Ever booked a holiday through your phone? Our travel expert Jon Buckthorp has some killer apps and features to help you get more out of your trip..

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Hands up, who’s booked a a holiday through their phone? Flights, hotels, restaurants and many other activities are all just a few taps away. Many of us know this of course, but few of us have ever actually tried to do absolutely everything via mobile.

Enter Jon Buckthorp, our resident globe-trotting travel expert. We’ve caught up with him at the tail end of his latest journey to Miami, to get his tips on going fully digital for your holidays, and the apps he uses to plan his trip before stepping on the plane.

Localeur

Free tourist apps are great for local information, but for those of us who want to get off the tourist track, they may not be the solution. The disconnect between official tourist information and local knowledge has been difficult to overcome until recently, when the rise of digital technology has given us a brand new way to travel like a local, and as Jon puts it, “take recommendations from the crowd, rather than the sales guy.”

“I downloaded a socially-curated app called Localeur,” he continues, “which has loads information on local places of interest, but from local users rather than owners. There are actually a lot of communities on there – including some here in the UK – but it seems to be US-based so it was fantastic for Miami.

“User-generated content is key for finding the best places…”

“That’s exactly the sort of user-generated content that is key for finding the best places. Something like TripAdvisor, by comparison, now has paid-for links, which means I definitely trust it less. I still use it, but I assume it’s more curated and paid for than organic.

Google Maps Street View – Inside!

This sounds like an obvious start, but Maps has a major advantage to similar services – one that you may not be aware of. “When it came to choosing somewhere to stay, we realised that in Miami and many other places, booking through AirBnB is as expensive as booking a hotel now,” say Jon. “The advantage with hotels is that many of them let you use Google Maps to actually look inside the premises.”

Remember when Google started ‘Street View’ some years ago, to let you virtually walk down roads in towns and cities around the world? That initiative has since stretched even further, and Google now lets businesses such as hotels put their interiors into Google Maps too, so that you can explore a hotel virtually and get a feel for it before you make a booking. Check it out for yourself here.

“That’s a killer app,” says Jon. “Effectively, it let us walk around the inside of the hotel before we made our choice, which is fantastic.”

Google Now

Although he uses both iOS and Android devices, Jon’s secret weapon lies on Google’s side of the divide in the form of Google Now. “It’s a must-use feature when you’re out and about,” he says. “Because Google knew that I had been in Miami last time I visited, Google Now has kept me up to date with things happening in the city. I actually booked tickets to see the Miami Heat (basketball team) on the back of seeing Miami Heat results pop up in Google Now.

“Plus, Now acts as a nice memento of your trip,” he adds. “I get similar cards from lots of places I’ve visited, and it’s a nice reminder of where I’ve been when they pop up again.”

Your camera and location tagging

We all know by now that phone cameras are incredibly high-quality in their own right, even in comparison to professional-level DSLRs (just check out some of these London skyline shots for proof), but for the tech savvy there can be much more to your holiday pictures than meets the eye.

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“Not only is my phone the best camera in my house by a country mile,” says Jon, “but it automatically tags the pictures with my location via GPS – it’s like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for you to retrace your footsteps.

“That’s exactly how we found our hotel for this trip,” he laughs. “We spent the other day looking at some old pictures from our last Miami trip, and remembered having seen this nice hotel whilst having lunch one day. We ended up finding it thanks to the GPS tag on the photo, we had a look inside with Google Maps, and then booked it!”

A most essential travel tool

“Everything I’ve talked about has been via my phone,” says Jon. “Smartphones are such versatile tools nowadays, they really have a solution to almost every scenario. Even the seemingly useless compass app can come in handy if you just need to figure out which way is north! It’s small things like that, alongside currency converter apps, Google Drive to save and secure all your travel documents on top of everything else I’ve talked about that makes my phone my most essential tool for travel.”

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“The irony in all of this,” he says in closing, “is that I’ve discovered loads of fantastic places and activities that locals seem to love, without having had any human interaction in the process, or having had to pay extra fees to travel agents and the like. The whole thing has been entirely digital. That sounds almost impossible when you’re travelling around the world, but it’s actually been very straightforward and eye-opening.”

Jon’s going to be writing regular blogs for us at Vodafone Social to further explore how tech and travel make the perfect partners. Stay tuned for more soon!

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