If you've limited your usage to Google Maps, then you've been missing out on the opportunity to make your travels and travel memories ridiculously awesome.
Traveller24 recently joined Google Africa for its #GoogleInNairobi Project Gulliver. The aim was to check-out exactly how Google's applications could enhance travelling.
Whether it's before, during or after - these obsessive-compulsive-styled apps really are amazing but far from disorderly.
Here are the eight we think you should consider the next time you go adventuring...
BEFORE AND DURING YOUR TRIP:
1. Google App - the essential travel assistant
Once you have the Google App installed on your phone, it can help you plan and manage your trip and will give you just the right information at the right time – before you even ask!
2. Voice Search - "Okay Google"
The Voice Search option, which is not only functional but playful too, allows you to ask a question and get an answer in the natural language of your choice. At times, background noise can affect functionality, but then you simply revert back to the typing-search function.
Although there can be nothing worse than struggling to type while running to catch your plane, or fumbling with your screen as you try to find directions. Under the right conditions, all you need do to is say, "Ok Google" or tap the microphone icon to begin.
Our team had a lot of fun with this App. Everything from the length of the Great Rift Valley (over 6 000km and extends across a number of countries all the way through Syria) to the population of Nairobi (About 3.3-million according to a 2009 census) was expertly narrated back to us. And Google can swiftly answer all you currency questions too, like ‘What is 100 South African Rand in Kenyan Shillings?’ (Right now, it's about 7KS to R1).
3. Google NOW, via the Google App
This is a useful in-trip function as it brings up notifications relevant to your travels from your Gmail account and Google Calendar - making it a lot easier to manage your schedule.
"For example, after getting a flight confirmation sent to your Gmail account, Google will bring forward a card a day or two before your trip with the status of your flight, what terminal you need to go to, and when you should leave for the airport to get there on time. If there’s a delay on your flights, you’ll receive a notification so you can amend your travel plans," Google's head of communications for Africa, Dorothy Ooko told us.
You’ll also be able to see the weather at your destination, and your boarding pass may appear on your phone (depending on the airline) — so you don’t need to fumble with those self-service check-in terminals, just breeze right through to the gate.
"You will also see recommendations of places to see and things to do and notable places where you can take photos. All this information will be generated automatically, so you don’t need to scramble around for any details."
4. Google Calendar
Syncing your Google App to your Google calendar is certainly the organised approach to travelling. It navigates you from place to place with notifications on where you should be next and when you should prepare to leave in order to arrive on time. Being late is not an option with this App, which would probably suite business travellers better - if you're wanting a more relaxed approach to your break, I'd suggest opting out of this one.
Either way, all it takes is a simple downward swipe to refresh your screen for some very useful cards, related to your trip and itinerary, to magically appear.
5. Street View in Google Maps
Street View in Google Maps provides 360 degree street-level images of thousands of cities, tourist hot-spots and places of interest throughout the world. This App gives you an in-destination look and feel of what you can expect when you arrive.
In Nairobi Kenya for example, you can check out the Samburu National Park - click here for the Street View of this destination.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, that takes care of orphaned elephants, also features on Street View. Our group got to experience this haven for orphaned elephants firsthand and it's certainly one of the must-do activities when in Nairobi.
6. Google Maps
I can't tell you how lost I would be without the Google Maps App on my phone and this is probably the one we're all most familiar with. But did you know it also has a pretty cool compass icon, which will show you exactly where you are at all times. Cool right!?
But not as cool as syncing it with the voice search app function, which will enable instant navigation to your destination.
Finding places to head to in the particular destination you're visiting is as simple as tapping on the location on the map. It then generates a card at the bottom of the screen, which details useful information about the place. You can also reciprocate in helping fellow travellers enjoy good experiences and avoid the bad ones. Rate and review a place by tapping on the number of stars you think it deserves. There is also an option to leave a more detailed written review - deciding where to go in an unfamiliar place is just that easy.
Google has also recently launched a new Maps feature called Timeline - which can now intrinsically record the places you visit without you having to check-in or do anything. It operates via your Google+ and is only visible to you - making it easy to revisit certain places or keep proper track of the places you discover by chance and may want to check out again during a return trip.
7. Google Translate
If you happen to be visiting a destination where English isn’t the first language, then the Google Translate App makes communicating and travelling that much easier. It even has a Word Lens in Translate that lets you instantaneously translate written text to the language of your choice. Remarkably simple and messes with your mind a little bit.
To ensure you can get a head start on the language in the destination of your choice, download your preferred language pack so its accessible offline, all the time.
8. Google Cultural Institute
As global franchises and big brands meld the cities of the world into cosmopolitan similarity, it makes you realise the value of the people and the various cultures of the places you visit - and how they contribute to the uniqueness of your experience.
Making the work of Google's Cultural Institute so very special. Together with more than 800 partners, cultural treasures across the globe are now easily available across the Internet in an authentic platform that features over "190 thousand artworks and a total of 6 million photos, videos, manuscripts and other documents of art, culture and history".
"We're building tools that allow the cultural sector to share more of its diverse heritage online. The aim of the Google Cultural Institute is twofold,"says Ooko.
"Firstly, to enable the culturally curious to discover, explore and share cultural treasures of the world in a new way, in extraordinary detail, thanks to immersive technologies and through the stories underlying artworks and historical moments.
"Secondly, for hundreds of years, cultural institutions have collected and safeguarded our history and heritage. With the Cultural Institute, we help them to bring cultural heritage online with powerful technologies to digitize, showcase artworks in new ways and reach a wider audience."
We visited the Go Down Art Project in Nairobi - an inspiring centre that is the playground of all forms of artistic expression. From dance, spoken word, music to art and craft, this place oozes creative African entrepreneurship. They also co-ordinate the East African Arts Festival, held every two years as well as monthly cultural events - visit the Go Down Art Project website for more details and be sure to add them to your Google Calendar.
AFTER YOUR TRIP:
9. Google Photos
As smartphones and funky camera functionality turn us all into budding, professional photographers, this is probably my favourite and most valuable free App of the lot. Why? Because it offers you a backup of your memories, available at any time, from any place on the planet.
Google Photos not only includes a setting for automatic backup, is always available, but also includes UNLIMITED free storage at high quality resolution for your pics and videos, which smartly allows you to free up the space on your phone.
NB things to note:
You will need to have a Google+ account setup, including a gmail account in order to use some of the Apps mentioned above. Also keep in mind that for most of them require access to wifi or a good amount of data - so best you plan accordingly.
Battery life on your devices is essential to being able to use the Apps. Make sure you're all charged up before you head out and it can't hurt to carry a handy power bank with you either.
Asante, travellers of the Internet age.