Trip Essentials: 6 Must-Have (and Free) Apps for Every Traveler

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While it’s exciting to discover a growing market of trendy, trick-heavy travel apps- one can now book private jet flights with apps such as BlackJet and PrivateFly- we still wonder: what are the excellent, practical apps suitable for all travelers?  From the business exec to the budget backpacker, these tried-and-true apps are the definitive finds for every kind of world tripper.


 Kayak

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Flight fare search has never been more comprehensive (and budget-conscious). This app consolidates all commercial airline flights to provide the lowest available fares. While the desktop version is more feature-rich, the app does wonders for quick, accurate flight quotes on-the-go.

Available for: iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone

Alternative: Skyscanner


Xe Currency

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Let XE Currency ease the guessing work of foreign money amounts on your next trip; this helpful app provides accurate conversion for every world currency, helping travelers better understand their “foreign” budget before they check-in for departure.

Available for: iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone, or Firefox OS

Alternative: Converter Plus


Google Maps

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A seamless option for current Google/Gmail users, Google Maps is still the reigning app for accurate worldwide navigation. Its public transit ability is its best feature, providing astoundingly accurate directions and stop times for global cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Sydney.

Available for: iOS and Android

Alternative: Waze


 Wi-Fi Finder

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Going on a short overseas trip and don’t really need the hassle/cost of a foreign phone service? Wi-Fi Finder uses your smartphone’s GPS to locate nearby places to locate fee-free hotspots- and works online and offline. Now you’ll have more options for convenient wi-fi stops than just Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Available for: iOS and Android


  TripIt

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When sticky notes and memo screens just won’t do, TripIt is an excellent, user-intuitive travel organizer app. This all-in-one program consolidates your flights, notes, itineraries and maps for each trip…automatically transcribing flight & travel confirmation emails (that you forward via email) to the TripIt app.

Available for: iOS, Android & Blackberry

Alternative: TripCase


Whatsapp

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Whatsapp is the only app listed that’s free-ish (free for all users for 1 year, then 99 cents/pence per year) but proves to be one of the most indispensible apps for multimedia messaging. With over 600 million active users, it is a mainstay for both everyday users and travelers to contact fellow “Whatsappers” anywhere in the world…as long as there’s internet connection.

Available on all mobile platforms

Alternative: Viber


Google Translate

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For those of us who didn’t ace that foreign language class in school, Google Translate comes as a God-send to mitigate real-time language barriers.   Google Translate also keeps your search history intact offline and you can type, “handwrite” and dictate the phrase/word you need translated, with over 80 available languages at the ready.

Available for: iOS and Android; limited capability on Blackberry, Windows Phone and Nokia

Alternative: iTranslate

Insider’s London: Albion Cafe, Shoreditch

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In a Nutshell: A trendy resto in a very trendy area that surprisingly delivers on food quality (and spectator fashion).

Best For: People-Gawking, Al Fresco Dining/Drinking, Artsy Types, Hipsters & The People Who Love Them, British Dining, Brunch

Neighborhood: Shoreditch

There’s the Boundary Hotel and its posh rooftop bar above…and the members-only Shoreditch House across the street.  I was a tad nervous that I’d be trapped in some overly pretentious East End nonsense at the Albion, but the ambiance (though still very much hip) struck the right balance.  My friend and I were lucky to snag al fresco lunchtime seats, and the proximity to all the street activity and passerby fashions on Boundary/Redchurch street was worth the price in itself.

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The menu is quintessential British, and the dishes were listed with minimal description…which made me a tad anxious.  My recommendation is to ask your waiter what he or she would recommend, for the “Rabbit in Mustard Cream” wouldn’t have been my first choice.  The actual presentation of the meal was tremendously more attractive than the terse text on the menu.  It would be the best, most tender rabbit dish I’ve ever tasted (others have been too gamey for my preference) and the mustard cream was well-balanced, appeasing my fears of an onslaught of tang throughout the dish.

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For dessert we split a rhubarb crumble, which came with a lovely warmed custard to help neuter the sweet punch of the rhubarb flavor.  Add to the mix good tea, affordable wine and unfussy service, and you have one of my more delightful restaurant experiences in East London of the summer.

The Albion may just have converted this reluctant American into enjoying British fare.

Golden Tip: Come early, and if you can get a seat outside (especially when the weather is excellent) do so.

http://www.albioncaff.co.uk/caff/

 

Image Credit: Alamy, Johnathan Player, and Travis Levius

Insider’s London: Ottolenghi, Belgravia

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(Pictured: Yotam Ottolenghi, the international chef-God himself)

In a Nutshell: Yotam’s smallest, most charming London branch of stunning daily-changing dishes & sweets

Best For: Gourmands, Sweet Tooth Bandits, Luxe Lovers, Posh Diners, Party of 2, Aspiring Chefs, Intimate Experiences

Neighborhood: Belgravia


You know it’s real love once you return the 2nd time and your heart still flutters.

Ottolenghi’s Belgravia location is one of three in London and- though there are others much closer to where I live- I have an allegiance to this tiny, 6-seater goldmine of masterful sweets.

Yes, there’s just one (minimalistic & spiffy) round communal table here. Due to its limited size, most use the take-out service, but I see the in-dining experience as part of the thrill (I was able to easily snag a seat on both visits, including one accompanied by a friend).  My expectations were high, for Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi is a rockstar chef & author; every true London foodie/amateur chef owns at least one of his international best-selling cookbook Bibles.

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Though Ottolenghi serves his signature Mediterranean-inspired food (which I’m sure is sublime), I came for those lust-worthy desserts.  On my first visit, I ordered jasmine tea and the lime cheesecake with strawberries.  I tasted the cheesecake…then became paralyzed for about 6 seconds.

Creamy, dreamy and deceptively filling- you can truly taste the *thoughtfulness* of the size, the perfect portion of large glazed strawberries, the atypical shape, etc.  Yes…I have no qualms confessing that this was the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.

Love brought me back a 2nd time recently, testing if it could sweep me off my feet as it accomplished three months prior. I ordered green tea with the Blackberry Financier.  I took a breath and took a small edge of the vanilla-almond cake…then proceeded to shout “Hallelujah!” in my head.

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I wasn’t eating a cake…I was eating an experience.  Rich, sweet vanilla-almond batter with blackberries, marscapone cream and pistachio shavings on top…with a ‘surprise’ stuffing of a raspberry and halved apricot in the center.  Every single bite was a celebration.

Desserts are in the £4ish range and is absolutely worth every pence.

Two time’s the charm, Ottolenghi.  You are officially one of my top favorite foodie destinations in London.

**Note:
The ONE major downside: There is no public restroom in this location.  But true, unconditional love forgives all shortcomings, yes?

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/belgravia/

[Image Credits: Clara Molden, Char and Travis Levius]

Insider’s London: The Proud Archivist

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In a Nutshell: A hip, multipurpose canal-side space in East London with prime surroundings (and people-watching)

Best for: Hipsters & the People Who Love Them, Al Fresco Drinking/Dining, Artsy-Smartsy Types, Minimalist Enthusiasts, People-Gawking, Style Mavens, View Seekers

Neighborhood: Haggerston


Being everything to everyone seldom works for an independent business, but it’s surely worked in The Proud Archivist’s favor.

This attractive venue on Regent’s Canal is a restaurant/bar/gallery/event & workshop space that intrigues rather than intimidates, designed with a flow of space that makes sense.  The vibe is “casual hipster,” just right for its trendy Haggerston/Dalston environs- a community center for the modish, if you will.

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I went with a friend on lovely, warm and sunny Sunday afternoon.  We ordered (well-priced) wine, beers & ciders, and snagged an al fresco table next to the canal.  The modern, creative atmosphere, the well-selected music, the stylish clientele, the gorgeous view of Regent’s Canal, the prime East End people-watching— it all worked wonderfully.

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I was a bit stunned that many reviews on major social media sites weren’t as flattering…then I realized the gripes were with the food and service.  I didn’t try the food there, and to prevent spoiling my adoration for this place, probably won’t.  I also must’ve visited when the staff were on their best behavior, as my service was A-OK.

This is one of my new favorites; I hope to never need to corroborate those service-poor rumors on any future visits.

theproudarchivist.co.uk

 

[Image Credits: Jill Tate, Luke Hayes, and Tilt]

Bug-Eating in London, and Other Life Lessons

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 Image Credit: @wilkes888

I know…you probably think I’m nuts. I can just feel that smoldering energy of judgment piercing through your laptop/smartphone device.

Honestly, I’m not sure what came over me a few days ago, but when I saw a London listing for a pop-up insect tasting near St. Paul’s, I was thrilled to try something so crazy, so out there (and so far removed from my comfort zone).

But, I realized that this is exactly what I advocate on this travel/life blog: trying new things, challenging oneself, taking chances to live life beyond the ordinary.

Aptly titled “Pestaurant”, this free Rentokil pop-up shock shop went on a global tour this summer, giving city dwellers a chance to munch on cuisine that requires- erm- an acquired taste. On the menu: roasted/salt-and-pepper crickets, roasted Mexican spiced worms, roasted locusts, pork sliders with mealworms and- for the less ambitious- chili pigeon burgers.

I, being absolutely nuts, tried them all, along with a few of my equally bold and crazy friends in the city.

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I did 3 taste-testing videos [below] so you can see how I fared. You’ll clearly see the roasted locusts weren’t my favorite of the bunch.

Though I needed plenty of juice and sweets to exterminate the aftertaste, I was so happy I did it. I faced a fear and did something out of the ordinary; now I have an interesting(ly gross) story to share at networking events and cocktail hours. ;)

Have you done something out of the ordinary recently? Faced a fear and now more courageous because of it? Share your experience below!

Nuptials in Nigeria [Part IV: Main Wedding Day!]// Adventures of a Destination Wedding Photographer

“Nuptials in Nigeria” is a series of first accounts from American-turned-Londoner photographer and inspiration/travel writer Travis Levius.   This was his 1st time on the African continent to photograph an exciting 2-day destination wedding in Lagos, Nigeria. View his wedding portfolio at www.MisterLeviusPhoto.com/Weddings

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{WEDDING DAY 2 OF 2}

The grand finale of my African destination wedding adventure finally came June 12th.  My excitement on the evening before precluded the chance of a good night’s sleep, but I was still wired and ready to take on the luxurious and- at 800+ guests-  well-attended love celebration of Busola & Ola Saka.

Enjoy!

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Nuptials in Nigeria [Part III: Traditional Yoruba Ceremony!]// Adventures of a Destination Wedding Photographer

“Nuptials in Nigeria” is a series of first accounts from American-turned-Londoner photographer and inspiration/travel writer Travis Levius.   This was his 1st time on the African continent to photograph an exciting 2-day destination wedding in Lagos, Nigeria. 

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{WEDDING DAY 1 OF 2}

After months of planning and preparing from the States, the time had finally come– the traditional Yoruba engagement/wedding of Busola & Ola!  Surprisingly, I was more excited than nervous to photograph this lively ceremony- much of the songs and speech would be in the traditional Yoruba language, and I was completely foreign to the customs that a Yoruba engagement entailed.  But everything came together wonderfully, reminding me why I’m so passionate about capturing multicultural weddings all over the globe.  This is Day One of two days’ worth of wedding ceremonies (the grand “Main Wedding” photos will debut next in Part IV!)

Let’s Begin!


The ceremony begins with Ola’s (the groom) deliberate, dance-happy entrance towards the main area, surrounded by a jubilant entourage of drummers, his groomsmen and other important guests.

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