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Staying in touch while you're on the road

  • Story Highlights
  • Mapness, a clickable atlas, can help you plan by letting you create custom maps
  • Eye-Fi Explore is a memory card that gives your camera Wi-Fi connectivity
  • TripIt organizes travel plans into a sorted itinerary you can access from any computer
By Mat Honan
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Budget Travel

(Budget Travel) -- With these handy tools, you can update the folks back home without ever having to slow down.

Use your Twitter acount to ask those following you for recommendations on the area you're staying in.

Use your Twitter acount to ask those following you for recommendations on the area you're staying in.

Mapness (mapness.net)
Although it's ostensibly designed for travel journaling, this clickable atlas can also help with planning by letting you create custom maps of your travels. Adding a waypoint or something of interest -- a hotel, a landmark, a train station -- is as easy as double clicking.

Mapness will automatically plot routes between your various stops, and store your map online so that you can pull it up on the go. Even better, you can share your map with others via an e-mailed link, or export them to Google Earth so that everyone in your party can find their way to the chalet. Finally, once you've arrived, you can also add photos and videos to document your trip for posterity.

HazelMail (hazelmail.com)
Everyone loves to get postcards, but actually messing with the mail while on vacation can make you go, well, postal. (And in any case, do you really want a cheesy image from the hotel gift shop to stand as the definitive shot of your journey?)

Roll your own postcards instead. At HazelMail, named for its founder's mom, you can upload your photographs and then enter a message and an address. The Web site takes care of the rest, printing out and mailing a freshly minted postcard (and saving you from having to track down stamps). The flat fee of $1.50 includes postage to anywhere.

Eye-Fi Explore (eye.fi/cards/explore/)
There's no reason to wait until you get home to upload your photos from your trip, thanks to this camera memory card that gives your camera Wi-Fi connectivity. When it's paired with a free online account at a photo-sharing service such as Picasa or Flickr, you can set the card to upload on the fly, letting your friends tag along on your journeys with every snap you take.

The Eye-Fi works with open wireless networks, and you can set it to automatically join them once you come into range. The purchase of the card also gives you the ability to use any Wayport hotspot for a year (there are more than 10,000 of such spots nationwide). If you're not near a free open source and you're in the U.S., chances are still good that you'll be able to find a Wayport spot to upload your photos.

Also fun: The Eye-Fi uses Wi-Fi signals to store location data with every photos that's taken. When you upload shots to geo-enabled photo-sharing services (including Flickr and Picasa), the photos can be automatically added to a map that notes where they were taken -- and which also has links to photos that other photographers have taken nearby.

Twitter (twitter.com)
Even if you're not using the micro-blogging site Twitter to update the world with your own comings and goings, you can still use it to bring the wisdom of a savvy, global crowd to the palm of your hand.

Use your free acount to ask those following you a question ("Where can I find the best grits in Atlanta?") to tap into a trove of native knowledge in real time. For better luck use a "hashtag" (a keyword preceded by the pound symbol, such as #Atlanta) that will help people find your query.

Or perhaps your question has already been answered: Try Twitter's dedicated search page. If you have an iPhone, you may also want to give the applications Tweetie and Twinkle a try. These can filter Twitter's tweets by location to help you listen in on locals.

TripIt (tripit.com)
Have trouble keeping track of your travel plans? Help is here. Once you are registered with TripIt, you can forward to the site all of your confirmation e-mails for flights, hotels, and rental cars.

TripIt takes those pesky details and automatically organizes them into a sorted itinerary you can access from any computer. Thanks to its stripped-down Web site design, you can pull up your confirmation codes at the ticket counter on your phone, rather than printing everything up in advance. Social features help you create a network of friends and share itineraries, and also add badges to your Web site to show where you are and what you're doing. In addition, you can export your trips to a calendar program such as Google Calendar or iCal.

Google Voice (google.com/voice/about)
With this phone manager, you can keep the calls coming through while you roam. Open at the moment only to existing users of a Google-owned service called GrandCentral but soon to be available for everyone, Google Voice gives you a phone number which you can set to ring any phone in the United States (Google plans to expand this ability worldwide).

Even more usefully, it can be set to let only some numbers through -- for instance, maybe you want your friends but not your boss to be able to call you on that beach in Miami. Because you can set it to ring more than one number, Google Voice can direct the same call to your cell phone as well as the line in your vacation home. You can also use it to check your voice mail from any computer.

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Copyright © 2009 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc., all rights reserved.

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