or checking phones for work!? Source: The Forward.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I manage a sales team and seldom take more than a day or two off from work. Since Covid began our office is all remote and I am checking the phones for work. This Fall I am taking a few weeks off to stay home with our new baby. In principle, I should not have to check my phone at all. But is that realistic? The people at work say they will respect my time out of the office, but I don’t want them to let them down either. Teo, Boulder

Dear Teo: Phones make it difficult to find that work-home balance and it has to be doubly difficult when babies or children demand our attention. Checking in with co-workers while you are off-duty seems innocuous, but it subtracts time and attention from your kids. During Covid, as you noted, phones became an office-on-demand. Now you have to retrain your sales team, and yourself, to use it more selectively, i.e. when to be checking phones for work.

It seems like the programmers of Silicon Valley have felt your pain! Or became new Moms and Dads. The newest iPhone operating system (i0S 15) has a feature called Focus. It lets you set time blocks when you are available, and for whom. Say you are driving in the car. The Focus setting disables all incoming calls and texts. It sends would-be callers or texters a stock message:  you are unavailable but will circle back.  When you are indoors and quietly reading a book, your phone can continue to screen callers, or allow rings from that sales team.

Focus is a suitable name for this new function. That said, it’s been available on phones with less bells and whistles as “Do Not Disturb.” Back then, you didn’t need to have i0S 15, or any software at all to enable the feature. Just a watch and alarm.

How to Focus:

Writers, scientists and graduate students use features like Focus all the time. They require activity blocks, without phones, for a period of deep concentration. They might be working on a laptop or desktop, and probably just one or two programs, like the terminal, a spreadsheet, or word processor. 

Meanwhile, the co-workers  trying to reach you are not going to know whether you are deep in concentration or changing a diaper, so Focus’ messaging helps. It lets them know when you are  checking in and will circle back. And, with practice, Focus will keep you from secretly picking up the phone to see if you missed something. You can always allow one phone, say from your boss, to override the settings.

Not ALways So Focused!:

Alas, at the other end of the spectrum, at home, it’s not so tidy.  Parents can’t easily set boundaries that young kids will adhere too. Infants demand attention on their own schedule and have an uncanny ability to sense when they getting any less than 100% of their parents’ attention. You might be tempted to put the kiddos in front of their own screen. Yet, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for kids until they’re 18 to 24 months old, except for video chatting. For children ages 2 to 5 their recommendation is an hour or less of screen time per day. Real parents know that it is hard to resist introducing screens when you need some downtime. So, if you turn to the screen, do it together and make it a shared activity.

Be aware that  it seems innocuous to sneak a call to the office when you are taking a stroll together, watching over the playground, or cleaning up the toy box. We don’t know how micro- moments add up, but there are hints that eye to eye contact and baby-talk time provide developmental boosts.

As you set your phone’s boundaries, with or without the help of I0S, remember that time and attention are your most precious resource. They are the only things  you give away, and cannot get back. Enjoy!

Too Many Apps?

The text says 25 billion apps have been dlownloaded. From Business Insider. No date.
Source: Business Insider

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am going to get a new phone and am wondering whether I should transfer all the apps on it, or just keep the ones I use. My wife says I have too many apps and it’s time to houseclean. I don’t see the need. I promised her I would let you make the decision. Joe S., Fairfax

Dear Joe: Housecleaning never seems like fun, but if you do it with intention you could find yourself in a better place with your new phone. A couple of years ago, say 2015, it was popular to ‘app up’ our phones. It was a mark of coolness.  In fact, the Sunday papers had a weekend feature in which they named a celebrity and then displayed all the cherished apps on his/her home screen. 

We’ve moved on. There is greater awareness that apps are like calories- some of them are good, but too many make us bloated. Apps can chew up the phone’s memory and battery resources.  They also run background processes that you don’t see. Most of all they introduce security risks as the app code and operating system fall out of synch. Time to housekeep?  Simform, a U.S. tech company, says the average person has 40 apps installed on his phone. Of those 40 apps, only about 18 are regularly used. And, it’s usually five apps (mostly social media) that get used all the time.

Not So Free:

Apps are usually free to download, but they have a cost for owners.  If you are using location services, and/or have not enabled ‘do not track’  they might send your phone’s identifier to a third party. 

But, judging from an aesthetic point of view, like the celebrity apps in the Sunday paper, they do have charm. They present themselves like a picture gallery of games we play or memories we keep.  Some apps are aspirational, for example, the download that promises to imbue new language skills.  Likewise, travel apps empower road warriors but are surely getting dusty nowadays . Others are one-night standslike Lugg, the moving service. Helpful to get that new sofa to the home, and the old one to the consignment store. When necessary, reinstall.


While Westerners use dedicated apps for access there is a different paradigm in some of the Asian countries. There, platforms like WeChat are the entry point. Every serious Chinese business has a WeChat official account, and users can access interactive services and transactions. Suppose you were ordering Didi Chuxing (like Uber)- you would never leave WeChat to get your ride and pay for it. In Indonesia ‘Go-Jek’ provides a similar service.

For the time being, keep Uber and Lyft on your phone, but for other needs just go directly to the web site and do your business. In my opinion, setting up your new phone is good reason to do a clean sweep. When you download and install your new apps, make sure to ‘check the boxes’ (settings) as I explain in this older review of Clubhouse. Going forward,  think of the apps you install on your phone as a two-way relationship. What are you going to get out of it, for how long, and do you share trust?