Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: The Shift to Electronic Travel Guides

I love languages. I was bitten by the language bug when I was in high school. I took 3 years of the Spanish language with Miss Staley in an accelerated course and got good enough at it to read a novel in Spanish. That was cool!

Next came singing in foreign languages in college. I didn't have enough elective credits to take language courses during my undergrad, so before and during grad school I took a year each of German, French, and Italian, and audited a linguistics class that pulled it all together for me. I finally understood what I was singing about, and that was cool!

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when I began traveling for Microsoft. They sent me to 24 countries and regions in a 7 year period, and I bought (paper) travel guides, language phrase books, and language dictionaries for each of those locations, and I hauled them with me on those trips. The books are currently stacked up in my office closet along with the paper maps I used on the trips.

So you can appreciate my slight resentment of the fact that now ALL of those items will fit neatly on my iPhone, and I can load and unload them at will. Bye-bye 50-pound (23Kg) suitcases; I can easily eliminate 8 pounds just from the books I don't have to carry.

Books vs. Electronic Devices

I admit that I still like books for most circumstances. People who visit my office are impressed with my book collection; there's an implication that I have read all of them, you see, which of course I have not. But they're there for reference, and I have used parts of nearly all of them at one time or another.

Now that I have both an iPhone and a Kindle, I can read books on either device. I like using the Kindle -- that is for what it was originally designed -- but there are times when being able to leaf through a book is much more efficient. Plus, you don't need an Internet connection or a battery!

I liked my travel guidebooks, especially the Dorling-Kindersley series of travel guides. They were printed on glossy paper with compactly printed, well-organized information, etc. Now they appear on glossy screens and the information gets updated regularly. THAT I can appreciate.

Guarding Your Devices on the Road

While I am waiting for the commuter bus, I look around to see how many of us have electronic devices in our hands, and it's usually 40%-60%. Given that I live in Seattle (one of the premier high-tech locations worldwide) that's not surprising. Since I'm here near home, I don't feel concerned for my safety standing around looking at my iPhone. But I also make sure I keep it close to my body so that it would be difficult for someone to snatch it and run away.

You see, we carry so much personal information on our electronic devices that losing them through our own missteps or by theft could be devastating. So I think twice about the idea of walking around another country with my travel guidebook on my Kindle. I even think carefully about reading my Kindle on the bus, lest someone snatch it from my hand as they head for the door. I can't run as fast as I used to, though I would very motivated to try.

So I would offer the same advice to those of you carrying electronic travel guides and maps as I did for the paper versions:

  1. Plan your walking tours carefully; know where you're going. Have a clear idea in your head about which direction you're headed. And if you get turned around, use the compass or map on your device to re- orient yourself.

  2. If you must stop to check the map or your travel guide on your electronic reader, step into an alcove or some non-obvious place before you put your head down to start reading. This practice keeps you from appearing vulnerable. Walking confidently is the easiest defense against observers who might consider confronting you.

Reviews of Language and Travel Guide Apps

In the next few issues, I'm going to review some of the language and translation apps as well as various travel guides. If you have a favorite travel or language guide series that you like, leave a comment below, and I'll include your recommendations in the appropriate issue of the newsletter.
Newsletter: Entertainment on the Road and at Home
Newsletter: TripLingo Translation App for iPhone