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Traveling? iPhone can help!

Aron Trimble

Update: As many noted below in the comments a lot of the functionality mentioned in the article is not iPhone-specific. As such please find below updated information providing details as to what can be accomplished on the iPhone, iPod Touch or both.

If you're a road warrior and an iPhone or iPod touch owner, chances are you are not using your beloved technology to its fullest potential. There are many applications and services that can make your trip a lot less stressful so you can focus on enjoying the trip rather than making sure everything goes according to plan. Everyone by now is accustomed to using the iPhone for browsing the web while waiting for a plane or listening to music while sitting on a bus. But did you know you can do things like check in for your flight, listen to the radio in your home town from a thousand miles away, and at some airports even get through security all using just your iPhone/iPod Touch?

Read on, weary travelers, if you too want to learn the many ways in which Apple's touch screen devices can make your entire traveling experience pleasant, even if you're traveling for business.

In the past we have covered many of the cases and battery packs that can protect and enhance the iPhone - today we want to cover the ways in which software on the iPhone or iPod Touch (and the web) can make traveling easier. For starters, Continental Airlines is extremely web friendly. Besides having a very Mobile Safari-friendly website for viewing flight status as well as making and canceling reservations they provide the ability to check in to a flight using Mobile Safari. Further, if your airport supports the infrastructure (such as IAH in Houston) it is even possible to get through security and board your plane using an electronic boarding pass on your iPhone or iPod Touch's screen. Keep in mind that many airports (such as IAH in Houston) charge for Wi-Fi connectivity so the on-board Edge/3G capabilities in the iPhone make this that much nicer.

Now, your mileage may vary in terms of being able to use the electronic boarding pass; the TSA personnel at IAH were a little confused by what I was presenting them. After the a brief conversation everything was sorted out, but that does not mean my heart was not a-flutter with fear that I would have to go to the check-in counter and wait in line all over again.

As most of you know, the iPhone and iPod Touch is a great toy for passing time on the plane. There are hundreds of games that can be purchased, thousands of songs that can be stored on either the many gigabytes of internal storage, as well as hours of movies and TV shows that can be watched. For my personal taste I prefer the larger screen of a laptop for watching movies on a plane but not everyone is given a laptop by their boss for the purpose of traveling. And if you fall into that case chances are you're going to want some content on that portable piece of electronic heaven.

iTunes is full of movies and TV shows that can be purchased, but did you know you don't have to go through the iTunes store to get video content on your iPhone/iPod Touch? There is a great application called Handbrake which we have mentioned on several occasions that solves this problem very elegantly. Simply put, all you have to do is a drop in a DVD, open Handbrake, and select the iPhone preset (note that the current version requires that you have VLC installed for DVD transcoding). Once completed you have a full-length movie ready for playback on your iPhone or iPod Touch. Additionally, the latest release of Handbrake now features "universal input" -- in other words, drop any video file and Handbrake will handle it.

Now that your flight has landed and you are in the terminal you're going to need to get to that hotel of yours. In my opinion there is no better app for finding places and how to get to those places than Google maps. If you're in a strange city for the first time this can be a huge help. In the latest version of Mobile OS X the maps app has gotten some nifty new features.

In addition to the standard driving directions you can now get public transportation and walking directions. This is extremely handy if you're in a large city such as New York City where you are likely going to do a lot of walking. Another handy feature is the newly-implemented street view. This allows you to actually see a photograph of a particular building or landmark. If you are driving in a new town it can really help to know what your hotel is supposed to look like; especially if you have an iPhone 3G with built-in GPS.

Once you get to your hotel and you have to check in it is good to have the confirmation information with you in case there are any hiccups at the front desk. I found it useful to use my Gmail account's message-starring feature -- this made it easy to quickly retrieve my confirmation email for my hotel room.

If you're looking for a tasty place to eat, UrbanSpoon (iTunes link), featured by Apple in this commercial (direct link), is a great tool. It allows you to find restaurants based on location and food type, as well as cost. When you don't really know the lay of the land and want something better than the golden arches this little gem can really save your appetite.

With a quick trip to the App store it is also possible to listen to your favorite morning radio show or even find a local radio station where you're visiting that is playing something more to your fancy. The WunderRadio app (iTunes link) features live streams of radio stations from around the world; you can read our full review here. If you want a program (such as my personal favorite, the Rod Ryan show) that is on a ClearChannel station you're going to have to get iheart radio app (yes, another iTunes link).

Both WunderRadio and iheart radio make it easy to find other stations closer to your liking. The iheart radio interface makes it a little easier to find a local radio station based on a specific genre, which is nice if you have to actually drive somewhere. iheart radio also allows you to tag songs for purchase from iTunes right from your phone! Additionally, some songs have lyrics available so you don't have to sing "nuh-nuh-nuh" when Third Eye Blind's Semi-Charmed Life starts playing.

The iPhone is easily my most used piece of technology; however, it wasn't until my recent business trip to Sacramento, CA that I realized how useful it was. From my flight to my hotel room, eating lunch at Carl's Jr. and listening to the radio in Houston, it became obvious how truly revolutionary the iPhone (and iPod Touch) was.

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