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Forget Apps! What Are Your Favorite Old-School Travel Planning Tips?

By Nicholas DeRenzo
October 3, 2012
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Courtesy <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bonnie-brown/4285989531/" target="_blank">bonnie-brown/myBudgetTravel</a>

Trust me. I like apps as much as the next traveler. TripIt, Google Maps, HotelTonight—they’ve all become almost indispensable tools. But what happens when you’re traveling abroad? Those dreaded data and roaming fees can add up extremely quickly when using apps that require the web.

I just got back from a two–week trip through Europe on which I challenged myself to not use any travel apps. First, as a way to save money. Second, as a way to see if I’ve become too reliant on technology.

Here are four of my favorite old–school planning strategies:

Write hotel information in large block letters on a card: I never assume that my shoddy pronunciations of the local language will be understood by taxi drivers. As a result, I always carry along a small card with the name and address of my hotel in big, easily–readable block letters. That way, I can just flash the card and know I will get where I need to go. If your hotel isn’t on a major road, it’s also helpful to include a small phrase in the local language with a brief reference to the hotel’s location ("one block west of the park," "near the bridge," "next to the contemporary art museum"). You can usually either find a phrase on the hotel’s website—or just use Google Translate!

Make small currency conversion cards for your wallet: For each country I visited, I made a small card (I wrote on the back of old business cards) with conversions for common dollar amounts ($1, $5, $10, $20). Sure, tiny fluctuations in conversion rates might mean you’ll be off by a few cents, but it’s better than always reaching for your currency conversion app.

Use Google Maps at home—and then copy those dots right into your guidebook: As much as I love travel sites, I have still not outgrown old–fashioned guidebooks. I like to use Google Maps before I depart and plot hotels, restaurants, shops, parks, museums, and historic parks that I plan to visit. I then simply copy the dots directly onto the maps in my book, with references to walking times and distances between locations as a handy cheat sheet.

Print Google Maps at various zooms: Any city you go to will have free maps at the tourism office. But I like to print out Google Maps at all different zoom levels—some very wide so I can see my location within the greater city landscape, some very zoomed in so I can get a street–by–street walking plan. This is especially helpful for cities with historic Old Town cores, where every tiny alley and winding cobblestone street might not make it onto the tourist map.

Do you have any great anti–app travel planning tips?

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