10 Travel Apps That Save You Time and Money
PLAN YOUR TRIP WITH DESTI
When you're mapping out a game plan for a trip, searching for good recommendations can be a crapshoot. Desti's mission is to extract "meaningful" reviews of destinations like wineries and hotels in more than 14,000 U.S. cities using artificial intelligence, or "machine learning" that culls information from pre-existing reviews. The app "reads" others' assessments for keywords about, for example, cleanliness and good value. The result is similar to a Zagat guide. "It will tell you what keeps repeating in reviews, for instance 'Guests love the free breakfast' or alternatively 'The breakfast is mediocre, according to most reviewers,'" says Desti CEO Nadav Gur.
One advantage of Desti is that you're able to be incredibly specific with long searches, typing in multiple details about what you're looking for in, say, a hotel—price, child-friendliness, proximity to beaches, number of rooms, etc.—and get back the best match. Sure beats relying on Google alone.
PACK RIGHT WITH PACKING PRO
You'll never have to run out to a drugstore in an unfamiliar city again with Packing Pro, a crazy-extensive list-maker that lets you create checklists that include everything from contact solution to foreign cash.
Packing Pro has been around for a few years, but a new feature enables users to filter a list by person or bag (or both). That means you can create a list for your separate carry-on, and see what your child plans to throw into a bigger family suitcase. The lists are reusable, so you don't have to start from scratch each time, and iCloud auto-sync lets multiple viewers edit and view the same list.
The $2.99 price tag is hefty for an app, but it has the potential to pay for itself relatively quickly. "Packing Pro has already saved me several times its cost, by not having to repurchase these easily forgettable items: toothbrush and toothpaste, iPhone recharger, belt, and electric shaver," founder and developer Quinn Genzel says. "Also, as an international budget traveler myself, I have been to places where certain things aren't even available for purchase, or would require some expensive transportation to locate and acquire." On a purely practical level, if a bag were stolen, the saved list is useful for insurance reimbursement purposes.
If you want to be as hands-off as possible, you can harness the power of the app's "Expert List Generator," which creates lists for you based on number of vacation days, temperature at your destination, domestic or foreign locale. If only it could actually pack for you too.
PREPARE TO LEAVE THE HOUSE WITH GATEGURU
The day you make your way from home to the airport is can be a hectic melee if you're time-crunched or traveling last minute, but GateGuru—TripAdvisor's latest app acquisition - aims to fix that. The app's new FlightBoard feature gives you real-time information on the airport you're flying into or from, so you can spot flight delays and get gate information before you've arrived.
"I was on my way to the airport once and was browsing the Flightboard. I knew my departure gate because I was tracking my flight," says GateGuru community manager Zachary Einzig. "I took a look at Arrivals on the Flightboard, found my gate, and I saw that the flight coming into that gate, which I assumed was going to be my plane, was delayed. I immediately called Delta and although they hadn't posted a delay for my flight yet, they too saw this situation and I rebooked my flight."
Currently, the app covers 214 airports—in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, and 10 Australia. Once you're actually at the airport, the app can help you find cheap eats and net you discounts on merchandise and last-minute car rentals. Plus, the deals and airport maps are pre-downloadable, so you can avoid roaming fees in foreign countries.
SAVE TIME AT THE AIRPORT WITH SMART LAYOVER
For those long layovers when your flight has been delayed… and delayed again… it's nice to have in-airport options that don't make you feel trapped. Smart Layover finds activities like day-use hotels for a nap and sightseeing tours that are close to the airport, along with maps and directions, so you can take advantage of a long layover.
"We only display activities that people will have time to do during their layover window," says Smart Layover CEO Sam Makaryan, "and we build in enough time to go from the airport to your destination via driving or public transportation, do the activity, and get back to the airport and through security with plenty of time. We also provide security wait times for all major U.S. airports so there are no surprises when you return from exploring."
If you don't want to stray far, though, and would rather purchase a tablet to read a book on, rent a DVD, or grab a snack, Smart Layover provides deals with InMotion electronics stores, restaurants, and retail stores. You pay 10 percent of the deal up front via the app, then the rest of the purchase price at the store via QR code. For now, you have to type in your credit card each time you buy something, but Smart Layover eventually plans to add credit-card storage to the app in an upcoming update.
MAKE A LAST-MINUTE HOTEL SWITCH WITH HOTEL TONIGHT
Last-minute hotel booking app Hotel Tonight has gotten major buzz for its swanky, user-friendly app that unleashes discounted day-of bookings at high noon every day.
"Just recently, we had hotel rooms in New York selling for under 100 bucks over the Fourth of July weekend," says Jared Simon, COO and co-founder of Hotel Tonight. "Similarly, we sold $99 rooms country-wide on New Year's Eve in 2011." The app reaches 12 countries in North America and Western Europe as of right now.
Another useful feature is the app's ability to snag last-minute hotel rooms in cities hosting big events, like the Super Bowl. The bargains aren't quite as good then, but if you're bound and determined to stay in a certain place at a certain time, it's a good tool to have in your arsenal.
NAVIGATE BIG CITIES WITH TRIPADVISOR'S CITY GUIDES
If you need general facts about the city you're in and you need them now, TripAdvisor's Offline City Guides are a no-nonsense way to get an overview of what's going on. Download maps straight from the app for free, without Wi-Fi—useful for foreign cities to avoid roaming fees. When downloaded, the guides take up a big chunk of memory space on your phone, but the lists of restaurants, hotels, shopping, nightlife, tours, and attractions are extensive, all with TripAdvisor's signature reviews and ratings.
A few other fun (free) features: You can check out suggested itineraries, see public transportation information, and send virtual "postcards" via Facebook, text, or email using the app's instagram-like filters in quirky customizable frames that feature sentiments like "Greetings from New York City," "Miss You," and "What a View!"
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE WITH JIBBIGO
Languages as common as Spanish and French and as obscure as Esperanto and Pashto are included in the 20 languages Jibbigo can translate via text or voice. The free app requires a Wi-Fi connection, but if you pony up for Jibbigo Plus, you can download the translators and use them offline anywhere. Prices range from $2.99 to $4.99 for "language pairs" like English/German to regional packages (Asia, Europe) for $9.99. Twenty-five bucks buys you the complete "world" package.
The app is still working out some Siri-like bugs with the voice translator, but you can tap that spoken text and edit it to make sure it "hears" you correctly, says Elizabeth Criss, communications coordinator for Jibbigo. You can also share the translations via text, email, or social media if you find a translation particularly compelling—or particularly funny. More telling: Facebook liked the company behind Jibbigo so much that it recently acquired it.
"I can't tell you how many customers write to tell us how the app saved them on a travel adventure," Criss says. "When you are in a foreign land, you don't have Wi-Fi, and you don't know the language, Jibbigo is your best friend."
SEE THE SIGHTS WITH PICFARI
Making your Instagram followers jealous is now easier than ever with Picfari, a photo hunt app that shows you where to get the best shots of landmarks and vistas and encourages you to snap the best photo opps in popular locales ranging from Atlanta to Istanbul.
"It's like scouting a location that professionals do when shooting a movie or planning a photo shoot," says app co-founder Scott Herr. "Depending on the time you have in a place, you can choose an Express Picfari—the four to six best shots of a location—up to the longer, more comprehensive All-Star Picfari, 10 to 15 shots."
Plan far ahead and store Picfaris in your phone before you hit a locale (no Wi-Fi necessary), or be spontaneous with the Picfaris Around Me function, which leads you to hunts right around where you're standing. You can't push the photos to social media through the app yet, but that's on the horizon for one of Picfari's future updates.
For pros who have skills beyond pointing and clicking, the app publishes Exchangeable Image File data with each photo, including shutter speed and whether if a flash was used, etc., to help experienced photographers choose a lens for their high-tech cameras. Later, at your computer, you can upload your tour to Picfari and kindly share your best shots with other photo hunters who are using the app.
EAT LIKE A LOCAL WITH EATER
Wading through reviews to find the current best restaurants in the city you're visiting can be frustrating if you don't know who's recommending them. Eater's specialized, country-wide blogs have developed a reputation for staying on top of trends and openings in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. With the brand-new Eater app, you can find out which are near you, in either a map view or list view. What makes this app worth the 99 cents is that you know you're getting the cream of the crop, lessening the chances you'll unknowingly walk right into a tourist trap.
Alongside recently recommended "essential" restaurants on Eater's top 38 lists, the app incorporates the site's popular Heat Map, which gives you the scoop on which restaurants are currently the most trendy and sought after. Those hotspots are indicated on a Google map with a little flame. Tap the restaurant, and you get a photo of the restaurant, a short review, a directions button, and an option to call the restaurant. The mini reviews are particularly useful and easy to scan quickly, giving tips like "a solid choice for date night" and "be ready for crowds," so you know what to expect before you unfold your napkin.
REMEMBER YOUR TRIP WITH EVERNOTE
Taking a dream vacation is rewarding when you're there, but remembering exactly what you did and what your destination looked like is easier said than done, especially if you have to go through the trouble of uploading photos from your digital camera and putting them into an album. The Evernote app is great for a lot of things, but one of its specialties is travel.
While you're on vacation, treat the app as though it were a living notebook. Brochures, menus, and maps can all be uploaded as mementos, so you won't be stumped when someone asked which trail you hiked or what you ate at a particular café or restaurant. (Those docs become searchable too once they're in Evernote's system.) Or, use audio and visuals to craft "rich notes" for intensely original moments, like a photo of a church and the sound of the church bells ringing.
Every "note" you create is stamped with the time, date, and the location in which it was made; use the Atlas view to see where you've gone and what you did. That's particularly useful when you're vying for bragging rights with other frequent-traveler friends.
Save Money With 2-For-1 Broadway Tickets
It's my favorite time of year: Broadway Week in New York City, where you can save big on buzz–worthy Broadway shows thanks to 2-For-1 ticket deals on select shows Sept. 7-20. There are 22 shows participating this year and tickets are on sale now through the website. Options this year include Aladdin, Amazing Grace, An American in Paris, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Finding Neverland, Fun Home, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Hand to God, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The King and I, Kinky Boots, Les Miserables, The Lion King, Matilda the Musical, Old Times, Spring Awakening, Wicked, and Something Rotten! Also available are discounted tickets for perennial favorites like Chicago, Jersey Boys, and The Phantom of the Opera. Visit this nycgo.com link to book your tickets online starting at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 19th, and for more information about shows and blackout dates.
11 Spectacular Labor Day Getaways
Labor Day weekend may be just around the corner, but it's not too late to plan the perfect three-day getaway. From coast to coast and around the world, there are plenty of free and budget-friendly activities to choose from. Whether you're in the mood for a Jazz Festival in Chicago, a quirky traditional event held every year in Park City, or an American music extravaganza in Virginia Beach, we've rounded up 11 exciting events and festivals around the country you won't want to miss. SEE THE DESTINATIONS! Daytona Beach: For family-friendly fun on a famous Florida beach While the words Daytona Beach may conjure up scenes from MTV's Spring Break, the area has come a long way since then, and is now much more of a family destination offering a wide variety of kid-friendly events, festivals, and beachfront entertainment fit for all ages. This Labor Day Weekend, catch a free concert at the Daytona Beach Bandshell on Saturday night starting at 7:15 p.m. featuring a performance by Rocket Man, an Elton John tribute band—stick around for a fireworks show starting at 9:45 p.m. Baseball lovers can watch the Daytona Tortugas play ball on Sept. 4th, 5th, and 6th at the Jackie Robinson Ballpark, where dogs are welcome and the kids will have a chance to run the bases—don't miss their fireworks show Saturday night. Also while you're in town, stop by the Daytona International Speedway for a behind-the-scenes look at all things NASCAR. Hotels in this part of Florida are super affordable over Labor Day Weekend, too, with rates at the Courtyard Daytona Beach Speedway/Airport starting at $109 a night and rates at the Residence Inn Daytona Beach Speedway/Airport starting at $159 a night. Lake Tahoe: For carnivals, boat races, and great discounts on ski gear On Saturday, Sept. 5th, you'll have the opportunity to board one of South Shore's two Mississippi paddlewheeler boats, California's Tahoe Queen or Nevada's M.S. Dixie II, for the 23rd annual Great Lake Tahoe Sternwheeler Race, a unique only-in-Tahoe experience that can be yours for from $25 per adult ($10 per child) including brunch and drink specials. If you'd rather be a spectator, cheer runners on from the sidelines as they compete in the fourth annual Heavenly Mountain Run, racing from the California Base Lodge at 6,565-feet all the way up to the Tamarack Lodge at 9,150-feet. You can also enjoy live music with an impressive fireworks display over the lake Sunday night starting at 8:30 p.m. Another notable weekend event is the 6th annual Sample the Sierra Festival on Sept. 6th from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Bijou Community Park, where you can sample fresh farm-to-table food and wine creations by local chefs and farmers. Don't miss the chance to stock up on ski gear for next season at the annual Heavenly Sports Labor Day Tent Sale, where you can save up to 70 percent on ski and snowboard equipment at Heavenly's California Main Lodge on Sept. 5th from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 6th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sept 7th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Puerto Rico: For a no-passport-required Caribbean beach break Airfares to this sizzling U.S. island (no passport required!) are around $445 for Labor Day travel. Sound good? Picture yourself lounging on the beach listening to the waves crash in the distance, fruity drink in hand. Spend some time exploring Puerto Rico at your own pace with this travel package to San Juan that includes ocean view accommodations at La Concha Resort, a Renaissance Resort located in San Juan's trendy Condado neighborhood. You'll also get daily breakfast for two at the resort's Ocean Café Restaurant among other perks, from $186 a night. (Note: While Labor Day falls during the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season, the NOAA has predicted a quieter season than average for 2015, with only 1 to 4 hurricanes, and possibly only 1 ranked as a Category 3, serious, hurricane.) RELATED: 25 Incredible Road Trips BT Readers Love The Jersey Shore: For beachside water parks on the pier The beaches along the Jersey Shore have definitely bounced back from last year's storm damage with style—some of them even made our list of America's Most Awesome Boardwalks, and Ocean City, N.J. was featured as one of BT's favorite beach towns. This Labor Day weekend, pay a visit to one of New Jersey's many beachside waterparks, like Raging Waters and the Ocean Oasis Waterpark & Beach Club at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, now celebrating its 46th season, for a fun way to cool off in the hot summer sun, whether you prefer to relax in the lazy river or take on adrenaline-pumping attractions like the Cliff Dive slide and WipeOut. Waterpark passes start at $44 for adults and $36 for children under 48". Seniors over age 65 get in for $20 with a valid photo ID. Paris: The perfect place for a romantic three-day weekend getaway A three-day weekend in Paris? Yes, you can! In fact, Budget Travel Senior Editor Jamie Beckman just did it. Find a neighborhood that you like, book a comfortable hotel, and relax—don’t overschedule and you’ll enjoy exploring on foot, visiting green spaces, and soaking up the romance. Hotel 29 Lepic’s stellar location, near the Sacré-Coeur basilica and Moulin Rouge in Montmartre, is tough to beat for the price (from about $70 per night, 29lepic.fr). And though average airfares from the U.S. to Paris are around $1,063 right now, WOW airlines has round-trip flights to Paris out of Boston and Washington, D.C., starting at about $384 after taxes. Washington D.C.: For free concerts and kayaking on the Potomac Each year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert for the public on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at 8 p.m. While no tickets are required, it is recommended that you get there early to get a good spot—gates open as early as 3 p.m. and you can watch them rehearse at 3:30 p.m. The 27th annual DC Blues Festival is slated for Saturday, Sept. 5th at the Carter Barron Amphitheater from noon to 7:30 p.m., with performances by Sharrie Williams, James Armstrong, and The Mojo Priests among others. You'll also have the opportunity to attend vocal, guitar, and harmonica workshops led by talented Blues artists at the John Cephas Workshop Stage. The DC Blues Festival is free and open to the public. Want to enjoy the great outdoors during your long weekend? Consider renting a kayak or canoe from the Thompson Boat Center for a totally different view of the city from the Potomac. Canoe rentals cost $16.50 per hour or $33 for the day and can hold up to three adults or two adults and two small children. Rent a single kayak for $16.50 per hour or $44 per day, or a double kayak for $22 an hour or $55 per day. RELATED: 20 Best-Kept Secrets of Washington D.C. Chicago: For free art fairs and a jazz festival The 37th annual Chicago Jazz Festival takes place this year from Sept. 3rd to Sept. 6th at the Chicago Cultural Center in Millennium Park. Admission is free and you'll have the chance to view performances by Muhal Richard Abrams, Jose James, and Dee Dee Bridgewater among others. From Friday to Monday, Washington Park is home to the 26th Annual African Festival of the Arts, an event featuring exhibitions by Chicago's best artists. General admission tickets cost $20 for adults at the gate, $15 in advance; family and weekend passes are available for $40. Click here for more fun things to do in Chicago year-round. Virginia Beach: For three days of bands on the beach—and a half-marathon Music lovers, rejoice! For three days over Labor Day weekend (Fri-Sun), more than 20 bands will take the stage for the 32nd annual American Music Festival playing all kinds of music—rock and roll, jazz, blues, country, and R&B—by local, regional, and national bands on a giant beachfront stage on 5th Street as well as several outdoor stages at the 17th Street Park, the 24th Street Park, and the 31st Street Park. Highlights include big-name artists like the Steve Miller Band on Friday night, Rebelution, The Wailers, and G. Love & Special Sauce on Saturday night, and a performance by Sheryl Crow on Sunday night. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show. This year, you can purchase a Passport Pin for access to all three shows, from $40 when purchased in advance. Those seeking a more active vacation can sign up for the Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon, a race through the streets of the city on Sunday, Sept. 6th, that raises money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Registration prices may vary; check the website for more details. Miami: For parties, brunches, and bike rides on the beach Party people won't want to miss Reload, a pool party event from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6th, at the Shore Club featuring international DJs and the best house music in South Beach. Refuel at the Shore Club's Sunday brunch, where ladies pay $44 per person including unlimited mimosas and bellinis (men must pay $44 for the brunch plus an additional $20 for unlimited drinks)—access to the Bloody Mary bar is an extra $20. Tickets to the Reload pool party start at $40 per person for all day access or from $30 per person for pool party access between noon and 3 p.m. Early bird tickets start at $10 per person when ordered ahead of time online. Take a spin on Miami's public bike sharing program,Citi Bike Miami (operated by Deco Bike Miami), for a spin, and rent a bike anywhere from 30-minutes to a full day. 30-minute passes are available for $4; one-hour passes for $6; two-hour passes for $10, four-hour passes for $18; and one-day passes are available for $24. Looking for a calmer beach experience? Stake out the perfect spot on any of Miami Beach's seven miles of sand. The best part: it's free. DON'T MISS: 20 Most Awesome Boardwalks in America Park City: For historic parades and the Running of the Balls Labor Day is more commonly referred to as Park City Miner's Day in this part of Utah—a tradition dating all the way back to 1898. Each year there's a celebration in honor of the area's rich mining heritage, complete with a community pancake breakfast, live music, races and games for the kids, the Funky 5K Fun Run, and the annual Miner's Day Parade down Historic Main Street. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the celebration is the annual Running of the Balls, a charity fundraising event held on Monday at 10:45 a.m. where participants "adopt" a ball for $5 (or 5 balls for $20), and watch in awe as thousands of them are released down Main Street, racing to the bottom of the hill. The first ten to reach the bottom of the street are tracked, earning their owners a grand prize of airline tickets, season ski passes, or any number of other donated surprises. LEGOLAND: Kiddie paradise in Florida & Southern California If you’ve got little ones, LEGOLAND is like Paris for kids—always a good idea. With fun rides, hands-on activities, and a hotel that feels like it’s built out of those iconic colorful blocks, the theme park’s So. Cal and Florida locations are a fun way to say bye-bye to summer. Even better, if you purchase LEGOLAND dollars (now available on the TravelEx currency exchange) through Labor Day you’ll get free parking, free admission to the park’s water park, and a free order of the theme park’s famous Granny’s Apple Fries.
How Would an American Airlines/U.S. Airways Merger Change the Way You Travel?
Yup, the airlines just keep on changing names. More than a decade of bankruptcies and mergers has left us with a smaller field of competitors—we had 10 major carriers in the United States in 2000, now we have five—and the familiar brand names are disappearing or getting hyphen-happy. Northwest? It's now part of Delta. Continental? That's United-Continental to you. So, when American Airlines and U.S. Airways announced a proposed $11 billion merger in February, many industry folks expected it to be the last, somewhat inevitable, merger, creating the world's largest commercial airline and allowing American to emerge from bankruptcy with renewed clout. Not so fast, the Department of Justice declared on August 13. Or, rather, "The American people deserve better," as Attorney General Eric Holder put it when he announced the department's antitrust action against the merger. The DOJ maintains that combining American and U.S. Airways would reduce competition, leading to higher airfares, higher fees, and fewer choices for consumers. Its announcement was such a surprise, lawyers for American and U.S. Airways took the unusual step of meeting with reporters to publicly refute the DOJ's major contentions. In fact, the lawyers leading the merger declared emphatically that merging the fourth and fifth largest commercial air carriers in the U.S. would actually enhance competition and lead to lower fares because it would create a new, powerful competitor to rivals Delta and United-Continental. Hmmm. What gives? While we don't have a crystal ball to predict whether this merger would change the way you fly, Budget Travel has always preferred solid research to intuition. So we took a look at some evidence from the most recent airline mega-mergers and asked the obvious question: Did those mergers enhance competition and help bring down airfares? Nice try. In 2008, Delta merged with Northwest. In 2012, the American Antitrust Institute analyzed airfares on routes and hubs affected by that merger and found above-average fare increases on 70 percent of routes, with fare increases up to 20 percent. In 2010, United merged with Continental. Similarly, the AAI found above-average fare increases on 90 percent of affected routes, with fare increases up to 30 percent. Both mergers limited competition on affected routes and at affected hubs and drove some local airlines and lower-cost airlines out of those hubs. The AAI's findings would tend to support the DOJ's position. As just one example, the DOJ contends that, if this merger goes through, 69 percent of the takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., would be controlled by the new American/U.S. Airways entity, and that the low fares offered by JetBlue out of National could be threatened because JetBlue's slots at the airport are the result of an earlier agreement with American Airlines. Further, U.S. Airways currently offers lower fares to passengers who fly through some of its smaller, non-hub airports. The new mega-airline created by the merger—in control of more flights and more hub slots across the U.S.—might very well have less incentive to offer those discounted fares. Will American and U.S. Airways merge? Will fares rise? We don't know. We must acknowledge that airfares alone may not be the most important factor in whether the merger ultimately goes through. Let's remember how thin the airlines' profit margins are: The Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney recently reported that on a plane with 100 passengers, less than one airfare goes to the airline as profit; the rest pays for fuel, equipment, and staff. The consolidation of the past decade may have been, as Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has said, a "necessary evil" to bolster an industry facing multiple bankruptcies. Of course we're rooting for the consumers—you—in this case. But time will tell whether American Airlines and U.S. Airways can best serve consumers by remaining separate entities or becoming one big one. TALK TO US! Did the Delta-Northwest or United-Continental mergers change the way you fly?
3 Free Ways to Get Your Pop Culture Fix in London
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of traveling around Ireland and London with my mother and sister during a 12-day vacation we'd been planning since I was in high school. As this was our first trip to London, my sister and I quickly came up with a list of places and things we had to see, hitting all the major tourist attractions like the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the infamous Tower of London. As we flipped through guidebooks and asked our friends for suggestions, we began to realize there were a few other spots we couldn't resist visiting while we were there. Whether you're a Beatlemaniac, the ultimate Harry Potter fan, or a lover of all things Doctor Who, a trip to these three London spots is sure to create some classic vacation photos for your collection. The best part: apart from a cheap ride or two on London's Underground (aka. The Tube), you can capture the perfect British pop culture souvenir photo for free. Crossing Abbey RoadThere comes a time in every Beatles fan's life when this photo just needs to be taken. Grab your friends, hop on the Tube's Jubilee line to the St. John's Wood station, and take a 5-10 minute walk down Grove End Road to Abbey Road Studios, the place where the magic happened. Chances are you'll spot the crowd lined up to cross the street long before you see the Studio, so join in the Beatles-inspired merriment and help a fellow pilgrim get the perfect shot (they'll most likely assist you as well). A word of caution: this is an active street and there are cars full of people going about their day who will honk at you for blocking the road, so work together and wait for gaps before jumping into the middle of the road. No photo is worth compromising your safety, but with a little patience and creativity, it works. After your moment of Beatles-fan glory, walk by the Abbey Road Studios entrance gate to read song lyrics and graffiti messages left by thousands of fans from around the world, all lovingly written in sharpie along the front wall. Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross StationI have to admit, I did feel a little silly asking a security guard at King's Cross Station where I could find a fictional place from the Harry Potter series, but when we spotted the line of people in front of Platform 9 and 3/4, it was nice to know I wasn't the only one—it does get a little confusing because platforms 1-9 are on one side of the building, platforms 10 and up are on the other, and there is no obvious middle-ground. You are given the option to buy the professional photograph taken by the team from the nearby shop selling all things Harry Potter, or alternatively, you can switch off with other people in line and take free photos with your own camera. There's a funny, enthusiastic guy working the line, handing out different colored scarves according to which House you've decided you belong to (Gryffindor is the most popular choice by far), and you get to do two photos each—the first, a stationary pose where you're shown pushing your cart through the imaginary border followed by an action pose where, with the toss of your scarf, it looks like you're running through it. There are also props available, like wizard's wands, to create your own scene, and be prepared for an epic photo shoot if the person running the line wants to get involved—he actually handed me a wand, asked me to point it at him, and jumped backward at the last minute to make it look like I had stunned him in mid-air! A real-life Tardis (it's bigger on the inside)My sister and our friends are big fans of the hit BBC television series Doctor Who (I'm just starting to get into it now) so when we found out there was an original blue-colored police telephone callbox located just outside the Earl's Court Underground station, we knew we had to stop by for a photo-op. For those of you who don't watch Doctor Who, the blue callbox is a Tardis, or a "time and relative dimensions in space," a time-traveling transportation device on the show. We took the green District line from our hotel near Victoria Station to the Earl's Court station, all-in-all a 20 minute adventure for some great photos to make all our friends jealous. For a look at the inside, Google recently added this special feature that lets you view the fictional, imaginary inside of London's real-life Tardis. Click on this link, let your mouse hover over the blue police telephone box, and click on the double-arrows that appear next to it. As they say on the show, it's bigger on the inside.
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