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National park tips: How to get into the Statue of Liberty's crown

How to use crazy good trip-planning tools from Google and Lonely Planet

Every day new travel sites and apps are launched that promise to make trip planning easier. Some do and some don't.

Here are two free tools optimized for smartphones that I tested and really liked: Lonely Planet's  free Guides app for iOS and Android, and Destinations on Google, which makes it easy to aggregate information for your next travel adventure. 

Lonely Planet Guides app

The app includes more than 35 free importable guides to international and U.S. destinations, from Bangkok to London and Boston to San Francisco. I tested New York, Kyoto and Vancouver.

The test: Each free guide includes a downloadable map to explore without incurring data charges.  Lonely Planet’s local experts share insider info too.

For example, if you want to climb up to the Statue of Liberty’s crown while visiting New York City, the guide tells you to book at least six months in advance. It includes categories like "See," "Eat," "Sleep" and "Shop." 

For the most part I enjoyed using this app, though there are too few photos. And its "Play" category would benefit by adding more activities. The Kyoto Guide, for example, omits the excellent Nishijin Textile Center where you can watch kimonos made and see an entertaining kimono fashion show. 

Destinations on Google

Google search data showed that mobile trip queries have increased more than 50% since January 2015, so Google created Destinations to aggregate millions of points of data from destination, hotel and flight searches to make travel planning easier. 

You access the Destination tool through the Google Search app or Chrome, or from on Safari or Firefox browsers.  

Type in a country or continent followed by “destinations.”  You can filter by interests, dates (flexible or exact) and prices (one or two travelers).

After picking a city, you can filter by "Explore" or "Plan a Trip." A slider shows you a range of prices, or you can type in a city followed by the word “travel.” 

The test:  I love this new tool because it spits out a lot of travel info with fabulous photos and the layout is optimized for a smartphone screen. 

Any smartphone can access Destinations through its browser. I prefer Chrome or the Google Search app, because Google is the default search engine.

Some suggested tweaks:  Users need to be able to choose "all" or be able to select more than one interest area in their searches. Interests noticeably absent include history and water sports. 

And it’s fun to see “kangaroos” and “bungee jumping” as interests for Australia and New Zealand, respectively, but adventure and wildlife are universal interests and should be included elsewhere.


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