THE BUDGET TRAVEL CHALLENGE
Travel by Smartphone: Mumbai, India
The boom in smartphone apps has made a lot of things easier—but what about travel? To find out, James Vlahos heads to the beautifully overwhelming, mazelike megalopolis of Mumbai, India, with nothing more than a half-packed carry-on, a phone, and a wide-open schedule.
To plan my final day, I scrolled through tweets and reviewed suggestions from my new friends. Then I hopped in a cab and used the METRODOWN app, which translates Mumbai's baffling zoned taxi-fare system into real-life rupees, to make sure I'd been charged the right amount. ("It is exact!" the driver gasped when I showed him the screen.) The first destination was Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, where much of Mumbai's laundry is washed outdoors. Ducking through lines of drying shirts, I marveled at hundreds of tubs where men stood shin-deep in soapy water, shaking and stomping clothes clean.
That afternoon, I went to Kamala Nehru Park. (Hanging Gardens, across the street, is a tourist staple, but my Mumbai friends had told me that Kamala was better.) Under a purpling sky, Mumbai was coming alive. Headlights twinkled along the oceanfront arc of Marine Drive, nicknamed the Queen's Necklace, and hundreds of couples and families strolled along the seaside promenade. Directly below the overlook, hundreds of celebrants of Ganesh Chaturthi filled Chowpatty Beach.
From Nitesh on Twitter, as well as from my Facebook friend Arjun Mukerjee, I had heard good things about a world-music club called the Blue Frog; that night, it was featuring Rajasthani music and dancing. The place looked swanky when I showed up, with a large stage and pod-like white booths, but it was only 8:30, so the club was dead. To kill time until the show, I left to have a look around. But the traffic, crowds, and frenzy of the Ganesh festival were so heightened that I never made it back. Things happened. I was sweaty and dancing and had no idea where I was. But none of that mattered. With the flick of a finger, I could be anywhere I wanted.
AROUNDME This geo-aware app lists key services (coffee, food, gas, etc.) closest to your current location, no matter where. free
KAYAK The app arm of the popular OTA, Kayak finds cheap flights, rooms, and trips with the flick of a finger. free
GATE GURU With maps of 86 U.S. airports, this app will help you find a gate, grab a bite, or shop in most terminals. free
FLIGHT UPDATE Track flights in real time; find baggage carousels; plan alternate routes on the fly—this app does it all. $5
HOTELS.COM With 80,000-plus member hotels, the app features discount room rates, user reviews, and ratings. free
CURCON Of all the currency-converter apps out there, this one has the slickest, easiest-to-use interface. $1
SNAPSHOT POSTCARD Convert any iPhone image into a postcard. Select it, type a message, and send. free
CITY WALKS One of dozens of options from City Walks, Mumbai Map and Walking Tours plots detailed GPS-assisted trips. $5
FREE TRANSLATOR Loaded with 35 languages, this app not only translates your phrase, it says it out loud. free
FIDESREEF An open-source guidebook maker, FidesReef has hundreds of app guides, including one for Mumbai. $1
ICOON With 500 handy illustrations, this translation app lets you get your point across without speaking a word. $1
MUMBAIKAR Think of it as Mumbai mapped—restaurants, shops, and more are plotted relative to your location. free
MUMBAI BOSS This supercharged Mumbai city-life app is a constantly updated source of food, culture, and events news. free
FACEBOOK Does it really need an introduction? All the social-networking perks, now in mobile form. free
TWITTER Sign up for the right feeds and you'll have a bunch of in-the-know locals by your side at every turn. free
METERDOWN Convert Mumbai's confusing zoned taxi-fare system into real-life rupees, no haggling required. free
Hotel Airport International
Nehru Rd., Ville Parle East, 011-91/22-2628-2222, hotelairportinternational.com, doubles from $90
Chateau Windsor Hotel
86 Veer Nariman Rd., 011-91/22-6622-4455, chateauwindsor.com, doubles from $100
248 Karai Estate, Tardeo Rd., 011-91/22-6580-8406, nine-item sampler platter $6
5 Ground Fl., Pheroze Building, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharishi Marg, Apollo Bunder, 011-91/22-6655-1010, indigodeli.com, about $25 for two